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Tony Allen: And Finally...

Sep 07, 2015
Happy daze!

Gustave Flaubert once wrote that “To be stupid, selfish and have good health are three main requirements for happiness – though if stupidity is lacking, all is lost!”

I must say that the ‘stupid’ aspect of this quotation really got me thinking - especially as I felt eminently qualified to take full advantage! There is certainly no doubt that we often make our lives far too complicated. That’s why we have phrases such as ‘ignorance is bliss’ or ‘a happy fool’ and so on.

As my Grandfather used to say.  “Life is a set of ingredients: it’s really up to us what type of cake we bake”. This is surely good advice. You can have two people with, materially and emotionally, exactly the same lifestyles, but one will be mostly happy throughout their life and the other will be mostly sad. So  maybe happiness is simply just a lifestyle choice.

To someone emerging from a desert after being lost for many days, happiness is a glass of water. This would not, however, appeal to a person who has just been saved from drowning. So it seems to me that, more often than not, it really is a question of interpretation and circumstance. Maybe happiness is much more attainable than we think.

I’ve recently started to learn how to play the ukulele, and to me, being able to play a C# diminished is absolute heaven. On the other hand, my leaving the house with my ukulele on a Tuesday night is probably my family’s idea of absolute heaven!

Of course, this really begs the question as to whether we are a glass half empty or a glass half full type of individual, and I expect that, throughout the population, this trait occurs in equal measures (poor attempt at a joke!). Is an optimist always happy? Is a pessimist always sad? Of course the answer to both questions is: I hope not!

If we were never sad, how would we know what it was like to be happy? How would we recognise it? Would it perhaps mean that we were selfish and insensitive to others – or maybe just simply stupid?

In the office, I would often be heard to say “n ten years’ time I won’t even remember this”. You know the situation, something has gone drastically wrong with one of your best customers. Due to unavoidable circumstances they are going to be let down. You’ve got to tell them. You know that you should do this immediately. You don’t. You sit around like Buddha waiting for a miracle to happen. You don’t want to talk about it. You pretend it is some sort of dream. It isn’t! I’ll have one more coffee and then I’ll phone. Finally, after worrying a lot and being unhappy for a seemingly inordinate amount of time, you still have to make that phone-call. The one you should have made ages ago.  

That’s where that phrase comes in. All that worry and yet ‘in ten years’ time we seriously won’t even remember it’. Why make ourselves needlessly unhappy? Mind you, I don’t use this phrase any longer because the reply is normally, “I don’t know why you’re saying that, you can’t even remember what happened last week!”

Is it correct to say that laughter is the ultimate expression of happiness? Not necessarily, for according to anthropologists, laughter originally came about as a conditioned reflex to danger. As an example, there is an old story about a researcher who had spent some time living with a newly discovered tribe in Papua New Guinea. One day whilst out walking she suddenly came across the whole village who were watching one of their group hanging precariously by his fingertips from a very high cliff - and everyone was standing around in uncontrollable fits of laughter! What happened to the poor chap after that I do not know, but I am ashamed to admit that the mental image created in my mind of this jungle drama really made me smile – maybe because it reminded me of some Board Meetings I have attended.

So what about the final aspect of Flaubert’s aphorism: good health? Well of course we all desire this. Although, ironically, adversity can often create a heightened sense of happiness – a new awareness of the simpler things which we normally take for granted. It’s no coincidence that in most languages, the standard toast is usually the equivalent of our ‘Good Health’. Mind you, taking account of current thinking towards the dangers of alcohol, wishing someone ‘good health’ as they lift their glass, is rather like presenting them with a primed hand-grenade and wishing them a long life.  Ah well, I suppose that’s why sometimes stupidity can be rather a valuable asset.

Be happy!

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