October 29, 2020

#168 Happiness Calculator vs. Alex Goldman

by Reply All

Background show artwork for Reply All

Alex meets a scientist who has built a tool meant to do the impossible -- measure the world's overall happiness and sadness. Plus, Alex volunteers for a risky and strange experiment.


ALEX: So PJ, hello. 

PJ: Hello, Alex. 

ALEX: Um...PJ, how—how has this year been for you, in terms of your mood?


ALEX: I mean, you're laughing. It must have been great. 

PJ: Uh…(sighs). This year sucked. This year has been bleak and bad, and winter feels bleaker and badder. 

ALEX: Yeah, winter's really freaking me out. I'm actually very scared about what winter's going to be like. Um—

PJ: How are you doing?


ALEX: Well, it's funny you should ask. Um, I—so I read this article a couple weeks ago in The Times about these researchers, who are trying to like measure and plot everybody’s happiness on a day to day level. And— 

PJ: Everyone in the world?

ALEX: Yeah. And they made this thing that they call the hedonometer.

PJ: Like hedonism.

ALEX: Yes, exactly. Hedonism.

PJ: OK. 

ALEX: And I was like, ok I want to talk to these guys because first of all, happiness seems like a very slippery concept that I can't even begin to imagine how one would measure for. And second of all, if they can measure happiness, like how can this help me, a person who is generally very unhappy? So I reached out to these researchers, and I ended up talking to one of them. 


His name’s Peter Dodds. 

PETER: Hi guys. 

ALEX: Thank you so much for taking the time to do this I really appreciate it.

PETER: It’s a pleasure. Yeah.

ALEX: Peter is a data scientist, he teaches at the University of Vermont.  

ALEX: Do you think of yourself as a happy person?

PETER: No, I think I'm, I’ve, I— friends have described me as melancholy I suppose so I think miserable happiness is perhaps a lofty goal. 

ALEX: [chuckle] What what what are you… 

PETER: But I'm irrelevant let me say this —I’m irrelevant, I’m totally irrelevant and I think this one of the most important things when you’re studying social phenomena on a large scale. You have all these little stories from your own life which really matter, you know… I mean obviously to you, but when you’re trying to get out and think about how systems work, you have to kind of throw them away.

ALEX: Hold on just a second. My- my infant—my infant daughter just ran up—ran up here. Hi Polls. 


ALEX: I'm in the middle of an interview, can you go downstairs?



ALEX: OK. Please?


ALEX: Alright, hold on a second. I have to get...

PETER: (laughing) I love it.

ALEX: This is Peter. Do you want to say, hi Peter?



ALEX: Why not?

PETER: I'm sorry. 

POLLY: Because I don't want to. 

ALEX: Do you want to take your cookies and take them to mommy?

POLLY: No. I don't want to come!

MOM: It's OK, come on. 

POLLY: No, I don't want to come!

ALEX: Bye Polls. 

[background noise.]

ALEX: Sorry about that (laughing).

PETER: It's all good. 


ALEX: So the hedonometer, this project that Peter came up with to measure happiness, um, he started working on it in 2007. He and another researcher friend of his, this guy named Chris Danforth, had this kind of wild idea which is like, OK governments are always making decisions based on things like GDP — things that are really easy to quantify. What if we could make our happiness something that we could also quantify? Then we could start making policy decisions based on that.  

PJ: Like the thing that we judge our country on is just like, for the most part, like, is the country making more money this year than last year?

ALEX: Right. 


PJ: And maybe like, did fewer people die or whatever?

ALEX: Mm-hmm. 


PJ: And that can mean a lot of different things, like it doesn't necessarily mean that people's lives are better or worse.

ALEX: Right. So back when they were sketching out what the hedonometer could look like, the whole time they’re thinking to themselves like, what is our data source gonna be? And then they hear about this new website, it’s called Twitter, and it seems like a really useful place to get like constantly updating stream of people’s thoughts…



PJ: Famously, the website where everyone's fucking happy. 

ALEX: (laughs) We analyze the, we analyze the tweets...

PJ: The app that I open on my phone, when I want to feel better.  

PETER: So we wrote to Twitter in 2008, there were only four people working there, and said, “Hey, this is cool. Could you like- do you have—you know, could we get some data?” And they’re like, “Oh, we made a little research feed—researcher feed.” And—and we’ve been getting 10 percent of their tweets ever since then. 

