The year’s news, as Week readers know too well, has seldom given us much to smile about. But it was hard not to smile at the splendid headline in The Times last week: “Happiness minister on run over Indian politician’s murder.” Lal Singh Arya is the first politician in India – perhaps the world – to hold a portfolio to ensure “happiness and tolerance”. His role in the state of Madhya Pradesh is to build a society that allows “people to realise their own potential of inner well-being”. Alas, Mr Arya has been implicated in the murder of a rival politician and gone into hiding. The police haven’t a clue where he is. Happiness is hard to find; finding the happiness minister may prove even harder.
Actually, I have an idea where to find it, if not him. It lies quite simply in lowering our expectations of human improvability, in not insisting we be more virtuous than our less-than-elevated Darwinian heritage allows us to be. The internet and the media groan under the weight of stones hurled, not at outright wickedness, but at ordinary human frailty – and it’s a major source of unhappiness. A few of us may be born good or even achieve it, but no one likes goodness thrust upon them, least of all by the likes of Mr Arya. So the accused end up angry, the accusers disappointed. Far better to aim low and accept that people just aren’t that great. As that sage Samuel Goldwyn put it: “90% of the art of living consists of getting on with people one cannot stand.” But in the hope you will be spending it with those you can stand, may I wish you all a very happy Christmas. Jeremy O’grady