Prescription for happiness

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by L. G. William Chapman, B.A., LL.B.

Many times over the past several years during our winter sojourn on Hilton Head Island I have marvelled at what I believe to be the incredible fortuity and bounty of the experience. No doubt others feel equally blessed though in different circumstances. I won’t bother with either comparisons or alternatives, that’s just not realistic. Eventually you have to accept where you are or else find yourself in a perpetual state of quandary, turmoil and agitation. I have succumbed to the admission that things don’t get much better than this!  And – just to be clear – I include in that assessment my time in Canada for the rest of the year, specifically Mississippi Mills which is as close to a place called home that this vagabond shall ever know.

The primary allure of Hilton Head Island for me is the weather, specifically no snow. Seven years ago when we first visited the Island over the Christmas holidays we endured a brief “snow shower” which was a variation on freezing rain though more like crystals which lasted but a second when they hit the sand on the beach. I cannot recall a recurrence of similar weather since then even though in January the temperature occasionally drops to near freezing and we wear  gloves and a toque when bicycling. On balance those cold days – which are normally compensated by extraordinarily clear and sunny skies – are infrequent; and it isn’t long before I resume my afternoon practice of lounging in the warmth of the sun by the pool.

Forty years ago when I began my career I would never have imagined that the elements of happiness could be so identifiable or as simple as I now consider them to be. In fact, I am quite certain I did not contemplate what the bread and wine of life might be.  Happiness was then an elusive concept, certainly not something which I would have dared to qualify with any particularity. Happiness was always something in the making, never a lasting achievement.  It was a shifting goal and a distant project.  It would constitute a mockery of the evolution to reduce the accomplishment to having a good bowel movement every day.  Yet plainness is the root of success.  Happiness, like anything else, is not complicated.

The formula for happiness is now ridiculously transparent, a reduction which imitates a diminishing interest in superfluity generally, leaving only the essentials. First, there has to be some money. Since the wherewithal of each of us is so different I shall only observe that living within one’s means is not rocket science. Everyone needs to budget.

Next, there is clothing – shoes, socks, smalls, pants and belt, shirts, sweaters and jackets. If globalization has meant anything it is the availability of clothing for next to nothing.  With a little planning the mix-‘n-match scenario ensures variety.  Keep the colours primary and similar.

We all have our favourite things. One of mine is pianos but I decided I could bear the deprivation of a grand piano and settle instead for an electronic keyboard. I have since discovered that grand pianos – without the hassle of maintenance and tuning – are available almost everywhere without cost.  In my university days I played concert grands at auditoria. Now I find them in seniors’ residences and condominium common rooms.  Obviously, there is a compromise but worth it.  As for other things – objets d’art, furnishings, rugs, household items and jewellery – the auction houses and second-hand stores are a good starting point, that is if you haven’t already got enough. Know when to quit or at least substitute.

Cars.  Now there’s a catchy subject! I have a weakness for automobiles.  I consider it no disgrace to rationalize the affection. But once again it may entail giving something up to acquit the indulgence. The scope of cars is almost limitless.  One only need be guided by the other principles of happiness.

Finally, there are the elemental features of happiness – health, friendship (perhaps even love) and attitude.  I could have mentioned them earlier but, for whatever reason, they’re always left as an add-on.  It might be because they’re considered to underwrite any discussion of happiness, the sine qua non. This doesn’t diminish their significance – in fact, it probably sustains it – but their palpable contrast speaks to the compelling nature of our material world.  I don’t, for example, know any penniless people who smile seraphically.  In my universe there is a nexus between thought and things, no matter how modest either is.

So – there you have it!  If one uses this prescription for happiness I believe it will work. If the argument against the prescription is that one cannot always get what one wants, well I’m not impressed! The thesis of the prescription is to adjust to one’s circumstances: face the facts, pursue what you need, accept less, and hope like hell you are regular!

Post Scriptum

If there is any debate about my conclusion, this should help.  Here is a photo of Ralph Lauren’s $40M Bugatti.  Yes, Forty Million. And you thought I was crazy!