Purcell: Buffett was a superspreader of happiness


Tom Purcell is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review humor columnist.

There’s a reason the name “Jimmy Buffett” elicits immediate joy in the hearts of millions: happiness contagion.

A study conducted by Harvard University and the University of California followed 5,000 people for 20 years to determine if happiness was contagious.

The study’s finding: It most certainly is.

If you smile at a stranger as you hold a door open for him, you transfer a positive, happy energy that he can’t help but enjoy.

Better yet, according to Psychology Today, the study finds that the happiness you just infused in a stranger is shared by him to approximately three others, who, in turn, share it with others and so on.

Jimmy Buffett, who died Sept. 1 at age 76, was a master of happiness contagion — filling me with joy since I first heard of him at a “Buffett Party” in a Penn State dorm room back in the 1980s.

Buffett said that his audience worked hard all week long, and it was his job to give fans two full hours of joy and have fun doing it.

He knew exactly what he was doing as an entertainer.

“It’s pure escapism is all it is,” he told The Republic. “I think it’s really a part of the human condition that you’ve got to have some fun. You’ve got to get away from whatever you do to make a living or other parts of life that stress you out.”

For someone who portrayed himself as laid-back and easygoing, he was actually a happy workaholic.

He didn’t start playing guitar until his first year in college at Auburn, then promptly flunked out because he was having so much fun strumming and singing, reports The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

He eventually graduated in 1969 with a history degree from The University of Southern Mississippi, then bounced around New Orleans and Nashville, Tennessee, for a few years.

In 1970, while working as a reporter for Billboard, he got his first record deal — only selling 324 albums, according to The New York Times.

By 1971, he made his way to Key West, Florida, fell promptly in love with the place, moved there and began writing his Caribbean-themed songs.

In 1973, his second record release was a success, and the hits began coming — culminating in 1977 with the groundbreaking “Margaritaville,” which is still one of the world’s best-known songs.

But Buffett was just getting started.

A savvy businessman would soon emerge. He took ownership of the Margaritaville brand and built a billion-dollar empire that “includes over 30 hotels and resorts and 150 restaurants, bars, and cafes,” reports Inc.

He also published a half-dozen bestselling fiction, nonfiction and children’s books.

Jimmy Buffett’s career makes me feel like a slacker, but his story is a reminder that, with a little talent, a little luck and a lot of hard work, amazing things can still be achieved in America.

Better yet, his story reminds us that any of us has the power to spread happiness — something he did on a magnificent scale.

In a modern world in which so many people choose to be smug, snarky, judgmental and divisive — thank you, social media — we can all do our small part to unleash a happiness contagion through our kindness, our smiles and our eagerness to hold the door open for strangers.

Or through one of my favorite methods: singing “Margaritaville” on Karaoke Night.

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