I've been thinking. The Larry of "as happy as Larry" - who was he? And why was he so happy? So in the time-honoured tradition of googling everything (as yet another gilt-leaved tome chokes under a layer of library dust) I found out about Larry. And while the answer is interesting (no, I'm not going to tell you) and will be committed to the mental filing cabinet from which I one day plan to drag 15 ridiculously obscure facts in succession to win a million pounds, the more fascinating question of the day is this: Why are we all so unlike Larry?
This is, after all, the age of abundance, at least for all those I know personally. Tables groaning under the weight of food, wardrobes bulging and coat racks swamped, a plethora of activities to which we can drive our kids in the gas guzzler. Turning our noses up at bread crusts, the 'wrong' flavour of ice cream, last year's curtains and a skirt that doesn't fit quite right. In other words, we are spoiled, not only for choice but with the quantity of stuff to which we have access.
And instead of - as portrayed in the media - all of us swanning about enjoying our (relative) wealth and savouring the sheer magnitude of our luxurious lifestyles, we're persistently dissatisfied with everything. Where most of the third world would fight to the death for the slightly floury apple or the crusts we consign to the compost bin, we're scouring the tabloids for the latest fad diet or quick-fix surgical option. For the majority of the seven billion earthlings among us, a stained t-shirt would present a body covering; for the spoiled brats among us nothing less than the perfect jeans will make us happy. For a day, anyway, till the next quest is on.
Is it precisely because of this eternal wandering around in the desert of discontentment that we're unhappy? Could we possibly learn something from the smiles and songs of the really poor of the world? They might not know what too much food is, but they have no debt; insurance and burglar alarms are unknown entities; envy is replaced with neighbourly concern and sharing what little each has with the next family. This is not intended to condescend and yes of course I still feel for these people, but I would also like to learn from them, and teach my children what it means to be truly 'starving' (i.e. not two hours past lunch time when all the other children in the park are eating lollies but I didn't bring any) and to look after their possessions.
So maybe if we were really poor we wouldn't be quite as happy as Larry was, but perhaps we could try to be content with whatever it is we have, or don't have.