Sunday, February 25, 2018

A happy spirit


Mark Fraser

 For several millennia, prophets and sages and philosophers have contemplated the secrets to happiness and now, in Trinidad in the 21st century, the soca singer Machel Montano has solved this ages-old conundrum. The formula for happiness, according to Montano, can be summed up as follows: H = M+R, where H is happiness, M is money and R is rum.

“I always happy once money in meh hand,” sang Montano this Carnival. “Ah had rum on my mind so ah ready.” Ergo, the secret to happiness is to be rich and drunk. In fact, you can even shorten the formula to H=R, if you’re drinking Angostura’s Legacy rum which costs $160,000 a bottle.

Mr Montano also asserts he is “the happiest man alive”: which is possible, but not probable. After all, as wealthy as Machel may be, there are plenty business people, lawyers and doctors who would consider him a financial peewat. So it is probable that the owner of 1 Alexandria Place, who’s receiving $690,000 a month in rent from the Government for his empty building, is happier than Montano. Ditto for the First Citizens manager who made millions in a few weeks by buying the bank’s shares at a discounted price. And double ditto squared for every contractor who gets paid by Cabinet for wrecking wrecked fire engines at 20 times the actual cost, building box drains to win elections and constructing houses for Government ministers.

Moreover, even within his own profession as a performer, anybody who’s had at least three Top 40 hits on the Billboard chart would probably be richer than Machel, who has had none. So Shaggy, Sean Paul and Bob Marley’s sons are pro­bably happier than Machel and, even if they’re not, the ganja would make them so.

Now psychologist Martin P Seligman, who is one of the world’s leading experts on this topic, writes in his book, Authentic Happiness, that “people who value money more than other goals are less satisfied with their incomes and with their lives as a whole”.  Obviously, this doesn’t apply to poli­ticians, herbalists and pastors, but many researchers have found that whilst middle-class people who are not conmen are happier than poor people, multi-millionaires aren’t that much happier than millionaires.

However, this does not mean Montano is not, in fact, happier than people who are richer than he is, since it is not money alone that makes him happy, but also rum. The key question, therefore, is what is the optimum ratio of rum to money required in order to achieve maximum happiness or, as Machel would put it, Mx + Rx = H∞? That is a difficult question to answer, even with a slide rule and a breathalyser.

However, happiness researchers have found that people are on average happier in democratic countries with a per-capita GNP of US$10,000 and above. Of course, the per capita is dependent on a low Gini index (meaning low levels of inequity). So, when Machel Montano can get the Government to give him millions of taxpayers’ dollars to produce a 50th anniversary CD that was due last November, this helps raise inequity and lower democracy in the society and, more importantly, reduces the likelihood that Machel is the happiest man alive.

Nonetheless, Montano sings that Trinis are the “happiest people alive/That’s why we go live we life/Jump around and live we life, drink a rum”. Seligman notes that “a hedonist wants as many good moments and as few bad moments as possible in his life, and simple hedonic theory says that the quality of his life is just the quantity of good moments minus the quantity of bad moments”.

So Trinis fete and play mas in order to collect enough good moments over Carnival to compensate for the bad moments they expect for the rest of the year. Which would mean the most fanatic feters have the unhappiest lives. Seligman dismisses hedonism as “a delusion”, but bear in mind he has never wined in a Carnival band in a $4,000 costume, not including boots.

Researchers have also found that a good marriage increases a person’s happiness, although couples’ contentment levels drop when children come along. Machel is not married and has three children, and this would decrease the odds that he is the happiest man alive. On the other hand, all the psycho­logists who made these findings are from developed countries, so their data may only apply to white people.

However, religious leaders, who in this place are experts on everything from crime to Carnival, are in accord with researchers who have found that a key to happiness is giving to others. And, throughout his adult career, Machel has had to pay maintenance, compensation to patrons injured at his concerts, and damages to people beaten up by his entourage. So maybe he really is the happiest man alive.