January Jeremiad


They have decided that tomorrow is Blue Monday, the most depressing day of the year. We all know that ‘they’ like to decide for us. Only this time, they provide proof, in the shape of a formula. I won’t even try. Sometimes Wikipedia rules.

Meanwhile, tomorrow, Belgium, more precisely Flanders, sees the launch of a ‘No Nagging’ campaign. They have decided (they are busy) to have the ‘No Nagging’ campaign start on Blue Monday, which seems ominous enough. But worse, the campaign, encouraging people not to nag or complain in an effort to promote positivity, is set to last thirty days, ending on, you have guessed it, Valentine’s Day.

Scary.  For what could be more dangerous than the final release of a built up congestion on the most emotionally laden day of the year?

Furthermore, I object. To all of it, to the positivity dictate in particular.

Bear with me.

Our taste receptors identify five ‘tastes’ or ‘flavours’: sweet, salt, sour, bitter and the ever effusive umami. These flavours are complementary and when used in the right proportion, they enhance, counterbalance and strengthen their respective qualities. Achieve the perfect blend of these five elements and you have a dish, fit for a king. Likewise, our emotional range is wide and varied. Relief, guilt, anxiety, sadness, happiness, joy and excitement interact, intermingle, fuse and combine. One does not, should not, dominate the other. Neither precludes the other.

The real power lies in the mix.

Every day, I count my blessings. But while I acknowledge what I am grateful for, I also note life’s little frustrations and try and learn how to deal with them. Acceptance of imperfections and a will to improve , rather than denial and the need for a cosmetic, cheery version of what others define as ‘happiness’.

Happiness? The umami of life? The main ingredient of well-being? Or a link in the chain of self-imposed limitations, inevitably distancing ourselves from potential fulfillment.

As for Blue Monday, with the words of Khalil Gibran,

I would not exchange the sorrows of my heart
For the joys of the multitude
And I would not have the tears that sadness makes
To flow from my every part turn into laughter

I would that my life remain a tear and a smile

And there is always Tuesday ….

Room Without A Roof

A month-long happiness study, conducted by researchers at the Catholic University of Leuven, reveals that ‘happiness tips’ positively impact our lives on both short and long-term.
The researchers hypothesized that happiness was genetically determined for 50% of people and that it depended on specific circumstances for another 10 %. What, they asked themselves, determines and influences the happiness of the remaining 40%?
A valid question.
The study, grounded in the field of positive psychology, the branch of psychology that in practical terms occupies itself with achieving and sustaining well-being, examined the impact of positive intervention on its participants. Tips for living happier lives? Yes, but do not be deceived.

No Bobby McFerrin

Don’t Worry, Be Happy

but rather Thomas Hardy

Some folks want their luck buttered.

Samuel Beckett

Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.

or Frédéric Chopin

Simplicity is the highest goal.

At the end of the study, 74% of the 7770 participants felt that these “happiness tips” had changed their outlook on life and 83% felt that these recommendations had encouraged them to question their everyday lives.

While the results of this study are being published, the students at the School of Dentistry at the UCL, the Catholic University of Louvain, are, in preparation of one of their classes ‘Bible et Santé‘ (Bible and Health) pondering over the question ‘Est-ce que le bonheur rend heureux?’ Does happiness make happy?
The question is impossible. Its timing unfortunate.
A noun, an adjective, and exams in the middle.
Still, the matter matters.

Action for Happiness, a movement of people committed to building a happier society, lists 10 keys to happier living, themed around interaction (giving, exercising, relating, appreciating, trying out) and attitudes (direction, resilience, emotion, acceptance and meaning).
But does happier living equate happiness? And if we live happier, are we then happy?

For those living in the Northern hemisphere it is autumn; already dark, sporadically wintry, not yet festive but with eminent cheer closely looming. Blustery days, the perfect time to visit our thoughtful spot.




“Think, think, think,” Winnie says.

But like Winnie, the world will soon be distracted.
By now the Virgin Mary is 34 weeks pregnant. Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar, wherever they came from, must be well on their way to Bethlehem.  Sinterklaas has meanwhile arrived from Spain, on his steamboat, with or without his heavily contested black helper, Zwarte Piet. Preparations for Giving Thanks are under way. A turkey will soon be granted a presidential pardon. Trees are being felled, balls polished. In 37 days we will usher in a new year.
December comes with tinsel and carols and candle light, talk of peace and hope and goodwill. Many of us will donate money, gifts or goods to a charity of our choice and we will spare a thought for those, less fortunate than us. We will reunite with friends and family, bury hatchets, dig them up again. We will drink and eat more, ponder less.
The season to be jolly right on our doorstep. But not just yet. There is still time. So while we temporarily  ignore the seasonal suggestions  for cost-saving gift shopping, for home-made decorations, for hassle free festive food and an overall stress-less Yuletide; while we push aside the steady stream of end-of-year lists and countdowns, there is still some time to ‘think, think, think’. And perhaps without tips and positive messages, maybe just in the quiet of a listless afternoon, against the backdrop of rustling leaves – it might even be a Windsday – we will find a moment of happiness.
For in autumn, we all know, we don’t mind the leaves that are leaving, it’s the leaves that are coming…