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Wednesday 26 October 2016

Working it out... Stop telling me how to be happy

John Masterson

Published 10/08/2015 | 02:30

Abraham Lincoln: we are as angry as we decide to be
Abraham Lincoln: we are as angry as we decide to be

There is a happiness industry all around us and they are making me miserable. They tell me that getting more exercise will give me happy hormones and that I will have a permanent smile on my face. They bleat on about mindfulness which seems to be the current cure for every psychological ailment. They tell me to be grateful, which by and large I am. I have even been known to suggest that 'attitude of gratitude' mantra myself, so pervasive is the influence of the happiness-hawkers.

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It has dawned on me recently that the emphasis is all wrong. As soon as someone asks me am I happy, I begin to wonder about it. I even feel guilty if I have not been oozing happiness from my every pore, since, if I was, they would not bothered to ask me.

I am finding it much more useful to look at my psychological state from the other end of the continuum, ie unhappiness. To my delight, I can report that I am rarely unhappy, and, if I am, thankfully it is not for a long duration. I get unhappy when relationships are not going well and that is as it should be. I get unhappy if there are problems at work. And that is as it should be, though I will hide it and get on with things. However, a cursory inventory of my mental state shows that unhappiness does not make its presence felt all that often. I seem to be blessed with, or doing the correct things to maintain, a reasonably sunny disposition despite the slings and arrows that I encounter daily. Looking at it from the unhappiness perspective I am delighted to see that I am in plus territory, whereas when you start from happy, everyone, even Pharrell Williams, is not going to make it all of the time. Only an idiot would.

Perhaps I am relatively happy because I am mindful by nature and I do not need a guru to explain it to me. Perhaps I am relatively happy because I do take enough exercise and I don't need a personal trainer to coach me. And as I was always taught to be grateful, that must immunise me too.

And then there is the giving of pleasure. A ten-year-old boy admired my Harley in the street recently. His mother, slightly embarrassed, asked could he sit up on it. No problem. He was thrilled. She took a photo. Then I fired it up and he exploded with delight. That was before I let him rev the throttle. Mother, youngster and I had followed all the happiness rules without anyone to guide us and we felt great. I suspect Dad got a buzz out of the photo later.

So long as my unhappinesses remain infrequent, I will cease listening to the happiness movement. I will feel better and be grateful.

Now to work on my anger issues. I think it was Abraham Lincoln who said that most of us are as angry as we decide to be. Ok. I know the word was actually 'happy'. He may have freed the slaves but why did he have to ruin it all by starting the confounded happiness industry? As it happens, though, he got it right first time.

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