On ABC TV they are screening a three-part series – it’s a kind of mix of popular psychology, philosophy (rather deeply embedded, not to say submerged) and reality TV.
The premise is that a 2006 study from Deakin University found that Marrickville was the unhappiest place in Australia.
I haven’t chased that down but I have noticed that if you listen to the fine print, Marrickville is actually said to be at the heart of the unhappiest region in Australia which is the “Inner West” of Sydney. On any view Marrickville is at that region’s easternmost edge. Further, despite the preponderance of featured Marrickville-the-suburb streetscape, what they seem to be talking about, so far as the execution of the premiss [I am covering both bases, spelling-wise] is concerned, is Marrickville the municipality.
Which is great, because I’m in the Marrickville municipality. I don’t know whether, if taken, my score would tip the average happiness up or down. Regardless of that, there is a certain pleasure – naively derived in part from pride, I suspect, in seeing one’s locale on even the little screen: in the associated web page (perhaps it will pop up soon in the series). I’ve also been vouchsafed footage of the Weekley Park pigeon feeder in whose absence up to 70 pigeons will gather around me if I choose to linger where he plies his generosity.
Anyway, a team of various types of experts, led by psychologist “Dr Tony” (so called in part to distinguish him from another “Tony”) take on as a kind of experiment 8 volunteers (the other “Tony” is one of them) for an 8-week program to improve their happiness. Hey, it’s just an experiment [! on TV!], OK?
The series has already provoked a post by nearby resident Witty Knitter (nearby literally to Marrickville and virtually to this blog as part of the SkepticLawyer franchise – not a lawyer herself but possibly filling an equivalent role to those lay members on disciplinary tribunals, I suppose) and the following comments.
Two themes which I have discerned in that discussion are:
(1) Is happiness the same as contentment? (Next step: if so, it’s just a matter of adjusting your expectations down sufficiently so as to be content or happy.) and
(2) Probably the converse of (1) – how much of happiness is related to specific circumstances of your life, as opposed simply to how you feel about them?
Like all reality TV, the program has an inherent interest just because of a kind of gossip factor. As I watch it, I remind myself necessarily that I am seeing just what the program makers want us to see. Two of the volunteers are not long out of relationships and seem still to bear the marks of that. Another is overwhelmed by her two 2-year-old sons, and (unwisely in my view) allows herself to read out to camera a letter addressed notionally to her parents, identifying and addressing her resentment that they were too absorbed in their own sorrows to be good parents to her, then (she had been told to end positively) forgiving them and thanking them for giving her life and hoping they were now at peace. The mind boggles. I hope she does not have any Great Expectations, at least, not of her parents, because unless they are “at peace” in every sense one could well imagine them making an appointment the next day after the screening to see their solicitors about their wills. (OK: that’s from the perspective of a Family Provision Act, now Succession Act, practitioner.) Then she would really have something to feel resentful about, though some of the resentment might be directed at the producers of the program, notwithstanding any waivers she may have been prevailed upon to sign.
Incidentally, the official answer to (2) according to the program is 10%. Genetics is said to account for 50% and the remaining 40% is said to be the bit you can deal with yourself.