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Date night: What happened to dating

Date night: What happened to dating | Cultural Trendz |

Dating, 1954: Guy picks up girl and takes her to the soda shop.
Dating, 1984: Guy picks up girl (at aerobics class), takes her to see John Cougar Mellencamp in concert.
Dating, 2014: Guy texts girl. Ambiguity ensues.

So much ambiguity that, in a new Glamour survey, 73 percent of single women said they often can't even tell whether they've been on a date or not—and, shockingly, 19 percent said they had never been on a "real date" at all. Women in relationships aren't faring much better; just 12 percent of them have a regular date night with their significant other. There seem to be no dating rules anymore—or even any expectations.

Here's what is happening instead: "My boyfriend won't turn off his phone alerts when we're out," says Alexandra Einstein, 26, an account manager from Greenville, South Carolina. "The other night I grabbed it and read 'Drunk fan falls asleep in front row during Blazers game.' Thank God we were alerted." And everyone's gotten lazy about planning time together, as evidenced by this, spotted recently on a Tinder profile: "No more Netflix on a first date." No wonder we're all complaining about our love lives. The bar for acceptable night-out behavior has dropped to the floor.

So let's pick that bar up and reset it. Let's bring back date night—or date day, even. It doesn't have to be a four-star dinner and a private Beyoncé and Jay Z concert. But dating does require planning. "A date is someone asking another person out and arranging to do something fun together," says Risa Sarachan, 30, an actress from Albany, New York. "It needs to involve getting to know each other and having a sense of romance. At least that's how I wish it were." Instead, date night has turned into a pitch meeting, according to Kim Wolfe, 26, a Web designer from Sarasota, Florida: "It's always just drinks or coffee instead of a real date, because no one wants to commit more than 20 minutes to get to know you. I would love to spend a day roaming the park or checking out a museum, instead of feeling like I'm on a timer."


There's plenty of blame to go around. The apparently enormous number of available single people online threatens to make each individual date a little less special—your next date is, after all, only a click away. Everyone is working longer hours and over-scheduling; even 35 percent of women in relationships say finding a time when both parties are free is a barrier to date night.

It wasn't always like this. Dating is—like rock 'n' roll, blue jeans, and microwave popcorn—an American invention. "It's a practice that was developed and fine-tuned in the U.S. about a hundred years ago," says Beth Bailey, the author of From Front Porch to Back Seat: Courtship in Twentieth-Century America. "The first time I found the word dating used in an American magazine was in a January 1914 issue of Ladies' Home Journal." Previously, young couples could only flirt under the watchful supervision of their families. But as public spaces like amusement parks and dance halls opened, dating outside the home became a mainstream phenomenon.

To be fair, dating has always changed with the times. In the 1930s, things were competitive—you had to jitterbug with as many people as possible on the dance floor; then, after the tumult of World War II, the goal was to settle down and "go steady." During the rebellious 1960s, couples enjoyed a new sexual freedom that gave birth to 1970s singles bars, but by the 1980s neoconservatism led to a return of more formal dates (think Andie and Duckie in Pretty in Pink). Today dating is murky and confusing—and no one seems very happy.


A formal get-together has practical payoffs. Going on actual dates and not just "hanging out," texting, or hooking up means you are more likely to find better romantic choices, says Helen Fisher, Ph.D.,'s chief scientific adviser. "The test of a relationship is how your personalities mesh, and you can find that out only when you sit down and talk one-on-one. Sites like ours are not dating sites; they're introducing sites. Go out on a real date!" That goes for established couples too, says Fisher: "Date night can renew your feelings of romance by taking you back to when you were first dating and madly in love."

To sum up: Date night works, and it's fun. It works for singles and for couples, gay or straight. "Early on, my now boyfriend and I went on real dates instead of just hanging out, and I feel like it made a real difference," says Morgan Furst, 25, an inventory analyst in San Francisco. "I can still remember the butterflies I had after the first dinner. We shared stories about our lives and really got to know each other."

