I was reading, the other day, about the happiest countries on earth. The article had highlighted three in particular. Costa Rica, Denmark and Singapore. My first thought was, “Stay away from those places. God, can you imagine how sickeningly happy everyone is.” I immediately pictured a hellish environment where everybody is oppressively enthusiastic about every little thing, so much so that the totality of a person’s life just flatlines into a tedious cheerful eagerness that becomes meaningless without the normal rise and fall of favorable and unfavorable conditions.
Like being on some crazy long line in those countries for a vehicle registration, or a picture with Santa Claus at the mall, or the bag check at the airport, and having the guy in front of you all smiles, bragging about how much fun he is having while standing in line, because he is just always happy, and that is just how he is.
“Gee whiz this is such an awesome line,” he would say, “and I am glad to be standing in it. Isn’t it great to be standing here, with all of you, all together like this for a common purpose? We get to make friends with the people in front of us and the people behind us, and we have plenty of time to do it too, considering how interminably long this queue of humans is, its length only overshadowed by how incredibly slow it is moving, which means it will certainly get longer and will probably get slower. I wish I could be on a line like this every single day. Just standing around waiting. Isn’t this great?”
In America a saccharin attitude like that could get a guy’s teeth knocked out or worse. I guess for most of us Westerners the problem with a gleeful fellow like the one I described is that most people would think he was just being sarcastic. Either that or he was insane. Either that or he will eventually try to sell us something. Most of us here in the continental U.S. wouldn’t recognize authentic bliss if it came up to us and gave us a great big bear hug.
My cynicism festers. I remember years ago I had a bar gig at the airport. Every time somebody was too friendly too fast it always meant that they were about to produce a religious pamphlet from their pocket and hand it over to me. A lot of these fellows were into compulsory enlistment. Heaven to them is like a good nightclub. If you don’t have an entourage, you aren’t getting into the VIP section. One of the tracts had the heading WHERE DID IT ALL GO WRONG? I wondered why the guy who had given it to me thought anything had gone wrong with me, much less ALL of it, considering that I was diligently working at a job and not sitting around jail or rehab. Later on I read through the tiny pamphlet, ignoring the grammatical errors. It was some lame testimonial from an ex-ball player about how Jesus had taught him to throw a pass. The ex-baller then used his passing skills to earn a lot of money before squandering it on women and cars and stuff. Then Jesus returned to him when he was broken and penniless and clarified that he was supposed to throw passes in honor of Jesus and not women and cars, which would’ve been a good thing for Jesus to mention before the guy destroyed himself on women and cars with his ability to throw passes.
If these people were the ones populating the happy places I wanted no part of it. I considered packing it up and moving to Zimbabwe. I needn’t look any further than the ninety-three-year-old dictator Robert Mugabe facing down a military junta to know that the African country produces some long-lasting badasses. Most ninety-three-year-olds around my town can’t even make it to the bathroom without crapping themselves.
Happiness is pretty arbitrary, and somewhat hard to define. In fact I took an informal survey last week from a random sampling of the population and found the answers somewhat amusing. The top factors in happiness were wealth, anonymous sex with beautiful strangers, delicious delicacies from around the world, huge amounts of free time, the respect and admiration of strangers, the freedom to just “fucking go off now and again,” and the ability to take what they want, when they want it. Or in other words, greed, lust, gluttony, sloth, pride, wrath, and envy.
Wait a second. Where is that pamphlet I was given. I may need to make some copies and start doling it out.
More Alembics to come.