Beyond Happy Hour

By Nat Eliason in Social

Happy hour is dead. Long live sober hour. 

One project I’ve been working on this year has been to do more group get-togethers and to stop going to happy hour so much. 

Happy hour persists as a popular default activity from tyranny of the minority. It is the activity you’re least likely to get pushback on which makes it a low-risk activity to suggest when you want to get a group of people together. 

On top of that, it is (potentially) inexpensive, low commitment, the timing is flexible, and it doesn’t require having a strong relationship with whoever you invite. You can go to happy hour with someone from work you’ve just met. Inviting them swimming might lead to a call from HR.

Because happy hour is such an easy default activity, replacing it requires effort, but I’ve found some good ways to introduce more non-drinking-centered social activities into your schedule by targeting the aspects that make happy hour so enticing.

Specifically, there are three areas of focus that I think make it much easier to replace happy hour with new, more fun, group activities: 

  1. Creating new defaults
  2. Easily organizing people
  3. Having a plan to plan things

Creating New Defaults

Happy hour provides an easy, low-risk, default activity. Replacing it with something else requires making it easy to summon up a few other equally good default activities that are easy for a small group of people to say yes to.

A good default activity is one where:

  • It’s cheap
  • It will work if any number of invited people show up
  • The timing is flexible 

These criteria are part of the magic of happy hour. It works with any small group of people, it can be cheap if you want it to be, and it still works whether 2, 5, or 10 people show up. 

To successfully replace happy hour with an easy go-to social activity, you need a couple of defaults that meet those criteria. Certain kinds of activities stand out:

  • Group fitness (SoulCycle, lifting, BJJ, though this is less social)
  • Low-effort outdoor activities (Barton Springs in Austin is one example)
  • Sweating (saunas are cross-cultural social mainstays for a reason)
  • Rock climbing or bouldering 
  • Social TV (Bachelor, GoT, etc.) 
  • Board games

But even these are still a little bit harder of an ask than happy hour. It takes more effort to get changed and go to the gym than to just walk into a bar. But they’re good starts. And part of what helps get over the activation energy hurdle is rethinking how you organize people. 

Organizing People

It’s not worth the effort to try to get more than ~3 other people to do a specific thing at a specific time. 

You can certainly do it, but every additional person you try to accommodate decreases the likelihood that whatever you’re trying to do will happen.

Instead, I’ve found it’s easier to think of events as being in three categories: 

Events planned for a specific group. This is what you typically think of when you think of “getting a group of people together.” You want to do something, so you ping everyone you want to invite to try to figure out the best time to do it. 

I’d dispense with this idea entirely, and instead reserve this type of event for very small groups (e.g., a double date), or events very far in the future (e.g., a class or event next month). These kinds of get-togethers are the hardest to organize and the most likely to fall through. 

In place of that, I’ve found open invites, the second kind of event you can organize, to be much easier. 

Instead of trying to organize a time to do something, you pick a time to do it and then tell a bunch of people that you’re going to do it and they’re welcome to join. 

There are a few benefits to organizing events like this:

  • You’re not worried about figuring out everyone’s schedule. 
  • Other people have an easy out if they don’t want to do the event or are busy. 
  • You can organize a lot more get-togethers since it’s a quicker and easier process. 

This doesn’t work for all types of events. It’s hard to plan a group dinner this way, but other kinds of activities from the list above work really well. Even if you’re taking a class or going to a show, you can plan it all out then let a bunch of people know where they can get tickets to join you. 

The third kind of event, which pairs well with the idea of open invites, is standing events. These are low-commitment, low-cost things you can do at the same time every week or month with a varying group of people. 

Watching a social TV show is a classic example of this. You host a bunch of friends to get together and watch Game of Thrones or The Bachelor on the same day each week, and you end up seeing those friends a lot more since you always have that event in your calendar. 

There are plenty of other kinds of get-togethers you could set up as standing events:

  • Going to a park, swimming area, etc.
  • Working from a certain cafe at a certain time
  • Pot-luck dinners at someone’s house
  • Group physical activities (spin, climbing, etc.) 

When I lived in NYC, a friend would always go to a certain Equinox that had a sauna, cold plunge, hot tub, and steam room on Friday evenings. It was an easy way for us to regularly meet up since we lived in different parts of the city, and it was a great social event to invite other friends to. 

If you can have a few of these standing events each week, and organize a few other open invite style events around them, you can very quickly fill up your week with social activities that are more interesting than going to happy hour. 

Which ties into the last piece of replacing happy hour: planning to plan things. 

Planning to Plan

The last thing I’ve found helpful with moving beyond happy hour is scheduling a time to plan out what you’re going to do for your free time during the week. 

I added this to my “weekly plan” template in Notion at the bottom to serve as a reminder to take a few minutes to figure out what I’ll do with my weeknights for the next week to keep things interesting. 

It doesn’t take long, and I’ll usually just put in a placeholder like yoga or climbing for the nights I don’t have anything, but it helps a lot to remove the “what should I do tonight” indecision that can creep up at the end of the day. 

This might seem a little overly-engineered, but there’s something nice about remaining active. I don’t think we need as much time to “sit and veg” out as we think we do.


Footnotes

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