Dating is a century-old American tradition—let's not let it die. Take a chance! Invite your crush to dinner. Go on a picnic. Meet someone new. Get nervous. Feel the butterflies. See a movie—on a big screen. Create a memory (even if it's a terrible one; the story will delight your friends!). And take your spouse or long-term partner out for a date night, so you both can focus on just each other. Dating is supposed to be fun, remember? So go out. Really, just go out. Maybe you'll get lucky. Maybe you'll fall in love.


One night could change everything. ♥

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It's the 30-year anniversary of the greatest Wall Street movie ever made: Here's the story behind it

It's the 30-year anniversary of the greatest  Wall Street movie ever made: Here's the story behind it | Cultural Trendz |

On its 30th anniversary, we toast "Trading Places" with its cast and crew.


In June of 1983, “Trading Places” was released in theaters. It remains the greatest Wall Street movie ever made.

Thirty years later, most regard it as part of the canon of American comedies, having launched, revived, or defined the careers of many of its cast and crew.

If you haven’t seen it yet, you should probably repent to your local pastor, then log into your nearest Netflix account.

But as a courtesy, we’ll summarize the plot: Two septuagenarian brothers who run a successful commodities brokerage in Philadelphia get into an argument about whether a person’s character is shaped by nature or nurture. They decide to make a bet: They will frame a top executive (Dan Aykroyd) with drug possession and soliciting a prostitute (Jamie Lee Curtis). Meanwhile, they will promote a street beggar (Eddie Murphy) to the executive’s former role. They will then observe whether the beggar and executive still act like their old selves.

To celebrate the 30-year anniversary of this film, we reached out to some key principals behind the film — sadly, many are no longer with us, though their collective experience at the time of the shooting helped make the movie as good as it was — to talk to us about how it got made and what it means today.



JOHN LANDIS, director: I got a call from Jeff Katzenberg, the executive at Paramount at that time, asking if I would read a script called ‘Black And White,’ which I thought was a lousy title — ironically black or white was something I did with Michael Jackson several years later.

It was very old fashioned, a social comedy very much like the screwball stuff done in the '30s. Hollywood made a series of movies — Preston Sturges, Frank Capra — these comedies that really were about society at the time, and were fairly political, but wonderfully funny and with strong characters.

TIM HARRIS, co-writer: There were these two brothers who were both doctors who I would play tennis with on a fairly regular basis, and they were incredibly irritating to play with because they had a major sibling rivalry going, all the time about everything.

So they always had to be separated, you know, play on the other team.

And they were very wealthy but also incredibly cheap — we would play on public courts where it was like a couple of bucks for four guys for an hour.

And they’d have arguments about who was coming up with 50 cents, and I think one very hot day I played with them, and I just came home and was fed up with it, and I just thought, ‘God, I just don’t want to play with these people, they’re awful.’

And I had the idea of them betting on a nature/nurture situation with somebody in their company, and I’d pretty much worked out the whole thing, and went over to Herschel’s and told it to him and he thought it was fabulous.

At the time I was living in what was a fairly run-down part of L.A. near Fairfax Avenue that was completely crime ridden. I lived in an apartment complex where everybody either had a gun held to their head or been raped or whatever — just a very criminal environment — that was part of it I suppose as well.

HERSCHEL WEINGROD, co-writer: The truth is that the only way that a screenplay can really be judged, by definition, isn't on the page, it's by watching the film that was made from it. It can certainly be read and enjoyed, but the inescapable fact is that it was written in order to be seen.



LANDIS: The script was developed for Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor. And when I was sent the script, Richard Pryor, unfortunately, had his accident where he burnt himself rather badly, and they sent it to me and said, ‘What do you think?’

‘48 Hours’ hadn't come out yet, but they’d previewed it, and Eddie Murphy had previewed very well, and they thought, ‘Ah this kid's going to be a star,’ So they said, ‘What do you think about Eddie Murphy playing the Billy Ray Valentine part?’ And I of course said, ‘Who’s Eddie Murphy?’

