Friday, March 24, 2017

Cheers to Unhappiness

There are lots of things that depress me. Like world poverty, child soldiers and Ravi B winning Chutney Soca Monarch; but nothing makes me more miserable than the cult of happiness. What is the cult of happiness? Well it’s the motley crew of pop psychologists, self-help gurus and advertisers who have turned the idea of happiness into a lame fad. Or any given day I am constantly bombarded via media or friends with cheerful recommendations on how I can be a happier person. Like “start running Darryn-it will make you healthy and happier. Or “practice mindfulness Darryn-it will make you feel more relaxed and happier. Or “please buy this really expensive car Darryn- It will make you happy. Because then the hot woman in the poster might go out with you”.

This is why I was really sad this week to see so many Trinbagonians taking the ridiculous UN ‘International Day of happiness’ so seriously. Celebrated on March 20, the Orwellian sounding International Day of Happiness is the brain child of Jayme Illien, the founder of the Illien Global Benefit Corporation (IGBC). IGBC describes its purpose as to “create, develop and promote collaborative initiatives to advance individual and global happiness”. Which sounds like a fancy way of saying “we don’t really do much”. And judging by their website, it spot on.
Local advertising agency ‘Rethink’ were the only ones to spot the ‘International day of happiness’ for the marketing gimmick it is. Rethink took out full page ads asking people what made them happy. Among the deep philosophical questions were “would entrainment outlets provide discounts on that day” and “Would bookstores offer discounts on that day”, and “how much free publicity can we milk this for”. Rethink offered free bake and shark to the public at its offices last Monday. Along with “kindness coffee”. Presumably served in “lovable” Styrofoam. Because Trini’s are never happier than when they are getting something for free. While simultaneously destroying wildlife and the environment.
We may like to think happiness is all about smiles and eating an endangered species, but happiness is a relatively new concept. For much of human history people didn’t have the luxury thinking about what made them happy. If you were born a peasant in medieval England and you told your neighbors you were offering free hugs they would have laughed you, called you crazy and for kicks burnt you at the stake for being a witch. Which admittedly is similar to how present day Trinbagonains will react.
The main problem with the happiness cult is that happiness is a seriously overrated emotion. In fact human civilization owes its progress to feelings of unhappiness. Some time in our prehistoric past, one disgruntled caveman hated his daily job of ploughing the field so much, that one day he said “you know what to hell with this!” Then went off and invented the wheel. Every scientific advancement owes itself to unhappiness. The Wright brothers were unhappy they couldn’t fly. So they invented the plane. Edison was unhappy he needed to keep using candles for light. So he invented the lightbulb, by stealing the idea from Tesla. As we speak some poor unhappy soul is sad he can’t have sex with Scarlet Johansson. And he’s hard at work building life like robotic replicas of her for the benefit of all mankind.
It’s not just science, all the great works of art were born out of sadness. Would Beethoven have composed ‘ode to joy’ if he were not deaf and miserable? What Marcel Proust have written ‘A la recherch√© du temps perdu’, if he wasn’t a suicidal man struggling with depression? Would Calypsonians have an audience at Dimanche Gras each year were it not for people so sad, they have nothing else better to do than attend. Instead of happiness, shouldn’t we have a day devoted to celebrating unhappiness?

Herein lies the real problem with the cult of happiness; nobody really knows what makes them happy. For some, happiness is liming at Maracas. For others it’s helping other people. And for other Trini’s, it’s travelling to Syria to join ISIS. Apart from the International day of Happiness the UN has an equally absurd World Happiness Index. T&T is currently ranked 38th. I don’t know if this makes us a happy nation or not. But it shouldn’t matter. Like the great Russian writer Leo Tolstoy said “happy families are all alike. Unhappy families are each unhappy in their own way.” Let’s cheers for unhappiness.

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