Not happy… what ?

Post 3 of the Covid Coda series.

In this post I intend to explore the claims that people are both less happy than they once were , generally a lot more prone to anger, more self centered and more narcissistic , more judgemental along with being less forgiving and more polarized than ever – that’s a long list of features that seem to work together so in this post i’ll mostly concentrate on happiness……..or not.

In this series of posts i’m trying to explore this strange idea that it feels as though we are experiencing a multi-pronged attack or assault, again, not conspiracy theory which I see as both an easy way out and ultimately unhelpful but rather a series of things that seem to be coming at us at the same time even if they are unrelated ; if you like to think of it as conspiracy then that’s your thing or your problem and I wonder where you go with it next.

In the first post I only really wanted to kick around the idea of the simple and practical rule set that I came up in the first year of the pandemic that might help me get through the second – things like largely living at home with minimal social contact, staying fit and healthy and potentially boosting my immune system ; a large part of my own ‘coda’ though was also to find a way of staying mentally engaged – not necessarily happy but mentally busy, productive and perhaps meaningful. Part of that came from one of the last conversations I had with my late mother and a comment of hers about trying to live a happy life or to be happy in my life – I forget now – but it jarred because I don’t think that I actively seek happiness in life but there again I mostly think of happiness as the pursuit of pleasure rather than say the pursuit of meaning.

As is my way I like to start off with sea stories so……

In 2019 I walked out of my hospital for the last time and less than 24 hours later I was aboard my little sailing boat and being whisked down the river Tamar on a spring ebb tide – a few days later I left British waters completely as I made the hundred mile passage to north western Brittany. The first half of that passage went well but then the wind increased and went into the south east and the channel really kicked up into a brisk wind over tide that had the boat dancing around like a mad thing and me up-chucking and then painfully dry heaving for the next 10 hours. At one point when I was shivering with cold and achingly tired I found myself asking the question “are we happy yet” …..and no, this thing that we do as a supposedly pleasant leisure pursuit I wouldn’t have described as making me happy at that point.

I suspect that for most people who have never been to sea on a sailing boat, and that must be much more than 95% of the population, then they most likely see sailing as an expensive and trivial form of hedonistic pleasure with sunshine and added alcohol but one that is only for the wealthy. Lying on my back under the boat in the rain on a muddy slipway isn’t exactly the ‘yachting’ experience but it’s definitely the sailing one for many of us. My regular readers will know that I define myself as a sailor and not a yachtsman and nor do I seek out the bars, beaches and babes lifestyle – when occasional ‘happiness’ comes as a sailor it’s more as a passage well sailed and my anchor down in a quiet wooded creek somewhere.

Edmund Spenser gets close in his few lines from ‘The Faerie Queen‘ thus :

Sleep after toyle,
port after stormy seas,
Ease after Warre,
death after life doe greatly please.

To me, going to sea in a small boat, is a non trivial venture that isn’t always pleasurable but that somehow gives something back for the difficulty encountered – at the end of that passage I tied up and ‘slept hard’ once I warmed up and I happen to think that I enjoyed myself more in Brittany after that hard start than say if i’d just turned up on the ferry ; anyway – lets move on.

Port after stormy seas.


In 2021, when everything shut down, I thought I would use my time by getting on with my book project so every day for a while I would sit at the computer and nothing came – instead I would do my exercise session as a daily walk in the woods and then looked for entertainment via the internet. One of the few things that I remember and remember that I enjoyed was an excellent series of video’s about art by Waldemar Januszczak and that the other thing I became a bit addicted to was watching video clips about bad driving and road rage – I know that it was an artificial perspective but it seemed that England was suddenly full of road-rager’s driving mostly high end German cars.

The problem with the internet in that respect is that it tends to concentrate that kind of observed behaviour in one place and perhaps even promotes it as some drivers , and notably cyclists, seem to provoke incidents to film and share to Yoube. My own observations of people were limited of course because at that time I wasn’t driving but in daily life many people either seemed scared or were quick to act out self justifying outrage and anger – the opposite was that on my daily walk in the woods some walkers were even more polite than usual and seemed to crave some small degree of human contact.