Because I didn’t watch Saturday Night Live since John [Belushi] had died.

So I read the script, and I saw Eddie's tapes, and went to New York and met with Eddie. And they wanted — I won't tell you who they wanted me to cast — but the studio was very unhappy with almost everybody they wanted me to cast.

John Belushi had died, and [Dan Aykroyd’s] movie without John was called ‘Dr. Detroit,’ which was a failure, so conventional wisdom was that Aykroyd without Belushi was like Abbott without Costello, and that his career was over.

Now I knew Danny well, having worked with him, and I knew Danny was a fine actor, and he could easily play this guy. Danny, he's an actor: You tell him what you want, and he delivers. And I thought he'd be wonderful. So he reduced his price quite a bit, and I got him, so I had Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy, and they were upset because Danny hadn't — his last couple of pictures hadn't done well, and Eddie was still an unknown really. ‘48 Hours’ came out while we were shooting...

The only character in the script I had a problem with, because she's such a fantasy, is Ophelia. The classic ‘hooker with a heart of gold’  — she's such a fantasy that I thought how the fuck am I going to get away with this?’ I had met Jamie Lee Curtis — I shot a documentary on horror stuff, and she was host of it — she was a ‘scream queen.’ And I met her and she was so funny and smart and sexy, and I thought, ‘Oh she'd be terrific.’  

She had just made ‘Halloween 2,’ for which she'd been paid I think a $1 million, and we paid her probably $70,000. When I cast her the studio went nuts. I was called into the head of the studio’s office and he said, ‘This woman's a B-movie actress,’ and I said, ‘Not after this movie!’ But boy they really didn't like the fact that I cast Danny and Jamie.

JAMIE LEE CURTIS, ‘Ophelia’: I had made a conscious effort to actually stop doing [horror movies]. I knew that that would not allow me a full career — that at a certain point it would get limiting. And I met John when he was doing a short — a documentary about horror movie trailers from the '50s called ‘Coming Soon.’ He needed somebody to narrate, so he hired me for that; that's when I first met him. And during the course of that, he must have had some sense that I would be good. So he handed me that part.

He clearly went against every one of the studios. The casting people all thought he was crazy, and he single-handedly changed the course of my life by giving me that part.

HARRIS: The casting is very much to John’s credit, he just cast the movie brilliantly, and all the minor parts really shine. It’s actually one of those movies, where it changes a lot of the participants’ careers forever. It got Jamie Lee Curtis out of horror movies. It got Herschel and I to a much more prominent level. The two old guys — it completely revived their careers. It catapulted everybody’s careers in a positive way.

LANDIS: The most remarkable story, casting wise: I thought, ‘Well, I need someone who was a movie star in the ‘40s, who never has never really played a villain, and I was thinking, ‘Hey, what about Don Ameche?’ And the casting woman said, ‘Don Ameche’s dead.’ And I said, ‘I don't think so, I would know if Don Ameche is dead.’

And so we called the Screen Actor’s Guild, and his residuals were being sent to his son in Phoenix, Arizona. And I thought, ‘Well that's not a good sign.’ And he didn't have an agent, and I thought, ‘Shit, goddamm, who else could we get?’ when one of the  secretaries said, ‘I heard you're looking for Don Ameche.’ We said ‘Ya.’ She said, ‘I see him all the time walking on San Vicente in Santa Monica.’

So I called information, and I said, ‘I there a Don or D Ameche on San Vicente in Santa Monica?’ And there was! So I called him. And you know he has that unmistakable voice, and you realize, Don was a huge star, in the late ’30s, definitely a big star in the ’40s — I mean he was Alexander Graham Bell for chrissakes! — a major star in the ’50s, Broadway star, radio star, movie star, television star.

