Happiness or a warm gun?


Pay freezes. Job cuts. Double-dip recessions and end of the world prophecies. It’s 2012 and we could all be forgiven for wallowing in our own miserable, hopeless existence. The little that is left of it anyway. 

Don’t know about you, but it seems the only options to escape this imminent doom or A) buy a bunker, B) become a mermaid and swim with the dolphins all day. Or C) Sell Satan your soul and become a banker? Who fancies a splash with the dolphins and me? 

Long gone are the boom days of conspicuous consumption and hedonism. The bubble has burst. We were blinded by the brands. We collected the gizmos and the gadgets. But now we’ve maxed out our credit card. 

It seems we can no longer afford happiness. We’re in recession. We’re knee deep in depression. We feel part of a ‘Lost Generation’: one that’s sick with nostalgia and longing for the good old days of plenty: the days of Jags, Mulberry handbags and quarterly holidays. But now we’re left clutching our pennies with little faith in the future.

This seems a bizarre time for the Prime Minister to want to measure how happy we are. Mr Cameron believes some multiple choice questions and answers on a scale from 1 – 10 can capture the happiness of the nation. But, unless it’s questions like: ‘on a scale of 1 – 10 how happy would you be if you never heard the words Cameron, Clegg and coalition in the same sentence again’, I won’t be answering.

How on earth do you measure happiness? What questions could you possibly ask? The idea’s either a deliberate distraction or an accidental absurdity.

We don’t need another survey to show us that doing a good deed makes you feel better. We already know silent meditation helps too. We tried smiling at strangers. And that worked, until we smiled at the maniac on the bus. But what grates me the most is that Mr Cameron fails to realise that greater philosophers than him have struggled with the elusive notion of happiness?

Socrates said: ‘Happiness is unrepentant pleasure.’ Camus talked about “a kind of spiritual snobbery that makes people think they can behappy without money.’ Peanuts creator, Charles Schulz insisted that ‘all you need is love, but a bit of chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt’.

Perhaps the most poignant and significant words written on happiness are from British philosopher John Stuart Mill: ‘Ask yourself whether you are happy, and you cease to be so.’ Happiness is something momentary. Something intangible. It has little to with the amount in our bank accounts, yet it’s very hard to be happy with an empty belly. Happiness is neither simple nor something you can put your finger on. It’s a good book. It’s dancing until your feet fall off. But once you try to define it, or once you try to ‘measure’ it, Mr Cameron, well that’s exactly the moment you lose it.