We don’t have TV at all now, in fact we haven’t had for a long time, so what I see of the world comes at me via the internet and what I saw, and still see, is riots , destruction of property , actual violence or threats of violence for the smallest infraction of speech or belief. While the official mantra now is that of diversity and inclusion it seems in practice to about division and exclusion first and then actual cultural and social domination second almost like a ‘sick’ religion where there is original sin but sin with no redemption or forgiveness ; correct me if I read it wrong.

Many of my observations of peoples behaviour came secondhand through what my partner, a nurse, experienced every day in her hospital : not just much more anger and rudeness from visitors which I understand to some extent – people act strangely when they are scared – but an almost institutional level of rudeness from managers and other staff. One simple observation about my own state of mind or level of happiness is that maybe using the internet so much both reduces my attention span and makes me unhappy – a few hours of being sick, cold and very tired in the English channel was followed by 3 months of feeling a lot more normal as I mostly didn’t have internet access ; all I did was to log on somewhere maybe once a week and upload a post.

For myself I think I can say mostly the internet makes me less happy than more so and regular use every day reduces my attention span for when I come to read – the opposite is that when I work practically with my hands or with the combination of mind (problem solving) and body (manual work) that it goes up. Some argue that the kind of meaningless ‘work that many do, or did, in front of screens all day is much less satisfying than say manual work of some kind…..and often much less useful.

Once again – moving on…’s been my practice , for the last few years, to take an interest in and to make study of, some serious topic or other – my first ‘deep dive’ started around 2015 when I began to study personality psychology and that’s still been useful because my most recent deep dive has been centered on this question of whether people are more or less happy than they were.

Now, i’m not here to write an academic essay and mostly I write to clarify my own thoughts and what iv’e discovered by reading and listening to other people’s work – what I seem to have found has surprised me and even made me question my previously held attitude and belief’s. What I just want to do then is to briefly lay out here what others say about whether people are generally more or less happy than they were in previous generations and what features of modern life increase or worsen ‘happiness’ – I’ll do my best to lay these out as a series of points so…..

Because I use the internet so much I started my deep dive by searching for any reported effects of social media or mainstream media ; social media, for example, has been blamed for severe anxiety among teenage girls but not all internet and social media sites are equal in this respect – internet based bullying (cyber-bullying) is definitely a problem as is an almost addiction-like need to get ‘likes’ on sites such as Instagram. Twitter is obviously just a troll fest and it’s very structure seems to actively promote polarization and division.

The mainstream media does very badly in the reports that I have read – many people just leaving or ignoring the mainstream media totally – either that or reporting increasing distrust and turning instead to internet sites for news. In my own experience I grew up with a young BBC which at one time seemed to report (reasonably) fairly and impartially but is now held to have a strongly partisan political orientation and is becoming increasingly distrusted as a result – I can’t speak for the mainstream media sites because I don’t watch any of them but any reports of them all suggest both extreme political and social bias either one way or the other and then a form of sound bite reporting – telling their audience what to think rather then factual reporting.

One of the primary problems with all of the media (as reported) is that it thrives on and feeds off everything that is horrible – be that the pandemic, other natural or man made disasters, or the most recent conflict – war, famine and disease as entertainment – or just the most recent scandal concerning the rich and famous. Simply put , exposure to the mainstream media makes people distrustful and/or unhappy.

Lets talk dirty…..lets talk about money and happiness ; does money make us happy ?

The research that Iv’e read suggests that wealth has little impact on happiness , that the wealthy are often not happy and instead fearful of not having wealth, winning large amounts of money doesn’t seem to help either as many lottery winners have found to their cost. The same research suggests that poverty has little effect on happiness but other material suggests that that’s only the case if everyone is similarly in a state of poverty – what does seem to make a negative impact and also increases crime is when there is relative poverty in close conjunction with apparent wealth.

