Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Three steps forward, two steps back

If, like me, you read or occasionally work on mid-brow, middle-youth women's magazines, you will have come across many articles about how to achieve the state of happiness. Real, genuine, inner, total, spiritual, lasting, you-may-no-longer-need-to-read-women's-magazines happiness. The kind that sees you pictured on the page in soft focus, a low sun behind you, your hair well-conditioned, some kind of organic white cotton dress on and an ecstatic, God-I-am-just-so-amazingly-happy!-Look-at-me-and-how-happy-I-am smile on your face. This, the articles claim, is happiness that propels you skywards above trivial concerns like fretting that your toddler can't count from one to ten in French, or worrying whether you should be tipping your cleaning lady.

A constant in these features is a menu of tips from happy women, who are inevitably successful start-up businesswomen or celebrities who Have It All. And one of the tips invariably tells you to think of three good things that have happened to you that day. It's count your blessings for the noughties. Over the last couple of years, I've been amazed to actually find myself doing this. I am congenitally hostile to the literature of self-help, but this advice somehow disarmed me. 

So today, I had lunch with a new friend (1), I had a lovely comment on this blog (2), and my friend Stuart did clever and artistic things with some ideas we have for world domination (3).

When you consider that the lunch took place in Leon, it's actually four things. Christ, maybe I am actually happy. But then, with perfect dramatic timing, the bad news snuck its arm around me to chloroform my good spirits. Firstly, I discovered, purely by accident, that a lovely friend of mine has been quietly, but horribly, unhappy. Then, secondly – and this is a detached, random sort of sadness – I read that Father Adelir Antonio de Carlo was confirmed dead, his remains discovered off the coast of Brazil a couple of weeks ago. I hope that history remembers him. I will. Father Adelir Antonio de Carlo had lifted off three months earlier, elsewhere in Brazil, attached to 1000 helium balloons. He was attempting to break a world record and raise the money to build a rest shelter for local truck drivers. A previous attempt, with half as many balloons, had seen him blown over the border into Argentina. This time he had packed with him an array of all-weather clothing, cereal bars and communication devices – all of which signified that this would, more likely than not, End Badly. Yet our hero's conviction didn't waver, and he was not to be talked down into coffee mornings, jumble sales and other more pedestrian endeavours. It seems a quaintly old-fashioned kind of martyrdom, and although the outcome was, of course, no surprise, it still adds a weight or two onto an already  heavy heart.

And it means that I'm now only +2 happiness. Or am I? It seems wholly inappropriate that a nice lunch is the perfect inverse of a friend's bad fortune. The latter should be far more significant. Even counting triple, I'd be, at best, back to zero. And that's if Father De Carli's death only counts as -1. The women's magazines don't explain this. I should obviously be thankful that I'm still technically in the black, happiness-wise, and start counting again tomorrow.

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