Some of you may, even today, be poised to write ‘Happy Birthday’ on a card. Reader, hold thy pen! Consider what you are saying to the birthday boy or girl. There is an implied imperative. So what if my birthday is not in fact happy? What if it’s miserable? Am I therefore a failure (as well as another year older)? I reckon we need a less coercive rewrite: ‘Have a happy birthday, if you feel like it, or you are lucky enough to be happy, but really it’s not a big deal and if you’d rather be a total misery, then that’s fine too.’ I guess it’s never going to catch on. But the point made by Carl Cederström and André Spicer in their short, brilliant and bracing book is that we are now being called upon to be happy (and healthy, wealthy and sexually fulfilled) not just on our birthdays but on every other day of the year too. I might as well get it out there: to hell with happiness! Or rather: happiness is hell.
Living in paradise is definitely overrated. In my naive youth, I once bumped into a psychiatrist in Hawaii. ‘Where do you live?’ she asked. ‘England,’ I said. ‘You’re lucky!’ she said. Cue slack-jawed amazement. ‘How do you work that