Deborah Ross: Our Woman In Crouch End

'Little makes a woman happier than an expensive bag, except being in a room with someone fatter'

I'm glad that this whole "work-life balance" business is getting proper attention at last. It is an extremely important thing to hang on to. Indeed, just the other week, I lost my work-life balance in Waitrose and had to hold on to a chiller cabinet to steady myself. "Are you OK?" asked another shopper. "Can I get you anything?" I said no thanks, that I'd just lost my work-life balance for a moment, but was already feeling less giddy.

I hate to think what would happen if, say, I lost my work-life balance at the wheel of a car. It doesn't bear thinking about. As it is, a friend of mine lost hers at the top of the stairs one day, tumbled, and ended up in A&E. The doctors were not, apparently, that sympathetic. "If you only stopped fretting about this work-life nonsense," they said, "and just got on with it, muddling through as people have done for generations, you wouldn't have this trouble."

My friend was horrified at being treated like a neurotic ninny with a self-indulgent malady, and is now complaining through the relevant channels. As she says, until the medical profession takes work-life imbalances seriously, there'll be many more horrible accidents such as hers.

I'm not sure where this work-life business actually comes from, but believe it comes wrapped in what is now called the "Science of Happiness", a serious enterprise that has led to books, TV shows, Professors of Happiness and even an academic periodical, the Journal of Happiness Studies.

For all I know, the Journal of Happiness Studies has its offices on the Euston Road, just round the corner from the Journal of Parenting Studies, staffed by those who consider themselves experts but are anything but and should be shot, especially if the greater happiness is a consideration.

I imagine that their editorial meetings go something like this:

"Let's do dummies being bad."

"Oh, come on, they don't really do any harm..."

"Tell you what, we'll do dummies bad this week, dummies good next week, then dummies bad again the following week, just to keep parents on their toes."

"Why wait a week? Let's shift our advice hourly."

"Good idea. Remember when we did it with taking baby into bed with you? We had parents so confused, they were lobbing babies between cot and bed every four minutes!"

I don't know if, in turn, the Journal of Parenting Studies happens to be round the corner from The Neurotic Review, which I'm guessing is staffed by those who, having lobbed babies all night, fret about not being at home enough or not being at work enough.

Anyway, happiness as a science is something I take seriously. I'm even hoping that I'll be awarded a Chair of Happiness at a major university, and that I will not only be allowed to choose the Chair - an Eames lounger would be good - but will also be able to lounge on it whenever I fancy, not just when my work-life balance is disturbed and I need a sit-down.

And if I could lounge while fondling an expensive handbag, that would be perfect happiness. Indeed, little makes a woman happier than fingering an expensive handbag, unless it is finding herself in the same room as someone fatter than her. This is shameful, shallow and disgusting, but such a happy event all the same. In fact, after a lifetime of reading Cosmo and Vogue, and now Heat and Grazia, I would add that, for much of the Western world, the following highly scientific formula covers it when it comes to happiness:

Being Thin + Buying Lots of Stuff = Happiness

Yes, this has been tested on animals but, as sending a very thin mouse into Harvey Nichols with a limitless credit card proved, animals and humans are too different in this instance for the resultant data to be useful. It didn't buy a thing. It didn't even seem interested, even though the scientists kept entreating it, "Go on, treat yourself!".

The mouse, I should add, wasn't harmed in any way, and wasn't forced to try on bikinis. Not in front of a three-way mirror, anyway, as that's cruel (although they did it to rabbits well into the 1970s). As scientists now know, and everyone knew anyway:

Bikini + Three-way Mirror = Complete Abject Misery

Further: Bikini + Three-way Mirror + Cellulite = Strong Suicidal Feelings *

Obviously, as the Science of Happiness is a new discipline, more work is needed, which may or may not be done, depending on the work-life balance: anyone may have to race home at any time to lob a baby about. By the way, if you feel your work-life balance going, breathing into a paper bag helps. This much, at least, is known.

* (Even the rabbits said as much.)

d.ross@independent.co.uk

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