My direct experience of that came mainly from working on a large yacht in the Caribbean where the very presence of yachts and relatively more wealthy tourists seemed to create resentment and petty crime – we had a tender stolen and had to pay an extortion fee to get it back.

Today I wonder if it is a change in our circumstance (of wealth or not) that also causes unhappiness – right now in the UK we are living through large increases in fuel costs and the same with our utilities (gas and electricity) ; just now my partner came back from our weekly food shop and reported inexplicable rises in the cost of many basic foodstuffs. Some direct results of that are that it’s much more expensive for her to drive to and from work for example and we know of many rural elderly who will soon struggle to pay their fuel and food costs ; we both know, as nurses, that some will chose to not use their heating and/or will chose to not eat properly this winter……absolutely miserable way to live.

I don’t wish to make the comparison here but one thing I discovered during my last Brittany trip was that many low-end ‘budget’ boaters were simply giving up on and abandoning their boats because they felt justifiably that it was a much greater priority to pay their bills ; one older boater and ‘Gilet Jaune’ I spoke to had gone the other way and reduced his costs by living alternatively aboard his little boat.

It’s a poor comparison I know when talking about owning and running a luxury ‘toy’ like a small boat compared to say being on such a small fixed income – a UK state pension say – and not being able to eat well, heat a home or travel. Many people here are now in a kind of rural trap – it’s now too expensive for many to own and run a car but public transport is poor and keeps getting cut back even more and I for one don’t own and run a car.

In a way this is where I came in with my budget boat ‘coda’ – unloved, unwanted and abandoned boats pulled up on the bank of a creek in Brittany.

Deep dive 1 and 2.

My gateway drug into the world of ‘interesting shit’ was psychology because I took an interest in why people made mistakes and bad decisions in clinical work, from there I discovered personality psychology and measurable psychology (psychometrics) via the work of Dr Jordan Peterson. One feature of his work and lectures is that he often refers to the ‘Big 5’ trait model which can be taken as an online test and gives us a ‘score’ or percentage value for each of our 5 main traits but is also now a lot more subtle in that the version I used also breaks a trait into 2 factors. An example of a trait is extroversion/introversion- quite easy to understand because we all know people who are extroverts – the loud, funny and engaging ones who can ‘work the party’ ; equally many will know of introverts – often the quiet ones who don’t do party’s and can’t deal well with large social gatherings.

Surprise surprise but I measure as an extreme introvert a result of which is that I have no problem in spending whole days on my lonesome just working on my boat project and having no contact with people except for short conversations over the fence with my neighbour. I find large social gatherings exhausting so I avoid them or use strategies to cope with them – the opposite is that we have a close friend who is the complete opposite , loves being out with people and socializing but can’t cope with being on her own.

It would take too long to explain how our personality (traits) affects our happiness in full but for example that being an introvert isn’t a good marker for happiness but I also score very low on another trait (neuroticism) which is the opposite – people with high neurosis experience higher levels of emotional distress. Sad to say but there is enough of a difference in the bell curve distribution of trait neuroticism that women are generally more prone to higher levels of neurosis while, as an opposite, men come out on average lower on agreeableness (compassion and politeness). Having higher neurosis and/or having lower agreeableness also make for less happy personalities – in short that our personalities , which are fixed (stable) after the age of 8 or so do affect our lifelong experience of happiness.

My second deep dive was into the world of nutrition and health – my first major discovery there was that nearly everything that I was taught as a student nurse (in terms of nutritional science) was not only wrong but that the dietary recommendations that we were taught are so wrong that they are partially the cause of most of the diseases of the modern world. A second and related cause is that we have somehow been captured by the ‘food’ industry and become addicted to sugar in a way never seen before in human history.

Sugar is almost the perfect drug – it gives us a dopamine rush with every dose just like cocaine does …….but it slowly destroys our health and mental well being in the long term ; not just long term either but that the work of one college psychologist shows us that extreme psychological problems exist in many young college students as a result of their diet.

Other factors.

