Be smart; be happy

Be smart; be happy

By Sarah Hampson – The Globe and Mail

Take Woody Allen.

You don’t think of him as being happy, do you?

I didn’t think so.

“I like to work,” the filmmaker, writer and actor recently told The Globe’s Johanna Schneller. “It distracts me from brooding or anxiety.”

But it’s not just because he’s famous for his fretting mind that we think of him as generally unhappy. It’s because we think of him as intelligent; as a deep thinker who dwells on the treacheries and complexities of the world, not to mention the human heart. Same would be true for Canada’s filmic deep thinker, David Cronenberg.

Now consider Dubya.

He’s bound to be a happy dude most of the time, right?

You can easily picture him grillin’ ribs on his Texas ranch, wearing a Stetson, hanging out with his cronies in short sleeves, not a care in the world. And I would venture that many people think of George W. Bush as disposed to happiness because they don’t consider him very smart – erring precariously on the side of doofus. Ditto Mr. Bunga Bunga, Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi. Which makes them capable of unfettered joy.

I know, I have done it too: fallen into that happiness trap. You equate happiness with a lack of intellectual vigour. It’s only for uneducated, unaware people, those who ascribe to that Caribbean holiday mantra: “Don’t worry, be happy.”

Those people aren’t worrying about global warming, the crime rate, the economy, the state of health care, a majority Conservative government, this month’s Visa bill, five new grey hairs they noticed this morning, their children’s education, or their retirement plans (or lack of them) – have I missed anything? Because if they were, how could they possibly be happy?

They’re drinking psychological pina coladas.

Let me be the one to say, “Not so fast.” The anti-intellectual take on happiness is a myth, one that’s been around for a long time when you consider Biblical notions of knowledge causing a fall from grace; ignorance as bliss. Then there are all those quotes floating about, such as that of the man who told the 18th century’s Samuel Johnson: “You are a philosopher, Dr. Johnson. I have tried too in my time to be a philosopher; but I don’t know how. Cheerfulness was always breaking in.”

But it turns out happiness can be seen as an intellectual exercise that necessitates the use of our evolved cognitive functions…

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