They say a person needs just three things to be truly happy in this world: someone to love, something to do, and something to hope for. - Tom Bodett
Yesterday (March 20 for those in slightly different time zones) was the United Nations International Day of Happiness. Now, much as I don't like being told what to do, or how to feel, on any given day, I actually quite like the whole concept of a day celebrating being happy.
Why? Because human beings are, on the whole, so very, very good at being unhappy.
We excel at it. If there were a Nobel Price for Unhappiness, you would bet your boots that it would have to be shared out across the planet - although there are some individuals who spring to mind as front-runners for the win, including most prominent politicians, who generally look as if a genuine smile (and I emphasise genuine) is a form of strange disease.
The 2013 Gallup Poll of the world's 'Happiest and Unhappiest Countries' revealed that Scandinavia was where it's at for the joy with Norway, Denmark and Sweden taking out gold, silver and bronze - and Australia managing a creditable fourth place. Ireland was tenth, although it was prior to their Six Nations crown this year so I take that with a grain of salt for current standings (so long, Brian O'Driscoll - what a way to go out!).
Unsurprisingly, the Sadness Factor was highest in countries such as the Congo, Chad, and yes, Afghanistan, although I daresay Syria would be pretty near the top of the Tree of Tears now.
I do feel though that the way Gallup measured happiness was fairly subjective. Of course you're going to be less likely to be feeling grumpy living in Australia than in the Yemen, or Burundi; or if you have any concept of how bloody lucky you are then you will be. But asking questions like “Did you feel well-rested yesterday? Were you treated with respect all day yesterday? Did you smile or laugh a lot yesterday? Did you learn or do something interesting yesterday?” doesn't necessarily give you a true picture of what truly makes people happy as opposed to content.
Being treated with respect, and feeling well-rested, or learning something interesting - these are all fabulous things, and shouldn't be taken for granted. A fair whack of the planet doesn't get to enjoy these fairly basic privileges on a daily basis. But they don't in themselves add up to happiness. The essence of happiness is far harder and less tangible to define, and maybe that's why as thickheaded homo sapiens we are so bad at finding it, and instead spend a fair percentage of our lives in perceived blergh, or outright misery.
To me, happiness is intensely personal. It's not just about smiling or laughing. It's about being able to see the potential for laughter on a day, or during a week, or a month, when all that first comes to mind is tears or anger. It's about breaking through the perverse desire we have to say 'things are crap' and saying 'no they aren't... and if they are right now, then they won't always be'.
It's about hope.
Happiness is stupid jokes with those who share your sense of humour. Happiness is that sudden breakthrough in a tricky biscuit situation. Happiness is watching your incredibly grumpy cat stop sulking because you've been away for a week and throw himself on you purring like a maniac. Happiness is quite often chocolate, preferably Lindt Bunnies prior to Easter when strictly speaking they are ILLEGAL.
Happiness is telling someone you love them, and hearing them say it in return.
The world is a deeply scary place. There is so much terror and heartache that sometimes happiness seems like an impossibility. I am not so naive as to think downtown Kiev is a rainbow factory for example. But even in the middle of fear, and loathing, and hatred, it is possible to find that elusive fairy dusted feeling.
'Think of all the beauty still left around you and be happy'. Not my words, but those of someone in the most bewildering and terrifying of worlds.
Come on. Get happy.
And Sweden... happy nation that you are... look out. I may consider a move to downtown Stockholm. Because I'm certain that being neighbours with a certain Alexander SkarsGod wouldn't impede my happiness factor.
Happy thoughts indeed.