I read the New York Times daily. I read it in its old fashioned paper format, the west coast version slightly less wide than the east coast version, but it’s the familiar format for my fingertips and arms since I’ve lived in Los Angeles full time since 1986. I am a NYTs groupie, subscribing and listening to many of their podcasts, executing the puzzles and enjoying the bounty of each day’s news. This week, they’ve been doing a 7-Day Happiness Challenge which has been enriching and gratifying. The take-away, and instructions which they’ve examined in many different folds this week: Strong relationships are what make for a happy life.

It would seem not to be the most earth shattering news, but at the beginning of a new year, in the midst of chaotic transitions in our government, I certainly relish this reminder of what matters. The series is full of gentle recommendations for how to improve our SQ – not IQ, or EQ, or even PQ, but Social Quotient. (my term, not the NYT’s). In recent years, having realized the value of Physical fitness, through daily walks, I know that putting one foot in front of another repeatedly in the literal sense has bettered my mood, allowed for daily introspection and head space. Similarly, the positive intelligence, or PQ training that I’ve done in the past two years has allowed me to reduce worry, well, heck – let me share my testimonial with you. A little plug for my life coach, Nan Reed Twiss.

Through the initial coaching and subsequent PQ training, I have quite literally reduced the stress in my life to the point that almost at any time during the day I can legitimately feel happy. I still meet twice a month with my “graduate group” of PQ women led by the amazing Nan Twiss (above), a group of some of the strongest, most inspiring women I feel blessed to have in my life. Which brings me to the lovely word entitling this post, with which I was reunited this week in Day 6 of the 7-Day Happiness articles: Propinquity.

A good way to build ties is by joining a group that meets regularly — say, a pickle-ball team at the local gym. Researchers call that regular proximity with other humans propinquity and have shown that the more propinquity we have, the greater the chances are that we’ll form friendships.

7-Day Happiness Challenge: Day 6: Don’t Cancel Those Plans by Jancee Dunn

This is one of the reasons why I read the New York Times and would recommend to any young person that they find and adopt a daily news source for life. The delectable discovery or in this case, re-discovery of words can catapult your brain to higher places than you might otherwise find yourself in the day to day drudgery of living and working. But this word, propinquity (which if you clicked on above, you’ve read its meaning) is just about proximity, but with a dash of happy good fortune and a smattering of destiny thrown in.

Propinquity is much more obvious in our younger lives, as we are busy formulating ourselves amidst the scramble of school and activities, like puppies, climbing over each other to suckle at life’s teat. As young adults, we don’t yet know who we are, and the discovery of passions and interests together with our fellow teens leads to strong bonds of friendship. I’ve always been grateful to my parents and grandparents for placing me at that insatiably thirsty and curious time of my life in the company of truly smart and yes, privileged youths, both in high school and in college. That propinquity is responsible for my life long friendships and intellectual and creative pursuits. There is a musculature that is more nimble and receptive as youths in college, for example, where active social calendars, social lubricants such as alcohol and dancing creates intimate exposure and thus friendships. When we become adults with responsibilities, such as family and job and more formal social communities, these healthful and powerful proximities take work to achieve and sustain, which is exactly the focus of this series. So this week, I welcomed the call to reawaken my social skills with the handy tips from this series of articles. Ever striving to better my SQ, each day, I practiced what the articles encouraged me to practice, and as a result, felt full with satisfaction and pleasure for realizing my social fitness goals one day at a time.

Last night, I attended the theatre to see a one-man show called Eisenhower: This Piece of Ground, starring my dear former colleague and friend, John Rubinstein. It plays for eight more performances at the Hudson Theatre on Santa Monica. I heartily encourage you to go see it. Written by Richard Hellesen, and directed by Peter Ellenstein, it shares a rainy afternoon’s reflections on his life in August 1962 by former President and General Eisenhower. Rubinstein’s performance is astonishing; the production is written and directed deftly utilizing the device of Eisenhower taping for his biographer a stubborn rebuttal of an article ranking former presidents. The show effectively takes us through the historic events of Eisenhower’s tenure as President while managing to remind us of his humanity. Because I was born in the 60’s, I didn’t know a lot about Eisenhower’s accomplishments in spite of being in a household with politically alert parents but last night I felt that historical knowledge gap somewhat corrected.

Since my husband died four years ago, who had been my constant theatre going companion, I’ve made it a habit of buying two tickets to any show I wanted to see and made the effort to invite someone to go with me. There’s nothing bleaker than going to the theatre alone, no matter how resilient you are, or how passionate about keeping current with local theatre. So it was with this idea that I reached out to a friend who had recently lost her husband to see if she would like to go see our mutual friend, John in the show. I didn’t really expect her to say yes. I can still remember the hazy months after Jimmie died, where I didn’t really feel fully corporeal. My mind was jumbled, and physically sometimes I felt like half a person, while emotionally, I often felt far less than that. But I also recognized that it was important to get out in the world, to continue to connect with my community, who were so supportive. So, I was delighted to meet my friend at the theatre to see this fascinating show and to see how she was doing. There’s no amount of consolation for the recently bereaved, but I remember the hopeful recounting of others who had gone before me and my numb intake of their stories, most notably, my husband’s niece, Martha – “some days you are in the boat, and some days you are under the boat.” And as my friend last night said with a macabre chuckle, “and some days you can’t even see the boat from where you are bobbing on the waves.” And so it goes. My instructions: stay connected. It’s the only thing that matters. As does the propinquity of healing, befriending, and whatever else rubs off from being smooshed together with others.

That’s it. Short thoughts today about the 7-Day Happiness challenge, and how grateful I am for the dear friends and co-workers I have. I’ll be getting to the Social Fitness Gym as often as I can this year. Let me know if you accept the 7-Day Happiness challenge, and we can book an 8 minute catch up phone call!

Here’s a link to a great TED talk from Robert Waldinger, a researcher who has conducted the longest study on Adult Development.

2 thoughts

  1. Els, your essay helps explain the motive of our early morning group–meeting in our 5th year, every day of the week.
    Also, is Peter Ellenstein related to Robert Ellenstein, an actor I knew at the Cleveland Play House who went to Hollywood around 1950? Don

    1. Hi, Don, yes, thanks for reading and commenting! Your morning group is the poster child for Propinquity! And yes, Peter is Robert’s son, or at least according to the program note is. Seems like a really nice guy. I’ll scan and email you the program notes.Have a great week! xo Els

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