"The woman sitting opposite meon the #4 Powell bus is wearing a leather bomber jacket and stylized Armani glasses. Her fingers are crossed over the wooden handle of a corduroy shoulder bag. The words "PURL" and "KNIT" are tattooed across her knuckles in the same gothic letter that Tupac Shakur used to tattoo "OUTLAW" on his forearm. I'm about to talk to someone who is, apparently, a gangster knitter.
I'm conducting an experiment designed by Canada's top subjective well-being assignment: to record my level of happiness and then get on a bus and initiate a conversation with a stranger. When I get off the bus, I will record my happiness level again. Helliwell's research has proven that the more positive social interactions we have, the higher our happiness level is six out of ten. If Dr. Helliwell is correct, a conversation with the gangster knitter will raise my happiness level to seven.
I throw my best "what's up?" look across the aisle, but the gangster knitter's gaze, hooded by thick brown lashes, is fixed out the window. Her gaze drifts to the Full Throttle energy drink advertisement above my head, to the floor, to the yellow safety bars near the back door. I remember what Helliwell told me. "on a bus you think 'I'm being nice to these people by not invading their space.' But research tells me that, in fact, if we shared a little more space, they'd be happier and I'd be happier. So who's the real loser?"
Ten minutes later, the bus pulls up to my stop. At the door I turn and say, "I like your tattoos." She removes her iPod buds and looks up at me (hazel eyes. I love hazel eyes). "Thank you," she says, a smile dancing at the edges of her lips. As the bus pulls away from the curb, I record a happiness level of seven into my logbook."--Ian Bullock, a Vancouver freelance writer who is at work on his first novel.