ALEX: And 10% of all tweets —which at the time was practically nothing — is now like 15 million tweets a day. And I’m talking just about the English language tweets… they’re building out a bunch of different other languages but so far they’ve only published data about the English-speaking world…. anyway, what they did is, they decided they’d analyze whether the words that people were tweeting were like happy words or sad words. So they took 10,000 words and they asked people, on a scale, how happy or sad does this word make you feel?

PJ: OK. 

ALEX: And they use that to give each word a relative weight. 

PJ: What are—give me an example of a word. 

ALEX: Hold on, I’m look—they, so—

PJ: Give me an example of a word. 

ALEX: So I'm loading- I'm loading up—I'm loading up the examples. Hold on. I'm actually going to screen share with you if that's okay. Can you see my screen?

PJ: Yeah. 

ALEX: There's actually a—a list of words. So what we're looking at right now, are all of the 10,000 words they selected, ranked from 1, the saddest, to 9, the happiest. And the happiest words are like: laughter, happiness, love, happy. Can you guess what the unhappiest word might be?

PJ: Die.

ALEX: So, uh, that's not bad, actually. Uh, It’s right up there. The unhappiest word is a tie between suicide and terrorist. 

PJ: That makes sense.

ALEX: Um, and then, the third from the saddest word right now is Coronavirus.

PJ: I’m almost surprised it didn’t win.

ALEX: Yeah me too. But like, especially since pretty close to the top of the unhappiest words are words like ventilators, ventilator, self-quarantine, sanitizer, like these are among the unhappiest words. 

PJ: It's like a magnetic poetry of everything that's bad this year. Tortured, violence, cruel, cry. Can we go back to the happy side?


ALEX: Yeah. Comedy, jokes, rich.

PJ: Celebrate, weekend, music, healthy.

ALEX: So they’re also constantly having to update the list of words — like all those COVID words that just got added pretty recently—but they have to remove words from the list. Like words that they can’t measure anymore because the meaning has changed so much. 

 PETER: And one example of that a few years ago was the word thirsty. Thirsty just kind of...

[Alex laughs]


PETER: I mean, a good word, right? It's a good old word. It means you want to drink something, right? But, but uh, it-it— it moved. And then there was some sort of Twitter, you know, like massive re-tweetings of people just say thirsty as many times they could in a tweet. And it just overwhelmed the system a little bit. We're like, "okay, we're too- we’re—we’re retiring that word."


ALEX: So they have all these words that are weighted on this happiness scale from one to nine.

Now to figure out if this thing is actually working, and is correctly identifying happiness and sadness they had the hedonometer analyze a bunch of different texts where the mood is easy to follow — like, the ran it on the plot of Crime and Punishment, they did it for The Count of Monte Cristo.

PJ: Happy book or sad book? Never read it.

ALEX: Well, the hedonometer [MUSIC OUT] correctly analyzed it for what it is. Like a book that starts happy, gets sad, and then gets happy again.

PJ: This is actually an application that would be useful for me because like, some like— things that I read and watch really affect my mood a lot. And so, like, this makes me sound like a child, but a lot of time I'm like, "Is this going to be sad? Am I gonna...."

ALEX: Oh, so you want—someone to—someone to toss it into the hedonometer to see if it's going to make you feel good or bad at the end?

PJ: Yeah. And sad in the middle is fine. Just don't leave me there. 

ALEX: But yeah, it—it seems like saying Peter and his team are getting good information from the hedonometer. 

PJ: Okay, so what did- what if- so assuming— assuming that this tool is usefully describing something. What did—what happened when they pointed it at this year? (laughing)

ALEX: Well they’ve run it on Twitter since 2008, so… and so they have like this big map of happiness in the English-speaking world for the last 12 years. So if you go to the hedonometer website it’s a big graph that kind of looks like a stock market graph, with like spikes of happiness and dips of sadness over the years. And if you click on specific dates, you can see the most used words on Twitter that day. 

And one of the things that they learned by graphing all this info is like globally speaking we do not have big moments of spontaneous global happiness. The only thing that unites us in happiness is like big holidays, like for english speakers, Christmas has the biggest effect. It nudges us up a little bit.  