And I said, ‘Mr. Ameche?’ ‘Yeeessss...?’ ‘My name is John Landis, I’m with Paramount Studios, and I'm making a film and I’d like you to consider a part.’ So I had a script sent over. ‘And could you please read this and can you come in tomorrow?’ And he said, ‘Yes.’ Would you like us to send a car?’ He said, ‘No no, I can drive.’ I said, ‘Great.’

And he came in and was prepared to read for me. I was so shocked. I said ‘You don't have to read for me.’

He hadn't made a movie in 14 years, he'd been doing dinner theater.

While we were shooting later in Philadelphia — he was so wonderful — I said, ‘Don, may I ask a question? How come you haven't worked in 14 years?’ And he said, ‘Well, nobody called!’

The great upshot of this is after Trading Places came out, the next movie he was in was ‘Cocoon,’  which he won an Oscar for. He never stopped working the rest of his life — he made like 10 more movies — I worked with him twice more.


HARRIS: [Philadelphia] has a connection with the founding of the country, the constitution, everybody being entitled to the pursuit of happiness, all the idealism that’s built into America. I thought it was a good way to highlight that, especially in the opening scene when you see the legless black guy.

LANDIS: A lot of the interiors that are supposed to be in Philadelphia are actually New York. The exterior and interior of Duke Brothers, the big floor, was Philadelphia. But the offices were upstairs at the Park Avenue Armory, they had these beautiful Stanford White interiors. In fact, there was a real Gilbert Stewart portrait of George Washington — I said ‘Can I use that?’

[The Heritage Club location] was an amazing find. It's an old Chamber of Commerce building, it was empty — a spectacular room, we just put the table in there.


LANDIS: It took me a long time just to understand the con, what was going on. It's just so funny, it's so long ago now, the chicanery is so much more arcane now. At least in ‘Trading Places,’ at the end of the day, there was the commodity.

HARRIS: I asked some people who were in that business to kind of walk me me through it, and when I was writing it — it was like studying for an exam, you know, you kind of understand it the day of, and then 24 hours later you can’t remember how anything works.

LANDIS: It was actually in the script that the final scenes were in Chicago at the commodities exchange, but they would not let us shoot there. We really had tried every which way to get permission to shoot there, and I think truthfully once they saw we had a clear understanding of how it worked, it was like, ‘No!’

So we ended up at the commodities exchange in New York which was at the World Trade Center at the time.

About 90% [of the floor traders in the movie] were actual traders, and a great deal of it I shot during actual trading hours. They were into it — if anything they were less rough. I was quite taken aback at how physically rough it was — they really elbowed one another ... It was like a contact sport.

They were basically trading like 8 or 9 hours a day, so we were in there for 3 to 4 hours on two days between opening and closing, and we got a lot done. I actually shot some ‘guerrilla’ stuff there that I used in the movie.

I also remember that the commodities market, it was in one of the towers at the World Trade Center on the 50th or 60th floor — no windows, and 3 to 4 stories high. That was very strange, to take an elevator up 50 or 60 floors, and then you thought you were underground.


WEINGROD: The film got extremely good reviews from the major film critics at the time - Vincent Canby at the New York Times; Siskel & Ebert, both on their TV show and in the Chicago Sun-Times; Richard Schicikel in Time Magazine; Sheila Benson in the L.A. Times; even People magazine. There were some negative reviews as well, but we were hopeful that the good ones would help audiences go and see the film. They did and, fortunately, they liked it a lot. I just looked it up, and it was the fourth highest grossing film in a year where ‘Return Of The Jedi’ and ‘Tootsie’ were first and second.

HARRIS: It didn’t have a huge opening, but it just kept going and going and going.  I had a call from an agent saying he was getting calls asking if it was true that the whole film had actually been the producer Aaron Russo’s idea, and that he’d just paid us to write it. Then I got another call saying Jeffrey Katzenberg at Paramount was going around saying it had all been his idea. Being by then already a Hollywood cynic, I knew it was a hit, because people were trying to steal credit for it already.

