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Happiness is … some time alone, away from Facebook

March 10, 2011 |  6:21 am

  Happy

Gallup has found the happiest man in America. Really. Using statistics, they concluded that the following characteristics make for ideal happiness:

He's a tall, Asian American, observant Jew who is at least 65 and married, has children, lives in Hawaii, runs his own business and has a household income of more than $120,000 a year.

And, in fact, there is such a person. Continued, from Booster Shots:

Turns out there is one individual who fits the bill: Alvin Wong, 69, a Chinese-American who keeps kosher (he converted to Judaism). And yes, all the other factors check out -- including his living in Hawaii, the Gallup-appointed happiest state of them all.

Of course, there are other ways to arrive at happiness. "Curb Your Enthusiasm" star Larry David would advise against the "stop-and-chat," as would researchers at the University of Arizona and Washington University in St. Louis. Others would challenge themselves to complain less, and not to complain at all for one week. Op-Ed columnist Meghan Daum would suggest signing off of Facebook, which she feels is the "ultimate performance space" for people itching to brag about their wonderful lives. Those watching on, however, suffer repeated blows to their self-esteem. Such is the topic of her Thursday column, "Do you suffer from Facebook envy?"

Drawing on studies of Stanford students and their assumptions about the relative happiness or unhappiness of their peers, researchers found that humans consistently overestimate how much fun others are having and underestimate their unhappiness.

The study had nothing to do with Facebook, but it quickly became associated with the coinage "Facebook envy," largely because the lead researcher, then a doctoral student in psychology, reportedly got the idea from watching his friends' interactions with the social network.

The more time they spent clicking through joyful announcements and photos depicting happy events, the worse they felt about their own lives.

I've walked into this very trap and let Facebook ruin more than one afternoon. Like when everyone in my age range was changing their relationship status to "engaged" several times a day for two solid years. (I seemed to stop noticing these updates after I got engaged, changed my status and posted the photo of the hot-air balloon where my husband-to-be popped the question.) Then again, Facebook has exposed me to lives outside of my own, inspired my imagination and motivated me to seek experiences I otherwise might not have known about.

Aside from spending less time on Facebook in an envy-induced, soul-crushing state, there are other ways to achieve bliss. The Boston Globe's Leon Neyfakh has a compelling argument for embracing the "power of lonely."

In a world gone wild for wikis and interdisciplinary collaboration, those who prefer solitude and private noodling are seen as eccentric at best and defective at worst, and are often presumed to be suffering from social anxiety, boredom, and alienation.

 But an emerging body of research is suggesting that spending time alone, if done right, can be good for us — that certain tasks and thought processes are best carried out without anyone else around, and that even the most socially motivated among us should regularly be taking time to ourselves if we want to have fully developed personalities, and be capable of focus and creative thinking. There is even research to suggest that blocking off enough alone time is an important component of a well-functioning social life — that if we want to get the most out of the time we spend with people, we should make sure we’re spending enough of it away from them. Just as regular exercise and healthy eating make our minds and bodies work better, solitude experts say, so can being alone.

In his research, he found that solitude has been linked to some of the following:

-- creativity
-- spirituality
-- "intellectual might"
-- more accurate memories
-- greater empathy
-- freedom from self-consciousness

I don't know if I'll spend less time on Facebook, but I'm into this loneliness thing.

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Illustration: happy/sad faces. Credit: Rueben Munoz / Los Angeles Times

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