According to a Health Psychologist at Cardiff University, Jan. 23 was Britain’s unhappiest day.
Contributing factors to this unwanted title include debt, weather, failed New Year’s Resolutions and low motivation. On this basis, it’s not immediately obvious why Jan. 23 should be any different from the rest of the year.
I personally find this information somewhat sad because Jan. 23 is the birthday of three men, including my brother, who are very high on my list of ideal dinner companions. My brother is a splendid individual, a big sib par excellence without whom, as I said at his wedding reception, I would be a dull 280-lb academic devoted to books and coffee. Alex has saved me from … well, from 100-lbs, it seems.
So I don’t really want him to be unhappy, certainly not on his birthday. I don’t really want anyone to be unhappy on their birthday.
If Cardiff’s conclusion could be officially codified, the greetings industry — a group of people with even less shame than British American Tobacco — would probably create a series of cards with heartwarming messages like ‘Resolutions are for quitters!’ and ‘Listen to the President — debt is only a number!’ If they can convince us that (for instance) April 26 is Pretzel Day, or that Feb. 18 is Pluto Day, then Sadness Day should be a piece of cake (itself celebrated on Nov. 26).
And yes, there is a Uranus Day (March 13). Insert your own joke here.
(Speaking of which, it makes me happy that my parents sent me a calendar from 1989, on the grounds that they’d found it and the dates were the same as 2006).
Logically, there must also be a Happiest Day of the Year, a search that one might think would be a better use of Cardiff University’s time and money. Think of the possibilities of waking to a world suffused with a warm fuzzy glow of happiness.
Actually, don’t think that. Not only would many of us crack under the weight of expectation, it would be impossible to live in a world populated entirely by Starbucks baristas.
But I digress. The pursuit of happiness is a very American thing, it being one of the unalienable rights with which we were endowed by the Creator. Church/State questions apart, the obvious problem is that, to quote Susan Cooper’s ‘Greenwitch’, “where one may be made happy by harmless things, another may find happiness only in hurting.”
At moments like this, the only thing to do is turn to Broadway for enlightenment, where we find the pledge that:
“If you touch me
You’ll understand what happiness is.”
Which sounds promising, until you remember this is sung by a cat. A cat’s pursuit of happiness is almost entirely passive, revolving around being fed, petted and sleeping a lot.
Come to think of it, that’s not such a bad idea. Especially not when you consider the evidence to suggest that active pursuit of happiness is the best way failing to find it. This is welcome news to those of us who sometimes feel that we’d like to take Life Cr/D/Fail, a circumstance in which my tombstone would read simply: ‘Here Lies Nick Baldock. He passed.’
At which point in the column, having rather indecisively got thus far, I heard my mom’s voice. Or rather, read my mom’s handwriting. At the end of every letter she has ever written to her children, my mom has used the same valediction, no doubt expressing the sentiments of moms across the globe:
‘Take care, dear heart, and be happy.’
If I cite Brokeback Mountain, it’s only because I’ve seen it recently and not because I found it to be a life-changing experience. Nonetheless, there’s a scene near the end in which Heath simply stands behind and puts his arm over Jake’s shoulders; it’s not even really a hug, but it does express the abiding sentiment of happiness, that the greatest thing is to be happy, to make others happy. To look into the face of someone doing something, not for any gain, but because they love another person and want to make them happy.
Which is exactly the sort of happiness moms want for their children — even for those of us not born on melancholy days.
The flipside is that all human love contains a kernel of fear, that which fears the absence of the beloved. But, as C.S. Lewis didn’t quite say, ‘the pain now is part of the happiness then. That’s the deal.’
On which unexpectedly philosophical note, it remains only for me to wish everybody, with total sincerity, a very Happy Mozart Day.
Nick Baldock owns a kittie calender – it cheers him up.