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NOTIONS: In search of happiness? You've got to make a friend

June 19, 2006

My brother Bryan called the other day. He asked if I'd like to join him at the Music Mill to see an up-ancoming singer-songwriter he'd heard about. He said the critics have compared her rock-funksoul sound to the likes of Bonnie Raitt, Tina Turner and Janis Joplin.

Pretty high praise.

So last Tuesday we 40-something guys and a few hundred other people went to hear 22-year-old Grace Potter and the Nocturnals.

Before Grace took the stage, we sat in the back row, sipping drinks and catching up on family news.

Bryan said he's looking forward to getting out of the house and starting his new job, working for Uncle Sam at Fort Ben. He said there are lots of benefits plans to choose from, so it's pretty confusing.

He said my niece Emma's a little miffed at her brother, Nate, 'cause he's more interested in his girlfriend than his siblings right now.

He said my nephew Cole is spending all his time gazing at the fish in the new fish tank he got from the neighbors. We talked about what kind of fish Cole chose, but I didn't recognize the species.

I gave Bryan an update on my sons' summer jobs. We agreed on a game plan for Father's Day. Then the lights went down for Grace Potter's opening number. With drums, base and rhythm guitar backing her up, Potter moved smoothly from organ to electric guitar, belting out rock ballads of lovers' strife and shattered dreams, rocky relationships and a soulful search for God. After an hour or so, she brought down the house with an a cappella-into-rockinto a cappella rendition of her new album's title song, "Nothing but the Water." Potter sang:

I have fallen so many times For the devil's sweet, cunning rhymes And this old world Has brought me pain But there's hope For me again.

And while the band that followed Potter had the crowd dancing in the aisles, my old ears had had all they could handle. So I left Bryan to his proverbial quest for autographs and headed home, happy to have heard an emerging talent, happy to have had a brief brotherly bonding experience. At home, my friend Cheri was happy, too. After weeks of research and writing, she'd finished the first draft of the research paper assigned by her social work professor. She'd decided to study happiness-various theories on why some seem to be happier than others and whether belief in things spiritual affects that. I asked if I might read it and Cheri readily agreed, providing I wouldn't be too hard on her. It was, after all, a first draft. So I read and learned. I learned about genetic influences on happiness. (There may, indeed, be some.) I learned about economic influences on happiness. (It turns out that after our basic needs are met, more money doesn't equal more happiness. In other words, the Beatles were right when they sang, "Money can't buy me love.")

I learned about nation-ofresidence influences on happiness. (Contrary to popular belief, reinforced by a self-declared inalienable right to pursue happiness, the U.S. of A. does not have an exclusive.)

I also learned that, while all these factors may affect our satisfaction or dissatisfaction on this planet, the contributor of all measured contributors to our happiness is the quality of our human relationships-friends, family, lovers, neighbors, co-workers, etc. In a nutshell, folks who have healthy relationships with other folks tend to be happier than those who-by choice or by circumstance-go it alone.

Guess that's why rock-funk-soul singers like Grace Potter prefer to pen ballads about relationships gone astray more often than they sing of scornful scandals or political misdeeds.

And why little girls miss big brothers with a sudden interest in romance.

And why little boys stare at fish that always have time to stare back.

And why aging brothers relish rock concerts with artists young enough to be their children.

That happiness is grounded in relationships may also hold the key to attracting and retaining people in lessthan-popular places.

A few weeks ago, I ran into Anne Shane of Indianapolis' Biocrossroads. She is also a founder of this city's Indy Hub, a network of young professionals.

Shane and I got to talking about Indy Hub, and I asked how it happened to emerge from an economic-development organization centered on life sciences.

She explained yet another research study-one showing that if new folks in a community fail to form rewarding relationships within 90 days, they're far less likely to stick around for the long haul. So Indy Hub was established to make those relationships easier to find and form in a Midwestern metropolis striving to set itself apart via human connections.

So, if you're unhappy and you know it, don't spend your time with the mirror. Use a lifeline. Phone a friend. Or at least buy a Grace Potter CD.



Hetrick is president and CEO of Hetrick Communications Inc., an Indianapolis-based public relations and marketing communications firm. His column appears weekly. To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to bhetrick@ibj.com.
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