With barely a mention of phonehacking (but a nice line on the Mail) here by popular(ish) twitterdemand is the speech on happiness I made at Birmingham University last night.
It was the Baggs Memorial Lecture on the theme of Happiness, a long-running annual event which has seen speakers as varied as Yehudi Menuin and, last year, Benjamin Zephaniah, give their piece.
It was in the beautiful and huge Great Hall of the University, a room I last visited for the third of the leaders’ debates at the last election. And it was but a stone’s throw from the spot where Sharon Storer banjaxed TB on the day we launched our manifesto in 2001. Happy days!!
Anyway I really enjoyed writing the speech because it forced me to think about happiness, my own and that of others. I hope you enjoy it too, and don’t find the central thesis too dark!! Here goes, with thanks to the 1000 people who came, and special thanks to the university staff who made it so painless.
I must say this does not feel like the neatest fit in the world. Me and happiness. Fiona’s response on my telling her I had been asked to make this speech on happiness … ‘why on earth are they asking you?’ My daughter … yeah right. Philip Gould just laughed out loud … he it is who in his book described going on holiday with me and Fiona as being a bit like a series of day trips with the Glums.
You have had Richard Wilson as a previous speaker. I know him well through his support for the Labour Party. I must warn you I am more Victor Meldrew than Richard Wilson.
So there are two obvious ways to come at a speech like this.
The personal – am I happy? Ask the question and use the answer to explain what I mean by happiness. And the political/professional … can politics deliver happiness, and should it try?
And at the heart of that question there is a lot of interesting stuff going on. David Cameron has added happiness, or general well-being, to the factors that policy makers should include when analysing policy. Currently ministers are asked to take account of economic, social and environmental impact, as well as the effect on gender and racial equality. Now happiness is to be added to that.
I don’t have a problem with that. I don’t believe governments can make people happy in the way that families and communities can but they can and they should think about creating the conditions so to do. Right now mind you I don’t think Mr Cameron is too happy. Or Mr Murdoch. Or Rebekah Brooks. Or the public with them.
Without getting overly political, I can say where I think a lot of his policies will deliver the opposite of happiness, not least in some of the welfare changes, and the cuts to school building programmes, and the end of EMAs, and – well, there’s universities of course – but as a general approach I have no complaint with it at all. I think if we genuinely applied this new approach it could lead to a lot of change.
My daughter has just done her AS levels and is apparently THE most examined year in schools history. We ask of our schools to deliver education and get kids through exams, all under the pressure of regular inspection. But the happiness factor is every bit as important as the exams, and should not be overlooked.
Our approach to the economy under both Labour and now the coalition and indeed governments around the world is to focus on GDP. Yet it is interesting that though we have grown much wealthier as a country and, most of us, as individuals, we are not happier. Professor Richard Layard, who is an advocate for happiness in policy-making, superimposed two graphs – one our wealth which showed a steady rise, and one on our happiness which showed a flatline ending with a bit of a dip. Fair to say poverty can certainly cause unhappiness, but it does not automatically follow wealth causes happiness. Some of the least happy people I know are among the richest.
81% of Brits apparently believe the Government should prioritise creating happiness over creating wealth, according to the New Economics Foundation (nef).
They brought together research from 400 scientists worldwide to come up with the equivalent of “5 a day” for well-being. They are:
• Connect with the people around you
• Be active
• Take notice – be curious and aware of the world around you
• Keep learning – try something new
• Give – do something nice for a friend or a stranger
Despite the phonehacking scandal, I promise that I will not do my usual rant about the modern media. But it is very hard to see how as a country we can be deemed happy when every day more than 2 million of our people feel the urge to buy the Daily Mail. How can we be happy knowing that merely to step out of our Middle England front door is to risk being mugged by out of control kids and asylum seekers?
Envy, hatred and anger do not lend themselves to happiness. Yet much of our media, most of the time, is now slavishly dedicated to making people feel jealous of others, blaming others for their problems, hating others for their actions and attitudes. They have created a kind of whingocracy in which the issues for moaning are put into the papers, and then the radio and TV stations can moan about them for the next 24 hours until the next lot of whinges come round. Add in the criminality we have seen exposed recently, the amorality, the venality, and it is not a happy scene.
The relentless negativity is a relatively new thing. The positive to negative ratio in our national press has gone from 3-1 to 1-18 in three decades. And if I have one big suggestion for a nice base for happiness – it is to focus more on your own life and experience and put the media largely to one side. There came a day when I genuinely ceased to care what the media said about me. It was liberating. It has helped my happiness.
