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No longer happy like pappy

Saturday, October 6, 2012

I suppose I could just walk away
Will I disappoint my future if I stay
It’s just a day that brings it all about
Just another day and nothing’s any good

—King of Sorrow, Sade

Trinidad and Tobago is sad. I mean like, really really sad. So sad in fact, that in the world we’ve been ranked No. 136 out of 151 countries on the Happy Planet Index. According to this new index, compiled by the London-based New Economics Foundation (NEF), they’re not just focusing on GDP, but also taking into consideration life expectancy and environmental sustainability.


“The Happy Planet Index measures what really matters—long and happy lives now and the potential for good lives in the future,” said Nic Marks, creator of the index, in a press release. So the fact that we’re ranked lower than the Democratic Republic of Congo is really not a good sign. Even in the face of years of civil war and other not so nice things, they still feel more optimistic about their futures than we do.


Jamaica, one of the countries in the Caribbean we like to treat like our poor relations since we’ve got oil and they don’t, is ranked sixth in the world and Cuba is ranked twelfth. It seems that for all our oil and gas and Carnival and wining and skin teeth we can’t get our acts together and just be happy. Just imagine that. How could a country so blessed be so depressed?


Maybe my granny was right, ingratitude is worse than witchcraft. And maybe we’re so ungrateful about all the blessings we have that we just can’t get it together to be happy. Either for ourselves or for our fellow citizens. Maybe we’re so obsessed with the negatives that we don’t even notice the positives.


It certainly challenges that idea of Trinis being happy like pappy. We clearly aren’t and the evidence of that is the newspapers every day. And the media are as depressed as the rest of the society because all it can see is the bacchanal and the failure and the death. Sadness, like yawning, is infectious.


And it’s not the kind of sadness that motivates us to create our best work. Like how you feel when you listen to Shadow, you don’t know whether to laugh or cry, because there’s so much pain in the music but it is so gut-wrenchingly beautiful that through your tears you can smile and hold your head up and move on. No, our sadness is in that unreachable place. Too far down behind our piles of suspicion, our ethnic fatigue, our constant contest to prove that we are the most oppressed.


It’s too deep in our DNA. Like the song my great-grandfather used to sing to my mother: “None to wipe my eyes, none to dry my tears, I alone in sorrow, I must go.” The dirges and elegies that live in our blood. So that every time I hear the Lara Brothers I feel to weep rather than dance for all the unresolved hurt and longing for home that lurks in the minor chords.


We have reports about oppressed Hindus. And reports about no deaths in one community. And reports about rising fuel prices, as if we never want to wake up from the drunken stupor that is cheap oil, that prompts us to leave our cars running while we get our doubles. Maybe it’s all of these things. Or maybe it’s none of them. What makes people happy? Is it money? Is it nature? Is it the hopefulness they feel from the people in power?


Should we blame the Government for our sadness? Or should we take responsibility for our communities and for our mental health and for our children so that our leaders would have to follow our example. Of choosing to do the right thing. Of choosing to be of service to the community even when no-one is looking. Even when there is no ribbon to cut and no tax rebate to collect.


We seek happiness in all the wrong places and maybe that is the problem. I’ve seen people in England tap into the Carnival joy vein in a way that most Trinibagonians have forgotten. Too focused are we now on being seen, or how many premium drinks our all-inclusive band membership can get us.  


Because the factor that probably most accounts for our low standing is environmental sustainability. The largeness of our ecological footprint is the one of the most significant disasters that we are yet to come to terms with, and which will affect many future generations.


We can cry about the rising cost of fuel all we like. But how come we don’t cry for all the damage these cars and the oil extraction and manufacturing processes do daily to our country? That’s the scariest part. And the part that makes me the most sad.


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