Jun 082007

On this morning’s Radio National Breakfast, the usual Friday Panel segment after 8:00am looked at the ethereal subject of “Happiness”.

”The numbers said it all this week: we’re in a golden economic age. Unemployment fell again last month to 33 year lows. The economy is growing at its fastest rate in three years. Inflation is going down. Consumer confidence is also at record highs, which means we’re spending more at the shops.
But is all this economic prosperity making us feel happier or more content? According to some surveys, not necessarily.
The wealth of the average Australian has more than doubled in the past decade; but Australians are no happier than we were at the start of the decade according to the Australian Unity Well-Being Index. Comparatively speaking we’re still a pretty happy lot – we came in 12th out of 77 in a fairly recent global happiness survey.
What’s confusing is the voters are not happy with their government and are considering a change. Why is this so? Or as one former Prime Minister once lamented – what more do they want?”

If the country’s economy is the centre of every Australian’s universe, then why aren’t we all happy campers? Probably because the exact opposite is the reality. When we speak of ethereal concepts, the economy must surely be right up there with ultimate enlightenment, quantum theory and the size of the Universe. Very, very few of us understand the concept and even fewer are able to verbalise it to an extent where the non-economists among us can grasp it.
It’s all very well for Bill Clinton to have uttered “It’s the economy, stupid” and it makes for a good soundbite, but what did he really mean and do we actually give a continental? Me personally, no. Working in finance as I do, I have a reasonable grasp of matters fiscal. That said, don’t expect me to explain the intricacies of what Paul Keating alluded to on last night’s Lateline, because while I dig what he said, I don’t dig it enough to explain it to you, reader.
Media pundits, politicians and so-called economists who persist in telling us that our innate happiness is inevitably linked to the good sets of figures which appear from time to time, are quite simply talking through their hats. The rude state of the current Australian economy doesn’t help me fill my fuel tank any easier, or lessen the general costs of living the frugal existence I live. The booming economy doesn’t make my mortgage reduce any faster, or make my retirement fund any more lucrative either today or when I look to retire to my patch of dirt in the country some 10 years from now. The economy is just various sets of figures which morph into whatever form those who stand to gain the most make them take.
So, is happiness linked to money? I think, inevitably, some element of ethereal happiness/contentment/satisfaction – call it what you will – has to be linked to our ability to provide for the material necessities of this linear existence. In this developed nation we call Australia, we have an enviable standard of living which requires some level of monetary input to sustain. So, yes, money is important. As the Beatles sang, all you need is love, apparently. I much prefer the truism of another track which says “Your lovin’ give me a thrill, but your lovin’ don’t pay my bill.”
But money isn’t everything, that much I think we’d all agree on. It’s nice, it buys food and keeps the lights on, computer drives whirring and late night TV beaming. But in the morning, we all need to drag ourselves out of the sack to head off to a place of work to make some more of that money. Few of us actually enjoy what we do to make the money we need and the whole cycle becomes rather tiresome. Here’s the question to ponder though. Do we really only go to work to make money?
I don’t believe so, in fact haven’t believed so for many years now. I reckon we go to work because we have an inbuilt need to be occupied, associate with our fellow human beings – despite how bloody annoying most are – and to employ our individual skills and stored experiences in the furtherment of progress towards a goal. The goal is highly unique to us all and very much an individual pursuit. For me, as an example, I come to work to further the success of my brokerage. Each day has its attendant highs and lows, frustrations and successes, but by day’s end, I usually shut down knowing I’ve achieved something along the path to my goal. In short, I’m after satisfaction of a job well done.
Does going to work make me happy? Are you nucking futs?!!???? Does going to work provide me with satisfaction? To certain degrees, yes, but not all the time and not in every way. If it did, I’d be bored shitless and be looking for another goal. Achievement of satisfaction is much like reaching the pinnacle of Maslow’s Heirarchy of Needs. In this life, none of us will ever reach and sustain that pinnacle for more than the most fleeting of moments, yet like a car-chasing dog, we’ll persist until it eventually kills us. And it will, in the end.
So, what is happiness? Is it defined by Abraham Maslow? Is it something which Siddhartha Gautama discovered at a young age and wound up forming a basis of belief from? Is happiness encapsulated by Saturday night’s lotto draw? Is it companionship, love of another human being, love for another human being, almost limitless material possessions, the ability to do what you want, when you want to regardless of who else your actions impact upon? In the final washup, is happiness definable at all? Is it a state of physical being or psychological awareness? How do we know when we’re happy? Does it last a while or is it such a fleeting experience that it’s gone almost before it arrives?
Deep philosophical questions, aren’t they? Behooving of some very deep philosophical thoughts, I’d suggest. And you know what, reader? Every single one of us will have very different thoughts on the matter and reach vastly diverse conclusions, if indeed, we ever reached even one single conclusion which made any sense.
To my mind, you might as well ponder the question of your own existence as think upon the meaning and attainment of this ethereal thing called happiness. You either have it right now, this very second, or you’ll never have it at all. Cogitate a little on that last.

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