Letter from Simon Kelner: The little things that put a smile on our face ... or not


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Did you spot, over the weekend, one of those slightly spurious surveys which purports to tell us a truth about ourselves, but boils down to little more than a statement of the obvious?

You know the sort of thing: research shows that teenagers have a small attention span, or that dogs get depressed when their owners go on holiday. I know. Who'd have thought it?

Anyway, this study, commissioned by a drinks company, has come up with a list of the top 30 things that make us happy. These are not the big things, like the discovery of a cure for cancer or an end to global poverty. We are talking here about happiness on a smaller scale: for instance, winning £10 on the lottery (I thought most people set their sights a little higher, but there we are), waking up on a Saturday morning and realising it's the weekend (I must admit I have never found that a particularly difficult connection to make) or seeing an elderly couple holding hands (on the contrary, I'd rather see them arguing like cat and dog, proving that passion is still alive).

There are lots of obvious and prosaic things on the list, like a romantic night out (not in, for some reason), chocolate, sunshine, getting a nice message from your loved one and being promoted.

Another result from this poll was that the average person is only happy for half the week. So why don't they ask what goes on the rest of the time?

This started me thinking about compiling an unhappy list. I eschewed the opposites of the happy list – like rain, or getting a nasty message from your loved one – and went for a more esoteric catalogue of modern world pet hates. Like going to the self-service check-out at a supermarket and constantly hearing "unexpected item in bagging area"; or hearing people talk like they're in an episode of The Apprentice with the over-use, and indeed misuse, of idiom – in the past few days I have encountered "backing me to the hill" and "nailing it on the head"; or the over-sharing of announcers on most modes of public transport; or the excessive packaging of many grocery items, especially posh tea bags; or restaurants that add a service charge and then invite you to leave a further tip on the credit card receipt; or the background noises of domestic life, whether it's the persistent bleeping of electrical devices or the constant middle-class voices of Radio 4.

I could go on, but that would make me sound like a proper curmudgeon, or at least Daily Telegraph letter writer. In any case, I hear you say, no one asked my opinion. But that's only because the pollsters haven't reached me yet!

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