Winning and losing: What can London 2012 tell us about ‘happiness’?

With the Paralympics promising to cheer us all up in the post-Olympic gloom, I consider what the successes and ‘failures’ of the Games – and the events as a whole – can tell us about being happier in our own lives

The Paralympics are just around the corner

The Paralympics are just around the corner

The London Olympics – is it just me, or do they already feel dismally distant? In the two weeks since the light quite literally went out on London 2012, the golden glow emanating from all us usually-grey, complaining Brits has faded almost as quickly as a tan on lightly-bronzed skin. But it’s OK, because in mere days, the Paralympics will arrive, and the joy will spread once more.

But this certainly poses the question: are humans are doomed to peaks of glory, in the pursuit of a goal – followed by a dismal trough of gloom once it’s all over, or we don’t get what we were after? Well, actually, no.

Admittedly, for two glorious weeks, Britons were pleasantly surprised. We were not, contrary to popular opinion, quite as rubbish as we thought. Traffic and public transport weren’t the carnage we’d been expecting, the weather (mainly) held out, Britain did damn well across the medals board, and the Opening Ceremony was a bonkers, ridiculous, fantastically-hilarious, toe-tapping conglomeration of the best of British. Twitter loved it. We all loved it.

Briefly, we experienced what it must be like to actually shake off the yoke of our usual, grumbling, bleakly-practical and self-deprecating state, and experience genuine, heartstring-pulling joy.

Yes, I found myself revelling in rhythmic gymnastics, welling up at running and drying my tears after dressage. I found myself laughing happily at the Mo Farah meme, and even reluctantly approving of the sell-out cosmetic ads from Pendleton and Ennis et al. despite their over-use of Photoshop on some of the officially most-honed bodies on the planet. And this, from someone who usually doesn’t give sport the time of day.

But since then, we’ve had more rain, more news on the deficit, separate cases of old men pontificating on young women’s bodies, massacre in the Middle East, titles being stripped, and the end of a legend. Despite every publication under the sun’s attempts at shoring up ‘Olympics withdrawal’, there’s no mistaking that the shine has gone. And, after the initial revival, when the Paralympics are also done and dusted, will that be the final story?

For those of us interested in a slightly happier state of affairs, is this the only thing we can learn from the Games? With the Paralympic Games just around the corner, and cheeky adverts from Channel 4 promising an even better show than the BBC extravaganza, are we destined for the same high and then perishing low of the previous set, only this time worse, because there are no more to come?

Are we destined to bounce between ‘fun event’ to ‘fun event’, but be miserable the rest of the time? Will we shuffle under our collective duvets, and, as winter encroaches, simply refuse to cheer up?
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How the Olympics brought me home

As the world focuses on London, I ask myself – is this what ‘home’ feels like?

Olympic rings - London 2012

Olympic rings – London 2012

Like half of the country, I’m currently a little bit in love with Danny Boyle, and the ridiculous, chaotic, bonkers, hilarious and politically-divisive show of history, culture, technology and Britishness that was the London Olympics Opening Ceremony 2012.

Unexpected and unfamiliar patriotic warmth suffused through me as I cried with laughter over Rowan Atkinson, gasped as old Queenie dived out of a helicopter ahead of a very delicious-looking Daniel Craig as Bond, applauded the defiant entrance of early 20th century suffragettes, punched the air at the NHS show, scratched my head slightly at the dancing nurses, cringed good-naturedly at the ‘social networking’ elements, nodded approvingly at Internet-inventor Tim Berners-Lee, and clapped along to the stunning run-down of British pop music through the decades before an incredible fireworks show topped it all off and it was over.

But even before that, before billions of eyes tuned in to watch my capital city’s spectacle, I’d been feeling oddly patriotic; oddly like this might actually be my home – a feeling that is very weird for me, and something that has only happened in the past few years. My history hasn’t exactly leant itself well to making someone feel at home; the inevitable question, ‘So, where are you from?’ isn’t an easy one for me to answer in the succinct way such a polite enquiry usually demands ‒ nobody really wants to provoke eye-rolling too soon in any relationship, after all.

But this feeling of displacement and worldwide belonging ‒ rather than a feeling of home ‒ goes back even before I was born, as my grandfather was British, but grew up in Argentina, and married a young Argentine woman from Mendoza, just outside Buenos Aires, where my father was born before moving with the family to Mexico and Colombia, and then ‘back home’ (whatever that means) to England. You’d be forgiven for thinking my mum is on simpler ground, and yet she was born in Hereford, grew up in Yorkshire, with a mother (my grandmother) whose maiden name is the very-German Kinder.

Personally, I was born in London, moved to Somerset aged two, moved around there for a bit before upping sticks entirely to the South of France for nine years, and then moving again to Madrid, before coming back to Britain aged 18.

And so began my sense that belonging, and nationality, isn’t quite the simple, monolithic thing it sounds. A ‘family home’ in the physical, familiar sense; ‘home friends’ who I’ve known since primary school, long-term ideas such as having ‘the family hairdresser’, a doctor who’s known you since infancy or memories of what the town used to look like – none of these things apply to me.

By the age of eleven I’d lived in four different houses – now aged 24, in my lifetime my parents have lived in eight; including two in France, one in Spain, and three in the UK. While, through being in an expatriate bubble in both France and Spain full of people who barely stay in the same place for six months at a time, I know people who have lived in far more countries, far more far-flung, alien nations, and far more houses than I have – but I just can’t comprehend the idea of living in one house in one place since childhood – it just doesn’t compute.

And when we first moved from the house in Somerset,  I remember crying terribly and sorrowfully, as only a six year old can, grasped by the fear that everything I called home was about to be ripped away. I don’t do that anymore – and not just because I’m older.

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