On happiness

Whenever I read celebrity interviews in the Guardian‘s saturday supplement, I always think about how I would answer the same questions if it were me being framed as an object of curiosity by the major national newspaper.

You do the same, dear reader. Do not try and deny it. We all think we are special. But we are not. It is only celebrities who are special. And possibly me.

Obviously I’d be very mysterious and interesting about it all because I’m a very mysterious and interesting person. Each answer would be an imparting of advise to the public, who are desperate to be shown how to live by the various figureheads of gliteratti, literatti and cliterati.

Today’s interview was with Regina Spektor, with whom I am in love. She’s the interesting Jewish New York jazz singer babe that Amy Winehouse never became. Do you hear that, Winehouse? You failed us all. I don’t want you anymore. You are nothing to me now. Regina and I have a beautiful thing going on and next summer we’re going to cycle around Oxford on a tandem and smoke exotic cigarettes on a Balkan midnight. In my mind.

When I read these interviews though I fall at the first hurdle. Perhaps reading too much into the questions, I hardly ever know what the interviewer is on about. To me, many of the questions are like the cryptic bit at the bottom of an email personality questionnaire which always asks “Who is the least likely to respond?”

To what?

A case in point:

The first thing asked of Ms. Spektor was, “When were you happiest?”

As much as I’d like to subvert the trite and saccharine question by adopting the role of some horrid character (“When I watched my mother dying. It’s a real pleasure to visualize her even now sinking into the abyss”) I feel that I aught to give a more truthful response. The public wants to know all about me after all and not some horrible character lurking in the corners of my mind or perched gargoyle-like at the tip of my tongue waiting silently like a bound-and-gagged Tourettes homunculus to leap out suddenly at a job interview or a funeral and irrevocably sabotage my life.

No. The problem is that I don’t understand a lot of these aparently popular human emotions that get bandied around as though there were no alternative. I don’t know what happiness is exactly. When I imagine happiness, I visualise myself reading novels in my pajamas upon some soft cushions. But is that happiness? Contentedness really. Or comfort or something.

A guy in the “Are you happy” column of the same magazine writes that he “can be dark, bleak, pessimistic but that doesn’t mean [he is] unhappy”.

I can understand pleasure. I enjoy eating, smoking, drinking coffee, chewing pens. I enjoy books, comics, Charlie Chaplin films, jazz music and those things made of pins which mould to the shape of your hand but while these are pleasure-giving commodities or sensations. They don’t make me conclude that I am “happy”.

Perhaps happiness was invented by Epicureans: the school of philosophy that saw life as absurd and aimless other than the aim to minimize pain and to maximize pleasure. Perhaps this maximization of pleasure is happiness.

When I have more jobs in my outbox than my inbox: the cat is combed, the kitchen sparkles and the notepad bursts with new ideas. I feel something alright. Happiness? I’d call it satisfaction.

And it goes on like this. I don’t understand what people mean by “Forgiveness” either. If one is wronged and asked to forgive, what does one have to do? Forget it happened? How can one consciously erase a memory? Even if you just ignore the fact, you’ll always know that your chum fed all of your favourite ice cream to the dog. I don’t really understand “anger”. I can feel frustrated or wronged but I get over it.

It’s a good job I don’t get interviewed in newspaper supplements. I’m far too neurotic. But I doubt anyone else has decent answers to the above either and that the celebrities just humour the magazine by saying things like “playing conkers, aged nine” or “eating a sandwich bigger than my head”. I don’t see myself as some cold non-human anthropologist like Spock or Mr Data from Star Trek because if challenged I don’t think anyone really knows what they are talking about when it comes to emotions or the mind. As psychotherapist Albert Ellis used to say (I learned this from today’s magazine too), “all human beings are out of their fucking minds”.

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