So on this, I wish Mr Cameron all the best. I wish him all the best with a civil service machine that is not always quick to adapt to new thinking, and which in any event he is cutting to the bone. I wish him all the best with ministers who will probably say they did not come into politics to make people happy.
This is not a new approach of course. The tiny Buddhist country of Bhutan has for many years had Gross National Happiness as its main indicator, though the methodology is somewhat slanted in favour of the regime. Spin, I believe they call it.
Which brings me to myself, my own views and experience.
David Cameron, like Tony Blair before him, seems quite an upbeat and optimistic kind of chap. I think Gordon Brown would admit to be somewhere higher on the gloom ratings. And as Philip Gould suggested, so am I.
But then I sometimes wonder: are we here to be happy, or to be productive, to become better people, and make a better world?
I can feel happy reading a good book – you know that moment a few pages in where you think yep, this is going to be a good one, and then anything else is just a distraction … I can feel happy watching a good film or listening to good music …… But am I? Maybe it is less happiness than successful distraction from the reality of the human condition which is not so much permanent happiness or unhappiness as ‘let’s try to get through the day?’
Stimulation is not the same as happiness. Excitement is not the same as happiness. I’m not even convinced that contentment is the same as happiness, whatever the dictionary may say.
Oddly given my own state, my mum is one of the happiest people I know. Rarely down, always smiley and singing, rarely a bad word to say and never a bad word said about her.
Yet often she would say to me ‘ why can’t you just be content?’ Well often I am. But I’m not sure if it is the same as happiness. I can be content after a good meal, but still worrying about a big project coming up that is making me edgy and nervous.
I can be content after a Burnley win but not happy that I happen to be besotted by a football club based four hours from where I live. I enjoy the drive there, hate that drive back. Every second Saturday I do it and win lose or draw between arrival home and MotD something happens and Fiona will say ‘I don’t know why you go to Burnley – it never seems to make you happy.’ It does make me pleased, excited, thrilled, engaged, enervated, often disappointed, even fulfilled but not happy that it takes four hours to get home to a partner who hasn’t even bothered to find out the score.
When I think back about happy moments, they are a strange mix, and the ones that you might expect to be there are not. I was closely involved in three election wins. These are big moments not just in my life but the life of the country. When I transcribed my diaries, I spotted a trend. Let’s start with 1997 …
The scene is Tony Blair’s house in Sedgefield and here is my diary entry, late at night after the campaign has finished and the country is about to vote …
‘TB said afterwards he would never have been able to do it without me. I said I’d loved every minute, then said “that’s a lie by the way.” I called home and spoke to the kids… I said life is never going to be the same again, because this is part of history and we’re all part of that, our whole family. Calum said “are we definitely going to win?” I loved the “we”. I said yes, I think so, and we might win big. After I put the phone down, I sat down on the bed, put my head in my hands and cried my eyes out. I don’t know what it was. Relief it was over. Letting go of the nervous energy. Pride. A bit of fear. It was all in there. But I felt we’d done a fantastic job. We were going to win and we were going to make a difference. I’d felt the emotion welling up in me for days… I’d been worrying about Dad’s health and was glad he and Mum would both see this happening, but sad that Bob (Fiona’s father) who’d always said one day Labour will get back, wasn’t there to see it, or even know that Fiona and I had been involved. ‘
Then fast forward to the next day, we have won bigger than any of us had ever imagined – we were even winning in seats we had not campaigned in – and here is my diary entry for the Festival Hall … ‘It was weird. I felt deflated. All around us people were close to delirium but I didn’t feel part of it. We were taken up to a room afterwards, and I said to TB, this is so weird, you’ve worked so hard for so long for something, it comes, you’re surrounded by people who are so happy, yet you don’t feel like they do, and you just want to get home to bed. He said he felt exactly the same. ‘
Four years later, we have won another landslide, the only moment I feel any joy was when I saw my other son Rory waiting for me at Millbank Tower when we came for the victory party, and here is how I close the entry for this, the day of our second great victory . ‘In some ways, I had enjoyed the night more than in 1997, but I still didn’t feel the kind of exhilaration others seemed to. It was also because I knew there would be no let up, and in all sorts of ways the future was unclear. Maybe it was just my nature.’
Now I am only up to 2001 in the published diaries but I am going to give you a sneak preview of 2005, another win … this is after the victory party in London … ‘I was now beginning to share TB’s sense of disappointment at the result. It was light by the time I left and I got a really nice reception from people as I was walking to Victoria Street. A few people were shouting out congratulations from cars,… but I felt a bit low about it all. … I said goodbye to a few people at party HQ and as I made for the door, there was a spontaneous round of applause. I stopped and looked back and there was a standing ovation going on, which I found really moving. I felt like these were the people I really loved working with … I felt my eyes filling with tears and must have looked like I was crying when I got into the cab home. ‘You should be happy,’ the cabbie said ‘Three in a row.’
