Are you feeling happy? If so, exactly how happy? I ask because of two pieces of recent news. One is the Olympics. They always seem to give people a lift, maybe just an escape from the mundane, but they do seem to make life/things different. I don’t just mean the inexplicable elation induced by the opening ceremony, I mean all the striving and efforts and humanity of everyone involved. I won’t dwell on the ceremony. Opinions vary. Mine was that it was spellbinding, uplifting, funny and an astonishing achievement by an ego-lite genius. It wasn’t about politics, corporate sponsors, self-important administrators – it was about people. It was about priorities, an awareness of who we are – not in a restrictive ‘We’re such and such a nationality and therefore we’re better than you’ way – but in a recognition that we’ve been formed by a particular culture, one which works best when it’s inclusive, which values effort, endeavour, commitment, wit, honesty. It also implied the wider culture, the one that the Olympics is supposed to embody, of being human, of belonging to the same species. (OK, it’s the species of Mitt Romney, George Osborne and the rest, but it’s also the species of Danny Boyle.)
Unfortunately, there’s someone called Aidan Burley who’s also a member. He’s a Tory MP – the one who went to a Nazi-themed stag party a while ago. He has every right to express an opinion, of course, and his reaction was as legitimate as mine, but I also have the right to find it offensive and to suggest that the bigotry implicit (and explicit) in it diminishes us severely and carries a vitriol which we can only hope will be self-destructive.
His tweet ran thus: “Thank God the athletes have arrived! Now we can move on from leftie multicultural crap. Bring back red arrows, Shakespeare and the Stones.” Like most of those whose tongues outsprint their reasoning faculties, he later had to start insisting that his tweet had been ‘misunderstood’. Hmmm. Misunderstood, eh? His grasp of language is clearly greater than mine because the subtler, perhaps gentler meaning of ‘leftie multicultural crap’ escapes me.
Still, his respect for Shakespeare suggests an evolved sensibility and a level of linguistic sophistication that he should exploit to correct the widely held belief that he’s a dickhead. I look forward then to his thoughts on the theme of regeneration in King Lear or the textual authenticity of the disputed passages in Cymbeline. Once that’s out of the way, he’ll maybe also give us his exegetical analysis of the Jungian semiotics in the lyrics of I can’t get no satisfaction.
Anyway, back to the question of your happiness and the other news item. A year or so ago, our government decided to take time off from the crashing economy, deepening austerity, widening rich/poor gaps and so on and find out how happy we are. And last week we got the results. In fact, not only that, we got a ‘Happiness index’, which revealed, among many other things, that people in the Shetland Islands were far happier than those in Thurrock in Essex. I’m sure the data and stats were/are immaculate and that the reseachers’ methodologies were completely watertight. I’m in one of the two age groups that are happiest, I own a house and I’m married, all of which put me much closer to delirium than to suicide. But, despite the fact that there’s an actual index, with figures such as 7.8 and 6.9 on it, I’ve no idea where I come on the scale. Still, that’s just a personal deficiency. I take great comfort in knowing that we can now actually measure happiness. Soon we’ll be able to say exactly how attractive our partners are or how beautiful our sunsets. Let’s just be grateful that, like money, everything is becoming quantifiable.