Happiness

One of the things I love about Americans is that, when they set up their government, they took the trouble to guarantee the right to life, liberty and (this is the best bit!) the pursuit of happiness.  They didn’t go nuts and say Americans have the unalienable right to BE happy; all they said was they have the legal right to try.  Not everybody does that.  For example, in my country, the government doesn’t give a damn if I’m happy or not.  They’re far more concerned that I keep my mouth shut when I’m pissed off.  Anyway, happiness is a relatively recent invention.  Before those good old boys from Virginia came along, survival was the biggie.  Singing in the sunshine and laughing every day took second place to making it through the winter, the war, the plague, the drought, the fire, the flood, the famine or any of the other 1,001 calamities that used to regularly wander by.  However, now that happiness is on the menu, everybody wants a slice, and nobody’s sure if their piece is quite big enough.  Here’s a quick and dirty guide to find out whether you are happy or not.

Do you own a rocking chair?  It’s scientifically proven that rocking chairs release enough endorphins to fill a room.  Add a sleeping baby or a cat on your lap and you’ll practically drown in the stuff.

Do you have a pet?  Dogs are better than cats: cats are better than fish: a platypus is the best, but even a well-loved houseplant will change you from a miserable self-centred bastard into a caring, sharing person of quality.  Thinking about something other than yourself will always make you a happy person.

Do you live west of the Vistula River?  For some reason, Europeans are happier than the rest of the world.  I don’t know why.  It must be the cheese — or the wine.

Do you have lunch money?  Money will not make you happy, but if you don’t have any — uh — you’re kinda screwed.  And constantly getting screwed will definitely make you grouchy.

Do you get earworms?  Ohrwurm in German.  (Those people have a word for everything.) These are those stupid songs that get stuck in your head and won’t go away.  Yeah, they’re annoying, but washing the dishes to “Barbie Girl” by Aqua isn’t all that bad.  My personal favourite is “All About The Bass.”  And, quite frankly, it’s impossible to be depressed if your brain is playing “Call Me, Maybe?”  (Are any of these in your head yet?)

Do you procrastinate?  The truth is procrastinators are cockeyed optimists.  They actually think that sometime in the future, they’re going to get their act together and clean out the closet or vacuum behind the refrigerator.  They probably won’t — but believing in a better future is one of the key components of happiness.  Therefore, procrastinators, by definition, are happy people.

Do you laugh at stuff that’s not supposed to be funny?  This is the stuff that catches you off guard and you giggle — even though you know you really shouldn’t.  Stuff that’s inappropriate.  Stuff that buttoned-down people might even find offensive.  Stuff that you really can’t repeat to anyone except your most trusted, trusted friend.  Here’s the deal: being silly in the face of all the pompous ass seriousness in our oversensitive world is a sure sign that you’re happy.

But I’ve saved the best for last:

Are you in love?  If you’re in love, you’re happy — full stop.  Unlike “relationships” that you have to “work at” so hard they eventually just turn into a total pain in the ass, love is the real meal deal.  If you look across the breakfast table and can’t think of any other place you’d rather be, then you’re in love.  And folks, if you do that often enough, you’re not pursuing happiness anymore: you’ve caught it.

Given these troubled times I thought I’d reprint this from May, 2018.

Advice For Life

Life does not come with a set of instructions.  Around the time we learn to crawl, we’re taught what bites, what burns, what tickles and which farts just can’t be trusted — but after that, it’s all on-the-job training with live ammunition.  Unfortunately, without any guidelines we really never know how we’re doing.  Essentially, if life were a parlour game, we’d have no way to keep score or even know where we are on the board.  C’est le vie!

There are, however, a few tricks one learns along the way.  Since I’m a good guy who’s been wandering this world for a few years now, I’m going to pass a random sample along to you.  They’re in no particular order — because if I actually knew what was important in life, I’d write the book.

1 — A low-cut sweater will fix a bad hair day.

2 — Nobody is ever going to look at you the way women in yogurt commercials look at yogurt — get over it.

3 — You know you’re fat when people start saying “Have you lost weight?” Nobody ever says that to skinny people.

4 —  After high school you’re never going to use algebra again — ever.

5 — You know the relationship isn’t love when, during sex, you fantasize that your partner is someone else and, after sex, you fantasize you are.

6 — You’ve become an adult when your towels match.

7 — Eventually, every parent secretly eats a candy bar in the car, or the closet, or just around the corner so they don’t have to share it with their kids.  (So you aren’t a selfish bastard, after all.)

8 — You know you’re old when younger people talk to you in that tone of voice we all reserve for children and pets.

9 — Later on in life, nobody but you is going to give a rat’s ass how hot you were in college, so you might as well take the four years and actually learn something.