So what do I make of all that? Well one, I cry a lot – as Rory said when The Blair Years was published – Dad, do we really have to have all this crying crap?’ Two, I cry when I am happy in the sense of my being fulfilled, job done. Three, it is family that has the capacity to move us most, because they are the people we love most. Four, I will always resent the fact that I did not enjoy three of the greatest days of my life. Five, other than in sport I find it hard to lose myself in mass emotion – I prefer to stand out against it than go along with it. But six, I never stop thinking about the next thing, and the next thing, and the fears about the challenge ahead will drive my mood every bit as much as any pleasure there may be in the moment.
For me happiness is not about the good moments – though they can build towards it – but about fulfilment. That may strike you as unnecessarily Presbyterian for someone who doesn’t do God, but I think the pursuit of those things that many people may think make them happy – fame, money, alcohol, drugs, quick hit relationships – are less likely to make people happy than give them a sense of elation the endurance of which is all too elusive.
If you ask me if I am happy that I devoted a large part of my life to helping Labour get elected and then helping Tony Blair in government, I will say yes. If you ask me if I was happy all the time doing it … read the books. Talk to Fiona and the kids, and understand why they think it is funny that I am standing here today making this speech.
If fame was the answer, then you wouldn’t have the extraordinary situation where ‘real people’ often seem happier than the famous. I know plenty of both. The famous ones are always, in general, more disgruntled than the not so well known who are likely to be more pressurised financially and in many other ways.
How many stories do you read of the rich and their problems? Or lottery winners who regret the win? The reason for Professor Layard’s graph diversion is that we adapt to wealth quickly. Get a bigger salary, get a bigger house, a bigger car, a more expensive holiday. Then sit around saying how much fun we had when we were struggling. And for the really wealthy … there is never enough. Ask Rupert Murdoch. There is only one Carlos Slim, the richest man in the world. And he probably wishes he was The Queen.
As for drugs and alcohol and gambling and the other well known areas of addiction, nobody can ever tell me that the addict finds happiness in a bottle, a needle or a punt.
So despite being grumpy, despite being a depressive who occasionally needs medication to deal with it I am reasonably happy. Now there’s a conundrum. Could even be a book title. The happy depressive. I am both, and sometimes at the same time. Because I am reasonably fulfilled, and the fulfilment has not been easy.
That’s the other thing – to me, any sense of happiness requires a sense of fulfilment and any fulfilment, worthwhile fulfilment, requires struggle. It doesn’t come easy.
I know this is not a universal view. Fiona’s version of my mum’s ‘why can’t you just be content?’ is ‘why do you keep needing to do so much?’ Her observation of my life patterns is that I decide to do something, throw myself into it, do it well, but then decide I need something else. ‘You’re never happy.’ That is not strictly true. I have moments … but the building of happiness through fulfilment is a long game.
So here is the theory I want to add to all those that previous speakers have given you on this theme – it is a rather dark one I confess, but then one of your local former MPs once called me the man who lived in the dark – it is that for the individual, we cannot know if we have lived a truly happy life until the very end.
I am now at the age, 54, where I do at least think about my own mortality. On the back nine of life as a golfer might say. I don’t think I am alone in wondering what death will be like, wondering what my final thoughts will be, wondering what the obits are likely to say – I have a fair idea of that one already.
On the final thoughts, I want to be able to say I had a full and fulfilling life because then I think I will die happy. So what will be the components? Family. Obviously you don’t wish sadness upon those you love but I want my partner and kids still to love me, and to have felt I was good to them. I want to believe that when my dad died he considered me a good son, and that when my mum goes – she is into her 80s – she will think the same. I want to know I have enjoyed a good range of friendships, personal and professional. I want to know that some of my emnities were worthwhile, that I made life harder for people who deserved it – you know, like Tories who think their divine right is to govern, or journalists who lie, cheat and never face up to the consequences of their lies and cheating.
I want to know I have worked hard and achieved much.
I want to be able say I was at least part of changing the world for the better. I want to be able to recall experiences that have endured for their pleasure and range and intensity.
I have said to my kids that if I go doolally – again!! – and the option by then exists for euthanasia, I want to take it. The selfless reason is not being a burden. The selfish reason is that I want to die thinking my own happy thoughts about the life I have lived, about the family I leave behind, about a legacy of thought and action and experience.
Death is bad enough any time. It is worse if the mind has gone.
