Happy meals – and how to save American cities by requiring a 2-hour lunch period

Every Spring for the past decade (until this year!), I have had the privilege and delight of traveling with my family and friends to challenging and interesting places on the globe. Last year at this time we were in the Himalayas, in the tiny kingdom of Bhutan. Bhutan had become our selection as a detour from our original objective, Tibet, which the Chinese had at that time closed to foreign tourists. Our Bhutan trek was tough, but delightful – an extraordinary country, culture and people.

That recollection is only to offer a context for my interest in a couple of subjects in the press recently, and a reinforcement of a previously posted concept – saving the city by declaring a 2-hour lunch period.

Last week, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development issued statistics on the comparative health and welfare of its member organizations. As published in Floyd Norris’s article in the New York Times and commented on elsewhere, some of the data seems to correlate speed of eating with speed of economic recovery. That is, countries where people spend less than 100 minutes per day in eating and drinking are found to have an apparently higher productivity yielding a more rapid change in gross domestic product.


My own experience has a bit of an opposite correlation. Over the past year, I have spent most of my lunch periods dashing across the street for a carry-out from the sandwich shop and eating at my desk while doing business research in the 20 minutes I gave myself to eat. Later, at home, my wife could barely tolerate her role in preparing a meal that would take me less than half the preparation time to consume before putting my face back in my computer for more work. In all of this past year, despite my best efforts, the fortunes of the company I worked for declined by a third.

When I recall the year before, and reflect on what is happening now, my behaviors and habits were more social, and the performance of my company, and now my own, were significantly higher. Lunch time was a period for meeting with others in other places and trading stories about experiences, perceptions and interests. Dinner times expanded the network and provided both rich relationships as well as valuable information for mutual interest and development. We were optimistic, engaged, connected, supportive and successful.

From our trek last year, we learned that rather than the GNP, Bhutan calculates its GNH – its “gross national happiness” – a numeric indicator of the health of the country along four pillars, nine domains, and 72 indicators. It is an attempt to develop a metric for certain subjective values where we, instead, use consumption as a defining measure. Time spent in different places and pursuits is part of that metric as well.

“You see what a complete dedication to economic development ends up in,” he said, referring to the global economic crisis. “Industrialized societies have decided now that G.N.P. is a broken promise.

…We are even breaking down the time of day: how much time a person spends with family, at work and so on,” Mr. Dorji said. (NYT)

I’ve offered this idea elsewhere, but these reports reinforce my speculation that time spent socially – enhancing a sense of well-being, supporting the development of trust, contributing to the sustainability of shared values – may strongly correlate with the financial health of cities, and probably with corporations. From this place in the industrial heartland, where Taylor’s time metrics and scientific management were hugely influential in defining a spare and time-focused culture, and where bankruptcy now defines what were once the “Big Three,” a bit of speculative experimentation about the best uses of time might be transformational.

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May 13, 2009 Just found this in the Atlantic

Is there a formula—some mix of love, work, and psychological adaptation—for a good life? For 72 years, researchers at Harvard have been examining this question, following 268 men who entered college in the late 1930s through war, career, marriage and divorce, parenthood and grandparenthood, and old age. Here, for the first time, a journalist gains access to the archive of one of the most comprehensive longitudinal studies in history. Its contents, as much literature as science, offer profound insight into the human condition—and into the brilliant, complex mind of the study’s longtime director, George Vaillant.


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