“Happy: Why more or less everything is absolutely fine” by Derren Brown

I love reading books on philosophy because you are able to read them alongside other books. Unlike fiction where you have to keep a breast of where you are this book you can dip into.

Derren Brown is clearly not only an illusionist and performer he is also a great thinker.

My favourite philosopher is Alain De Botton and it is clear from this book that Derren loves him too from the frequent mentions throughout. If you are familiar with Derren he is down to earth and has the perfect balance of not being too stuffy but also not over simplifying.

The objective of the book seems to try and debunk self help books and to show you that a lot can be learned from reading ancient philosophy instead. He shows us the value of stoicism and useful emotional tips for when we are at our weakest. Derren Brown is incredibly charming in his prose and talks to you like I imagine he would his friends.

With regular nods to Schopenhauer another of my favourites he also shows us how we cannot trust ourselves to always be right about things.

Pick yourself up a copy and tell me what you thought!

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The world’s favourite poison

There is strong evidence that Alcohol contributes to a large number of illnesses such as Cancer, Heart disease, Obesity, Strokes, dementia (the list goes on). Back in the 80s there was limited evidence for this but in 2016 they discovered how damaging Alcohol is and changed Alcohol guidelines completely.

How it’s killing you

Now the Alcohol guidelines state that if you must drink alcohol then this would mean 14 units for men and women over the course of 3 days or more, this is the equivalent of a bottle and a half of wine over the course of a week. The guidelines state that this guidance is in place only if you must drink alcohol, it is truly recommended that you consume no alcohol to completely make yourself risk free.

Many drinkers will cling to the belief that Alcohol (specifically red wine) is good for you, but this is largely a myth. In red wine, there are ‘flavanoids’ which are found in grapes that in chemistry are known to target pathogens and free radicals in the blood stream helping with disease and possible cancer prevention. The issue is that the amounts of this chemical in alcohol is so minimal that the effect is therefore minimal. You can find flavanoids in many other plant based foods that have no risks of consumption at all. It feels like this is a poor excuse for drinkers to skirt around this issues alcohol contributes to.

Confidence booster

Many can see alcohol as a confidence tonic that they drink because it lowers inhibitions. I was one of the crowd that would partake in drinking games and going out partying and it always felt like the drunkenness was just a temporary feeling before nausea and light headedness kicked in. People will drink so much making themselves ill and tell themselves they need to do this to have a good time? I am of the belief that your company makes you have a good time or the places you visit contribute to a good time but alcohol is peripheral. My partner is significantly younger than me and we were socialising with her friends and she kept being asked “Have you drank enough yet, cause you don’t seem drunk enough?”. The friend then accusingly pointed at a glass of lemonade my partner was drinking and said “What is that?” My partner had to lie and told her it was a vodka and lemonade and then the friend settled down. This bizarre conversation shows how many people associate alcohol with a good time.

Friend of the Alcoholic
Taking the physically destructive nature of alcohol out of this for a moment, alcohol can damage people socially. There are countless examples of people turning into monsters when they’re drunk and lashing out at people. When they are in the dizzy heights of their alcoholic binge they are usually so drunk that they can’t remember what they said or did. If I pissed in the street and got taken away by the police whilst it was all being recorded by a local news team and aired on television I would be mortified. Many people would laugh at this behaviour and even applaud it. How many times have you heard someone say in a proud way “I got so pissed last night” and the person being told laughs. They instinctively laugh even before a story has been told? This only seems to work with intoxicating yourself, no one would ever say “Oh mate, I got so stuffed last night, I ate a whole tray of lasagne”.

People laugh but the moment you regularly drink for pleasure at what point do you stop being a regular party goer and start being labelled as an Alcoholic. You might find this view extreme, but every Alcoholic has to have gone through the same journey. I have read that one of the main drives for alcoholism is to try and find the perfect party again, usually the party found in ones youth. Unfortunately for the drinker they are waiting for this party but it never comes, and although they will tell themselves they are having fun they are destroying their lives.

Pain over Pleasure

I guess for many they will overlook the pain brought on by alcohol and decide that it is worth all of it, because it has convinced them that Alcohol is responsible for their good time. I am willing to accept that people enjoy alcohol and would never insist someone wouldn’t drink it. But in the same breath I would never insist they DO drink either! Just because you have delusions that your opiate are the keys to finding happiness doesn’t mean you get to dictate to me whether I want to inject myself with the same poisons.