I want to stay with the mind if I may. Because this may surprise you but if I look back and think of some of the best experiences of my life, that have helped shape the relative developing happiness I have now one would be my nervous breakdown in 1986.
Why? Because it was the worst experience of my life and I survived it. Because it gave me a yardstick for the rest of my life against which to compare other bad experiences. Because it taught me what I thought and what I valued – family, politics, doing rather than just talking. And because it gave me a taste of my own vulnerability and my own mortality. It was an irrational thought, but I thought I was going to die, and like a lot of people who have been to that abyss and come back, life is a lot better after that.
I’m happy that I can stand here today and remember as if it were yesterday the day I cracked up, and be fairly confident it won’t happen again.
Quite an experience. I don’t urge you to have one. But if you do I urge you if you do to try to turn it into something good.
So on that deathbed I will give thanks for my family, Fiona and the kids especially. I will thank friends, dead and alive. I will thank the people who gave me all the amazing opportunities I have had to do things in work and play. But I will also have a little nod to my madness vintage 86.
I don’t thank my depression. I don’t will it upon anyone. It is a horrible illness for which there is not enough understanding. The nearest I can come to describing it is that when it strikes you feel dead and alive at the same time. But I am content that I have learned to live with it. Pleased that I have accepted it as part of who I am, happy that after years of living in denial finally I got help, and though I retain a lifelong abhorrence of drugs pleased that I have a shrink I trust to tell me I think it might be a good idea if you took a few pills for a while.
I’m happy that it inspired me to write my first novel. The idea came to me riding my bike. I became a man possessed until I finished it. I told nobody I was doing it until it was done. It was like an enormous force within me that had to come out. I was so happy when I wrote it, even though I cried a lot on the way, so happy when it was published, so happy at the letters I get from people who say I am glad I am not alone, just as happy that people write and say at last I understand it a bit.
That is about fulfilment. Taking the bad and turning it into something good, a more creative expression of an experience and a time when I thought I was going to die.
My best friend John Merritt died of leukaemia. His daughter Ellie died of leukaemia. I became chairman of fundraising of Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research. Today I visited the haematology centre at the university and saw how £2.5m of the charity’s money is being spent on clinical trials. I met patients and in talking to them, not only are they alive, but I feel John and Ellie’s memory are alive in the work I do for the charity. Get good from bad.
So for me, happiness comes through fulfilment, personal, professional, political. I am an obsessive and a perfectionist and neither of these things are compatible with contentment, of self or of others. Yet I argue they are the traits that have led to at least some fulfilment, and the deeper happiness that has brought. I can get a five figure fee for a speech to a bank. I’m not going to say No. But I get more out of the pitch to M and S to get them to become a charity partner.
So what other moments of happiness can I recall?
I remember being on my uncle’s farm in Scotland, getting a call from my dad, saying I had got 3 As in my A levels. That meant I got my place at Cambridge. But the happiness was because I had really worked and it paid off.
I didn’t much like Cambridge. Messed around. Drank too much. Year abroad I was actually quite happy – free, finding myself, busking, writing soft porn and making money – By my last year I was even fairly happy at Cambridge.
Messed around. Became a trainee journalist. Loved it. Met Fiona. Some great times together but we have had some tough times. Read the diaries. I think if either of us were less strong characters we would not have survived together. But enduring relationships are fundamental to the kind of happiness I am outlining. We row, we snarl, we hear but don’t listen. But I’m happy we stayed together. When my first book came out Fiona was asked to write a piece on living with Alastair Campbell. Like it was aids or malaria. ‘On balance I am glad we stayed together’. Wow! … yet be honest, it is about the best most long relationships can hope for. On balance … glad we stayed together. And of course kids. Everyone says they love their kids. Yet so many don’t act in a loving way. It is hard. I read my diaries and the truth is I tried to devote any spare time to them. But I know it wasn’t enough. Work/life balance is hard. We should put our kids first but busy people can’t and don’t. But I am at my happiest when I am at my closest to them. And I know this too – a parent is never happier than his or her least happy child.
Happy moments. So many in sport. Calum at Scunthorpe when Burnley got promoted. Rory in Barcelona when United turned it round in injury time. Grace at the end of the London marathon saying John would have been so proud of me.
Here’s a thought. So many of those moments had me in tears. This fulfilment thing runs deep. I cannot watch an Olympic ceremony without tears in my eyes. Often even the athlete isn’t crying. But I see the flag, hear the anthem and I cry with joy for that person and his or her fulfilment. It can be a Bulgarian who got gold for Greco-Roman wrestling, but it’ll still set me off.
