The unexamined life is not worth living, Socrates said, and so I make sure that at least once a day I ask myself how I can be happy in my brief little life. The deeper answer always seems to fade maddeningly before the more immediate answer, which is, invariably, to scarf a slice of bread richly layered with Nutella.
I refer to the creamy, hazelnut-flavoured chocolate spread that is commonly available in provisions stores, and that people routinely walk right past, despite the fact that it seems to have been created by the best taste buds in paradisiacal kitchens from Valhalla to Vaikunta. It’s as if they’d discovered a source of free renewable energy and made it available at every street corner, but people kept hunting for petrol and complaining about the price. Or as if the Beatles were back and hanging about singing their songs in the local park, and people just kept shuffling past with their iPods plugged into their ears. (Not that anyone younger than twenty-five has any idea who the Beatles are. George Harrison—wasn’t he a friend of Anoushka Shankar’s dad?)
The point is, people are missing out big time. I have found that a spot of Nutella has the same effect on gloom as Kryptonite had on Superman. It also has the same effect on one’s hips as irritation had on the Hulk’s biceps; but, thanks to one of those wonderful evolutionary adaptations that keep the universe going, you can dispel the gloom of gaining weight simply by continuing to eat the stuff. I should add that Ferrero, the company that makes Nutella, is not even paying me to say these things, although I can’t think why.
People love to bang on about how best to feel good. Enumerate all the good things in your life and chant them to yourself until you believe them. Compare yourself to the most unfortunate person you encounter, and gain some perspective on your complaints. Meditate for fifteen minutes every day. Make a list of all the things you like about yourself. Find a purpose and write it down (making lists is crucial to all this happiness-mongering) and refuse to be deflected from it for long.
I fully appreciate that these self-help tactics are good, salt-of-the-earth tips on how to be a happier person. My rational self admires the serious inquiries into the nature and accessibility of happiness by people like Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert, who says it’s possible to synthesise happiness; and Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice, who claims that an abundance of choices might be paralysing, not liberating, for the human spirit; and French monk and photographer Matthieu Ricard, who says that happiness is a habit.
I strive thataway, I really do. But, being a fairly average creature with little patience for the long hard road full of thorns, I have to confess to a certain sympathy for the direction taken by one Mike, on a website called My Senior Citizen Humor Blog. Mike writes:
“Dr. Phil proclaimed, "The way to achieve inner peace is to finish all the things you have started and have never finished." So, I looked around my house to see all the things I started and hadn't finished, and last night I finished off a bottle of Merlot, a bottle of White Zinfandel, a bottle of Bailey's Irish Cream, a bottle of Kahlua, a package of Oreos and the remainder of my old Prozac prescription. You have no idea how FREAKING GOOD I feel. Please pass this on to those whom you think might be in need of inner peace.”