PETER: So Christmas becomes kind of a—a yardstick of sorts. And um, you know, it’s just this this sort of how many Christmases did you get for this, you know, this jump or bump in happiness or the other way down. So it’s—it’s useful.

ALEX: So when you and your team see something, you’re like, “Ok! It went up like half a Christmas day” or “it went down half a Christmas day.”

PETER: It depends how we’re framing it, but that’s—that’s not a bad way to talk about things, yeah. 


ALEX: The only other positive event that even slightly moves the needle the way that holidays do is when a KPop star has a birthday. And Peter knew nothing about KPop and only through like analyzing language for several years was like, “what is BTS?”

PJ: (laughing) That’s so funny.

ALEX: But the bigger thing that the hedonometer is showing is that if you look at the last few years… we’re at the tail end of a long happiness nosedive—um, according to Peter, the hedonometer shows that the last five years, we have been getting sadder and sadder. Between 2016 and now, we’ve lost a Christmas day of happiness.

PJ: As a world?

ALEX: As an English—everybody in the English-speaking world. 

Before this year, the saddest day on record was the Las Vegas shooting in 2017. We have broken that record multiple times this year. The first time was March 12, which was the day the stock market tanked, the NBA season was suspended, tons of places started to shut down, and so the hedonometer hit a new record low. 

PJ: It's like, there's something satisfying about knowing we broke the unhappiness needle. Like, like because I want to think—the thing I'm telling myself going into this winter is like, "well, it's just like—it's like really hardcore training for all the sadness you'll ever experience in life again." Like, if you can get through this, it's like you've beat the extreme weight course. And like, just having scientists confirm what I knew, which is that this was the most miserable year, just feels nice.


ALEX: Um, so that was just the first time that the hedonometer record was broken this year. Uh, it was broken again in May. So the 25th of May was the day simultaneously A— the Amy Cooper event in Central Park happened. You remember the woman who...


PJ: Oh, that was awful. She like called the cops on a Black man, who is a birdwatcher, and then falsely claimed he was threatening to assault her. 

ALEX: Mm-hmm. 

PJ: And he was just asking her to leash her dog. That was a bad day. 

ALEX: That was also the day that George Floyd was killed.


PJ: Oh fuck. Right. 


ALEX: And so five days later Sunday, May 31st, according to the hedonometer, was the unhappiest day in the entire English-speaking world since 2008. 

PJ: Oh. So it wasn't the day of his death.

ALEX: Nu-uh. 

PJ: It was the day that it sunk in for everybody, or everybody had heard about it. 

ALEX: Yeah.

ALEX: I mean, it's interesting just seeing it, like this huge spike of sadness that we all felt at the same time. 

PJ: Wow. Now that you say it's like, I also remember distinctly, it was like for once there was one topic on the Internet for a while. 

ALEX: Mm-hmm. 

PJ: For like quite a while. It was like, there wasn't—nobody was like, "Oh, by the way, like, I want to pick a fight about this thing or whatever." It was really like one topic and it was an extremely sad topic.

ALEX: Yeah – and that feeling that we all had — that’s actually exactly what the hedonometer showed us. Because usually um, when there’s a tragic event, it takes a day or two days to get back to sort of the normal average happiness on the hedonometer, but in the case of George Floyd, the needle dropped and it took an entire month.

PJ: Hmm. 


ALEX: But returning to normal isn’t really saying a lot because the baseline of the year is just so sad.

ALEX: It's just so stark for me to watch, to like look at this graph. Like to actually extend it out—

PETER: Right.

ALEX: And see—see the past, I guess, four years. And—

PETER: Yup. 

ALEX: And it's just—the negative spikes...

PETER: Yup. 

ALEX: —seem so much deeper and longer lasting.


PETER: I mean, we keep setting these records, right? So the bombing of the Boston Marathon. You know, that was a record at the time. Right? For us. The Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, and then—and then the mass shooting in Las Vegas, you know that was so extreme. But then, yeah, then we get to the um, the COVID-19 and—and George Floyd like—like finding new, new depths, essentially, for—for this kind of collective well-being measure. You know, this is a traumatized population.



ALEX: So obviously a lot of very hard stuff has hit all of us in a pretty short amount of time. 