10 — If you’re over 26 and your job still involves extra pickles, you’re doing something wrong.

11 — The biggest lie you’re ever going to tell yourself is “I’ll remember that.”

12 — You know you’re rich when you don’t have to look at the prices on a menu.  You know you’re wealthy when you can do that at the car dealership.

13 — The difference between tragic hero/heroine and perpetual loser is five years.

14 — As you get older, Christmas comes faster and faster.

15 – There’s never going to be anything quite as cool as the other side of the pillow on a warm night.

And finally:

16 — The real secret to a happy and successful life is comfortable underwear.  But you need to have enough money to afford it and the good sense to buy it.

The Top 100 Tales

In 2018 the folks at the Beeb (BBC) came out with the Top 100 Stories that have influenced the world.  “Good on ya!”  I love lists: by definition, they’re always controversial.  It’s true that scholars very seldom throw punches (I’d pay money to see that!) but normally a list such as this would generate more than a few white wine arguments over which book is where and why.  Unfortunately, this particular list does not fulfill that basic requirement because, even at first glance, it’s obviously total bullshit.

Yeah, yeah, yeah! All lists are subjective; however, there are some things in this world that are just dead wrong.  Let’s take an objective look at what the Beeb is trying to pawn off on us.

The Odyssey (#1) — No problem.  (You’ll probably get a fight from the Shakespearians, but they’re always pissed off about something.)
Uncle Tom’s Cabin (#2) — We can all agree on Simon Legree.  This book may very well have caused the American Civil War, which not only changed the social structure of Western civilization but also gave us the first glimpse of the military-industrial complex.
Frankenstein (#3) — This is where things start to get a little weird.  It’s true everybody knows who Frankenstein is — although most people get him confused with the monster.  But I’m pretty sure Frankenstein is not as big an influence on young lovers (anybody who ever lived) as Romeo and Juliet which doesn’t show up ’til #13.  And from there, everything just goes sideways.  According to the list, Beloved (#11) is a bigger influence on the world than Animal Farm (#18) and Ulysses (#17) — which no living person actually understands — is ahead of To Kill A Mocking Bird (#27).  Meanwhile On The Road (the universal anthem of rebellion) is nowhere to be found!

And what about the other sins of omission? — OMG!  There’s no The Great Gatsby, no Grapes of Wrath, no Fahrenheit 451, no Brave New World, nothing by Hemingway, nothing by Hardy and nothing by Kipling who sent two generations of imperial Brits out to change the world.  Paradise Lost and Le Morte D’Arthur are conspicuous by their absence, and where the hell is Dr. Seuss?

However, it’s not what’s missing from the list that’s burning my bacon: it’s a couple of titles that the Beeb included.

JK Rowlings’ Harry Potter series (#15) — Yes, we all read these books (or saw the movies.) Yes, we all thought Harry (and eventually Hermione) were hot; and yes, Quidditch is now the national sport of Nerdovia — but #15?  That’s ahead of Aesop’s Fables (#29) and Cinderella (#52.)  I don’t think so!  If nothing else, Aesop and Cindy have about a 1,000 year head start on that little wizard.  They were bedtime stories for millions and millions of children, long before Millennials decided that they were the only generation that mattered.  And besides, everybody knows Rowlings didn’t write seven Harry Potter books; she wrote two Harry Potter books — three and a half times.

But, my biggest bitch is The Handmaid’s Tale (#16).  WTF?  This little ditty is ahead of King Lear (#33), The Canterbury Tales (#58) and A Christmas Carol (#73)?  Basically, the BBC is telling us Margaret Atwood has a bigger influence on the world than William Shakespeare, Geoffrey Chaucer and Christmas!  Not bad for a book one reviewer called “paranoid poppycock.”  You want some serious grins?  Walk down any street in the English-speaking world and ask people if they’ve read the book — the book!  Chances are good you’ll get an overwhelming NO.  Why?  Because the vast majority of people who have even heard of The Handmaid’s Tale have only seen the TV series.  For the first 30 years of its existence (before Hulu pick up the option) The Handmaid’s Tale was about as influential as Pinocchio — probably less.  And here’s the kicker: the TV series isn’t even written by Margaret Atwood!  It’s written by Bruce Miller, whose last outing was The 100; Leila Gerstein, who wrote for Gossip Girl and a bunch of other people who don’t even have Wikipedia entries.  So much for spreading Margaret Atwood’s influence on the world around like marmalade on cold toast!

The bottom line is this list does serve one purpose, and one purpose only: it clearly confirms we’re living in the shallow end of intellectual history, dominated by cultural illiteracy.  Harry Potter, my ass!