Sport is responsible for so much happiness and joy. If someone said think of a week when you were really happy – a whole week – I might well go for the first Soccer Aid. Grew up wanting to be a footballer. I was rubbish. Aged 49 I am training under Ruud Gullit and Gus Poyet and I end up playing with Maradona in front of 72k people. I come off and Rory says ‘sorry Dad, you were so out of your depth.’ I know. And I don’t care. I loved it. I was happy.
I learn so much from sport because I love building teams. None of the team I built have gone out and joined the slagging I get from the media hacks who don’t know me. Greatest moments of satisfaction in the job with TB – probably Kosovo and Ireland. Because of the teamship required.
One step up is friendship. I know a lot of people. I don’t have many close friends. Not real friends I would count on 100 per cent. Fiona. The kids. Others in my family.
I have lost friends. John. Richard Stott, my editor three times, including on my diaries. Mark Gault, who I lived with at university. My dad. We all know grief. How can we still be happy? Only by learning from the experience, and living with what we learned. You know what was the best soundbite I heard in my time in Downing Street. Well, one of them, and it came not from TB but the Queen, post 9/11. ‘Grief is the price we pay for love.’ I was sitting near Bill Clinton. ‘Did you write that?’ he whispered. No, I said. ‘Well find out who did and hire him’.
Alex Ferguson once said to me that the true friend is the one who walks through the door as others are putting on their coats to leave. Great definition. I am happy with the friends I have. Some you’ll know – him, Tony, Philip Gould, Brendan Foster. Others you won’t.
So I have a great family. I have a small number of close friends. I live in a friendly street. I support a football club and a political party and two charities which all mean a lot to me. I have a complex sense of national identity – I am British first, then Scottish, then English, then Yorkshire, then London, then European.
All of these things make me connected. And the reason why money does not automatically make us happy is because it does not automatically connect us. If I had to list the countries where I sensed greater happiness it would not be the UK, nor the US. It might be Australia. It might be Ireland, certainly before the crash. It might also have been Ethiopia or Mozambique. It was where I felt a sense of people as families as communities as a people. And wealth had little to do with it.
I am lucky enough to have had two careers, and now a third weird mix as I work out what unemployed antichrists do. I get a lot of professional opportunities and make a decent living. I am lucky enough too to give of my time and money to others – and survey after survey shows giving is as likely to make us happy as taking. So if I can conclude with one of the defining British statements … I mustn’t grumble …
I feel happy enough with the life I have lived and the life I am living. But I won’t know for sure until the day I die. On that happy thought. Thank you.
Do you think you can be happy if you have a horrible boss? Loads of unhappiness here http://www.ourhorriblebosses.com
“Men can only be happy when they do not assume that the object of life is happiness.” George Orwell.
Brilliantly written as ever mate. Brightened my morning of jet lag and grey skies
Great stuff, thank you.
a lovely, moving piece – thank you for a warm start to the day.
In my mind and with my moods now I am nowhere bright so I have no light to share, unfortunately.
I was once a teacher,linguist.
Remember Clockwise, John Cleese?
“It’s not the despair, Laura. I can take the despair. It’s the hope I can’t stand”
Anyway, all the best, thank you – I’ll re-read your work again later today and reflect more on it.
I have noticed that whenever I mention the word “virtue” in my comment, only 1-2 people like it. But ancient philosophers knew that virtue is a precondition of happiness.
Happiness is related to one´s age. At the age of 44 we reach the bottom, but then the curve goes upwards. But according to a study Britons lose their sense of humour at the age of 53, so I guess it is all over for you AC!
According to another study happiest people were in the slums of Brazil, unhappiest in the best areas of Bonn. So money does not make us happy.
As for cuts in Britain, they are ideological and unnecessary. GROWTH alone would have halved the deficit without any cuts or tax rises. But now wait for grim GDP figures which will be published soon.
AC, please remember that they say that happy people do not make history. You have.
Ps. I do God which makes me happy.
Another of your excellent epistles that I’ve copied and pasted into a Word.docx for later consumption. Off to my book group now – that makes me happy but last month’s book didn’t. Not saying which but wasn’t one of yours, Alastair. See y’all later!
Great piece, genuinely moved ME to tears. As someone who has had severe depression for the last 4 years I have a similar view to the notions of a good life. I said to my mum recently that all you can hope for in life, is that at the time of death, you can say things evened them self out..I was LUCKY to get 50% crap and 50% good and THAT is lucky.
So many people have become the epitome of selfishness and they come out with the cod philosophy of magazines like Hello – “your not here for a long time your here for a good time” and other meaningless drivel they spout to justify themselves being totally selfish assholes and happily ruining others lives. This is how they get their happiness and personally id rather be sad than having to be such a lowlife. Thank you for you honesty AC, it’s never easy to look yourself in the mirror and be honest about who you are, as Polonius’s said “To thine own self be true” Keep on figthing the depression and find a little happiness when you can..and dont let the media off the hook and especially the Daily Scum..we must for the sake of society bring the fascist Mail to it’s knees.