And it’s like very depressing to think about...but in another way it felt kind of comforting to quantify at least a little bit how bad 2020 has been. And I was looking over all of this data and I was like, “I wonder if there's any way to like, see if I line up with this? Like does—”

PJ VOGT: (laughing)


ALEX: “Is my happiness affected too? Like am I also becoming sadder?”


PJ: You know, this is the rare reporting question that I feel like I could probably answer for you, as can anyone who works with you.

ALEX: Well, Peter said that as a policy they don't analyze individual people's data — like they don't even gather individual data — because they don't want the hedonometer to be a surveillance tool. But he said if I wanted to give him my data to analyze he would be willing to make like an exception. So— 

PJ: But you delete all your tweets, so—


ALEX: Yeah, I delete—


PJ: There's no proof.

ALEX: My—my tweets auto-delete every two weeks. Um, which is—that is like the one kindness I perform for the world. Um, but I was like—I was like, I wonder what I could measure?

PJ: Your relationship to your own privacy is a beautiful thing. (laughing)


ALEX: Yeah, I'm wondering what kind of data set would work for me. I mean, maybe my- my—the emails I send? But probably not because I mostly just send work emails.


PETER: They're not gonna be fun.


ALEX: What about my text messages? I bet that would be good.


PETER: Yeah, that's the stuff. That's the stuff. That's high quality.


ALEX: Um, so I scraped the last year's worth of outgoing text messages from my phone.


PJ: Absolutely psychotic.


ALEX: 13,660 text messages. I dropped them in a spreadsheet.


PJ: God. The word cloud. Okay.


ALEX: And I gave them to Peter and in addition to being a professor at the University of Vermont, he also has a company called Quokka with these other researchers, Andy Reagan and Chris Danforth. And they- they worked on- they- they parsed—they parsed the data I gave them.


PETER: So just some basics, right? Thirteen thousand, over—close to 14,000 messages. About 40 a day. We do the same things we did for the hedonometer, we—we lowercase them and break them up. It's a good— it’s a good amount. 


ALEX: He basically wrote me like an academic paper about my texts.


PJ: God.


ALEX: It's called—


PJ: A narcissists' dream.


ALEX: It's called, “a consideration of the text messages sent by Mr. Alex Goldman from 29—from October 16th, 2019 to October 15th, 2020.


PJ: It's like—it's like a real step forward in the field of uh, Goldmanology. (laughing) We're finally doing some field work.


ALEX: Um, he found a lot of heart emojis.


PJ: That's for your wife.


ALEX: A lot of lols.


PJ: That's for me.


PETER: You have a good supply of eggplant emojis. I'm just gonna say that.


ALEX: (laughing) That is a surprise to me. That is a surprise.


PETER: I'm just gonna leave it. Um, so that's just true.


ALEX: I have to say, um, wasn't super nervous about this until we actually started diving into the data and my heart rate is definitely rising. Um—


PETER: (laughing) So it's hard to break up some of these, like emojis — can I just tell—emojis are the most ridiculous things in the world. But—so some things it didn't break up. There’s one, which has got some words in it, and it's like: Tori, poop—poop emoji, ass, dollar sign—like a flying dollar sign twice, maybe two goats and then a couple of smiley faces. That's like, a blob. And I'm just gonna leave it as a blob.


ALEX: (laughing) That's something that I wrote?


PETER: (laughing) Yes.


ALEX: And then he found a bunch of s—what he calls stretchable words, which is where you add like, uh, where like I spelled bad with nine a's. Spooky with five o's.


PJ: Oh yeah, you talk like that a lot. That's usually when you're unhappy. You're like, things are baaaaad.


ALEX: (laughing) And then he said, I found a poop with 13 o's and a poop with 59 o's.


PJ: That's usually when you're either happy or manic.


ALEX: (laughing) That's totally right. That's totally right.


PJ: I don't know why he didn't consult me.

ALEX: Um so Peter actually broke out for me my texts between 3 a.m. and 6 a.m.

PJ: Oh God—

ALEX: He was like, he was like you don’t text—

PJ: That’s a country I don’t want to visit.

ALEX: Well, well what he said, what he wrote was, “You don’t text so much during this time because of the whole sleep thing but when you do it’s not a happy time.”

PJ: [laughs]

ALEX: So number one with a bullet is “terrible,” 

PJ: Yeah.

ALEX: Followed by, “never”,” shit,” “asshole,” “shot,” which is me misspelling shit, “not…”

PJ: Never shit asshole shot...

