Luck was on our side when we bought our Paris flat. By chance on our doorstep were quality shops and restaurants, plentiful public transport above and below ground, and a traditional newspaper kiosk. But there were drawbacks too, particularly at street level. First, the pavements were often so narrow that when it rained, passing with umbrellas unfurled was impossible. Second, almost everywhere the kerbs were so high that climbing back on to them after crossing one of the many local streets was a real hoick; navigating them in a wheelchair would have been well nigh impossible.
But these problems have now been resolved following major road improvements. The work lasted a year and in the upheaval the first ‘casualty’ was our kiosk. Overnight it was dismantled and with it, and unannounced, went the vendor. The kiosk was small and old but worked; the vendor was grey and expressionless but reliable. When I bought my paper each day I got a nod and a scowl, and that was it.
Now the work has been done the pavements have become models of town planning. But we have had to wait a further few months for the return of the kiosk. It is now bigger and brighter, and the vendor of old too has changed. His customary scowl when I buy my paper is now a smile. Somehow his gesture has made him a street friend, just like the man in my favourite café and the woman behind the counter in the local deli. Just seeing them, and exchanging smiles and hellos makes for moments of happiness.
But while smiles and other fleeting events are important, as I see it they are not the stuff of real happiness which depends more on factors more substantial. It was with this in mind that around twelve years ago I wrote a list of those factors that made me happy in this more profound way, after all, being ‘generally happy’ is how I see myself (see my Greyhares bio). At that time I was still at work, in fact at the top of my game, and I concluded that having just five key elements would do the trick. Aside from a given – the love and comfort received from my close family – my list of elements read: ‘having creature comforts‘, ‘having autonomy‘, ‘having influence‘, ‘having those close to me happy‘ and ‘being valued‘.
I now see that this was a naive exercise and my list simplistic. Nevertheless, if I had to re-write it now, the elements would be different and shorter. For a start there would be just four: creature comforts and autonomy would remain but joining them would be ‘being healthy‘, and ‘having friends’ .
It so happens that at one of our regular get-togethers we, the six of us who make up the ‘thinking’ group, discussed ‘What are friends and what are they for?’ There was a consensus that for each of us friends were essential. We divided friends into those who were ‘close’ and those ‘close close’, to which I would now add the ‘street’ or ‘casual’ sort. Particularly essential were the close close variety, and as it turned out, each of us had seven or eight of these.
And how things change. When I was a younger, friendships did not have much moment, whereas now they are enormously important. Indeed, without them, in all of their various guises, life would be very hard to bear. Conversely, with them – particularly those close close – they provide the very fabric of happiness. And while the street friends in Paris will never be like of the fabric variety, their smiling presence and warmth contributes importantly to the happiness picture.
It is now clear to me that without friends life would be very hard indeed. And while the comfort and convenience of our Paris flat offers enormous pleasure, this is nothing compared to the happiness I get from my close close friends. Long live friends. Long live happiness.