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Otherwise my novels, short stories, verse, family, music, memories, vulgar interests, detestations,
responses, apologies. I hold posts to 300 words* having found less is better than more.
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Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Fool's paradise

The Guardian colour supplement (a dubious Saturday blessing) always carries a Q&A-format piece about some celebrity or other. Based on the same set of questions, such as: When were you happiest?

This is shrewder than it looks. Since The Guardian is aimed at smarty-boot readers (RR included) this requires a smarty-boot answer, neither glutinous nor obvious. Thus incipient bores who reply "Now, as of this moment." are marked down as missing the point, even if it happens to be true. Lying is allowed as is heartlessness.

The question also tests the nature of happiness and its duration. I might say I was happiest when calm-faced M, resident in Bingley, the Aire Valley, Yorkshire, agreed to come out with me on what in those days was called "a date" - my first ever. That the outing was a waste of time for all concerned just shows that happiness is - and must be - evanescent. As a mendacious, smarty-boots Guardian reader I draw back from pretending I was happiest on this 1955 occasion.

Guardian readers love to promote their own intellect. So I might well say I'm never happier than when responding to the challenge of writing plausible sentences. An utter nonsense, of course, since no one but a fool writes for pleasure.

Drinking one of my father's bottles of Big Five claret? Nah, there was always the predictable aftermath.

Listening to a late LvB quartet? I can never avoid a poncy feeling of self-consciousness.

Emerging from the southern end of the Chunnel in early June? Not on your life; France is not a happy country.

Finishing Proust? Who’m I going to tell? Another Guardianista?

Happy to discover I have never been happy? Now that's more The Guardian style. More please.

11 comments:

Avus said...

So...you are happiest when never being happy, RR? A debating point, perhaps?
(I enjoyed your comment on Lucy's "Lara" posting)

Lucy said...

Tricky, isn't it.

As you recall from the matter of your 1955 date, much enjoyment is to be had from anticipation, and I understand it's generally considered necessary for morale and well-being to have things to look forward to. But then if the pleasure fails to materialise, doesn't that make it worse? You don't hear many people say 'My holiday firm went broke and and my holiday was cancelled and money lost/my intended jilted me at the altar/ the only restaurant in the village turned out to be closed mid-February so we had to go back to a cold gîte and make do with stale baguette - but I had the pleasure of looking forward to it so that was nice. The joy of anticipation is always forgotten, even when things go right, I think, and the bitterness of knowing oneself to have been deluded is certain to intensify subsequent woes.

And the question is 'when *were* you happiest?'. Whether we remember things well or badly is much to do with personality, I think. I am sure that even at the worst times, there were happy moments, but overall I tend to remember the unsatisfactoriness of the time in my life. Others I know have a tendency to look back more cheerfully. Even the moments I know were joyful fade in the memory, I have to make myself remember that I was happy, much of the feeling is inevitably elusive, or becomes qualified with hindsight.

And, as writing this, and trying to find as many synonyms for 'happy' shows, what exactly is the nature of 'happy'? Momentary joy, ecstasy even, pleasure, long term contentment, satisfaction(I notice you say 'finishing Proust' not reading him!) relief, freedom from worry releasing one to enjoy the small pleasures, schadenfreude (possibly one of the more lasting forms?) .. Too many nuances, and I'd certainly not be able to use any superlative and single out a single past moment as most happy.

So I suppose that's why people just avoid answering and say 'now'. The relationship between happiness (the same root as 'happen' of course) and time is too fraught and complex.

Stella said...

I looked up Kahlil Gibran, the guy who knows the answer to everything, regarding this intruguing dilemma. He skips the subject by dealing only with Sorrow and Joy: "Verily you are suspended like scales between your sorrow and your joy. Only when you are empty are you at standstill and balanced." Perhaps you have achieved Happiness after all.

Roderick Robinson said...

Lucy: Here's a point. For uninteresting reasons I'm presently in pain and it's getting in the way of responding to your comment. Responding in the way I want to, that is: drawing on the full width of my experience, matching the style and the imagination you have called on, maintaining the multi-year dialogue between us at the level it deserves. A pox on pain I say. If for no other reason than I imagine I would be happy (happier?) were I able to put pain aside and do what I want to do. And yet over those years during which I was pain-free I replied to your comments without any noticeable degree of happiness. Only now, because I am denied, does happiness become a factor. Happiness is of course relative; it has no absolutes.

Happiness also depends on time. It seems that it is mainly appreciated retrospectively; only afterwards do we attach "happiness" to what was happening. At the time we simply experience things, minute by minute, perhaps revelling in them but not taking time off to find a label. Thus happiness is a judgment and is therefore qualified. The word itself is too vague and requires its own qualification in anything we write or say. You make this point in your third para.

Re: bad things stick, good things tend not to. Is this the explanation: most of our lives we are neither unhappy nor happy. What we experience is neutral. Could happiness be a simple enhancement of this neutrality (and therefore less memorable) while unhappiness is a definite break, a different state entirely. Binary rather than analogue.

The above was a struggle, several norms were missed. I am not noticeably happy or even happier. What was lacking was any joy in writing it; I suppose I have discharged an obligation. I comfort myself (if not you) by saying obligations are usually unspoken aspects of friendship and that tomorrow normal service will be resumed. There may not be joy (that's very much a sometime thing) but there may at least be puckishness.

Come to think of it, this qualifies as a whine. I need something upbeat, something puckish:

I drink the air before me and return, or ere your pulse twice beat.

Alas, a lifetime's habit forces me to check the provenance of this dim memory and I find it is Ariel not Puck. No better than C-minus..

Stella: For reasons explained may I ask you - just this once - to share my above re-comment with Lucy. Perhaps I have achieved happiness but if so it deserves a more celebratory note than I've been able to contrive today.

Avus said...

I admired your response to Lucy, RR and empathise with your present incapacity.
I hope it will not be long in resolving itself.

Anonymous said...

Freedom from pain and Happiness are not synonymous. Although at the moment relief from it may seem so. Good wishes for a release.

Stella said...

Why that post appears from "Anonymous" is a mystery.....it's me, Stella.

Blonde Two said...

I have pondered this question long and hard. Take the last year for instance, moments of deep sadness and moments of absolute contentment in equal measure. I experimented with methods of holding on to the happiness and none worked; Lucy is right, it fades.

The other thing that I have noticed, is that attempts to recreate those happy moments are always doomed to failure. Maybe the fact that you can never have them again, is what makes them 'happiness' in the first place.

Roderick Robinson said...

Avus: It has returned but I'm devising ways of bypassing it. Calling it a bore, for instance.

Anon: I acknowledge your right to shroud yourself in the veil of anonymity but I notice that, elsewhere, the veil was lifting a little. You referred to Bryn which means I can refer to Blue Dog. Say the word and I'll not raise the matter again.

As to the point of your comment I'd have to say happiness is not possible if pain is present.

Aha. I see I am addressing an entirely different Anon. I hope my message to the real one has got through.

Blonde Two: Boringly, I suppose we need first to define happiness. It comes in very different shapes and sizes. Take Schadenfreude for instance.

Happiness/failure. True in the physical sense. But suppose we attempt to describe a happy experience. This can work if we see the aim as an impression of happiness, rather than a re-creation. And then suppose someone reads our description, is touched by it, and feels briefly a happy flash. As you imply, the whole subject requires long and hard effort.

Sir Hugh said...

Coming out of dotor's surgery when you have been told that what you suspected was a life threatening symptom was little mor than your imagination.

Roderick Robinson said...

Sir Hugh: Read them again and you will discover that my list consists of failures in optimism. Not as you propose, a success.