My pursuit of happiness …

You will no doubt have read that Olderhood has started publishing a column on Retirement Happiness.

Although you might think, from some of my Olderhood columns, that I was the chief cheerleader for retirement happiness, the truth is slightly different. I don’t believe in happiness.

Thomas Jefferson, and the men who rewrote his first draft of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, felt the same way. They wrote: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

The pursuit of happiness, note, not happiness itself. Why not ‘Life, Liberty and Happiness’? It is possible that Jefferson was just a grumpy old fellow, but that’s not it. To Jefferson, happiness was a goal, not a destination.

Happiness is a fleeting sensation. For example, I couldn’t be happier to see Manchester United playing so badly after years of lording it over the rest of us. But that’s not real happiness; it’s schadenfreude, finding pleasure in the misfortune of others. What would make me happy, at least for a while, would be to see the team I support, Spurs, win something. It is the pursuit of happiness, the (apparently impossible) hope that one day they might do something right, that keeps me going.

I was happy when England won the World Cup in 1966, a match at which I was present (along with millions of others, if pub conversations are to be believed). But it didn’t last. England have failed to win anything in the 48 succeeding years, so my happiness has turned to despair. The British, it is said, are never happy until they are miserable.

Having professed my belief that happiness does not exist, I should report that I am happier now than at almost any time in my life. Until now, whenever people would ask “Are you happy?” I would explain that I didn’t know the meaning of the term. I do now.

For me, happiness lies in absence: the absence of pain, of financial concerns, of a cell phone, of a TV, of other people. Much of that is beyond our control, but on those days when I am able to achieve most of them, my reply to the question would be “I’m happy right now.” That’s happiness: it’s hard to find and it doesn’t last.

Happiness, therefore, is like women. (Remember the song lyric: If you want to be happy for the rest of your life, never make a pretty woman your wife’?) The chase, the pursuit, is the most fun available, for many of us.

So happiness is a temporary state of mind. If you can find it in today’s world, good luck to you.

What a misery-guts, eh? I don’t claim to be all-knowing in this regard (or any other). If thousands of Olderhoodies write in to say that they are blissfully happy, so be it. Let’s hope they do. Lord Knows there’s little enough else to be happy about.

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