This post made me think about whether I am happy or not
I live in a deprived area, can’t afford to learn to drive/own a house/go on holiday, I buy most clothes in the sales or charity shops but despite the inconvenience of being permanently broke,I am genuinely happy with life. CuddIing my kids make me happy, passing the time of day with strangers on the bus, doing something nice for someone for no reason other than to be nice; a hug from my other half or a natter with my Mum or Dad, volunteering at our local hospital – all of these things make me happy. Some of the most cheerful, happy contented people I know have absolutely nothing materially but they do have the biggest hearts and would give their last pennies to help others. For me, happiness is seeing the good in people even when they don’t see the good in you. It’s nice to be nice is the motto I live my life by and so far, it hasn’t served me too badly at all.
A fantastic piece, thank you. A fascinating subject, and you have given many different angles to ponder upon. I wonder how an article written by David Cameron on this topic would compare.
Lovely piece 🙂
A starting point should be what you spin doctors call lowering expectations. So, Freud said “much is won if we succeed in transforming hysterical misery into common unhappiness.” Admittedly, he was probably talking in a clinical context but if you accept that unhappiness is the default characteristic of the human condition then you will appreciate interludes of happiness and joy far more.
My second quote is from Pascal: “the sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room.” I count myself lucky that I have always been happy to spend a lot of time alone in my room and that was the case even before the internet brought all you delightful (mostly!) strangers into my living room.
Having been through a totally life transforming 6 months, I can conclude the following about happiness,
a) I have no words available to describe how I feel about kids.
b) Nothing is better for you than taking the gamble of dragging yourself kicking and screaming out of your comfort zone. The process will not bring happiness, but the end result will.
c) Don’t ever let go of something you feel passionate about. Win, lose, or draw you have to be able to look in the mirror and say “I fought for that”. Failing does not bring unhappiness. It may bring disappointment and sadness. But the happiness bit will be achieved, regardless of the result, as long as your effort was sincere and genuine.
I always take the Scottish gloom to mean being realistic,your ability to connect with folk is a great strength which will always aid happiness,thanks for sharing your thoughts,all the best Isobel Mackay
One of John Diamond’s final articles is excellent
One of John Diamond’s final articles is excellent
As someone who learned quite early on that the journey is always better than the arrival. I did manage to find a sort of happiness through simple contentment with life. After many years of depression during my younger years that was all I asked and expected and for me contentment is enough.
Really enjoyed this, very moving and thoughtful. Thanks a lot.
‘according to a study Britons lose their sense of humour at the age of 53’
Olli, I haven’t seen the study to which you refer, but I can confidently describe it as a joke!
What you wrote about your breakdown and subsequent appreciate of what is important really resonates with me. Thank you for continuing to speak about your depression, it inspires those like me to believe we can have a good career and helps employers to see that people with depression are not all weeping wallflowers!
Whilst it’s important you accept your depression Alistair, don’t let that lead you to assume that it will always be an intrinsic part of your future as it has been of your history.
You mention happiness in education – please do have a look at the last page of last Tuesday’s WEF briefing which Fiona now has access to. There’s only so much you can say in 600 words. There’s a heck of a lot more to it than that.
Curses – Curses – for days I’ve been pondering making a comment recommending going to the Barber Institute at Brum Uni.
The Tennis in Art exhibition “Court on Canvas” is well worth a look. Includes a couple of paintings by the Dudley born artist Percy Shakespeare – he was a Socialist – killed by a stray Nazi bomb in WW11 in the Navy – as well as Stanley Spencer, John Lavery and Paul Nash.
Lovely show – Ann Sumner has done a sterling job putting the history of tennis into an art-historical context.
My notion of an hour of bliss?
An hour in the Barber Institute.
Some people try to catch up on life, on ambtions they felt what they felt when young. To cross-over compromise on yourself on sometime in your life is the point of some sort of happiness. Some say resignation, the young maybe, to a middle-aged oldie, but that is them to find out for themselves in good time.
I’ve crossed-over several years ago, and seem to understand life now, more or less! (Crossed-over to a new life philosophy, not anything else….)
I so much enjoyed this article/speech, such honest insight and wonderful perspective.
Yeah, I thought that line was a little odd as well. If a person is fortunate enough to have a sense of humour and most people have to a greater or lesser extent, then how or why except for a major personal calamity would they loose it? It makes no sense really. Some of the happiest most humorous people I’ve come across are in the 45 plus age group. Also if you can laugh at yourself that’s a great asset too.
