|But can you be happy in Iran dancing to "Happy"?|
Or that makes you happy.
On happiness, a few months ago I was reading about a study on this subject carried out by Warwick University. It found that on average people in the UK seem to be quite content with their lives. The jury is still out as to whether this is a result of economic stagnation (and knowing that you ain’t getting no more dosh for the foreseeable future) or because you know where you stand financially and adapt to this situation. You know you have less money but you are not totally poor. If I were to be completely frank and sincere and as you know I use this space on Sundays to expand on my (honest) theories, this outcome is a tad bit surprising. I mean no offence, my dear British brothers and sisters, but you do very often come across as a miserable lot. Take the simple question of asking someone about the time. In Cuba, you would probably say: what time is it? whilst pointing at the person’s wrist. Or you would use: do you have the time? with a similar accompanying action. In the UK the average person will ask: you don’t happen to have the time, do you? already setting themselves up for a response in the negative even if the person being questioned is sporting a massive golden Rolex on her/his wrist.
Yet, this approach to life is what makes the British British. It is what makes people (including yours truly) leap out of joy when Andy Murray – finally! – wins at Wimbledon and Mo Farah does the Mobot on the podium as a gold medal is placed aroud his neck. This is the attitude that makes Jack Dee and Charlie Brooker the great stand-ups they are. British miserableness is fertile ground for satire and mick-taking. Take away the misery and the comedy changes.
Happiness is a rather subjective and circumstantial issue. Back in 2011 we had a survey from the Office for National Statistics on happiness and well-being. Amongst the questions asked was: “How satisfied are you with your life nowadays?” Two weeks ago my response would have been: “Not a lot. Thank you very much”, as Chelsea, despite finishing third in the Premier League won not one single piece of silverware, the Yankees, as usual in the last few years, were making me “a nervous wreck” (to quote Gil-Scott Heron), Cameron was still in No 10 (and will be until next year, alas) and I kept seeing Nigel Farage’s grinning mug with pint in hand all over the gaffe. Not a lot? Sorry, correction. Not satisfied at all. Ask me the same question now and I will answer in a rather more positive tone. My job is going well (I have been at this school for just over a year now. Love the head, my colleagues, the pupils and the parents), my family is fine and the weather has been glorious of late. That is the circumstantial bit. Someone else, however, might be going through hell. That’s the subjective part. What if you don’t like the sun or warm temperatures? Then, this weather for you is the devil incarnate.
With these thoughts swarming in my head I came to the conclusion that maybe, just maybe, you, my British brothers and sisters are not that miserable after all. It’s all a façade. A façade to avoid disappointment. Whilst in Brazil football fans have already arranged the float on which they will parade the World Cup trophy over here the England manager, Roy Hodgson is psyching himself up for a quarter-final penalty shoot-out against Germany. And how not to lose it. Should Brazil crash out in the group stages of the tournament there will probably be suicides en masse in the carioca nation. Should England go and do the impossible, win the World Cup, journalists will stop mocking Roy Hodgson’s accent. It’s all to do with perspectives, subjectivity and circumstance.
In the same way that salsa-dancing (and being good at it) has platitudinously attached itself to the vision people have of Cubans, being a curmudgeon has become a byword for the British character. Scratch the surface, however, and you will find the reason why that Warwick university study found that many Britons are happy with their lot in life. They are indeed; they just don’t want you to know it. That is why the Happy video has been received so warmly on these shores. To the point where many schools, including the one where I’m based have done their own version with staff and students. Miserable, the British? Not a bit.
Occasionally I come across artists who leave me speechless, gob agape. Ahmed Dickinson Cárdenas is one of those artists. This Cuban guitarist has transformed one of my country’s oldest traditions: the filin. Originally from the English word “feeling”, this genre developed between the late 40s and early 50s, reaching its apogee at the same time as Fidel’s troops were entering Havana. Ahmed’s compositions draw from a rich, musical pool. He was also fortunate enough to work very closely with the late Cuban master José Antonio (Ñico) Rojas, a virtuoso of filin. I hope you enjoy this Sunday offering.
Next Post: “Let’s Talk About...”, to be published on Wednesday 28th May at 11:59pm (GMT)