CURTIS: Some people will pretend they knew it. Paramount maybe felt like it had something. In the middle of the process, you never anticipate that it’s going to be off the charts. ... It's just a really funny movie. ‘Motherfucker? Moi?’

WEINGROD: If you write an original screenplay that becomes a commercial and critical success, you suddenly have a certain amount of legitimacy. No one's risking their job hiring you to do a writing assignment or even making another of your original scripts because you've already made money for a studio; you're in the club, as it were. ... Hiring writers whose films have been successful helps mitigate this essential absurdity of the screenwriting process for the buyer.

LANDIS: Movies have a life of their own.


HARRIS: It was probably just on the cusp of it becoming incredibly trendy to be absolutely rich. We played into that at the end of film: Tdream is achieved because these two guys, a black guy and white guy, both got filthy rich. I think that’s why the film is successful — it’s a satire on greed and social conventions, but it had a satisfying happy ending. They both got what they wanted.

CURTIS: Old money still has the power — nothing has changed. It’s shocking to me, but it’s not surprising. It’s shocking that you would think people would be held accountable, but I just don't think that's reality today.

LANDIS: The sheer enormity of the dishonesty that's rampant in the banking industry and securities business ... This all extends from deregulation — just the cowardice and corruption of the Senate, it's just ... you can't exaggerate this stuff. You really can't.

HARRIS: Somebody came up to me recently and said it was because of ‘Trading Places’ that he’d gone into the world of finance, which is like a huge paradigm turn — that a film written as satire of that world ends up inspiring somebody to go into that world and make a lot of money. But it just shows how times change since that film was made.

WEINGROD: Bernard Madoff, former chairman of NASDAQ, had been investigated by the SEC since 1999, but the scandal didn't break until 2008. 'Nuff said.


HARRIS: The movies that have come out about Wall Street, none of them are funny. They’re all melodramas, they take themselves very seriously. I think they’re constrained, they have to be automatically liberal in their disapproval of it.

I was sort of disappointed with that. ‘Trading Places’ is a sort of backward-looking film, that owed more to the films of the ’40s and ’50s than it does to anything that was going on at the time it was made.

‘Brewster’s Millions’ was a social comedy about money and greed and what it does to people, but after that, there were no films like that being made anymore.

There were no films like that being made anymore. — Tim Harris

Comedies were being directed at a specific groups of kids — teenagers — and that seemed to take over a great deal.

I think it’s probably an American thing — they’re not interested in looking at that stuff particularly. I don’t think Hollywood is either — it’s awkward for them. The important people in Hollywood are really, really, filthy rich. They don’t want to see that made fun of particularly, I don’t think.

CURTIS: Comedy is all about character and conflict. There’s certainly enough conflict in banking, and there are certainly enough characters. Someone who's clever could come up with a good hook.

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The Happiness of Pursuit

The Happiness of Pursuit | Cultural Trendz |

If you're an American and you're not having fun, it just might be your own fault. Our long national expedition is entering its 238th year, and from the start, it was clear that this would be a bracing place to live. There would be plenty of food, plenty of land, plenty of minerals in the mountains and timber in the wilderness. You might have to work hard, but you'd have a grand time doing it.

That promise, for the most part, has been kept. There would be land rushes and gold rushes and wagon trains and riverboats and cities built hard against cities until there was no place to build but up, so we went in that direction too. We created outrageous things just because we could--the Hoover Dam, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Empire State Building, which started to rise the year after the stock market crashed, because what better way to respond to a global economic crisis than to build the world's tallest skyscraper? We got to the moon 40 years later and, true to our hot-rodding spirit, soon contrived to get a car up there as well. The tire tracks left on the lunar surface (tracks that are still there) are the real American graffiti.

