Goodbye loneliness, hello happiness

I always considered the number 16 to be lucky, but given everything that came to pass both at home and abroad over the past 12 months – an epidemic-sized cull in the entertainment industry starting and finishing with David Bowie and George Michael respectively on one level, Brexit and Trump on another, atrocities in Lahore, Brussels, Istanbul and Berlin added to continuing massive loss of life in Syria and the Middle East, not to mention personal upheaval and tragedy amongst near and dear ones – the words ‘good riddance’ are the only ones which spring to mind. In that sense, welcome to 2017 and here is wishing everyone a very happy, healthy and peaceful New Year.

Having put that out there and with the exception of the closing sentiments, there is always a danger of ‘over-globalising’ one’s thinking. ‘Weltschmerz’, bearing the weight of the world’s problems on your shoulders, something akin to the very Portuguese phenomenon of ‘saudades’, can lead to a loss of ‘joie de vivre’.

At times it becomes necessary – de facto the only way forward – to concentrate on little joys, draw pleasure from otherwise insignificant events right on your doorstep, take life one new day at a time, banish the devil from your thoughts and laugh in the face of yesterday’s grim reality.

Extremes are never good and most of you should have recovered from your Christmas stuffing and New Year’s hangovers, emotional or otherwise, by now – I have. Some of us were reminded of the loss of loved ones during the last week of December, others celebrated the unfortunate timing of their conception and subsequent birthdays – commiserations and congratulations in both instances.

Time is a great healer whilst also known to ‘fly by’. It doesn’t seem like 20 years have passed since I arrived in previously little-considered Portugal, now touted as the place to visit in 2017 following in the footsteps of previous ‘must see’ countries Iceland (not amongst English football fans!), Thailand and New Zealand.

I also spent the best part of the last eight months at the local health centre having a very slow-healing leg wound (better now and still attached, thank you) expertly attended to by a constantly rotating nursing staff, and finally acquired an apparently never-issued National Health Service patient number – a convoluted and ultimately successful bureaucratic endeavour which amongst other things confronted me with stark black and white proof of my actual current age: 53.

Looking at a lot of other ‘men’ of my vint-age (1963), I certainly cannot identify with their looks or demeanour. Contrary to previous assertions, maybe time actually stood still for me at some point in my life – probably somewhere in the roaring mid-twenties!

A recent survey has found that modern Britons do not consider themselves to be an adult until they have reached the age of 33. Really? As I suspected, I must have ‘got stuck’ somewhere before that milestone then.

In the 1940s and 50s, we thought ourselves grown up at 25 – well, my dad did whereas I take after my mum, the eternal child to this day.

Similarly, the current generation are even more reluctant to grow up with 76% of over-30s saying they still act as they did in their teens and early twenties – worrying to a degree!

The poll also revealed a host of behavioural patterns that Britons in their thirties, forties and even fifties now deem acceptable, including binging all weekend on TV box sets, relying on their elderly parents for DIY and gardening help – what is that? – and using nicknames for their friends, Dilly and Dally.

Other signs that you are a ‘kidult’ are staying up all night playing computer games (guilty!), wearing a T-shirt with the name of your favourite band – the Grateful Dead? – and getting a tattoo (NOT guilty) as well as attending stag and hen dos abroad (plentiful in Alvor), watching puerile reality shows or riding a scooter to work – worryingly, I ‘retired’ my Vespa almost four years ago.

Acting your shoe size rather than your age, despite being old enough to drive, vote and marry while ‘boomeranging’ home to live with your parents, may have a scientific explanation. Research has shown that our most sophisticated brain processes – such as decision-making, attention and ability to judge risks – only start to settle down in our fourth decade. Harvard University studies prove that the brain’s maturity – white rather than grey matter- is difficult to pin down and that turning 18 does not magically transform us into full adults.

“On the basis of research, the average brain reaches a threshold of maturity sometime between the 30s and never,” lead scientist Dr Leah Somerville concluded in the academic journal Neuron – hear, hear!

All of the above has been looked at and determined in the sober light of day, of course, without adding the sometimes temporarily character-changing ingredient of alcohol, a good friend and enemy to many of us kids and adults alike.

I was interested to read that 60 volunteers – I bet they were hard to find – aged between 18 and 50 found drinking beer made it easier for them to look at members of the opposite sex in a romantic context, a sign of inhibitions being lost.

The earth-shattering revelation made by the University of Basel in Switzerland also noted that the effect of wearing ‘beer goggles’ was more pronounced in women giving a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘can I get you half a lager, love?’

In conclusion, and firmly removing the tongue from inside my cheek now, no-one ever promised us that life would be easy. It isn’t, regardless of whether we had to struggle to get to where we are today or were born with a silver spoon in our mouth.

‘Happiness’ is a very subjective state of mind not solely perpetuated by the steady intake of chocolate and red wine. A healthy and cohesive upbringing, providing us with not only the safety net of family but also balanced character building, are very important in helping us deal with most crises during our ‘adult’ life.

Good friends only add to that capacity to handle adversity, and holding the above assertions to be true, all that is required of us is to reach out in times of need in order to regain positivism – a problem shared is a problem halved.

By Skip Bandele
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Skip Bandele moved to the Algarve 20 years ago and has been with the Algarve Resident since 2003. His writing reflects views and opinions formed while living in Africa, Germany and England as well as Portugal.