Tony Deyal, Contributor
AT THE end of a dinner in honour of the retirement of the president of France, Charles de Gaulle, British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan turned to Madame de Gaulle and asked politely what she was looking forward to in her retirement. Quick as a flash, the elderly lady replied: "A penis."
After the initial stunned silence, Macmillan mumbled, "Well, I can see your point of view, don't have much time for that sort of thing nowadays." An unapologetic Madame de Gaulle insisted, "I believe it is the case for all women, everything can be endured as long as we have a penis." The silence became deafening for many, many seconds, until de Gaulle's characteristic voice rose. "My dear," he said, "I believe et eez pronounced 'APpiness' … ."
Increasingly, as my spam inbox is swollen, engorged and grossly enlarged with ads for penis enhancement, I can see both Madame de Gaulle's point and that of her husband, the General. Happiness has traditionally been less about sex and more about general well-being. What it is and how we get it were never clear, but now they have become increasingly confusing.
Rodney Dangerfield, the comedian, said, "My wife and I were happy for 20 years! Then we met." Another comic, Max Kauffman moaned, "I never knew what real happiness was until I got married and by then it was too late."
A few years ago, a British survey revealed that 33 is the age of maximum happiness. One of the participating psychologists is quoted as saying, "By this age, innocence has been lost, but our sense of reality is mixed with a strong sense of hope, a can-do spirit, and a healthy belief in our own talents and abilities."
At the same time, three economists working for the United Nations came up with a 'happiness index' and declared that Denmark was the happiest nation in the world. In other words, the happiest person in the world had to be a 33-year-old Dane.
The 'Happy Planet' index does not agree. It rates countries based on three criteria - experienced well-being, life expectancy, and ecological footprint. In this survey, Costa Rica tops the list with a rating of 64, Belize is fourth (59.3), and Jamaica is sixth (58.5).
Then another study found that Australia (and not Denmark) is the best place to live and work. And new research has said that the happiest years of our lives are when we are 23 and 69 (not 33). According to a study conducted by the Center for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics, 23 is when you have the dreams and set off on a journey of achievement, the intervening period is more like a roller coaster and you then come down to earth when you're 69.
Even the adage that 'Money can't buy you happiness' has found that it can - up to US$75,000 per year. INC magazine revealed, "Who says money can't buy happiness? Certainly not two Princeton University researchers - including a Nobel laureate - who suggest it comes with a US$75,000 price tag. Not having enough money causes emotional pain and unhappiness, the researchers found. But the happiness tipping point is about US$75,000 - more money than that doesn't make a person cheerier, though it can help people view their lives as successful or better."
One of the researchers, Daniel Kahemann, the 2002 Nobel Prize winner for economics, explained, "We suspect that this means, in part, that when people have a lot more money, they can buy a lot more pleasures, but there are some indications that when you have a lot of money, you will savour each pleasure less. Perhaps US$75,000 is a threshold beyond which further increases in income no longer improve individuals' ability to do what matters most to their emotional well-being, such as spending time with people they like, avoiding pain and disease, and enjoying leisure." Kahemann makes more than US$75,000 per year.
I am not sure how many of us in the Caribbean earn that kind of big bucks, but yet, a picture stays in my mind that helped to shape my own happiness index. Many years ago, I was in a taxi passing through a village far from Georgetown and I saw some kids on the way to school. Here was a country where US$1 is equivalent to Guyanese $200, so that US$75,000 is worth Guy$15 million. The children were clean, they were laughing and they were barefoot.
It took me back to my schooldays and the poem about the shirt of a happy man. A king became quite out of sorts and sunk into a deep depression. He and his doctors were convinced that the only thing that could rouse him from that state was for him to wear the shirt of a happy man. They finally found a genuinely happy man:
"This is our man," the courier said;
"Our luck has led us aright.
I will give you a hundred ducats, friend,
For the loan of your shirt tonight."
The merry blackguard lay back on the grass,
And laughed till his face was black;
"I would do it, God wot," and he roared with the fun,
"But I haven't a shirt to my back."
Tony Deyal was last seen saying that he relishes the choice of 69 as a happy number since it best combines the positions of both Madame de Gaulle and the General.