Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 December 2014

In life's lottery of luck, the simple things are gold

Rock king: Elvis Presley
Rock king: Elvis Presley

My sincere congratulations to Margaret Loughrey from Strabane, who has scooped £27m in the Euromillions draw. And I trust she will remember my sincerity when she receives my heart-wrenching missive in the next few days.

But ... do I really envy her? I'm not sure that I do, actually. Okay, like most of us, I like to idle away the odd hour imagining what I'd do with a wheelbarrow of cash after my numbers come up.

Ah, yes, joy of joys. No more getting up in the dark to struggle with gridlocked Belfast. No need to listen to Good Morning Ulster and the idiocies of our local politicians. No work, no glum-looking colleagues, no watching the constant mizzle against the window and looking out over the wasteland that lies behind Royal Avenue.

And, yes, that Riviera touch.

But, honestly, I think that after a few weeks, I'd miss it. Even GMU. Maybe that's because I sense the Meaning of Life – when you get right down to it – is about the simple things. Another diamond, another yacht, another holiday from my permanent holiday. Is that really living?

I was struck by a survey the other day which said that the price of happiness was easily quantifiable – £22,100 per annum. Apparently, once a person hits that income, they've reached the height of contentment.

After £22.1K, the rise in happiness trails off dramatically, as we're dragged into the rat-race of keeping up with the Joneses and worrying about how to protect our lifestyle from chance.

Fair enough, £22.1K seems a bit low to me (though I know many would love that degree of financial security), but the point is taken. We don't need that much to be, if not ecstatically happy, at least content.

After all – and perhaps the approach of Christmas is bringing out the sentimentalist in me – most of us don't have bad lives. A job, loved ones, family. (True, they can be double-edged swords, but on the whole they are 'good' things.)

When am I most happy? Well, the other day when my cat, Gissing, who'd turned up as a fearful, abandoned kitten, tentatively sat beside me and put a paw on my leg for the first time, was great.

There we sat, his two front legs over my thigh, his head nestling in close, watching Escape to the Country. A little chap who knew he was home. Would I find his throaty singing any more comforting just because they had named a wing of the bank after me?

If life teaches us anything, it's that millions and misery often seem to go hand-in-hand. Maybe, for the wealthy, theirs is a kind of existential angst that comes with knowing that every day will be just as pleasant as today.

Perhaps there's a crushing ennui involved in vast wealth that sends you scurrying towards the self-destruct button. Look at all those horror stories of men and women with huge wads of cash reduced to snorting cocaine, drinking themselves into a stupor and trying to work out if they're addicted to sex, or just really, really like paying for it?

There's something else, too. Recently I bumped into an old friend, who has been ill. When I asked how they were keeping, the response – a shrug so helpless and despondent – has stayed with me ever since.

How times change. In my pal's good-humoured way, he'd once have ranted about the degradations of office life, the late nights, the turf wars, where an innocuous memo could lead to hours of brooding and blood-curdling thoughts of revenge. Now? I suspect a needling email would seem an unalloyed joy.

My late Dad was right. If you can throw your legs out of bed and walk downstairs, you've a head start on many. "Carpe diem, my darling."

As I get older, happiness is more defined by the routine, the lovely ordinariness of a day. It's the robin perched nearby watching me sweep up leaves. Finding a box of sweets hidden in my bed. A vast library of Elvis songs to play. Richard Burton's diary to dip into. Not standing in A&E at 3am.

Maybe we should stop dreaming about our six numbers turning up. Maybe our good lives are already here. Yes, the early starts, the snarky remarks, the nights stuck watching Poirot repeats with Himself. They are the stuff of life – not a diamond-studded retreat from it.

Good luck to Margaret Loughrey. I truly hope she enjoys every penny of it. But – whisper it quietly – millions of us have already won life's lottery and don't even know it...

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