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Lighten your load: The possession-free route to happiness

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Happiness in 2018? Despite the hoopla that swamps us, there are no degrees of happiness or contentment, not this year or next. For happiness in the 21st century, try advertising based on fear or guarantees of perfect bliss, and you’ve pretty well covered all the utopian hype ever invented.

Happiness as a commodity can be bought and sold: Get Wonder Woman Anti-ageing Cream, or you’ll be unwanted and alone at 22; buy Triad Casino Insurance, or you’ll wind up broke and homeless; take a Pointless Cruise to Nowhere for memories so vivid, you’ll believe you’re retired in Tahiti with Miss Universe.

Contentment for me is less complicated. Happiness, or at least one form of it, weighs 6.5 kilogrammes. That’s my backpack, when I check in at the airport to go hiking.

The standard free baggage allowance used to be 20 kilogrammes. Today it’s 30, with ‘stuff’ freaks arriving with five suitcases and a belligerent argument. If they could take a hundred it wouldn’t suffice, what with a complete wardrobe for Abu Dhabi, Antarctica and the sodden hills of Assam, plus a lumbering labyrinth of electronic paraphernalia to see them through the next few generations of techno gossip.

A preoccupation with weightlessness

For me, stuff became more burdensome than a full-time job. The backpack obsession began ages ago on the Camino de Santiago trail, where everyone was fixated by the load on their back. An American I walked with had a super-light bag made specially. He had even cut half the handle off his toothbrush; a neat Himalayan trick but a bit over the top for 30 kilometres a day on the plains of Spain. That his pack weighed less than mine was testament to a preoccupation with weightlessness you’d find only at NASA.

Still, I outpaced him, leaving him in the dust after sneaking out of the dorm at 3am and hitting the road. Disgraceful, I know, but I have enough trouble dealing with my contumacious self to worry about the injured feelings of an annoyingly monomaniacal Yank.

I’ve discussed such weighty matters with numerous trail walkers. They are all surprised at how little it takes to have the best month of their lives: a few Euros, a change of clothes, Band Aids and, in my case, a handkerchief size towel. What more could anyone need? But meaningful philosophy is easily overwhelmed by a return to the daily round, and the inevitable daily accumulation of junk.

A few weeks ago, the couple next door moved out of their 850-square foot flat. Downstairs, a removal man was counting the boxes: 183, plus enough furniture to fill the Palace of Versailles. Having chucked out all my books a few years back, I was elated to find I could move home with a backpack and a supermarket trolley. So here’s my advice: If you’re pursuing happiness in 2018, don’t stash it, trash it (in the appropriate recycling bin, of course). Happy New Year!


Peter Sherwood has lived in DB for 18 years. The former head of an international public relations firm, Peter is the author of 15 books and he has written around 400 satirical columns for the South China Morning Post.

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