Simple joys

Simple joys

But, on an individual level, what makes people feel good? What activities make us happy, sad or just plain indifferent? The difficulty in providing an answer is that one person’s pleasure can very much turn out to be another’s poison.

A friend once encouraged me to read Paulo Coelho’s book The Alchemist. He told me it was an absolute must-read and it would change my life. After such a marvellous build up, I just had get hold of a copy. Carrying it back from the shop, I thought about what a fantastic book this must be. It will change my life. It will send me into ecstasy. It will be the best read ever. Sliced bread was a world beating invention, but this would surely knock even that into second place.

I read it, hated it, and felt more than a little cheated after having finished it. In fact, rather than making me happy, it left me feeling rather confused and even angry – how on earth could anyone actually like such childlike preposterous meanderings (sorry to all those Alchemist fans).

But it’s not the fault of Paulo Coelho that some people just do not take to his writing. It’s the way of the world. Many things in life can have a polarising effect. Take air travel, for example. While the some love every aspect of flying, others regard it as a necessary but excruciating evil and board a plane as paranoid wrecks.

Being an airline pilot must be a wonderful occupation. Just imagine, soaring above the ground every day and cutting through the cloud to glimpse the most amazing sunsets and sunrises. What a sense of freedom, even ecstasy. And you get paid for it! But spare a thought for those who see things rather differently.

Notions of being seven miles above the ground, hurtling and shaking through the air at 550 miles per hour in a fragile metal tube do little for the ‘hate-to-fly’ brigade. While flying in first or business class may help ease the trauma somewhat, spending the next nine hours in economy class with screaming babies and the grumpiest of staff who have just graduated from cabin crew grump school with first class honours in 'grudge' can prove to be a less than uplifting experience.

And then there is the usual ‘safety’ advice to add to the trepidation. At some stage, it will be stated that if the plane lands on water, certain actions should be taken. Do they really expect you to believe heading for the ocean at some ridiculous speed that the plane will ‘land on’ the water? This fragile tube is likely to ‘plunge into’ the water, break up on impact and then sink to the bottom of some shark infested sea. But paying attention on to how to wear those orange life jackets and blow into the inflating tubes will save you though.

And so to the flight itself. As those fearful passengers count down the hours, shake around in no man's land as the turbulence kicks in and have packets of peanuts and hot, wet towels thrown at them, they stay strapped into their seat – because just like the orange inflatable jackets, they know those flimsy seat belts will save them from any body crushing episode that might come their way. Yes, flying can help a person appreciate that there is a fine line between utter joy, embodied by those flying the plane, and terrible unhappiness, epitomised by those who dislike flying. But you don’t have to fly to appreciate this.

Do you ever get sick and tired of coming across those awful TV programmes or glossy magazine articles showing some celebrity basking in their cheap displays of wealth and sense of perceived personal achievement? The thin line is upon us once again. Watching or reading about someone gloating endlessly about their happiness can send others, as a result of witnessing the said gloating, into a pit of never-ending despair.

How about cracking open signature bottles of joy or puff some tobacco sticks not because an alcohol-tobacco induced daze would necessarily make you happy, but because it would make reading about people who feel the need to gloat about their happiness more tolerable. Happiness at times can entail just making certain things bearable. 

The problem is that, in today’s world, a certain type of one-dimensional ‘happiness’ is thrust down the throat. We are encouraged to feel disillusioned and unhappy and to seek instant gratification. We live in a culture of failure.

Thanks to the advertising industry, people are made to feel ugly. Apparently, we all  have bad hair, do not possess the latest gadgetry that will make us supremely happy and our diet is lacking, fingernails poor, eyes faded, skin sagging and taste in food, fashion and lifestyle choices questionable. We are a total mess! 

Six months ago, you ran out to buy the latest miracle product to hit the shelves. Now you are told that that particular cutting edge commodity is obsolete and useless when compared to the super-improved-edge version. Or do they mean that you are obsolete and useless? Of course, what you really need to make you happy is some miracle facial cream, a plasma TV screen  and the latest upgraded credit card that will enable you to shop till you drop beneath an even greater burden of debt.

But happiness isn’t complicated, nor is it based on some advertising executive’s illusion. So, what is it?

To find out, how about sinking into a warm bath, working out down at the gym, listening to music, watching your favourite film or walking in the countryside in the rain with the scent of wet soil and grass filling you lungs? Our pets, treasured personal memories, doing a good deed and the company of friends can all do the trick too. 

And there you have it. When all is said and done, the cornerstone of true happiness is quite simply — simplicity itself.

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