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#1 Feb 07, 2020 4:54 pm

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Are we Happy?

Are we Happy?

The other day, someone asked me: Why don’t we smile as much as we used to? What happened to that wide, instinctive Caribbean smile we were so famous for? Where did our grin go?

First of all we need to establish some historical accuracy: Did we really used to smile that much? Let’s be careful with those colonial descriptions of the happy smiling natives, singing as they work. “Not every kiss-teeth is a smile.” Maybe the native smiled because he was genuinely happy, or maybe he smiled because that’s what the massa expected, and by smiling he might get a few extra crumbs from massa’s table. Maybe when he went back home to his hovel, he wasn’t happy. At all.

Actually, there was a time when people appeared happier than they are now. Judging by photographs from the West Indies in the 1950s, people certainly seemed to lead a happy life. The war was over; they had food in their bellies, a car in the garage and an endless string of parties to attend. Independence was on the way, with its promise of self determination and prosperity – things were on the up. Happiness reigned. Hence people smiled, more than they do now, apparently.

A smile is not a laugh. People may laugh at funerals; that doesn’t mean they’re happy. But if you’re smiling it can generally be assumed: there goes a happy bunny. Like dogs and their tails, happy people are easy to spot - you can’t hold back a smile. So if we don’t smile nowadays, is it because we aren’t as happy as we used to be?

In the West Indies, people have a different interpretation of happy. Have you ever heard mothers talk about a happy baby? Unless things are really bad, babies don’t know whether they’re rich or poor – they just know feelings. Yet, some babies from birth have a sunnier disposition than others: they don’t cry, they burp easily and they’re quick to give daddy a smile. Happy babies become happy children; and happy children become, you guessed it, happy people. This of course is a gross oversimplification, but the fact remains that some people are inherently of a sunnier disposition than others. And then there is the cultural factor, let’s face it: some cultures are happier than others.

In the West Indies, the opposite of happy isn’t sad, it’s miserable. Miserableness is a well-known character trait found in all classes and colours. You can be poor and miserable, rich and miserable – money makes no difference. You are not miserable because of your circumstances, you’re miserable because you were born miserable. Scrooge is the archetype of miserable. It takes a lot to make a happy person sad; it takes nothing at all to make a miserable person more miserable.

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