Donegal Castle, the original O’Donnell stronghold

Happy days

By SKIP BANDELE [email protected]

Skip Bandele moved to the Algarve 10 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.

January 2012 and it falls upon me to wish all our readers a happy, healthy and hopefully prosperous New Year!

I was not particularly enamoured with the events which for me defined the past 12 months both on a personal level and in general, but I will spare you the details which you may or may not be aware of.

Suffice it to say that I must come to terms with the loss of a loved one for the first time in my 48 years, while observing politicians fail to live up to the trust placed in their collective offices and thus creating a general climate of misery unprecedented during our life time – not that the two are related but let us look ahead and think positive.

The American TV series Happy Days featuring the antics of the irrepressibly laid back ‘king of cool’ Arthur Fonzerelli aka ‘The Fonz’ during the 1960s kept me entertained during many an afternoon as I was growing up.

When we are young life seems to weigh less heavily upon us and hopes and dreams are the sustenance which propel us forward in the urgent race for adulthood.

It is only when we are finally thrust into the real world of having to earn a living and deal with more complex and real issues that we begin to compromise our beliefs, reflect upon those now jaded ideals and begin to re-define our highly personal happiness.

Nonetheless, government has recently attempted to nail down that very individual state of being.

In Britain, the David Cameron-led coalition spent £2 million over several months on a ‘happiness survey’ which ultimately concluded that most of us are indeed more or less ‘happy’ despite family expert Jill Kirby’s opinion stating that “the whole idea that individual contentment can be measured is at best foolish and at worst intrusive”.

In detail, we now know that three-quarters of Britons place themselves at seven out of 10 or higher on a scale of wellbeing, while divorcees and the unemployed are often considered more vulnerable to depression and despair, most actually consider themselves as happy as everyone else, and that those in their middle years worn out from juggling careers and childcare should not be surprised to learn that teenagers and pensioners generally reported high levels of life satisfaction.

These startling revelations were, coincidentally, immediately followed by a pan-European wellbeing equivalent. Crucially, the Brits emerged wide-margin winners over the French in the ‘smiley-stakes’ while just pipping old enemy Germany.

Overall, Denmark was found to be the happiest country on the continent followed by Switzerland, Austria, Finland and Norway, with Ireland trailing in sixth place.

At the other end of the scale, Russia and Portugal were named as the most miserable, with fewer than one in 10 residents described as ‘flourishing’. Spare a thought for that grumpy waiter or harassed post office worker next time you are dining out or growing increasingly irate in that never-diminishing CTT line snaking away from the parcel counter…

A perhaps redeeming further interesting ‘titbit’ to emerge from the research which may eventually cheer up the unsmiling Portuguese is that unloved neighbours Spain topped the scoring on self-esteem but came lowest on measures of competence and vitality!

Happy days also change with age. Another study has determined that for young people 60% of happiness is about excitement as opposed to the 80% associated with ‘contentment’ by the older generations.

The difference appears to come from the varying degrees of importance placed on the future as compared to the present.

Younger people, more interested in what may be, base their happiness more on expectations – older people are more aware of the value of what is now. In addition, happy people tend to live longer, a proven fact enhanced by a Mediterranean-type diet enjoyed by many here in the Algarve.

Rich sources of chemicals called anti-oxidants contained in fruit, vegetables, unrefined cereals and fish topped off by olive oil rather than butter can fight cancer and heart disease with the result of extending the average lifespan by up to three years.

Related nutritional research was based on traditional eating habits in Greece and southern Italy but is equally applicable to the lower half of Portugal – bon apetit!

I am ‘older’ and, although no wiser, I can only say that I consider myself fortunate to have always lived according to the motto carpe diem – seize the day.

I may not always have lived up to the expectations of my peers, but enjoying my very own life to the full has provided me with the rich and varied tapestry essential to my personal happiness – je ne regret rien.

It is not so much “don’t put off to tomorrow what you can do today” as living every day as if it were your last – that tomorrow may never come!