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Smiles better

by SKIP BANDELE

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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.

THE YEAR seems to have flown by even faster than usual, and as you are reading, Christmas is only two weeks away.

This time my family and I have vowed to make good our perennial promises to stick to small gifts from the heart, rather than joining the buying frenzy which inevitably leads to a financially depressing January hangover.

As a footnote to my November musings and at the same time an introduction to this month’s offering, let me quote part of my December horoscope which should be equally applicable to one and all.

‘Life is a rare and precious gift. We all tend to take it for granted. Rather than stop to appreciate what a miracle existence is, we dwell on our problems. We think about the future, we think about the past and we forget what an incredible present we have. But the present is the only time we really have – and the present always is a present – provided we make an effort to see it as such.’

Let us ignore the cynical commercial exploitation of the festive period for just a moment, and remind ourselves that Christmas is a time for celebration, reflection and sharing. Before you succumb to that new shower unit or the impossibly expensive high definition flat plasma screen television, celebrate the present of life, reflect upon the wonder of being and share the joy with family and friends – none of these will overextend your bank account while being priceless in their own right. This is my Christmas message to you.

Friends

In love, two is company and three’s a crowd, but speaking of friends, 10 appears to be the magic number. After questioning hundreds of men and women, social scientists have determined that having lots of close friends and regularly making new ones results in a happy state of mind while people with five or fewer are likely to be miserable with their lot. While it is not clear whether our friends make us happy or we make friends because we are happy, the research suggests that we should nourish our friendships.

I recently joined Facebook, the social networking site, and was happy to re-establish contact with quite a few long-lost school and university pals now dotted around the globe. However, during the short time my profile has been displayed, I have also received many unsolicited ‘friendship requests’, a phenomenon that psychologists attribute to ‘friendship addiction’. Site users, especially women, become hooked on the urge to acquire more friends in an attempt to appear popular and successful, compensating for a lack of self worth in real relationships. To me, Facebook, Myspace and other similar sites provide a useful service in terms of keeping in touch with acquaintances, but such contacts cannot be a substitute for those here and now, close to us.

Returning to happiness, it appears that the British reputation of being somewhat dour is ill-founded. Although fond of a good moan, queuing, boozing and talking about the weather – which is inevitably bad – ‘we’ are actually a fairly happy bunch, tolerant and proud of our national character.

Despite the current prevailing doom and gloom, the average Briton rates their state of happiness at a healthy 7.8 out of 10 – higher than most of the rest of Europe, including Spain, Germany, Italy and Portugal, which came third from bottom on the scale with a figure of 6.9, only just above Latvia and a very miserable Bulgaria. Those with a good education and highly paid jobs are more likely to be fulfilled and satisfied with life, but across the continent health and family relationships proved equally important aspects in determining quality of life. The positive British emotional state can also be partly explained by typical character traits such as healthy doses of sarcasm, considered as the highest form of wit, a stiff upper lip, clever sense of humour and the ability to laugh at ourselves – all of which makes me wonder why Denmark, Sweden, Finland and the Netherlands topped the European happiness poll!  

Live life

But life cannot be all that wonderful in Brummie-land, Merseyside, Glasgow and Cardiff as latest figures reveal that an average of 75,000 Britons leave for a new life abroad every year. That figure was boosted by a record 400,000-strong exodus over the last 12 months alone, the majority choosing to settle in Australia, New Zealand, France, Spain and North America.

High crime, the rising cost of living and lack of community spirit were the most common reasons given by families heading for a better future. But the grass is not always greener on the other side of the fence. Some expatriates soon discover that endless sunshine is not the be all and end all, monotonous days spent rising late before retiring for a siesta after a few lunchtime cocktails spelling out a similarly shallow and listless lifestyle to that ‘enjoyed’ at home.

Even beach, beach, beach can get boring after a while, making it painfully obvious that it is what you do with your life, rather than where you do it, that is important. I personally don’t have that problem in the Algarve, I haven’t seen the beach this year, which may be the other side of the extreme – but I am fulfilled and reasonably happy although a few more euros would not go amiss. Generally speaking, the lure of the new is all in the mind. Some people are naturally easily bored on-the-go types who will not be happy for any length of time wherever they are, while others will always miss home as soon as they have left their familiar surroundings.

Life is still there to be lived, be it in England, outer Mongolia or in the south of Portugal. I just think the extra sunshine, slower pace and relative peacefulness of the place I have chosen makes for a happier and more worthwhile existence, something I will further reflect upon when I do finally find a sheltering rock on our golden shores this Christmas Day.