The tyranny of small things and happiness

In the higher echelons of the scientific establishment, there is open speculation that consciousness is the universe's prime mover: there would be no matter without consciousness, and consciousness is not reducible to its biological parts.

What then should we make of recent research conducted at the UK’s University of Warwick, which has pinpointed why Danes are ‘the happiest people in the world’? According to the study, a large number of the Danes who testified to being happy also have a gene that boosts their serotonin receptors. This suggests a correlation between happiness and genetics. And, what’s more, the study found that this happiness factor was stronger when a person was in close genetic proximity to a Dane. (Denmark’s eternal rivals, the Dutch, while not our immediate geographical neighbours, were runners up.)

Humans may be considered multidimensional light beings temporarily enjoying material form, but this study shows that our happiness may be contingent on genetics: we are nothing more than advanced biological machines. How does that compute?

For a start, it doesn’t explain our tendency to self-medicate. Nearly ten percent of Danes take antidepressants. The average Dane drinks the approximate equivalent of 40 bottles of vodka a year. Half a million Danes regularly enjoy recreational cannabis. And we just love our over-the-counter painkillers, with each Dane popping a whopping 180 of those babies each year.

Perhaps it’s the hangovers? Or the stress? Surely it can’t be the happiness. Or can it be? My theory is that it all comes down to human adaptability. And this is something that Danes have truly mastered. As a population, we are incredibly plastic. Put a Dane in a hole for 35 years, and then ask him how he’s doing. Chances are that he will tell you that he’s just fine. The reality is that most Danes lead incredibly stressful lives. This is by no means a new phenomenon. Like most civilised populations on the planet, we have been suppressed for centuries – if not millennia – by big men, by Viking and feudal lords, by the church, and now by corporate capitalism and its political puppets.

The tyranny of small things keeps us on a choke-hold with no possible means of escape. Securing next month’s pay check, being a good colleague, parent, friend or partner, doing things the right way, keeping up, wearing and believing the right stuff, buying the latest gadgets, saving for the holidays or the upcoming festival, paying our bills, paying our bills and paying our bills. Plus worrying about the coming winter, genetically modified crops, air pollution and the general state of affairs in the world. The worries never end.

As ironic as it may seem, problems are relative – even if you live in a nice, secure northern European state, you can still be stressed out and struggling. After all, as a new and much larger Asian and African middle-class emerges, middle-class European consumers are becoming more and more obsolete. Thus, we happily suffer the tyranny of small things – be it bills, black thoughts or our genes. We are dutifully extinguishing ourselves – choosing to self-destruct, to be done in by agents of slow-death in our food or medicine, or merely opting to not procreate.

But if asked, then: sure, we’re happy. We are happy because we Danes are such eminently adaptable organisms. Especially now. It’s summer, our favourite time of year. Everything blooms, and on a microcosmic level, so does our DNA. I believe that, in time, the scientific establishment will demonstrate that there is no such thing as ‘junk DNA’. It’s merely DNA waiting to be coded by our new patterns of being in the world – by the steps we take, the food we eat, the thoughts we think and the kisses we kiss. Consciousness, after all, can be described as an awareness of and attention to the present moment, and attention is just another word for love.

The lines that settle into your face when you reach middle age reflect a lifetime of emotions. If bitterness is your prime emotion for 20 years, then it is bound to show on your face by the time you reach age 50. So perhaps happiness can actually become encoded in our genes? If that’s the case, then we can do a lot of the embedding ourselves.

So remember to smile. Even though life in the real-world laboratory of Denmark may be tough, at least it’s still summer. Any good Dane will drink to that. Happy encoding. M


By Claus Ankersen

Claus Ankersen is an internationally acclaimed writer, artist and performance poet.

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