*The Easy Virtue

One of the few things about humanity that I cannot understand is the existence of people who find it ‘hard to stop smiling’ and who ‘love life’. What I find equally as mystifying are those who ‘always see the best in others’ and ‘never say a bad word about anybody’. I have to be honest; none of these characteristics seems to me to be a mark of high intelligence.

Let’s start with those who, as Patti Newton once said of herself on national television, find it hard to stop smiling. What can possibly be happening to them that they feel so very wonderful all the time? Whenever I catch sight of my face in repose, I see that, like any sane person, I most closely resemble the widowed Queen Victoria. And what these individuals need to remember is that, despite what certain songs would have us believe, many people when smiling are not too far removed in appearance from a death’s head.

Closely aligned to those who find it hard to stop smiling – in fact, usually one and the same – are those who ‘love life’; that is, the people you see in telemovies who are so keen to beat cancer. That’s possibly fair enough if you’re eight years old, but not when you’re forty and so have a fair idea of what it’s all about. What is it that they love so much? Is it buying breakfast on their way to work, and, for their trouble, getting coffee that’s barely warm and toast that’s burnt? Is it websites being redesigned, just when they thought they truly understood how to use them, and then never functioning so well again? Is it having a colleague appear, wanting to chat, while they’re waiting for the lift at the end of the working day, and then discovering that you’re both off to the same railway station that’s a good ten minutes away even without taking into account all the ‘Don’t Walk’ signs certain to be encountered? Is it the way their new umbrella breaks in the first strong wind? Is it being ripped off when they try to sell their books to a second-hand dealer? Is it their favourite television shows subjecting them to those hateful episodes when the cast go on location and then the story is split over two nights? What seems to elude the in-love-with-life set is that life is almost invariably just so annoying.

And then there are those who always see the best in other human beings and never say a bad word about anybody. How can this be when there is generally so much that’s bad to say? Doesn’t it, at best, show a lack of discernment? When it comes to people who need to have bad words said about them, I’m not even going to start with, for instance, Idi Amin, I merely mean those who make a point of never listening to gossip; those who write letters deploring materialism to broadsheet newspapers; those, who, although not visibly disabled, creep along busy city thoroughfares at peak hour; or actors who start appearing in movies of indifferent quality because they want to be in something their ‘kids can watch’.

It’s possible that those who feel so favourably towards life and other people are simply much wiser than I, but I doubt it. For me, their existence raises the riddle, yet again, that if a person could elect to be much more stupid but also a great deal happier, should they make the trade?

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