00:00 Saturday 05 July 2008  Written by Nora Strong

11th in World League Table !

IRELAND ranked 11th in World Happiness League Table recently. This is of considerable relief to Irish social scientists who might have worried that Irish people are not as happy as they could be.

There is some evidence, it seems, that wealth does not make you happy. Worse still, there is some evidence according to Richard Layard, the founder-director of the Centre for Economic Performance (based in the London School of Economics) that, in a cluster of western countries, rises in income per head do not cheer people up one little bit, but make them miserable. In the Happiness League Table the UK came 41st and the USA came 43rd.

The results were not based on economic growth, property prices, standards of living or generally getting rich, but based on what people said when they were asked how happy or sad they were.

Layard contends that over recent years, the consumer society has become dominant and yet happiness has declined. "We are richer, healthier, have better homes, cars, food and holidays than we did half a century ago. Unemployment and inflation are low, and yet so are levels of reported happiness" he says. Continuing, he contended this was particularly so in societies where there was a break up of the family and growing fear of strangers and other people in general - most noticeable in the USA.

Of course there are wails of derision from sceptics but it appears that psychological researchers found a close correlation between reported happiness and activity in the cerebral cortex.


Whatever the truth of it I met a man recently who seems to have cracked it. Willie Evans, a West Cork man, looked contented to me when I went to visit him with Claire and Mike. Willie keeps rare breeds of birds - chickens, geese, fowl of every shape, size and colour you could imagine. When Claire asked him if he sold them at all he said that sometimes he did but rarely. You got the feeling that he had no great desire to become rich and famous, more that he was content to enjoy these wonderful birds and share this pleasure with any who cared to, without gain or favour.

He had hens - the lovely black glossy Cochin or Cochin China, originally known as the Chinese Shanghai; Rhode Island Reds; White Pekin and many others. He had geese - Egyptian geese, most probably introduced to this country three centuries ago; Hawaiian geese - unique in the goose family, as they spend little time on the water, too lazy perhaps so not surprisingly are on the endangered species list.

Willie Evan's garden reminded me of Slimbridge Wetland Centre where the Hawaiian goose was brought back from extinction though once reintroduced to Hawaii it soon failed again, perhaps to the wily mountain fox.

Willie Evans also nurtures Barnacle geese, which have such striking black and white plumage, Bar-headed geese which migrate over Mount Everest - how do they find enough oxygen to fly? He has Emperor geese too, all running in their own natural habitat in the wilds of West Cork.

I loved the little guinea fowl strutting about in the grass and Willie was kind enough as to give us some eggs. He says they are the best of all eggs and I found them to be superb. They were so fresh and the yolks so yellow from the free range nature of the diet these sweet birds are lucky enough to feed from.

I made an Eve's pudding with two of them -

For the filling

2 large cooking apples, peeled, cored and roughly chopped

1 tbsp lemon juice 2 tbsp water

20g/3?4 oz butter 2 tbsp caster sugar

For the topping

75g/3oz butter 100g/4oz caster sugar

100g/4oz self-raising flour 2 free-range eggs, lightly beaten

1 tbsp boiling water

To serve

yoghurt, cream or custard.

Pre-heat the oven to 180C/350/Gas 4.

Cook the apples in a saucepan with the lemon juice and water for about 5 minutes then add the butter and caster sugar. Transfer to a 900ml/1?2 pint ovenproof dish, about 5cm/2in deep and leave it to cool while you prepare the topping. Cream together the butter and caster sugar until fluffy and light then fold gently in the flour and egg in alternate spoonfuls until blended. Add a spoonful of boiling water to the mix then spoon it over the apples. Cook in the oven for 30-35 minutes or until the topping is puffy and golden.


Back in Willie Evans' garden the birds ambled and grazed throughout the farm while we wended our way amongst all sorts of interesting flowers embellishing and hiding the rigorous and carefully built fencing protecting his treasures from marauders.

One scented white rose was Bobbie James which scrambled over the garden. Another was Rambling Rector also so fragrant and described as a rampant rambler renowned for its vigour, being smothered in double, white clusters of flowers with yellow centres.

Willie's garden takes you from one 'room' to another till you have no idea where you started - a fish pond here, a greenhouse there, and finally he took us to a small, perfectly painted, building. Here Willie Evans has a meeting once a month as he is a member of the Faith Mission.

There is some research suggesting people with religious beliefs tend to be happier and less stressed than those without. Surveys by Gallup, the National Opinion Research Centre and the Pew Organisation conclude that spiritually committed people are twice as likely to report being 'very happy' than the least religiously committed people although why that might be is not discussed.

Happiness for me is to look at the row of Mimulus that Willie Evans gave to me as I left his enchanted garden, flowers that are bright yellow with reddish brown patterns on the petals.

Strangely enough some say that Mimulus is the remedy for known fears. Fear of worldly things, illness, pain, accidents, poverty, of the dark, of being alone or of misfortune - the fears of everyday life. It is said to help people who quietly and secretly bear their dread, though they do not freely speak of it to others. It is one of the Bach Flower remedies that are available from health food shops.

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