Friday, January 20, 2012

Why Aren't The French Content?

Why aren't the French as happy as I think they should be? Maybe it's because they see themselves as intellectuals, always questioning, always doubting and yet, they admit happiness could be a good thing.

Maybe it's because I'm the foreigner in this wonderful land that I don't understand the seemingly constant grumbling that I see and hear. At a dinner party a Frenchman told me a joke. He said: "When God created France he knew he had created perfection and could never do anything better. He then thought I mustn't have absolute perfection on earth, so he created the French."

It's a joke.

Now, before I pull you into this story I must make a disclaimer or two. A post such as this would require a great deal of data and scientific support if it were to be done with strict attention to detail. Heaven knows that statistics and whatnot are out there, but after several hours sifting through the material I gave up trying to synthesize the information for this post. Please consider the following as "science light" sort of like Coke lite. I'll give you a gloss over without the solid foundation. If you're dying to have the hard facts, click here and once there you'll discover a zillion other sites that will bolster or denigrate that study.

According to a recent French Elle article which unfortunately gave me the idea to pursue the idea, the French really do want to be happy, but they fall somewhere around 46th in the world for serenity. That said, not surprisingly the "Happiness Project" best seller by Gretchen Rubin, which has been translated into French, seems to be capturing the imagination of a country which has every reason in the world to be happy, but somehow isn't quite.

The article takes us month-by-month on what we're told should guarantee le bonheur. A cautionary note before one sets out on the quest: It takes 30 days for the brain to adopt a new habit, that's why the month- by-month approach seems to work best. Too much happiness could result in an overdose or maybe even stress (!)

If you've gotten this far with me, let me make it easier for you to continue by using one of every journalist's favorite methods, lists. We just love them. If you want to up your happiness quotient you can pick and choose from below and sort according to whatever month your little heart desires.

1.)  A study shows the French sleep an average of six hours per night which can lead to extreme fatigue and depression. The solution? Two nights a week, lights out at 10:30.

2.) 20 to 30 minutes of exercise per day keeps the brain in top form. (You knew that.)

3.) According to author Florence Servan-Schreiber, eight physical contacts each day, i.e. hugs, kisses, a caress, makes us feel better, 12 contacts has the same effect as an opiate. Now that is interesting!

4.) Remember with our children, the days may be long, but the years are short. Do something fun every day. Create sweet memories.

5.) Do something creative. Anything. You don't have to be good at it, just do it.

6.) If you've stopped entertaining and spending time with friends. No matter how much effort it takes, throw a small dinner party. Make it simple, but make it.

7.) Be grateful for what you have -- I know, you've heard this before, but it bears repeating. When one is grateful, one is more tolerant of others. I find among my French friends a great deal of tolerance and charity toward others. They see and forgive human foibles.

8.) Question whether you really want more and more and more things.

9.) Make time for yourself; it's there. You'll figure out how to find it. You will be happier and your happiness will "rub off" on those around you.

10.) If you don't think you're happy and you have a litany of reasons to support that belief. . . well, then you're not happy. As one of my best friends said some time after her husband died, "I woke up one morning and I decided to be happy. It's a decision. I'm acting on it."

Now, you add to all of this excellent healthcare and transportation systems, cultural activities available at affordable prices and, of course the country's natural resources: cheese, wine, champagne, perfume, lingerie and all the rest and one -- a foreigner -- often wonders whether it's the spoiled child syndrome that is preventing true happiness.

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