At our 20th reunion in 2014, newly appointed Yale President Peter Salovey accepted our invitation to give a brief talk to our class. Salovey was a beloved figure when we were undergraduates at Yale — a record number of students enrolled in his class “Psychology and Law,” forcing a venue change to the enormous Battell Chapel.
When President Salovey arrived to speak to our class on the Friday of reunion, it was with all the star power of an NBA champion plus British royalty plus Tom Hanks. He walked into the room, and suddenly it felt like all of us were back in college, acolytes thoroughly enraptured by the cheerful wisdom of our guru, as luminaries of bygone days gazed down at us from their oil portraits on the walls of Sheffield-Sterling-Strathcona Hall.
Salovey’s talk that day focused on a research interest of his called “Basking in Reflected Glory” or “BIRG-ing” — the psychological phenomenon that accounts for why we feel great when “our” team wins a championship or “our” candidate wins an election. We all like to feel affiliated with prestige, with power, with winners. But sometimes — especially for Yalies, especially at reunions — it’s hard not to look left and right, clock the success of your peers, and think: why them and not me?
Instead, guru Salovey suggested, a class reunion is the ideal time to indulge in the positive effects of “BIRG-ing.” He advised us to sidestep the impulse to compare and contrast; instead, simply applaud the success of your classmates, and let them applaud you. Revel in your collective success and any lingering envy will melt away.
Both of us have reflected often on that advice in the last five years. The mid-forties are… an adventure. The term “midlife crisis” may sound trite and overused, but it’s real and it’s a sucker punch — even though everyone told us it was coming.
But we realized we’ve experienced a newfound peace, too, that comes from looking back over the last four decades and realizing that no one’s unscathed by now. Even the most successful of our peers, the ones with the highest profiles, awards on the mantle, more money in the bank than they could spend in a lifetime — all of us have lost loved ones, survived health crises or had major career setbacks. Marriages have imploded, our parents’ health has deteriorated, the economy has been a gut-churning rollercoaster, never mind the state of our democracy. Life is a great equalizer. No one’s unscathed, but we’re all in this together, so no one’s alone, either.
When we let ourselves BIRG a little, we find so much to feel great about. We find true delight in our friends’ successes, big and small. We take enormous pride in the bond of friendship among our classmates — some of whom we’ve known since the first day of college, some of whom we are now just meeting for the first time this weekend. We feel lucky to be here, and now more than ever, we feel lucky to be together.
Peter Salovey’s attendance record finally fell last year to Laurie Santos’ “Psychology and the Good Life,” which met in Woolsey Hall — even bigger than Battell. Her class explores research into the behaviors and practices that boost well-being. It’s heartening for us to see that young, vibrant, idealistic undergrads are interested in unlocking the secrets to happiness and mental health. It’s not just for grownups anymore.
One of Santos’ assignments is to keep a gratitude journal, which experts say can be a very powerful happiness practice. We’re giving the Class of ‘94 that assignment too: one of the souvenirs for this 25th reunion is a small navy blue bound book in which we hope our classmates will note the things in life that they feel grateful for, the things that spark joy, that give them that unique BIRG glow.
The two of us are thankful to have had the chance to burnish our 25+-year friendship through months of Zoom video calls, random texts and pizza emojis as we planned this reunion. We’re thankful we had the chance to go to college at Yale, and to our families who made that possible. We’re thankful to the Alumni Association staff that works tirelessly on these reunions. We’re thankful the Yorkside menu hasn’t really changed since we last had a Greek salad there when we just couldn’t face the dining hall. And we’re truly thankful to every single classmate who decided to take the time and spend the energy to return to New Haven this weekend. We’re basking in reflected glory.
Elizabeth Terry ’94 and Emily Fox ’94 are co-chairs of their 25th reunion committee. Terry is a writer and editor based in Washington, D.C. Fox is a TV producer and writer based in Los Angeles. Contact them at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org, respectively.