All human beings may come equipped with the pursuit-of-happiness impulse--the urge to find lusher land just over the hill, fatter buffalo in the next valley--but it's Americans who have codified the idea, written it into the Declaration of Independence and made it a central mandate of the national character. American happiness would never be about savor-the-moment contentment. That way lay the reflective café culture of the Old World--fine for Europe, not for Jamestown. Our happiness would be bred, instead, of an almost adolescent restlessness, an itch to do the Next Big Thing. The terms of the deal the founders offered are not easy: there's no guarantee that we'll actually achieve happiness, but we can go after it in almost any way we choose. All by itself, that freedom ought to bring us joy, but the more cramped, distracted, maddeningly kinetic nature of the modern world has made it harder than ever. Somehow there must be a way to thread that needle, to reconcile the contradictions between our pioneer impulses and our contemporary selves.

Those impulses are very deeply rooted: pilgrims to the New World were a self-selected group. Not every person suffering under the whip of tyranny or the crush of poverty had the temperamental wherewithal to pick up, pack up and travel to the other side of the globe and start over. Those who did were looking for something--pursuing something--and happiness is as good a way of defining that goal as any. Once that migrant population started raising babies on a new continent, the odds were that the same questing spirit would be bred into or at least taught to the new generations as well.

And it has been. It took us 100 years to settle the continent and less than 200 to become the world's dominant power. We snatched and grabbed and extracted, yes, but we gave back too. Happy people don't just accumulate fortune; they invent things--the lightbulb, the telegraph, the movie camera, the airplane, the mass-produced automobile, the polio vaccine, the personal computer, social media, the iPhone. And happy people are also generous people, rebuilding other nations (hello, Marshall Plan) and donating to charities; the U.S. still ranks No. 1 among all nations in per capita charitable giving.

But what happens to a breed of people hardwired by genes or culture or both to build, build, build when most of the building is done? What happens when the sprinting dog actually catches the car? That first moon landing--Apollo 11--was a very big deal, something we had pursued like nothing else. But Apollo 12? Sort of a letdown.

It's not as if we don't have the financial means to keep ourselves stimulated. We spent $118 billion on travel abroad in 2012; we spend close to $25 billion per year to attend sporting events and, combined with Canada, nearly $11 billion on movie tickets. We buy ourselves an annual $140 billion worth of recreational equipment and $200 billion of electronics.

But that's consumptive happiness, the happiness that comes not from sowing but from reaping, not from building the house but from watching TV in your new living room. That may be the goal of the work, but it's a goal that, once achieved, can leave us feeling bored.

Since 1972, only about one-third of Americans have described themselves as "very happy," according to surveys funded by the National Science Foundation. Just since 2004, the share of Americans who identify themselves as optimists has plummeted from 79% to 50%, according to a new Time poll. Meanwhile, more than 20% of us will suffer from a mood disorder at some point in our lifetimes and more than 30% from an anxiety disorder. By the time we're 18 years old, 11% of us have been diagnosed with depression.

The gap between our optimistic expectations and the reality that a significant portion of the population is, of late, cranky and dissatisfied may be what has spawned the vast happiness industry. We tap that industry in a lot of ways--with pills (the Time poll found that 25% of American women and 5% of men say they are taking antidepressants), with food (48% of women and 44% of men admit to eating to improve their mood, contributing to the U.S. obesity epidemic), with self-improvement products and services (including books, audiobooks and seminars, self-improvement is a $10 billion-a-year industry, about the same as Hollywood), with borrowed wisdom (there are 5,000 motivational speakers in the U.S., earning a collective $1 billion per year). The pursuit of happiness, once an ideal, has become a big business but not an especially effective one; plenty of other countries are doing a lot better than we are without trying so hard. According to the 2012 World Happiness Report, published by the Earth Institute of Columbia University, the U.S. ranks 23rd on a 50-country happiness index, far behind No. 1 Iceland, No. 2 New Zealand and No. 3 Denmark and trailing Singapore, Malaysia, Tanzania and Vietnam.