I associate the urge to get pissed with youthful mentality. For many people hey cling to this youthful behaviour and confuse drunkenness with raw happiness that would have been achieved even without having the Alcohol in their system! I know people who are outraged by my remarks on alcohol. To them alcohol is their safety blanket their tonic that allows them to be silly, and have something to blame when their levels of self esteem return to their normal crushing lows. If you try hard enough you can build confidence and be the life of the party without touching a drop of alcohol.

Social props

I drink alcohol but only when I have to. I never drink at home and rarely drink when I go out. The only time I ask for alcohol is when I feel in the company of people who would judge me if I wasn’t drinking booze. I can sometimes lie and say the coke is actually a JD and Coke but this is my issue. Holding a glass of beer is a social prop that in this mad world is strangely accepted more than holding a glass of water.

A cliché expression is that a healthy body suggests a healthy mind. As we know health of someone cannot just be judged on appearance alone. Eat lots of fruit and veg, regular exercise, plenty of fresh air, and lots of kind and generous deeds to others. Altruistic behaviour doesn’t just have to be demonstrated through a round of drinks.

Am I the only one that likes Björk?

Björk is an acquired taste, and her music is very concept driven. I think that Björk has a perfect balance on how music is typically sold to us and how Art is presented to us. When you look at her album covers for example (which are a footnote compared to her overall achievements) every cover tells a story. Björk wanted her ‘debut album’ to personify her as a vulnerable girl coming into the dangerous industry of music, ‘Post’ was supposed to represent her break into fame with this girl being lost in the sea of fame where it is almost nauseating. Then you look at covers like ‘Homogenic’ where Björk no longer represents a person anymore but more a work of art herself almost as if to hint that her work and that fame she once craved is as John Updike once wrote “Like a mask that eats into the face”.

I was always aware of Björk when I was growing up but she was never a main focus for me because I was too young to be able to explore her art. Out of curiosity I bought her ‘Greatest hits’ which of course is actually more of a fan driven selection of must hear tracks. I was blown away by how much differing emotion there was! It was like an adventure not just of emotions, but the fun of trying to understand and deconstruct what Björk is trying to teach us. This album instantly inspired me to seek out the seperate albums which in their own right have so much to offer.

Björk is like no musician I have ever heard before, she has a style about her that has been widely borrowed from but has never been matched. You could make the assumption that Lady Gaga was inspired by Björk simply based on how she dresses up provocatively but musically the styles are very different. I also find Björk very unsettling and I think she played on this ideal at some points. 

Björk is not afraid to be sexual in her performances, she pokes fun at the concept in some works and lovingly uplifts it in others. Björk herself has a very childlike persona, Thom Yorke of radiohead loves Björk and when describimg her he said “her voice is very sexual but at the same time childish, she has a lot of power in her voice but you’re not afraid that it will do damage” her screeches are very much like a misbehaved child but she sometimes gets to points where she is just making noises and using her voice like an instrument, the sound she produces is beautiful.

Björk seems to be in control of her creative freedoms which is refreshing too. A notable point is that “Oh so quiet” has been one of her largest hits but this is a cover of a 50s song and the music video directed by Spike Jonze was a homage to old musicals. This song does stand out like a sore thumb on the album, but to me this feels like Björk showing us she can add something to any genre no matter how detached it is from her regular stomping grounds. Björk isn’t after fame, she is after creating something worthwhile, which is why this track felt more like an attention grabber!
Björk seems to breathe life into genres that she touches. Take the Sugarcubes for example, which were the band that she originally started in as a young adult, (if you don’t count when she was a child star producing traditional asian songs). The Sugarcubes were full of angst and punk style ‘fuck you’ lyrics. The band are very tongue in cheek and are great fun to explore but one song on that album “Birthday” became a gigantic hit in the UK when John Peel brought it to the radios as an imported track. Bjork shows off her incredibly vocal dynamics in this song and has impeccable accuracy when it comes to hitting ranges. Dance, electronica, hip hop, house, jazz, jungle, trip hop, they have all been inspired by her and she has dipped her toe into a variety of genres. Björk seems to forge new genres and blurs the lines between them, this is possibly down to the avant garte underground music in which she takes root. Björk is clearly not afraid to experiment, and this is what makes her music exciting.

Björk carries with her a great sense of humour and I particular love her appreciation of animator John K and particular 90s cartoon Ren and Stimpy. Björk had John K animate one of her music videos ‘I miss you’ which is very strange but great fun.

One of the rather sad things about Björk is that to date I have never met anyone who has listened to her music! I have tried to show her to people but they never have the urge to explore her music like I do. As much as it’s a shame it is a pleasure that I have had the chance to experience the beauty she brings to her work.
If you have any interesting points or would like to share favourite songs and what they mean to you please let me know.