Sad to say but the younger generations don’t seem very happy at all , at least when compared to the baby boomer generation, many teenage girls are having a horrible time with social media but the entire ‘now’ generation seems to more self centered, more narsissistic and far less resilient than previous generations. Not only that but many who go into college lives will end up with severe debt which they may never be able to pay off and many will never have the security of owning their own property but will live in the rent trap for their entire lives. I looked at this from a different perspective in my essay about training as a nurse today compared to the same situation I experienced.

Other factors.

I wasn’t too surprised that marriage and/or stable long term relationships are generally good for us and that equally a home that has both parents is good for children, their happiness, stability and education. A big surprise is that actual religious expression that includes attending church services and being part of a like minded community comes across well as a positive indication of long term happiness – this seems strange given that many people are losing ‘faith’ with their church and leaving it but not being part of a church community I can’t comment either way from my own experience. Anyway, that last point takes me into a neat segue about what one philosopher thought about faith, modern ideologies and the nihilistic state of the modern world.

What Fred said……(…..Freidrich Nietzsche)

The madman. – Haven’t you heard of that madman who in the bright morning lit a lantern and ran around the marketplace crying incessantly, ‘I’m looking for God! I’m looking for God!’ Since many of those who did not believe in God were standing around together just then, he caused great laughter.

Has he been lost, then? asked one. Did he lose his way like a child? asked another. Or is he hiding? Is he afraid of us? Has he gone to sea? Emigrated? – Thus they shouted and laughed, one interrupting the other.

The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes. ‘Where is God?’ he cried; ‘I’ll tell you! We have killed him – you and I! We are all his murderers. But how did we do this? How were we able to drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Where is it moving to now? Where are we moving to? Away from all suns? Are we not continually falling? And backwards, sidewards, forwards, in all directions? Is there still an up and a down? Aren’t we straying as though through an infinite nothing? Isn’t empty space breathing at us? Hasn’t it got colder? Isn’t night and more night coming again and again? Don’t lanterns have to be lit in the morning? Do we still hear nothing of the noise of the grave-diggers who are burying God? Do we still smell nothing of the divine decomposiĀ­tion? – Gods, too, decompose!

God is dead! God remains dead! And we have killed him! How can we console ourselves, the murderers of all murderers! The holiest and the mightiest thing the world has ever possessed has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood from us? With what water could we clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what holy games will we have to invent for ourselves? Is the magnitude of this deed not too great for us? Do we not ourselves have to become gods merely to appear worthy of it?

I will do my best to explain why I put that in and then it’s time to close the post and go do some real work …….the first part is that I first read parts of ‘Zarathustra’ as a teenager and that was way too soon to understand it properly given that I only had a poor pass at English literature. I only returned to our man Fred a few years back when I took to arriving at my then job early and reading short passages from something worthwhile in the time before I had to start work.

The second and more important reason is that lots of people seem to use ‘God is dead’ without understanding it’s context , not knowing what statements came before and after or what Nietzsche went on to predict on what he thought would be the outcome. What he predicted was the rise of other ideologies that would somehow replace god – we can easily point to Nazism and Communist/Marxism but we should, in my opinion, also look to the crippled quasi religion that is now gaining ground all around us – the quasi religion in which there is division based on our immutable characteristics rather than the contents of our hearts and sin without forgiveness . Worse still, in my opinion, it is our so called elites that celebrate the death of god as something desirable and a sense of ‘aren’t we good and clever’ ……..proud,moralistic, arrogant and ultimately self serving.

Today it seems that ‘they’ are at it again……they being the same intellectual elites that gave us the delights of Marxism and then Communism – this time it seems that ‘they’ want a new Utopia based on ‘green’ issues and of course with diversity, equity and inclusion : I think it was psychologist Karl Jung that said that we are very bad at creating heaven but incredibly good at creating a hell on earth.

I could go on but won’t because it’s far too long a post already.

To finish then……..yes it’s a strange path, strange to explore and write about just one step at a time – if you’re wondering where it’s all going then so do I.

Until next time.

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