Today I was asked whether, given the choice, I would plug myself into a machine that guaranteed happiness for the rest of my life.
Having mused over the semantics of what this happiness machine would look like (an intravenous drip that followed you around, a wired charger that you plug into your body at night etc), I made my decision. Hook me up, plug me in, do what you have to!
The lady who had asked me this question had asked others too. "What was their response?" I asked eagerly. Most, it turned out, would refuse: citing an innate desire to suffer for their happiness. This I can understand: how else does one appreciate true happiness without experiencing it's opposite?
However, even at my tender age I feel I have already gained an acute sense of what unhappiness is. I have felt heartbreak, lost loved ones, seen the ugly face of cancer and witnessed real poverty. I feel I know what happiness feels like. It feels like nothing: peace of mind.
Last week 42 states in America took part in the biggest lottery in history, with a jackpot of an unprecedented $640 million. Such was the excitement, I saw a television clip where a lawyer advised the public on how not to get swindled by a friend or family member who may lay claim to your lucky ticket. He then revealed that the odds of winning were over 100 million to one, so if you hadn't been paying attention, I wouldn't worry too much!
Huge lottery windfalls are normally accompanied by responsibilities equally sizeable. Peace of mind is now a distant dream. Once you have paid the taxman (35% in the US), it's handout season. How much do you give to a sibling you have developed a fractious relationship with in recent times? How about those estranged cousins of yours? No doubt they will resurface. Then there is charity...too much can look ostentatious, too little and you become Scrooge. The freedom you thought vast wealth would bring now cages you in like a wary animal.
This grotesque lottery resembles a warped version of Roald Dahl's golden ticket. I imagine the winner being paraded through the streets, whilst the public cheers with the same enthusiasm as an Oscar nominee who didn't win. I find it far easier to resent those golden ticket holders, for they were genuinely fortunate. Chocolate waterfalls, Oompa Loompas and a world not marred by greed or gloom.
Here in the real world, you work for wealth. Lotteries leave naive winners the task of navigating the waters of moral obligation and financial responsibility. Granted many are provided financial advisers, yet I doubt their true effectiveness. I do not envy the lottery winners, certainly not like I did Charlie and his grandfather.
Would you plug yourself into a machine that guarantees happiness? $640 million may allow you to master materialism, yet you are not immune to the sorrows of life. A machine that guaranteed an endless supply of happiness would be worth far more than any super lottery could muster.