My son, a chef, is part of a “pop up think tank” of people under 35 working on happiness. They are gathering evidence through a questionnaire, and I thought that some BMJ readers might be interested in both the questions and my answers. You might like to try answering the questions yourself.
1. Where do you find happiness?
Everywhere, but I’m convinced that you don’t find happiness by consciously looking for it.
2. Who is the happiest person you know? Who is the happiest person you don’t know?
I found this a very hard question. I wondered about my mother, who has no short term memory. But my wife said “No,” and I know that my mother feels lonely at times. She does literally, however, live in the present in a way that few manage. I wondered about myself, which sounds conceited, but my wife, who is wise, says she thought that it was me.
For the happiest person I don’t know I wondered about Seneca or Montaigne, stoics who were reconciled to death.
3. If you could plan a happiness tour, where would you go?
The Lake District or the hills of Scotland.
4. When are people at their happiest? Time of life, event, time of day.
Morning people, like me, are happiest in the morning. We are happiest at around 65 when we have done with the messiness of life but don’t feel that death is imminent.
5. Where is the happiest place?
Our heads, our families.
6. What would you put in a happiness pack?
Walking boots, a map, “The Dance to the Music of Time,” Miles Davis’s “Kind of Blue,” a portion of whelks, and a bottle of premier cru claret.
7. What was your happiest moment of the past year?
When all of my family was eating together in Mexico.
8. What are you happiest doing?
Reading and writing.
9. Can you remember a time before you were ten years old that made you happy?
No, but I can remember several moments that made me very unhappy.
10. What is the one thing that you do to make yourself or others happy?
Eat a good meal together.
11. Can you think of an example from the last month where you made someone else happy?
When I told my wife that the estimate on having some work done on our house was affordable and we could have it done.
12. What is the single thing that decreased your happiness last week? Increased your happiness?
Decreased: News that the impact of climate change may be even more serious than I thought it was, which is very serious.
Increased: Seeing my wife’s joy when she heard her painting in the Discerning Eye exhibition had sold.
13. How would you go about teaching someone to be happy?
Tell them to find somebody to love and something to do that they love to do.
14. What do you think makes a child happy? What makes an elderly person happy?
A child is made happy by instant gratification (a present, a sweet), for a moment. An elderly person is made happy by thinking that their children are happy.
15. What one thing in your life would you change to make you happier?
The conviction because of climate change and overpopulation that the world doesn’t have long to go.
RS was the editor of the BMJ until 2004 and is director of the United Health Group’s chronic disease initiative.