Yesterday, I was reading The Economist. That sounds ever so intellectual, but actually I found a word I didn't know in the first few pages. Since you ask, it was 'jeremiad': a long, mournful list of complaints or woes. Quite the opposite of this post.
Anyway, one of the articles was about happiness; who has most of it? You can read it in full here. Much of it was what we would have guessed. Health, wealth, marriage and employment all bring us happiness.
Children are more complex. When asked broad questions about general contentment, people living with children report much life satisfaction; more than those who live in ordered, quiet houses where sometimes there is a pause between loads of laundry and whole tracts of floor are visible. But, when asked about the day before, parents are more likely to report feeling angry or anxious. I would guess they are also more likely to have tickled someone, laughed out loud and deliberately made animal noises (as opposed to my dad getting out of a low chair and unintentionally impersonating a cow in calf), and what's not to like about all of that?
From my own experience just this week, within two hours I went from almost crying with frustration at a stupid raincover which was designed not to fit any buggy (My husband put it on quite quickly, but then he may have had breakfast and I was pre-coffee; always a dangerous zone,) to almost crying with soggy mummy soppiness as my little daughter met Father Christmas for the first time (even though she cried when he tried to give her a present!).
None of the above was the point I was aiming for. The big deal with happiness, across the world, is age, in a kind of u-bend. The mid-life crisis is real and makes us more mopey than ever before... but then we cheer right up until we're as happy at 70 as we were at 18... and then we just keep getting cheerier! Hooray! So those curmudgeonly old sods who grumble at all the spangly splendour of Christmas are actually having the time of their lives. Ha! Tie that to your hat and jingle it!
"I am in no way enjoying this, you know."
And what I'm really trying to say is, that maybe this works on a smaller scale too. I have a deep faith in the fractal nature of everything (but let's not go there now.) Maybe that golden glow effect when we feel nostalgic about something is a symptom of the same cause. As we age, we become so much more skilled at finding the joy in life.
So here's my New Year's Resolution: I shall attempt to be pre-emptively nostalgic about life as I live it. I made a good start this morning. (I know it's not the New Year yet, but it would be foolish to delay a good idea for calendrical authenticity.) It was very early and I was trying to feed my daughter to sleep. She was having none of it and I was getting sore. (If you didn't just wince, be grateful.) I was wishing it would hurry up and be 7:00 so I could stop breastfeeding and continue re-reading of The Little Prince while we played. And then I remembered my resolution and realised I'll be nostalgic about such times spent snuggled in the dark, just the two of us, as soon as I stop breastfeeding. The comfort we can share together is so much greater than a little bit (well, it was quite a lot, but still) of soreness. So I pretended I was reminiscing about the present moment (a dubious past in the company of a chemistry postgrad may have helped here) and relaxed into gratitude. A much happier start to the day. She still didn't go to sleep though.
And now there is a foot and a half of perfect snow outside; I have a cup of tea and a packet of chocolate biscuits and the anthology containing my story November has come out. Just in case you're short of a Christmas present, you can buy it or download it for £4 here.
And my final word on happiness is that if this doesn't make you laugh, please seek professional help.
Ho ho ho!