Following Prime Minister David Cameron’s call for a measure of how happy we in Britain are Matt Holland, co-worker at Lower Shaw Farm, reflects on what happiness is.
Happiness is a hot commodity. It’s like love. We all want it. And when we get it, we want to hang on to it.
But how? Self-help books try to tell us and when they fail, pop songs offer syrupy solace. Paul McKenna has written a book called ‘I Can Make You Happy!’; Helen Shapiro loved ‘walking back to happiness’; Ken Dodd reckoned it the greatest gift that he possessed; and, in escapist or mystical mood, Bobby McFerrin crooned a cappella ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy!’
But happiness is a tricky business. It’s elusive. We can’t put our finger on it. Maybe it’s a state of mind. Some people have it naturally, whatever their material circumstances; others chase and cultivate it, like a pursuit of excitement; and others still, notwithstanding wealth, health, or poverty, simply cannot find it, do not have it, and maybe never will.
Now the government wants to get in on the happiness act. It wants to measure our well-being, not by spreadsheets and the gross domestic product but by our feelings. Happiness, they reckon, is hot.
Our political leaders now side with Socrates, the ancient Greek philosopher, who, as well as saying that the unexamined life is not worth living, reckoned that happiness is a necessary feeling for good citizenship. But he also said that happiness does not come from commercial gain.
Well, he may be right, but only up to a point. Most of us like a roof over our head, at least one square meal a day, and a penny or two in our pocket, all of which will only come from some sort of commercial gain. In other words, in order to be happy, we need money, or cash in kind.
In this respect, how are we doing in Swindon? Have you got what you want? Are you a good citizen? Are you happy? (Well, reading this free, entertaining, and informative magazine may not be a bad start! )
What is it, in Swindon, that brings you happiness? Good health or simply being alive? A smile from your baby? A goal from Charlie Austin? A trip to the shops or a night on the town? Membership of your drama, music, reading, bowls, darts, writing, croquet, film, dance, or art group? A workout at the gym or a meal with friends? A drink with mates or a visit to loved ones? Or is happiness for you something more touchy-feely and intimate?
Whatever it is, is happiness happening for you? Has the government, local or national, got anything to do with it? Can you measure your happiness, now? How?
When the happiness questionnaire arrives, what will you say? Be prepared!
I am, and will say things like this. My lot is – and has been – pretty happy. It’s included a childhood spent partly with noble savages, a few broken bones, learning things in theory and practice from knowing teachers, doing lots of odd jobs rather than one ordinary job, being thrown through a car windscreen, reading brilliant books, having asthma, running a marathon in under four hours, experiencing the early and untimely death of a baby daughter and a big brother, playing a tennis match on Court 19 in SW19, being beaten and robbed at gun point, enjoying relatively good health, and finding long-term work that fulfils, and also family and friends.
But full-on happiness has never been my expectation. More important have been two key things. First, an alertness and responsiveness to whatever happens, happy or sad; and second, having something to look forward to. The result: feeling a perpetual sense of gratitude, well being, and aliveness. In other words, more to be thankful for than to complain about. How about you?
Editor’s note: Lower Shaw Farm is certainly one of Swindon’s happiness high spots. Check out the range of happiness inducing activities at www.lowershawfarm.co.uk