Another thing that always used to irk me slighty was the health professionals assertion that if someone was depressed than it would always be the case that they suffered from “low self-esteem” er no that most definately isn’t the case imo. maybe a few do I suppose, but the one thing does not always go hand in hand with the other.
I’m sorry to say that many health professionals do not have a clue when it comes to mental health! They just simply spout the latest crack-pot theory and expect the patient to agree with them and follow the latest advice even when it’s clearly not suitable for every individual. One size does not fit all. I was very fortunate that when I was at my lowest low, in my late 20’s I happened to have a fantastic GP. A down-to-earth Yorkshireman who reasured me that because I had total insight into my condition, nothing terrible was going to happen to me and I would get better given time. Even at my very lowest I didn’t completely loose my sense of humour thankfully, because that and my GP got me through it and I am even stronger because of it and more sympathetic to others who are still struggling. It is a struggle too sometimes. Like old-age depression is not for cissies!
That’s more than enough from me. But if anything i.e. a word or phrase that I’ve written is of a little help to someone still struggling, then I would be pleased about that.
You seriously need somone to off you a job, say 26 hours a week, at twenty quid an hour, at least, you seem well worth it.
I am sorry to say I have problem of nuture due to nature in my upbriging, as I have mentioned before, between the lines, but I’ll be left in this house which I feel my parents shouldn’t have built, and modyfied. Parents, say no more – I am here looking after my father, who is not healthy to people around him, but that is life, I suppose. He is a one way direction – take and no emotional give.
Alastair not Alistair. So sorry. Mortified.
Happiness is Burnley winning for AC and Tranmere winning for me. Unhappiness is driving back down the M6 after a game. Deep unhappiness is, having lost. using the toll Motorway around Birmingham and feeling guilty about using a privatised route. Extreme unhappiness is getting home, being greeted by your loved ones who laugh when you say your team lost again. Maybe car sharing is the answer Alistair?
Great article. Honest and interesting.
Lovely idea – highly unlikely given that slasher Osbourne waved his economic wand and abracadabra, jobs disappeared – but lovely idea nonetheless. 🙂
Your situation doesn’t sound good Ehtch. I’m sorry that I for one didn’t pick-up on what you were mentioning “between the lines” as you say.
I hope you are getting as much support and assistance that you can get and that you are entitled to receive. Though these days it probably doesn’t amount to much and I’m not talking about financial help.
Just hang on in there Ehtch, it won’t be forever. It just feels like it at the time!
Now I know why “The Climb” is such a good song –
…then sit around saying how much fun we had when we were struggling…
Its the journey stupid 🙂
My favourite blog ever!
Those last few moments of life have occupied far too many of my thoughts over the years.
And here’s the frustrating thing.
We experience life on a nano-second delay from the actual event occuring. So we’ll never be able to make that final evaluation as we’ll be dead before we have time to realise the end has finally come.
And that thought slightly pisses me off!
Don’t worry, I do, and will hang on – I am a fighter in life, well, I think I am. I am the oldest son, and know my responsibility. It is a welsh tradition that it is the eldest, if not the eldest daughter, to look after parents in old age. But modern life does not make that possible for most these days. But I won’t have it any other way where I am now. Many thanks for the great encouragement.
I think you are a fighter too Ehtch. It’s not just a Welsh tradition that the eldest “child” takes responsibility in due course, I think that’s fairly common throughout the UK. Also taking responsibility doesn’t mean you should necessarily sacrifice a big part of your own life! Being a caring responsible son or daughter can also apply when finding a good and caring nursing/retirement home for elderly parent!
My late mother had to go into a nursing home for her final years, fortunately the decision on that was taken out of my hands. It was the best thing for her (and me) she was very well cared for made new friends there had plently of visitors, outings and entertainment. But for me the best thing about it was that for her final few years my mother and I had the best relationship ever, because we became mother and daughter again, rather than her being dependant on me as her carer. Win win situation all round.
Please keep me/us updated on any future developments with your situation Ehtch. Such responsibility can be almost overwhelming at times and I’m not surprised you like a drink or two at times! Good luck to you.
Nope, my dad what’s to carry on, even if his mind enentually goes where he lives now, even if I have to chase him up the road in the middle of the night without his clothes on, which my brilliant grandmother had to do with her father. Anyway, makes futures good stories down the family line, doesn’t it?