If you're part of the demographic pursuing joy or just trying to quell some psychic angst, none of this is a surprise to you, nor is the way happiness is now being merchandised, since you may have spent more than your share of disposable income on meditation or yoga classes, life coaching or happiness apps. Part of the solution, however, may lie not in a product or a program but simply in a better understanding of the particular way Americans define happiness in the first place. There are answers to be found in our genes, in our collective psyche, in the workings of our brain. If it was possible for our ancestors to be happy on the prairie, it ought to be possible for us to be happy in our jobs, our families, our communities. We've got all the toys; now we need to relocate the joy, to tap into the propensities that allow us to take pleasure in striving--in, if you will, the pursuit.

The Biology of Happy

The familiar notion that the descendants of immigrants, whether they arrived from old Europe 300 years ago or Asia last year, are heirs to a genetically optimistic temperament makes intuitive sense. But it also makes us uneasy, and it should. That way lies a belief in a sort of breedable, biological specialness--an exceptionalism we accept when it's preceded by the word American but that spooks us when the word is Russian or Chinese or Japanese.

That said, simple biology--evident since Gregor Mendel started breeding his pea plants in the 19th century--dictates that the random mix of genetic traits within any one population will be amplified when that population starts breeding. That ought to be true for so-called immigrant genes too, and in 2011, that idea got a big boost when investigators at Harvard and Boston University analyzed a gene dubbed DRD4, which is associated with activity in the brain's dopamine receptors. The gene comes in several forms, or alleles. Of the three most common, one codes for even-temperedness and reflection, while the other two code for exploratory and impulsive behavior, as well as a taste for risk taking and a tolerance of novelty.

When the investigators looked at the frequency of the different alleles in people around the world, they found that the farther along the migration route from Africa, the cradle of us all, through central Asia, Europe and the New World, the likelier people were to carry the two novelty-seeking alleles. Studies of another gene called 5-HTTLPR, related to serotonin transport, have yielded similar findings. The allele of that gene that codes for anxiety and risk avoidance is less common in individualistic cultures like that of the U.S.

If genes play a role in shaping immigrant temperament, they do so in a subtle way. Serotonin and dopamine are often, simplistically, thought of as feel-good neurotransmitters. The more you have of them, the happier you are. But in the case of immigrants at least, the power of the chemicals is that they regulate what researchers straightforwardly call search activity--forward-looking behavior that often occurs in pursuit of a specific goal. Search activity simply feels good--a fact that helps explain why shopping for something is often more fun than buying it, hunting can be more enjoyable than actually bagging your prey, and so many politicians appear to have a better time running for office than holding it.

What's more, explains Dr. Vadim Rotenberg, a psychiatrist and psychophysiologist at Tel Aviv University, the feel-good search experience can stimulate people to continue pursuing a goal even when they're having trouble achieving it. That's as good an explanation for immigrant persistence as there ever was. So how does a brain bred for the joy of pursuit react to stress and a climate of near constant distractions--both grindingly consistent features of the postindustrial world?

At the neurological level, happiness is a very complex thing, and lots can go wrong. Studies of the brain conducted with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) show varying levels of happiness-related activity in the left prefrontal cortex and the more primitive basal ganglia, which form part of the reward loop; the amygdala, which processes a range of basic emotions; the septal area, which is involved in the experience of empathy; and the anterior insula, which helps focus our attention on the things that are making us happy in the first place.

Earlier this year, neuroscientist Sylvia Morelli of Stanford University and psychologist Matt Lieberman of UCLA used fMRIs to study how empathically people responded when they were looking at happy or sad images of other people. Empathic experiences are good proxies for personal ones because there's a lot of overlap in the regions of the brain in which they're processed; this is why sympathetic pain can make you squirm even though you haven't been injured and joy at a loved one's success can make you feel as if you succeeded too.

In Morelli and Lieberman's study, the volunteers looked at the pictures either when they were free to focus on them completely or when they were trying to memorize an eight-digit number the researchers had assigned them. Consistently, the people operating under that so-called cognitive load showed reduced empathy reactions, with neural activity down across four different brain regions. People with uncluttered brains processed--and felt--things more deeply. "Being distracted reduces our empathy for others and blunts responses in the brain," says Morelli. "So it's possible that being distracted may also reduce our own happiness." Memorizing an eight-digit number is hardly something you do every day, but juggling e-mails, meeting deadlines and worrying about the next round of layoffs is, and that takes its toll.

