Sunday, 13 February 2011

On happiness

It’s something that everybody wants, apart from tortured artists, EMOs and attention-seeking teens. Everyone has an opinion on what it consists of and a not inconsiderable number of snake oil sellers employ their smoke and mirrors to convince willing idiots to part with large sums of money in order to gain access to the secrets, the rites and the rituals necessary to get it.

A one-word entry into Amazon garners 142001 results in the book section alone and there is even a whole department devoted to it – not that I blame Amazon one bit: it’s not its fault that so many books on this subject are written and bought. What is that word? What is the one thing that would give so many hits on Amazon in one section? Robert Pattinson gets 2071 hits across 16 departments including Beauty (!) and Office Products, and Brad Pitt tops out at 4867, so what one thing would beat these two hands down? Happiness, that’s what.

Titles on offer for today’s willing supplicant at the Temple of Happiness include:

  • Happiness: A guide to developing life’s most important skill
  • The How of Happiness
  • Happiness: unlocking the mysteries of psychological wealth

Not having read these tomes, I cannot possibly comment on their quality critically or evaluate their usefulness but the titles of some I found on the website (I give you ‘Thrive: Finding Happiness the Blue Zones Way’ and ‘Happiness Now!: Timeless Wisdom for Feeling Good FAST’) make me want to lobby for all such books to be legally required to print the following disclaimer across the cover:

This book and its contents may not been evaluated by anyone with actual scientific qualifications or by any governing body of actual people and brain experts. This product may not be intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any form of mental disequilibrium and should not be treated as such. No refunds.

One hopes that such warnings would dissuade people from making an unwise purchase that could lead to addiction but, veiled references to cigarette boxes aside, what concerns me more is this overwhelming sense of a universal dissatisfaction with life.

If you Google the phrase “why am I unhappy?” you get a seemingly endless stream of the poor me’s wailing on about how he or she has got everything, has achieved everything, is a superstar with a super-hot other half, who has become the MD of his or her own company before the age of 25 and, in a nutshell, has everything he or she could ever possibly want but is still dissatisfied and do not feel happy. Further investigation will show that this is a recurring theme and, I suspect, the catalyst for a good percentage of the 142001 books the internet offered me.

Now, actual misery and depression is a serious matter and need support and understanding, but surely this extended navel gazery is not good for us? Should we be spending our time worrying that we are not deliriously and insanely happy every waking second of the day? Is it healthy or even desirable to be permanently giddy with incredulous pleasure at the sheer fabulousness of our lives? How did we become so pre-occupied with our own internal happiness barometers? How do we find the time?

Why should we demand to live our lives, exceeding every joyful expectation on a moment-by-moment and feeling like hideous failures if we find ourselves at any point living in a state that is anything less than a constant delirium of awesomeness? Who the hell do we think we are?

We’re not all going to be rich, we’re not going to be film stars and yes, sometimes life isn’t fair.

As a good friend once said:

Life sucks: get a helmet.

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