If You’re Happy and You Know It
At a Christmas gathering last year a mate of mine gave me a book, ‘The Very Embarrassing Book of Dad Jokes 2’. It was a simple but effective gift and certainly got the attention of the other dads. It immediately made me smile and I started fishing out all the funny one-liners, many of which were so bad that you couldn’t help but laugh. I have to admit, I love a one-line joke. They’re quick, direct and if delivered correctly can hit you like a knockout punch. Perhaps my all-time favourite one-liner was delivered by the late Joan Rivers – not really known for her dad jokes but most definitely the queen of the lowball one-liner. She had many but this one was delivered with such precision it hit like a scud missile. On one of her panel shows she was discussing a recent comment made by an unhappy but wealthy Hollywood celebrity who had stated that money can’t buy you happiness. “Well honey, if money can’t buy you happiness then you’re shopping in the wrong place,” Rivers shot back. It definitely hit the mark and has stuck with me ever since, but it also got me thinking if there is in fact any truth to Rivers’ reply.
The happiness industry is alive and well. It sells, and sells for a reason. At its core is the suggestion that we can increase our sense of happiness if we follow certain strategies, i.e. lose a certain amount of weight, follow a particular financial plan, win Powerball, renovate the house, buy the right clothes or marry some random stranger on a TV show because a mental health expert says your profiles match. The bookstores are full of books on self-help happiness.
What makes life pleasurable is a topic that can bring out much philosophical debate. Indeed, such debate can be traced way back to ancient Greece when the philosopher Epicuris promised the world a list that would lead to true happiness. After much rational analysis he came up with an ‘acquisition list’ for a happy life. It was a short list. First was friendship; drinking beer with your mates brings more happiness than sipping expensive champagne on your own. To have friends, according to Epicuris, is to be understood and to feel a sense of belonging. Second on his list was freedom; more importantly, the freedom gained from having nothing to prove. The third and final item on his list was thought, particularly writing, talking and sharing ideas, all of which, according to Epicuris, alleviate confusion, displacement and surprise.
It should be clarified here that having money is unlikely to make you miserable. Indeed, it certainly can make life easier – there is a definite relationship between money and happiness. However, if you have friends, freedom and the ability for thought, the amount of money required to find happiness is relatively low. After all, is there any point to being wealthy if you lack true friends, true freedom and the ability to think and speak freely?
In more modern times, from a biological standpoint, it’s been shown that not much has changed since the days of the ancient Greeks. Psychologist Abraham Maslow introduced what he termed a ‘hierarchy of needs’ or, in real terms, what we need more of and less of to survive. Picture a pyramid divided horizontally into four parts. At the bottom is physiological needs, the second layer is safety and security, third is belongingness and love, fourth is esteem, then at the top is self-actualisation. Maslow proclaims we need more of what’s at the bottom of the pyramid than the top, i.e. more hugging, less tugging.
As much as I love Joan Rivers, and I do suspect her tongue was firmly planted in her cheek, her infamous comment sits on thin ice. Don’t get me wrong, we as humans are attracted to expensive things, but that is a discussion for another time. At the end of the day my book of dad jokes allowed me to share something money can’t buy.