ALEX: “Not,” “sorry,” “murder,” 

PJ: [Laughing] You sound like, 

ALEX: And then you get—

PJ: You sound like a serial killer with GI problems. 

ALEX: It’s so weird, listen to this, so “better” shows up in there, and then it’s “mean,” “wars,” “suffering,” “crime,” “hated,” “dying,” “hates.” (laughs) It's just, it’s like what am I talking about in the middle of the night?

PJ: Uh...I kind of know what you’re talking about in the middle of the night...

[both descend into laughter]

PJ: I’m just glad “PJ’s” not in there.


PETER: Okay, so here's a question for you. Um, so what do you think your love-to-hate ratio is?


ALEX: I would say that for every—


PETER: What's the ratio?


ALEX: For every one love there's five hates, I would say.


PETER: So it's actually four to one love to hate.


ALEX: (gasp)


PETER: See! You're a person. 


ALEX: Wow.


PETER: (laughing) I did take out one that was Lovecraft because I presumed you'd been watching HBO or something.


ALEX: Yes, I had.


PETER: But yeah, yeah, yeah.


ALEX: But um, the shape of my happiness. He- he—


PJ: The shape of my happiness, by Alex Goldman.


ALEX: (laughing)


PJ: One man's travels through himself.


 ALEX: (laughing) It's my self-help—my forthcoming self-help book. Um, ok so Peter started with October of last year — he zoomed in on that month, and told me that like compared to Twitter, I was actually doing pretty good.

PETER: I can talk you through the words a little bit.


ALEX: Yes, please.


PETER: Um, so October last year, you know, it's—it's above, right? So you've got more love and like and life and so—you've got these kind of words. You've got negative words, right? It's a real, it's a mixture, but you were—you were still managing to be above.

ALEX: Meaning, October of 2019, according to the hedonometer, I was happier than most people.

PJ: Wow.

ALEX: I don't remember those months being happier, or less miserable, than any other time. Like for me, everything kind of smears together. It's really hard to remember when the genuine unhappiness of 2020 started. But according to the hedonometer, I was my happiest in October and November of last year. And I was like, trying to think back to what was uh, going on. And I feel like—I was talking to Phia about it, and Phia has a much better memory for what I was doing last year (laughing) than I do for some reason. 

PJ: Uh huh.

ALEX: A- a- a—and it might be because I was working on—

PJ: [indistinct]

ALEX: —um, thank you for noticing the story about John and Santa Fe, which was- there was—


PJ: You had a lot of fun.


ALEX: I had a lot of fun—


PJ: You got to go on a trip.


ALEX: —going on a trip.


PJ: You got scared of the weed store.


ALEX: Very scared of the weed store. Um—


PJ: But so far this tracks- it's like you're most—just you are personally most unhappy when you don't have an idea for a story. 

ALEX: That's true.

PJ: And you're happiest when you're in the reporting for a story.

ALEX: The reporting for that was in October. And — also — in October, I remember, I went to this wedding in the catskills and I spent the weekend up there, it was really nice. And in November I went to—for Thanksgiving, I went to Florida with my kids and we got to hang out on the beach. And I think that accounts for like a lot of happiness points cause the kids really love it and them being happy makes me happy. Um.


PJ: People should have on their- like this would- I would- I would not—I would consider consenting to this happening automatically on my phone, where it would just be like, hey, you've, you seem unhappy.


ALEX: (laughing)


PJ: What's going on? And it would just kind of like, it'd be like you were a lot happier last November and also you were like walking outside more. Just like, I don't—that voice in my head is really underdeveloped. Like noticing when I'm sinking or noticing why I wasn't sinking before. 


ALEX: Yeah, totally. 


PJ: Okay, so December I'm guessing you go down—


ALEX: He gave me a chart. Yes, December it goes down a bit and continues to go down and continues to go down. Uh...


PJ: Well then you're past the holidays, and then it's just deep winter, January, February, and then you're like thank God soon it will be March—


ALEX: Right.


PJ: —you’ll be able to go outside a lot. Mix it up with my friends in various restaurants. Catch a movie in a movie theater.


ALEX: So—so it might shock you, but March was a bad month for me.