Get Rich, Get Happy

If tension is making us miserable, snuffing out all the good work our happy genes do, we've learned that one balm can fix it all: money. Never mind what you've been taught to the contrary, money can indeed buy happiness, at least in certain circumstances. It was in 1974 that University of Southern California economist Richard Easterlin first formulated his eponymous (and soon ubiquitous) Easterlin Paradox, which held that there is a threshold beyond which increases in income produce no commensurate increase in subjective well-being. Once basic needs (food, clothing, shelter) are met, we simply reach a satiation point. For a lot of people, this never met the plausibility test, and for Americans in particular, who have always been unembarrassedly O.K. with the goal of getting rich, who delighted in a movie in which a character flatly announced that greed is good, the satiation idea was especially troubling.

Turns out we were right. The Easterlin Paradox held sway only until other researchers began poking at it, using longer-term data sets, testing them across multiple cultures and finding that while happiness may not rise as quickly as income (doubling your salary from $75,000 to $150,000 will not make you twice as happy) there is no such thing as growing numb to money. Indeed, just this April, a study by the Brookings Institution and the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan analyzed data from 155 countries and found that not only does subjective well-being rise along with income but in wealthy countries the slope is actually sharper than it is in poorer countries. A 10% bump in a $50,000 income, for example, produces a greater happiness boost than a similar percentage increase in a $10,000 income, even though a little extra money at the lower end of the scale ought to have a more life-improving effect. Rich isn't just better; it's much better.

That, at least, is how things shake out at the national and global level. At the individual and community level, it can be much different. If you're rich, your experiences are not the same as every other rich person's, and the same is true if you're poor. "A reporter once asked me, 'Yes or no, does money make people happy? No scientific waffling, just yes or no,'" says psychologist Edward Diener of the University of Illinois. "I hit Delete."

A massive study Diener led that was published last December analyzed the responses of 806,526 people in 135 countries collected over the course of six years. It found that income corresponds more or less directly to happiness but only if a person's wealth and aspirations keep pace. Earning $170,000 per year might put you in the top 5% of American households, but if you're dreaming of a one-percenter's lifestyle, you'll be disappointed. "Money can boost happiness if it allows people to obtain more of the things they need and desire," says Diener. "But when their desires outpace what they can afford, even rising income can be accompanied by falling feelings of well-being."

This is particularly problematic in the modern era. A century ago, everybody knew the names of the country's richest families--the Carnegies, the Vanderbilts, the Astors--but they were little more than icons. You never really saw how they lived, which was just fine, since if you did, your little split-level house or sole-proprietor business would start to look pretty shabby. In an era of paparazzi and reality shows, everyone sees everything and almost all of us suffer by comparison with someone.

"Bertrand Russell used to say, 'Beggars do not envy millionaires, though of course they will envy other beggars who are more successful,'" says psychologist Cameron Anderson of the University of California, Berkeley. Anderson studies the difference between socioeconomic status--a purely arithmetical measure of how much money you make--and sociometric status, which is a measure of how well you compare with the people around you. Before the beggar could see the millionaire, those distinctions were easier to draw. Now the silos have been blown up or at least made transparent, a process that has accelerated dramatically in the era of social media.

If you're on Facebook, there are more than 1.1 billion other people who can mainline their good times--their new car, their big house, their vacation that you'd have to save 10 years to take--straight into your brain. Half a billion people on Twitter can do the same, a punchy 140 characters at a time. The very setup of social media provides another way to keep score. You've got 50 Twitter followers? Great, but your best friend has 500, and Lady Gaga, in case you're counting, has 38 million. In the Time poll, 60% of respondents said they do not feel better about themselves after spending time on social media, and 76% believe other people make themselves look happier, more