The Weekender, June 8, 2018

1) “Read This Story and Get Happier ” (The Cut/New York Magazine, 8 minutes, May 2018). The subhead: “The most popular course at Yale teaches how to be happy. We took it for you. ”

Professor Laurie Santos didn’t set out to create the most popular course in the history of Yale University and the most talked-about college course in America. She just wanted her students to be happy. And they certainly look happy as they file into a church — a literal church, Battell Chapel, that’s been converted to a lecture hall — on the Yale campus on a sunny April afternoon, lugging backpacks and chatting before taking their seats in the pews. They’ve just returned from a two-week spring break. The weather outside is gorgeous. Professor Santos is playing her pre-class get-pumped playlist featuring the Black-Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling,” And, let’s not forget, all of these students are currently going to Yale. What’s not to be happy about?

Quite a bit, it turns out.

[ . . . ]

In her very first lecture, Santos emphasizes to her class that she wants to teach them not just the science of happiness but the practice of happiness. And happiness, it turns out, does take practice. But first you have to learn what exactly happiness is. If previous courses in this field might have been characterized as “Why Happy People Are Happy,” this course could be called “What Is Happiness, Why Aren’t You Happy, and What Can You Do to Change That?”

Of course, you don’t have four months (or a Yale student ID) to take the entire course. So we’ve condensed some of the highlights and insights into a mini-course you can take right now. Let’s get started: Are you ready for a pop quiz?

(1) What is happiness?

(2) Why aren’t you happy?

(3) What can you do to change that?

Class, please open your books to lesson No. 1.

2) Now I Know, the book! I wrote this in 2013 but haven’t shared it in a while. It’s a collection of 100 Now I Know stories, 50 of which were in the newsletter prior and the other 50 which at the time were new to the book. (Some have since been republished here.)

Why am I sharing it now? As of this writing, for me at least, Amazon has it on sale for under $7, which is as low as I’ve ever seen it. It has nearly 350 reviews and averages 4.4 stars, which is pretty good, I think.

3) “How Domino’s Pizza Reinvented Itself” (Harvard Business Review, 4 minutes, November 2016). This is extraordinarily short for a Weekender, I know. But it’s pretty amazing to think that Domino’s survived despite having marginal-at-best pizza whose claim to fame — the 30-minute delivery window — went away (and was easily replicated regardless).

4) The Now I Know Week in Review:

MondayWhen a Calendar Defeated Russia in the Olympics. Calendars can be tricky things. Apparently.

Tuesday: The T-Word You Couldn’t Talk About. I didn’t like how I wrote this one — after sending it out, I realized I could have taken a different approach and it would have turned out better. Oh well.

Anyway, one thing I failed to mention in this one: the word “tornado” never appears in the Wizard of Oz script.

WednesdayWhy New York City May Pay You to Pretend to be Homeless.

Thursday: Texas’s Last Last Meal. Why death row inmates in Texas no longer get to choose their final menu.


5) “Looking For Life on a Flat Earth” (New Yorker, 19 minutes, May 2018). The earth isn’t flat. But some people are determined to prove otherwise.

On the last Sunday afternoon in March, Mike Hughes, a sixty-two-year-old limousine driver from Apple Valley, California, successfully launched himself above the Mojave Desert in a homemade steam-powered rocket. He’d been trying for years, in one way or another. In 2002, Hughes set a Guinness World Record for the longest ramp jump—a hundred and three feet—in a limo, a stretch Lincoln Town Car. In 2014, he allegedly flew thirteen hundred and seventy-four feet in a garage-built rocket and was injured when it crashed. He planned to try again in 2016, but his Kickstarter campaign, which aimed to raise a hundred and fifty thousand dollars, netted just two supporters and three hundred and ten dollars. Further attempts were scrubbed—mechanical problems, logistical hurdles, hassles from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. Finally, a couple of months ago, he made good. Stuff was leaking, bolts needed tightening, but at around three o’clock, and with no countdown, Hughes blasted off from a portable ramp—attached to a motorhome he’d bought through Craigslist—soared to nearly nineteen hundred feet, and, after a minute or so, parachuted less than gently back to Earth.

For all of that, Hughes might have attracted little media attention were it not for his outspoken belief that the world is flat. “Do I believe the Earth is shaped like a Frisbee? I believe it is,” he told the Associated Press. “Do I know for sure? No. That’s why I want to go up in space.”

6) “A journey and a race at 80 mph” (Washington Post, 19 minutes, October 2016). I’ve written about this race before (I think in my second book). It’s the story of a cross-country race — New York to Los Angeles — inspired by the movie Cannonball Run. It’s as crazy as you’d imagine.

Have a great weekend!