Terence Blacker: Slow down, and the search for happiness might take care of itself

The Way We Live: The need for escape helps explain why 'The Artist' is making millions

Share

In Whitehall and in political party headquarters, whey-faced researchers have been fretting about contentment. Their bosses have noticed that there is a new interest in happiness and, where there is interest, there should be votes. It is how to get them, how to nail wellbeing to the wall of policy, that is the unanswerable challenge.

The problem is that, beyond the not insignificant matter of financial security, politics has little to contribute to any real form of happiness, concerned as it is with the business and the surface of things. Yet there is something interesting going on at present, and it is in reaction to the frenetic pace of everyday life, to the headlines warning of ever more misery, to the nagging round-the-clock presence of new forms of communication. We want a bit of peace, a respite from the tumble of events.

"Where has slowness gone?" asks a contributor to a new book by John Brockman, How Is the Internet Changing the Way You Think?. The answer is not so hard to find. It is in the success of a slow-burn TV series like Borgen. It lies behind the popularity of David Hockney's exhibition of landscapes at the Royal Academy, of Melvyn Bragg's uncompromisingly thoughtful In Our Time series on Radio 4, of public debating groups like Intelligence Squared.

Slowness, or at least a need to escape from the noise and hurry of contemporary life, helps explain why the almost entirely silent black-and-white film The Artist is making millions around the world. People are tired of being shouted at by the Lord Sugars of their particular world. The assumption that speed, volume, growth and wealth are the keys to any truly meaningful life has begun to seem a touch silly.

This move away from the unthinking, headlong rush of modern life does not, as one might think, reflect a nostalgic, hippyish longing for the simplicity of the past. In the art world, it is younger artists who are exploring the positive and the personal in their work. Jeremy Deller, the Turner Prize winner, has a new exhibition called The Joy of People. According to the gallery staging the show, it looks at "what's important and at what's less important in life". There is talk in the newspapers of "feelgood art".

Paradoxically, the search for contentment can become something of a rat-race itself. Scrabbling around for something suitably zeitgeisty to accompany the London Olympics, the Cultural Olympiad has decided that spiritual wellbeing will be the message this year. Bossy directives will be found on posters across town. "Act or Be Acted Upon", one will read. Another bellows, "If you don't like your life, you can change it". But these attempts to bully us all into happiness are as futile as the wellbeing policies of smiling politicians.

The European Union has even begun to play the game. Urging world leaders "to make people's happiness and wellbeing our political priority for 2012", the EU president Herman van Rompuy sent them each a present for the New Year. It was a copy of The World Book of Happiness.

These cheerleaders for some generalised, meaningless happiness – academics, pop philosophers, authors, presidents – should be ignored. Finding contentment is not a matter of will, like going on a diet or giving up booze. It will only be found in your personal life, in the books you read, the films you see, the exhibitions and debates you attend.

As for politicians, they would do well to read a recent interview given by Nicolas Sarkozy, who seems to be heading for defeat in the French presidential election. Asked if he had any regrets, Sarko mentioned the error of having been photographed with Carla Bruni while on holiday in 2007. The problem, so far as voters were concerned, was simple. He looked too happy.

The law of the (Amazon) jungle

On the whole, the mighty retailers of the new technology – Apple, Google, Facebook and the like – try to present themselves with a youthful, bejeaned and cosily idealistic image. An exception is Amazon, whose attitude to competition begins to make Tesco look like the local Oxfam shop. Although the online retailer's latest revenue is up 44 per cent, reflecting a vast and growing share of the market, success has not brought generosity.

In December, Amazon encouraged American customers who browsed in a local bookshop, then bought online, to go one step further. If they indulged in some light industrial espionage, reporting the price of an item they wanted to buy into their smartphone for Amazon's database, they would earn a discount of $5.

Recently, the company has turned its attention to retailers who sell though Amazon. Any firm that dares to offer its products elsewhere at a lower price, they have been told, will be in danger of expulsion.

This, we should remember, is an organisation with an increasing influence over what is published and read.

www.terblacker@aol.com

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Credit Controller / Customer Service

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This rapidly expanding business...

Recruitment Genius: Electronics Engineers / Senior Electronics Engineers

£25000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Based in Henley-on-Thames, this...

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Misleading Translations: the next 40

John Rentoul
Syrian refugee 'Nora' with her two month-old daughter. She was one of the first Syrians to come to the UK when the Government agreed to resettle 100 people from the country  

Open letter to David Cameron on Syrian refugees: 'Several hundred people' isn't good enough

Independent Voices
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project