The Sinner's Top 10 Guide to Happiness
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It’s probably quite good being pope. You get to wear some pretty cool robes and always have a good view out of your car. Indeed, Pope Francis has decided to share his bliss with Argentinian weekly Viva, issuing a handy top 10 tips for happiness. Unfortunately, it ever so slightly resembles the kind of advice you find on a motivational poster that features a picture of a mountain above the quote: “I believe in ME”.
Perhaps a more realistic and interesting life is lived by the nefarious. A lot of bad things can make us very happy. So here are some alternatives to the pope’s top 10, for all us sinners.
1. Nurture a grudge. The pope recommends that we should “live and let live”, when in fact it is far better to hold a grudge, and hold it close. There is nothing so delightful as the anticipation of that perfect, sublime moment when your enemies fail. True happiness is a miserable ex, a school bully who has aged badly, and rain ruining your annoying colleague’s exotic holiday.
2. Indulge your whims in delicious solitude. Regarding His Holiness’s injunction to “be giving of yourself to others”, I am sure most of us would help a friend move flat, attend yet another birthday drinks, or be an usher for yet another wedding – but I think we can all admit that, on balance, being on your own is just so much better. You can watch rubbish telly, read crap magazines, and finish a 100g bar of chocolate without interruption, judgment or theft. Drinking, eating and sex are all pleasurable things much better done alone.
3. Embrace bad behaviour, outrageous dancing and occasional rage. Quoting the protagonist from a novel by the Argentinian writer Ricardo Güiraldes, the pontiff recommends that we “proceed calmly” in life. I prefer Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, who reminds us that “well-behaved women seldom make history”. There will be time to be calm when you’re dead. Before then, happiness is dancing to Stevie Wonder, singing along to the Proclaimers and having water fights with small children.
4. Slob out whenever possible. Pope Francis recommends a “healthy sense of leisure”, but an unhealthy sense of leisure is surely far better. Make sure it involves sitting in front of the telly for a weekend of box sets, cheese balls and cherry coke. We have been duped into this wrong-headed belief that leisure has to involve organised activities or, at worst, exercise. That isn’t leisure, it’s just work that you don’t get paid for and have to pretend you enjoy. True leisure and happiness is not having to change out of your pyjamas, drinking wine from a mug, and being within reach of the telly, the XBox and the phone.
5. Treat almost every day as a holiday. Sundays should be holidays, says the pope, but this seems the wrong way round. Mondays should be holidays. And Fridays. And no one likes Tuesdays as they’re nowhere near the weekend and have a smugness about them. Sundays are rarely relaxing or full of happiness as, regardless of your age, you can never shrug off that nagging feeling that you haven’t done your homework. Antiques Roadshow and Songs of Praise drip with the impending doom of having to go back to work the next day. Plus you have all that ironing to do. This is why bank holidays on Mondays are a true treat and a genuine holiday.
6. Revel smugly in your youth. The pope advises creating jobs for young people so that they don’t do drugs, and of course I wouldn’t suggest that taking drugs can actually make you happy. Unemployment is indeed depressing, but it does not follow that employment makes you happy. Young people should revel more in their smooth skin and ability to stay up late – and the fact that they don’t have to make a noise whenever they stand up.
7. Get drunk in parks. It sounds like a good thing to respect and take care of nature, as the pope suggests - but not something that will bring instant and all-consuming happiness. Unless we’re talking about getting drunk in the park on a summer’s day. Then yes, and you must take your empties with you.
8. Sing your negativity from the rooftops. With the injunction to “stop being negative”, the Holy Father ignores the merriment and delight that come from a beautifully crafted criticism. He suggests that “needing to talk badly about others indicates low self-esteem” – but it may also indicate that you are, day in, day out, surrounded by dreadful people and get genuine glee and cathartic release by finally slagging them off to your mates in the pub on Friday.
9. Proselytise about cheese, when necessary. It’s a bit rich for a pope to tell us not to proselytise, when he does. But yes, trying to force your beliefs on others makes no one happy. Unless your belief is that scrambled eggs taste better with cheese on, in which case you could potentially change someone’s life.
10. Take a break from social media. Of course no one’s going to argue with the pope’s final suggestion, that we should work for peace. That goes without saying. But for the sinner, there’s one more essential tip for happiness: and that’s to take a break from social media. Life can be immeasurably better without constant bickering, slacktivism, narcissism, and bad puns. That goes for you too, popey.
In providing us with these tips, Pope Francis is using that age-old trick of telling us what he thinks we should be doing and dressing it up as things that will make us happy. We can tell the difference between what makes us happy and what is good for us. The former generally involves poisoning our bodies, and the latter involves vegetables. A healthy mixture of the two should keep us both alive and happy - at least briefly.