PETER: You start—then you have "mad" and "coronavirus" and "rejected" and "hated" and "hate" and "painful" and "cried" and "stressed" and "death." Those things are in there. It was—it was going down.

But what surprised me is that last month, September, was the worst month of the year for me so far. And, what I think the hedonometer was picking up on is the fact that like Harvey is having a hard time with school, which just started… I was very worried about it, I was constantly texting Sarah about it. 


PJ: Hm.


ALEX: And October, which we've only got half of the month. Um, way—it's still worse.


PETER: You started above Twitter. You were like half a Christmas Day above. But now you're down. You—you are with all of Twitter, the one big mass of Twitter, you're at the same level. Yeah. And I guess, you know, if we linearly interpolate, you're gonna—you're gonna go down below Twitter. So it's going down, man. Um... (laugh)



ALEX: Peter says that I am not alone. That Twitter is in this crazy downward trajectory on the hedonometer this October. 

ALEX: I'm looking at the word cloud for some of these days and it's prisons, thugs, protesters, prisoners. Do you have any idea to what that is attributed? 

PETER: So that—that one is Nigeria, actually. Yeah. That’s—


ALEX: Ohh. 

PETER: Because it’s global that one got pushed in there... So that’s like points to like how just there’s everything is going on. Because that first stuff isTrump, Coronavirus, there’s the debate with Biden, you know led into that, just- just—just a maelstrom of stories, and of course it's precipitated by Ginsburg's death. 


ALEX: Like, it just looks like it's like—it just looks like we're falling off a cliff, which just doesn't feel great.


PJ: I think like, I don't know. I think on the one hand, a lot of the factors that are making things hard are just completely out of our control. And it is nice to know everyone's in the same misery. And at—at some point, everyone won't be in that same misery.


ALEX: I keep thinking uh, of that poem that's like, "laugh and the whole world laughs with you, cry and you cry alone." And —


PJ: Uh...


ALEX: — it's exactly untrue. If you laugh, you're laughing — according to this machine, if you laugh, you are laughing by yourself. And if you cry, the whole world is crying with you (laughing).


PJ: So what- are you—is this like an advertisement for depression now? 

ALEX: Yep.

PJ: Like (laughing) what are you saying? Ask your doctor about depression?

ALEX: Yep.


PJ: I mean honestly, I sorta feel like the big thing I get out of this is you know, you're a person who complains a lot, about the world—

ALEX: Hmm...

PJ: And the things in it that are bothering you. Like—


ALEX: I'm feeling like I don't really like this description of myself. (laughing)


PJ: But like, the thing that this proves is like, you are having a harder time with this than most people. Like the thing that is affecting everybody, it is affecting you more.


ALEX: Yeah and there's a part of me that's like, “what right do I even have?” Like, I've got like, like, I'm employed, my—I’ve got my family.


PJ: Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know. You like- you're—as like a person with a conscience, you're like legally obligated to note these things. But like, as a person who has to experience the world like, you can't tell your unhappiness that other people have it worse really. Like I've never found that to be a particularly useful strategy, it’s—if anything, you're just like, “and screw you for feeling this way.” Like, I don't know, for me it's like maybe there's nothing you can do with it. For me, um, it just makes me want to keep an eye out for you.


ALEX: Well, thank you, for keeping an eye out for me. No thank you for uh, telling me that I complain all the time. (laughing)


PJ: Is this- this is- this is not—surely, this is not new information?


ALEX: No, it's not.


PJ: (laughing)


ALEX: After the break, a nice warm bath. 


PJ: Ok so Alex. 

ALEX: Mhmm. 

PJ: One of the things, sort of the hedono… hedonometer has me thinking about I guess is like, the idea that you could kind of be telling yourself a story about your relentless unhappiness but you could miss a moment of happiness that happens within it, you know what I mean?

ALEX: Yeah unless you’re like super conscious and deliberate about trying to be happy or like being like, “today is the day,” you know, let me tell you something about my wife. She will—

PJ: Please.

ALEX: She like goes the extra mile just to make her life like two like iotas better every day. Like every day I come downstairs and there’s like half a lemon, and I’m like “what’s going on with the lemon?” She just likes to put lemon in her water. She like wants to make her life better.

