‘Are you happy, Uncle?’

Nephew: Are you happy?

Uncle: Yep.

Nephew: I guess you have close relationships?

Uncle: No. I have no close friends or relatives.

Nephew: What do you call me, then?

Uncle: A nuisance.

Nephew: You don’t have a pet.

Uncle: Well observed, Sherlock.

Nephew: You can’t be happy. The happiness experts say we need close relationships to be happy.

Uncle: They are adept at missing the point, but I’m not going to argue with you.

Nephew: Are you happy because you have a satisfying job?

Uncle: I have had many jobs, none of them satisfying.

Nephew: Do you have high self-esteem?

Uncle: I have low self-esteem, but it doesn’t affect my happiness.

Nephew: How could it not?!

Uncle: Let’s say you were to lose a leg. Initially you would be extremely upset, but there is a good chance that after a while you would end up as happy as you were before. You would be physically disabled, and you would give almost anything to have your leg back, but you would be just as happy.

Nephew: Just as happy? Hard to believe.

Uncle: Some amputees become clinically depressed, but others end up as happy as they were before. You must have met amputees no less happy than the rest of us?

Nephew: Alright, but what does that have to do with self-esteem?

Uncle: Someone with a low self-esteem would be socially disabled. They would have trouble finding a rewarding job, or developing close relationships. But they could be just as happy as if they had high self-esteem.

Nephew: Rubbish!

Uncle: (Shrug)

Nephew: Are you wealthy?

Uncle: Not even close. Why, do I look like it?

Nephew: Have you been successful in life?

Uncle: I have pretty much failed in everything I have done. I have had only menial jobs. My biggest aspiration was to be a milkman.

Nephew: Did you become one?

Uncle: No. The job became extinct before I was out of high school.

Nephew: Why a milkman?

Uncle: I figured no one would be around to see me make mistakes.

Nephew: You’re depressing. Well then, are you going to be like those happiness gurus who tell me happiness is about living Life’s spectacular journey?

Uncle: No, and if I ever spout such nonsense, hose me down. Rarely is life spectacular. It’s a journey fraught with snakes, cowpats and weeds. A person leading a happy life will still feel all the unwanted emotions: hurt, anger, fear, sadness . . . but isn’t broken by them.

Nephew: You have just given me a miserable account of yourself, yet you insist you are happy?

Uncle: I am happy.

Nephew: It’s hard to believe.

Uncle: There you go. I enjoy life and hope to live a long, long time. I’m genuinely happy. But as I say, that doesn’t mean I don’t get angry, or grumpy, or feel flat. That’s normal and healthy. It’s the times between those unwanted emotions which tell me I’m happy.

Nephew: But how can you be happy? No close friends. No success. No work satisfaction. Low self-esteem. You’re a walking nightmare.

Uncle: As I told you the other day, happiness comes from satisfying long-term innate needs.

Nephew: You did say that, but I figured you were trying to baffle me with bulldust. So, what’s this ‘innate needs’ bit?

Uncle: I’ll tell you one day, when I’m laying on my death bed.

Nephew: Looking at you, that could be any day now.

Uncle: Cheeky blight.

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