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How to Be Happy (Or at Least Feel Better) Listen to These Lyrics! -- Heather Nova's "London


I wish Heather hadn't called it "London Rain." (Video published by Daniel Mitchell.) That title doesn't capture the song's essence. (But what do I know? I've never written a song.) Maybe because she wrote it during a hurricane in Bermuda, rain was on her mind.

Lyricist/Performer Heather Nova

Whatever. It's these magical six words from the refrain that get me every single time I hear them:

Nothing heals me like you do

But it's this stanza that put "London Rain" into my personal music hall of fame:

When somebody knows you well

Well, there's no comfort like that

And when somebody needs you

Well, there's no drug like that (1:13)

It's so accurate, but so rarely talked about. We want people to know us. We want people to need us.

Holden Caulfield, the misunderstood protagonist in J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, was upset because his mother didn't buy him the right kind of ice skates. He wanted racing skates. She bought him hockey skates. "Almost every time someone gives me a present it ends up making me sad."

Most readers think this makes Holden an ungrateful little punk. "He ought to be glad he got any skates at all!"

But they misunderstand. It wasn't about the skates. It was about the fact that even his own mother didn't know him well enough to know that he had an interest in speed skating, not hockey.

Who knows you well?

Who needs you?

These aren't necessarily connected. Somebody may know you well but not need you. If you're a jerk, not only will they not need you, they won't even want you around. Being known and needed is the gold standard for happiness.

The next time you have a pen, a notebook and some time - waiting for an appointment, for example - try this: Make two lists. (Caution! It may depress you. But it may soothe you. Either way, it will enlighten you.)

List one: All the people who know you well

List two: All the people who need you

If your lists are too short, look inward. If no one knows you, not even your mother, it's on you. You've got to find a way to put yourself out there. How real are you? How honest? How transparent? If you're purposely opaque, why? What part of you are you afraid to let people see?

Opaque glass. You can't see in.

It takes work. A superb example of working at building the kind of relationships that can result in people knowing you well and needing you in their lives is outlined here by my former student Amal Nanavati. When he arrived at Kyoto University last month as a Fulbright scholar, he didn't know anyone. Now he does. So much so that I'm only half joking when I tell him that he should teach a seminar called "Getting Involved."

If you're shy, and a face-to-face convo is too much (at least at first) it's never been easier to write to people who might care. When you write, you can take your time and say it the way you want to say it, without worrying that it might come out wrong. Facebook rightfully deserves criticism for its many missteps, but let's not overlook its strengths. Facebook, ironically, is a place where you can bare your soul without being face to face. Often, what starts out as a Facebook conversation evolves into an actual physical conversation over coffee or on a hike.

If no one needs you, then that too is on you. Why don't they? Why don't people want to depend on you? If you don't know, and you want to be someone others want and need, read Chapter 19, "How to Build Social Capital" in Missing Pieces.

Even though it's on you to do your share of sharing, you also have flip it around. Sometimes you need to need, too. As Bono wrote, "Sometimes You Can't Make It on Your Own." (Video published by pieisbetterthanyou.)

Finally, you have to be the kind of listener with whom others feel comfortable talking. You have to ask the kind of questions that embolden others to bare their souls to you. Here's one:

What brings you comfort during difficult times?

Good, right? Yet, "Who brings you comfort in difficult times?" may be more revealing and more important. Want to be happy (or at least feel better)? Give your magical people this eloquent and purposeful compliment:

"Nothing heals me like you do."

And if someone says those miraculous six words to you? Well, as Heather put it, "There's no drug like that."