PJ: Two things. One, I think most functional people are like your wife. While I agree I find it weird, I think anybody else listening is just like “wow, the world looks really different from inside depression all the time.” [laughs] We’re like — “who are these weird freaks that aren’t just like trying to make their lives miserable all the time?” [laughs] So this actually leaded to what I wanted to talk to you about, uh—


PJ: Which is like, I feel like what, like, as I said, very terrified of this oncoming winter, and I’ve been trying to notice like, I’ve been trying to notice the things that I try to do to make myself happy that are actually just depress—that like that get depressing real fast, like playing video games for an hour cool, playing video games for nine hours like less cool. Um, and I’ve also been trying to notice the small kind of like lemon water type things like, little things that you do for yourself that actually do make you just incrementally, incrementally happy, like they’re not raising you like a Christmas standard deviation but they’re just giving you like 0.1 more on whatever day you’re on.

ALEX: You know, I have to say revealing this somehow feels like more vulnerable to me—

PJ: Very vulnerable!

ALEX: Than exporting my text messages— 

PJ: Yes!

ALEX: To, to a uh spreadsheet and sending them to a researcher.

PJ: Well cause either it’s like, it’s so, it’s like literally this weird little way you’re trying to show yourself a tiny bit of love or it’s such a basic thing that it’s like embarrassing to admit that it’s kind of a big deal. [laughs]

ALEX: I, I’ve become a bath guy.

PJ: I’ve become a candle guy. 


PJ: [laughs]

ALEX: Like, scented candles??

PJ: [laughing] Yes! 

ALEX: I have to say, if we combine our, our respective joys, we could become more powerful than anyone’s ever imagined!

PJ: [Laughs]

ALEX: Scented candles and a bath??

PJ: When did bath guy start?

ALEX: I don’t know —it started last month. I was like, I was like what if I take a—like what if instead of like just getting in the shower to clean myself I li— I like sit in the tub for a while, and just do nothing? Listen to podcasts, play some Matchington Mansion, just chill?

PJ: Wait, you’re playing—you’re taking a bath and you’re playing your shitty iPhone game?

ALEX: You know it brother.

PJ: [laughs] I like how you manage to put ketchup on everything.

ALEX: No, I mean, that, it’s uh, it’s nice! It’s like, it’s, it is the closest to the like, complete like brain shut-off time that I had when I used to have a commute. When I had to sit on a train forever and just not think about anything and like just be—just exist. Read a book. 

PJ: That, that is totally fair, I think in the spirit of this endeavor I’m not gonna make fun of you playing Matchington Mansion.

ALEX: Well, that ship’s kind of sailed…but...

PJ: [laughs] I’m asking you because I actually wanted to do—I wanted to ask our listeners—I feel like our, I feel like our sort of forays into not being miserable all the time are um, they are, they’re tentative first steps that most [unintelligible]

ALEX: They’re bush league.

PJ: [laughs] I think most people—

ALEX: We’re the JV team and you wanna see what varsity self-care stuff looks like.

PJ: Yeah, I’m like kinda curious for like what people do, um, a little bit selfishly like heading into a hard season, and a little bit like, as a gift for everyone else heading into a hard season. Like, the stuff you’ve figured out, the like, making your bed in the morning, or taking a walk, like really like fundamentals of human happiness 101, um to see like what’s working for people. 

ALEX: That’s actually a pretty good idea.


PJ: OK. So, what’s our email and what should the subject line be?

ALEX: Our email is replyall@gimletmedia.com. Our subject—the subject line should be—I don’t know, uh, varsity self care?

PJ: Varsity self care. Um, and, I think what we want is for people to record a voice memo describing the thing, I mean bonus points if you want to record it while doing it, um, but yeah, just send us, send us what’s working for you. 



Reply All is hosted by PJ Vogt, Emmanuel Dzotsi and me, Alex Goldman. Our show was produced this week by Sruthi Pinnamaneni, Phia Bennin, Damiano Marchetti, Anna Foley, Jessica Yung, and Lisa Wang. Our executive producer is Tim Howard. We were mixed by Rick Kwan. Fact checking by Michelle Harris. Our intern is Mohini Madgavkar.

Our theme song is by the Mysterious Breakmaster Cylinder. Additional music production by Mari Romano. Special thanks this week to Chris Danforth and Andy Reagan. Matt Lieber is at least a Christmas day of happiness. You can listen to our show on Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. Thanks for listening. We’ll see you soon.