I hear what you say, but he wants to go out in a box from here, like his loving wife, and I can never deny him that, no matter how nuch money he has in the bank that is coming to me and my brother in Swansea……
By replying to myself, continuity maintained, I hope:
For reasons of ill-health, I did not manage to read this piece until a couple of days later. So the content has now infused with my own ‘happiness’ and I’ll stick to personal viewpoint. Apart from saying – shouting – BRILLIANT SPEECH!
It is a droll sense of humour that gets me through the day. That and connecting with the wider world at some point; looking beyond the horizon; not taking my own situation too seriously and staying away from medical intervention (tongue-in-cheek repeat reference to own ill-health this past week).
MS is such a strange lurking beast. Many expect to see mobility-impairment on the grand scale – wheelchair, shakes, wobbles, falling, limping, slow-moving – all of it, some of it.
Oh, but that is just the half of it, not even that much. What doesn’t show? The internal workings of the mind and body – I’ll spare you the body bit for now while we look at the mind/soul/happiness centre.
For me, mood fluctuates according to my capabilities and ‘suffering’ of pain, limitations (so, yes, the body again) and mind. Happiness is as happiness does; a fleeting, sometimes prolonged, leap of joy that makes the sun shine on a rainy day, lighting up my face and lightening my load.
I settle for contentment, the here and now, as it is, limited expectations without being all doom and gloom. It works. Whatever the weather, however the MS, I limit myself to the ‘one day at a time’ motto and am ‘happy’ if one good thing, however small, happens along.
Where do these happy moments spring from – ah, that’s the key to it. Everywhere and everyone, virtual, real, read and heard and seen and felt and tasted and touched. People known and unknown, near and far, but mainly the nearest and his fleeting kiss or word or touch or deed is always enough.
That and knowing my adult sons are living fulfilling lives. It is all enough.
In “Agamemnon,” the fifth-century Greek playwright Aeschylus wrote: “Call no man happy until the day he dies.”
The axiom also appears in Herodotus’ “History of the Persian Wars”: The Athenian politician Solon speaks it to wealthy Croesus, King of Lydia, who thinks, with all his riches, conquests, and successes, that he is the happiest man on earth. Croesus, however, thinks that Solon is ridiculous and sends him away with a flea in his ear. It is only after Croesus and his Lydian armies attack the Persian Empire and are defeated by the armies of Cyrus the Great, who orders a funeral pyre to be constructed and Croesus to be placed on it, that the Lydian King–with flames licking at his feet–understands the true meaning of Solon’s words.So you are on the right track, Mr Campbell, living by an ancient precept that modern political leaders and media moguls would do well to heed.
Glaswegian Brian Cassidy – Nottingham
I only picked up on this ‘happiness speech’ after hearing you on Radio Two this morning and I am new to your blog.
They say that school days are the happiest days of your life.
I collected my 11 year old daughter from her Primary School leavers Prom. last night. They all looked lovely but not much appeared to have changed since ‘Proms were known as ‘the School Disco’
1.There’s always a really geeky girl dancing with a boy who appears to be in a man’s suit.
2.There’s always two guys rushing around giving each other ‘piggy backs’
3.There’s always a teacher trying to dance like he a ‘hipster’, being cool, being trendy, being gallus.
4. There’s always a teacher whose kid is at the school who embarasses them by insisting on a dance.
5.The Head doesn’t dance – he just walks around usually in a coloured bowtie
6.There’s always some guy attempting to moonwalk….
7.Some plump girl always cries ’cause no-one dances with her – some kindly ‘Sir’ is obliged to do the honours.
8.Some geezer galloned up with hair gel is always bickered over by two ‘burds’
9.Someone faints and teachers fuss excessively ‘Stand back chillllllldren…give them air!’ One’ll screeh.
10. There’s always a coat crisis when someone collects the wrong one!
11.Some teacher will wear their Prom garb all day ‘Can’t be arsed to change’
12. The DJ won’t have the song that came from nowhere straight into number one……..’Caw yersel a diskjawkee an ye hivnae goat the nummer wan by the acclaymed ‘Herringbone Sisters’? That’s pish, pal, that is!
Ah the happiest of days and those sweet sweet memoris………
I was in The Great Hall listening to your speech. I came out slightly disappointed. But, I have found the ideas resonating in my mind. Am I happy? Is happiness necessary? Isn’t it really about fulfillment? Doing a worthwhile job and doing it well? Learning? Giving to others? Family?
And, I bought your first diary which is fascinating although I constantly feel like I’ve picked up someone’s private document and I shouldn’t be reading it.
Anyway, keep talking and writing.
Thanks for your honest and thoughtful post about happiness. There are some stiking parallels with your take on happiness and this article written by a Canadian priest on the topic of happiness:
As others have said, I am grateful for your honesty about your depression in this piece.