The quest for ‘the good life’


INTERNATIONAL DAY of Happiness looms, and Trinidad is still shuddering in the aftermath of the savage murder of four people.

As the murder rate continues to escalate, it is now patently obvious that in the new dispensation where arrogance inhabits high places and the war continues between power brokers, the ordinary person no longer has control nor does human life matter. We are in fact a deeply unhappy nation.

According to the United Nations, “happiness is a deep sense of flourishing. Not a mere pleasurable feeling or fleeting emotion but an optimal state of being.” True happiness demands that the entire structure of attitudes has to be changed from individual to societal level. Further, “progress should be about increasing human happiness and well-being, not just growing the economy.”

As a result, March 20 has been established as the International Day of Happiness and United Nations member states have adopted a resolution calling for happiness to be given greater priority.

Based on this belief, the concept of the ten keys to a happier life has been introduced. Together, as focal points, they add up to a great dream. The keys are: giving, relating, exercising, awareness, being mindful, trying out (new things), direction, resilience, emotions (or overcoming negativity), acceptance, and meaning.

If we examine the significance or value of each of these to the average Trinidadian, we discover that as an index of happiness, the score is something like four out of ten. We can look at each individually, beginning with the concept of giving.

In TT there is no culture of unconditional giving and this extends to voluntary work. It is one of the reasons that the marginalised continue to be sidelined and that people with disabilities are seen to be the sole responsibility of their immediate families. It is the reason that we are so cynical about those who seek to address these issues. After all, our experience has shown that people who are vulnerable and dependent are occasionally brought out to be viewed by the media in a few token articles or photographs, or by politicians who wish to create an image and might, for example, pose with a disabled child and then forget them. By and large we do not give without expecting some return.

As for relating, well we do say that we are a multicultural society; that is until election day comes around or some high position is in the offing, then all ideas of relation disappear in the cloud of family and race relations.

It must be admitted that many of us do exercise. We walk or even run, even if it is only to get a maxi-taxi. The traffic situation is so horrific that it is, after all, far quicker.

Do we live mindfully? Are we aware of issues such as the environment? Why is the nursery in St Augustine being keyed for housing? Why is agricultural land being rezoned when there is a world-wide appeal to grow more and when as a nation we need to diversify? Why is there a constant battle with officials to protect the environment, whether from development or improper use or destruction of the ecosystem?

We are certainly a creative people and will try anything. And God does love a trier. Carnival is the prime expression of our creativity, but the Caribbean knows that a Trini will always “try a little thing.”

As for direction, one has only to look at the daily papers. It is a bit like reading the same story over and over again. The same political crises, the same levels of crime, the same comments. We keep on going around and around without any sense of finding new pathways or achieving goals, whether this is in education, in society or in politics.

One must confess that we are a deeply resilient people. We simply bounce back no matter what. But that does not give us a positive outlook, so that when we listen to the media or to any conversation we are saturated with negativity. How then can we as a people have emotions that facilitate the quest for what the UN calls “the good in life?”

The fog of negativity that suffocates us means that we cannot be happy with who we are, because we see so much that needs to be changed on an individual and communal level. Our emotions are skewered. No wonder our men are so incapable of facing rejection and lack control.

The truth is that our nation does need to start looking for meaning and for happiness.

We need thinkers who will facilitate a dream that all can follow so that we can indeed see ourselves as part of a bigger picture.


"The quest for ‘the good life’"

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