Thursday, January 07, 2010

It's the wonder that's keeping the stars apart

An elegant universe by Pants

Britain has a 'happiness tsar'. I find that quite funny. It's a bit like America having an austerity tsar or France having a calorie tsar. It seems a fundamental conflict with the nation's distinguishing characteristic. If Britain had a constitution, I'm guessing it wouldn't include enshrining the right to the pursuit of happiness. The pursuit of a decent foldaway umbrella, yes. Happiness, no.

There have been tsars for various concerns before. I recall a drugs tsar, a cancer tsar and even a 'flu tsar. They arrive in a blaze of publicity, make various unintelligible pronouncements about the vital importance of their particular tsarency, follow it up with a grand mal gaffe and then get quietly flushed away with the next cabinet reshuffle. The happiness tsar is Lord Richard Layard, a psychologist. Unsurprisingly, the happiness tsar is tarting the benefits of therapeutically-enhanced happiness. Conflicts of interest in government advisory services ceased to be an issue about the time of bank deregulation. Politicians can generally reach agreements with their friends over a nice glass of port without resorting to tiresome rules. Whether or not chemically-assisted 'happiness' is a valid antidote to the sorts of injustices experienced by ordinary put-upon folk is, I guess, a matter best discussed with their sleep-deprived GP.

Attempts to have personal well-being recognised as a contributing factor in assessing the health of a nation have been around in Britain for at least a decade. This article in The Independent sees them gaining some political currency, but for all the wrong reasons. Gordon 'Scrooge McDuck' Brown is clutching at every straw going in an attempt to make his tired old government sound like (a) it has the ability to come up with something new and (b) it actually cares about the people it serves. Memo to you Scroogie, a sense of fulfilment comes from genuine effort directed at worthwhile pursuits and not from reciting little Dr Phil rhymes to yourself as you get ready to spend half the morning travelling to your crap job in a gloomy, windowless tower via a crumbling public transport system.

Misery gets an unfair rap in my view. Inspiration often hangs out at the bottom of a pit of despair just waiting for you to cry out for it in anguish. Where would we be without a little Yin to balance our Yang?

All that aside , I did apply myself to the little test at the end of The Independent's article and, blow me down with a tickle machine if I didn't score very high on the happiness index. It's a shame I left Britain. I could have been making a mighty contribution to national mental health.

I do miss all those gaunt, scarf-swathed, sanguine little faces. The relentless positivism in Australia all too often translates as shameless conceit. Wouldn't anyone rather commiserate over a weak tea and soggy Garibaldi with a self-deprecating misery-guts than be cornered by a low-fat blueberry muffin and skinny latte wielding emotional slam-dunker? All things considered, I would have weighed in with a resounding 'yes' to ill-humour in tasteful moderation, so what went wrong?

There are five questions and a 1-7 score for either agreeing or disagreeing. A 7 is strongly agree, a 1 is strongly disagree. Here's how I responded.

Q1. In most ways my life is close to my ideal.

I gave this a 7 by default. I have never bothered to work out what an ideal life would look like. The two modifiers (most ways & close to) alleviate the burden of proof, obviously.

Q2. The conditions of my life are excellent.

A hands-down 7. There is no way I could ever dispute that I have a wonderfully privileged and largely carefree life. The conditions? I mostly impose my own and I can assure you I am scrupulously fair when it comes to me.

Q3. I am satisfied with my life.

This one was slightly tougher. No reassuring modifiers here. It doesn't say 'mostly satisfied'. I could only tackle this one by considering possible dissatisfaction factors, and I found few. I knocked off one point for the rubbish art course I'm half way through, resulting in a 6 for this question.

Q4. So far I have the important things I want in life.

Apart from the occasional absent comma, I'd say absolutely! I guess the 'so far' is for younger people who haven't managed to build up a workable credit card limit. I gave this a 7. At my age, I don't need the modifier, or an increased credit card limit.

Q5. If I could live my life over, I would change almost nothing.

This is the most difficult question but it does contain a very welcome comma. I'm afraid sliding doors theory dominated my thinking on this. Supposing I could change one awful thing I'd said or done, (and in my case there are plenty to choose from), would it trigger a course of events that would bring me to a less comfortable place? Although cringey to recall, none of those regrettable episodes had disastrous consequences. Surely not worth the risk to change anything given that I am perfectly happy with the way things turned out. Hence, a 7.

My score of 34 out of 35 marks me as Highly or Extremely Satisfied - depending on which sentence you read. It's all in the link. Go there if you think you're hard enough. I'm pondering the notion of 'extreme satisfaction'. I'm guessing it doesn't involve a comfy chair, a cold beverage and a DVD. I'm sticking with highly...