By: SKIP BANDELE
Skip Bandele moved to the Algarve 10 years ago and has been with The Resident since 2003. His writing reflects views and opinions formed while living in Africa, Germany and England as well as Portugal.
IN ANCIENT times heroes of Greek legend, Jason and his Argonauts, travelled across half the known world in search of the Golden Fleece. Today only the exceptionally bold set out on such epic quests, most people seeking to forget rising fuel costs, inflation, stagflation and all those other niggling daily problems on a short break in the sunshine instead.
Unfortunately such ‘holiday therapy’ does not always prove beneficial. The average Briton actually spends more time planning and researching their trip than enjoying it, taking 18 days choosing his or her destination and then going away for just nine. They then devote a further six hours to selecting the resort or hotel, eight hours shopping, washing, ironing and packing in addition to two hours preening their bodies. Even worse, the stress of booking, preparing and travelling makes for an exhausting first day and the second is usually spent recovering from the journey, unpacking and settling in. Experts have determined that British holidaymakers only start to relax after two days, nine hours and 25 minutes, shortly before they start thinking of returning home from their typical one week stay. Dave McKenna, marketing manager for European mobile home specialists Keycamp, which came up with this data, said: “It shows that we really need to learn how to relax. We work the longest hours in Europe and deserve to chill out on our annual holiday. It seems we forget the reason we’re going on a break – we should be relishing the precious time we have away.”
Yet 16 per cent say that when they finally arrive at their destination, they do not feel it was worth all the effort. More than 15 per cent do not get around to doing any of the activities they spent so long researching. Worse still, 25 per cent never fully relax on holiday because of worries back home, work and money being the main issues – so much for holiday happiness!
The truth is that the search for that magical pot of gold at the end of the rainbow does not have to take us south, ‘Happyland’ not requiring you to move any further than your own doorstep. It may not seem like it, but social scientists say we have never had it so good – and that’s reflected in a global feeling of wellbeing. According to their survey, Denmark’s residents are the happiest in the world, thanks to its peaceful atmosphere, democracy and social equality, while Britain was placed 21st on the list. Those polled were asked just two questions to assess their contentment.
‘Taking all things together, would you say you are very happy, rather happy, not very happy, or not at all happy?’
And: ‘All things considered, how satisfied are you with your life as a whole these days?’
The result, compared to a similar survey carried out 20 years ago, indicates that overall we’re a lot happier than then. Professor Ron Inglehart, who directed the study, said, “I strongly suspect that there is a strong correlation between peace and happiness. Ultimately, the most important determinant of happiness is the extent to which people have free choice in how to live their lives.”
The survey has Puerto Rico, Colombia and Iceland in second, third and fourth place ahead of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, fifth and sixth respectively. Canada came ninth and the US 16th, but although Britain is lower down the scale, it is happier than many of its European neighbours. Germany is still divided, the West coming in at 34 as opposed to the former communist East at 48, while France, Spain, Italy and Portugal only rank 36th, 43rd, 45th and 46th. The most miserable place on earth is Zimbabwe, reflecting the current political and economic situation in that African country.
People’s happiness is also to some degree determined by what they worry about. Who can forget old Corporal Jones in Dad’s Army, with his constant refrain of “Don’t panic!”? Leading statisticians have examined issues that generate anxiety and have come up with some of the following advice. Being hit by an asteroid, for example, really is not worth fretting about. Despite the NASA space agency’s prediction of a likely collision on Friday, April 13, 2029, my 67th birthday, the probability of such a disaster actually happening is minimal.
On the other hand, I would not be wrong in hitting the panic button over the pension time bomb – economic trends strongly suggest many of us are unlikely to have a financially comfortable retirement, because we are either choosing not to save or are on low incomes that make any such provision unrealistic. In either case, pension schemes based on share portfolios may be rendered almost worthless by continuing slumps in world stock markets by the time they have reached maturity. In this context the prospect of poverty in old age is indeed a very real threat unless the 2004 MN4 asteroid gets here first!
Being attacked by an alien evokes fear in some people but should probably be disregarded as representing a real threat, as should the possibility of suffering radiation poisoning. Despite the recent Alexander Litvinenko case, reminiscent of a James Bond scenario, the alpha particles emitted by polonium 210 have only a very short range effect. There is more danger contained in the electronic smog surrounding computers and mobile phones which most of us use on a daily basis.
Similarly the risk of being attacked by terrorists really does not warrant a sleepless night – despite all that has occurred since 9/11, more Americans have been killed by lightning than human hand, and as long as you stay away from the world’s insurgent hotspots, the chances of being caught up in a terrorist event are minuscule.
More realistic preoccupations are car crashes and rising sea levels. Moving around is intrinsically dangerous, even more so in Portugal than in Britain. Transport accidents – which include cars, bicycles, boats, trains, buses, vans and walking – are the leading causes of accidental deaths after falls. Still, with rates of 0.3, 0.4, and 2.8 (cars) deaths per billion kilometres travelled the risk is acceptable. Climate change, and its effects, do not have such an immediate impact, but should give us reason for concern. There will be trouble in paradise – the tiny Tuvalu islands in the South Pacific, rising to only five metres above sea level, have already brokered a deal with New Zealand to resettle the country’s entire population – but probably not in our lifetimes.
When all is said and done, I still say “Don’t worry, be happy”- Carpe Diem, live the day, who knows, tomorrow you might be hit by a bus as opposed to a distant piece of rock from outer space.