David Astle tells us to look at the word ‘happiness’: “There in the middle is the word ‘pin’, stabbed through the heart of happiness.”
Also in the middle there is ‘pine’: “We haven’t yet seen the wood for the feel good.”
“The longest word in happiness apart from happiness is ‘happen.’” David says they share the same old Norse mother, ‘Hap’, which means ‘luck’. “Happiness once meant luck, prosperity.”
“I can hear a pin drop,” David says. Everyone has their own PIN for happiness, their personal code.
“If you haven’t figured already, I am a word nerd.” David gives us his own surname as reason for this: there are eleven possible anagrams for his name.
“It thrills me to think that one contains the other, ‘A YOUNG LAD’ and ‘AN OLD GUY.’”
His favourite word is ACROBAT, for the zoo of animals is contains: bat, orca, crab, cat. It comes from the Greek akro, high, and batos, foot – high-footed, tightrope walking, ready to jump off into new possibilities.
“What is my ‘pin’ for happiness?” David asks. “It’s openness, playfulness.” For others it might be serenity, but David wants to add a ‘dip’ to our serenity – serendipity. This is one of the hardest words to translate. Most dictionaries define it as a happy accident.
David tells us about how he asked a class of students to find all possible connections between a bunch of grapes and a book. All the answers he was given were beautiful and correct, as was the experience of a German blacksmith who, in the 1400s, saw a grape-pressing machine and thought, ‘What if, instead of grape juice, it was ink, and the plates weren’t flat, but had movable type?’ The printing press was born from this association.
He quotes another German, Nietzsche, who said “The challenge for all of us to find maturity is to regain the seriousness of a child at play.” That tension between seriousness and play is intriguing.
“Play elicits multiple answers. Life demands multiple answers,” David says. “If we can connect cobras and acrobats, we may come across new ideas.” These new ideas could change our lives, and change the world.
“What if we invited homeless people to our conference, or just-released prisoners?” he asks. “What if we talked about misery and its causes?”
“We all have the power to see one thing and imagine another” David tells us. This mental flexibility allows us to create new doors, new possibilities.
David says that happiness is a happening thing. “I wish you all the very best luck.”
David Astle, Australia’s most popular wordsmith and crossword maestro for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age; author of Riddledom – 101 Riddles and their Stories presented this at Happiness & Its Causes 2016.