Chronicles of Cliff: The pursuit of happiness

2013-09-30 10:00

Have you ever stopped and thought of your life as a computer game?

You know, where you remember to click on “save” when the game is going well, so that if it all gets screwed up you can start again from where you were happy?

I often think of that, and it pays to pause and appreciate when things are looking up.

Former US president Thomas Jefferson said in the preamble to the US Declaration of Independence that all men are created equally, and that they are imbued with certain?inalienable rights, namely: life, ­liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

But while the first two seem more than possible, and entirely attainable in a civilised society, the third is more complicated.

Happiness, as I recently read in a Huffington Post article, can be defined as the distance between your expectation and your reality.

If your reality is a miserable existence, the expectation of a good night’s sleep is enough to make you happy.

If your expectation is to be a billionaire while you languish in a middle-management bureaucratic job, you are unlikely to close the gap.

The shorter the distance between expectation and ­reality, the happier you will be.

Some South Africans think they’re going to die tonight.

Their own family is predatory, they have no security to speak of and will be fortunate to find a warm meal and ­succour. Their expectations are very low.

Others will drive home in luxury cars to a privileged existence, dine on fine food and sleep in Egyptian cotton linen. Their expectations might include an accumulation of material things, and the respect and admiration of their co-workers.

Here are some things that definitely won’t make you happy:

»?Expensive things. Consumer culture, advertising and jealousy have convinced us that if we just have more stuff, we’ll be fine;

»?Someone else. You can’t expect a personto “complete you”. Enhance each other, but don’t try to complete anyone but yourself;

»?Looking really good. We all get old and unattractive eventually, so maybe we shouldn’t be preoccupied with how we look; and

»?Fame. Being famous can magnify your mistakes and amplify the insecurities.

So, what will bring you contentment? That depends on who you are and what is important to you. Only you know the answer.

If pessimists are trying to make themselves happy by setting low expectations, and optimists are expecting everything marvellous to happen when their reality isn’t good at all, then perhaps the healthiest attitude is something in between.

If things are fine, and you suspect you might have seen a glimmer of happiness, remember to pause and save your game.

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