It's a shock to return to the city after a gold September. If you have ever been trapped in a stairwell you must know the feeling: annoyance, frustration, perhaps even a slight edge of panic.
When I found myself stuck in the stairwell of a medical clinic recently, I was first surprised at the level of security—but of course locked doors and code-pads have become a fact of life. I did not even bother to grumble about fire safety, or curse the lousy cell phone coverage in my cement prison, I considered my options: I could go up or down. Both meant raising my voice (and blood-pressure) and undignified pounding on doors. Instead I decided to wait for the next person who entered the stairwell.
While I waited, I found myself looking at a three -foot graffiti message painted under the stairs.
Five Steps to Happiness.
The medical clinic I was visiting that day cares for some of the city’s most disadvantaged patients—poor, First Nations, many of them struggling with addictions. In my job as a public health epidemiologist I spend a lot of time worrying about HIV. Saskatchewan has the highest HIV rates in the country; this hasn't changed in ten years. About 65% of HIV positive individuals in this province are First Nations or Metis. Mortality among HIV patients in our area is almost 20%.
Happiness to many of these individuals would possibly be a fringe benefit to survival. For the thousands who have historically received less from Canada—less opportunity, less employment, less wealth, less health---the working definition of happiness is surely different.
But it's a pretty simple recipe and a foolproof one at that. To give up prejudice and hatred, to suspend worry and doubt about the future, to be more present and more aware of what we have to be thankful for, to give more of ourselves--this could be what it takes.For those whose more urgent challenge is to find the next meal, a place to sleep, getting their kids back from social services, happiness may indeed fall to step five alone. The lowest common denominator. Expect less. In a way, however, expecting less explains why little progress has made on issues like poverty and HIV. We have not expected more of ourselves or our government. Instead we have fortify ourselves against crime, fueled ourselves with hatred and racism, worried about our belongings, railed about our hospitals being overcrowded and unable to serve our needs, cast ourselves to the future, tightened our belts--and expected more.
It is taking us a long time to read the writing on the wall.
Judith Wright is a Canadian writer interested in ordinary wisdom, that is, insight gained through everyday experience that is shared with the wider world.