Don’t work at being happy, just read about the hapless in our newspapers

When hairdressers are more happy than marketers, whose raison d’être is the fulfilment of desire, there’s something amiss about our definition of happiness

Owing to an unconscionable oversight on the part of someone who ought to have known better, marketing was omitted from the latest list of professions that afford its practitioners the greatest happiness. How could this be when, as we know, marketers devote their lives to discerning the needs and desires of others and then satisfying them? What could be nobler or more fulfilling than that? No wonder marketing people bask in a perpetual sense of bien être.

To give you an idea of just how flawed this league table of happiness was, I need only point out that hairdressing came top. Immediately we can see that the researchers sought out those whose happiness derives from causing the greatest misery to others. Who with an atom of feeling for his fellow creatures could derive pleasure from wetting people’s hair, sitting them upright in a chair designed to inflict the maximum discomfort, and, as the cold water slowly drips down their neck, asking them if they’ve been anywhere nice for their holidays?

Happiness no more avails itself of measurement than it allows itself to be a quarry. You can neither gauge it nor can you catch it. Happiness is both incidental and accidental: it comes as a by-product of doing something other than actually trying to be happy and, sadly, it is usually appreciated only after the event. You cannot get up in the morning, throw open the windows and say, “Today I’m going to be happy”. Well, you can of course, there is nothing to stop you, but much good will it do you.

That said, happiness may be derived from the contemplation of those things that are good. The study of nature can give happiness, as can the witnessing of truth, justice, redemption, salvation and the joy of others.

Look around you and will find examples abound. Contrary to common belief, newspapers are brimful of causes for happiness. Take the item I read the other day confirming that cycling can make you impotent. What better instance of justice plain and virtuous? That the cyclist, a lycra-wrapped bundle of ecological piety and a scourge of other road users, should be denied like-minded progeny is surely a cause of inward merriment.

And what could cause greater delight than the news that Ruby Wax is no longer to appear on television? No one, it seems, wants to see her any more – the mystery is that they ever did. Ms Wax was a concentrate of vulgarity, a distillation of loud, brash, cringe-making awfulness that made the toes curl and the temples throb. To be relieved of pain may not be happiness, but it can feel very like it.

Another cause of satisfaction, so akin to happiness as to be indistinguishable from it, was the news that French Connection is to drop its puerile FCUK slogan. This was without doubt the low water mark in all of the picaresque history of marketing and advertising, an idea so bereft of wit and imagination that it ought to have been drowned at birth. That it is no more is enough to make one skip and frolic and pluck daisies.

As for the happiness that comes from witnessing the joy of others, it was reported last week that Mary Gober, a leading American motivational speaker, had advised the dispirited staff of Marks & Spencer to forget their woes and go in for some “inspirational dancing”. This, she promised, would improve morale and customer service.

The problem with my local M&S is that there are seldom any staff to be seen, and certainly none in a managerial capacity. The checkouts are empty, the “Pay Here” points unmanned. It’s a consequence, I suppose, of downsizing, the process by which personnel are laid off by the score, releasing many millions to be distributed in share options and bonuses for the passing pageant of senior management. At any rate, to learn that as the ship sinks the few remaining members of the crew are below deck dancing a hornpipe, is a cause of happiness, albeit of the wry variety.

Finally, it would be churlish not to spurn the happiness offered so selflessly by others eager to please. Take the Met Office, which, in a laudable bid to spread a little joy, has decreed that weather forecasts shall henceforth accentuate the positive. Instead of being warned of scattered showers we shall now be cheered by the prospect of scattered dry spells. No more cold grey skies, just bracing heavens of a taupe hue. Farewell the wind chill factor, hail the sheltered spot factor. So, you see, misery is only happiness by

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