Can money buy happiness? - this week's competition question.
An interesting question, which I think is best answered by recalling a recent incident. For those of you who don’t know, I have a companion hedgehog named Timothy, whom I rescued from being culled for his parasites when it emerged he was able to communicate effectively in English. Timothy has helped promote my recently published book, and is never far from my side. One day we were taking a stroll in the Institute garden. I thought the walk might cheer him up, as he had been exhibiting signs of sadness since the New Year. I broached the subject, as we passed some wild daffodils, with a simple question. ‘Timothy, my good friend. Are you a happy hedgehog these days?’, I asked, nonchalantly.
Timothy stopped snuffling in the soil, turned his head towards my feet and said, ‘Well, Dr McCrumble. I’ve been feeling a little maudlin, if truth be told.’
‘What’s wrong, exactly?’, I asked, acutely aware that hedgehogs are particularly susceptible to dysthymia – a mood disorder that lasts for up to 2 years in humans (equivalent to 30 hedgehog years!). Once instigated, hedgehogs can become terribly withdrawn and refuse to co-operate. If Timothy were suffering dysthymia, I’d probably have to, er, let him go…
‘Well, I suppose the problem is that I’ve become a bit lonely’, answered Timothy, his deep voice carrying tones of melancholy. ‘I’m very grateful for all you’ve done for me, but, well, hedgehogs don’t respond very well to isolation. We have needs Dr McCrumble.’
I saw the problem immediately. Spring was fast approaching, and with it, Timothy’s mind had turned to thoughts of hedgehog love. ‘Wait here my friend,’ I said boldly. ‘I have a plan that might just help.’ With that, I took off into one of the neighbouring fields in search of a mate for my lonely insectivore.
I had to turn a few grumpy hedgehogs over to find a female, but eventually I came across one that looked like she might enjoy Timothy’s company. I returned as a triumphant cupid, and carried them both towards a secluded part of the garden, overlooked only by a young silver birch tree. ‘Have fun!’ I said breezily as I left them, snout-to-snout, behind a clump of grass (even hedgehogs value their privacy during intimate moments).
Two hours later I returned to find Timothy alone. His greeting was loaded with despondency, and I figured all had not gone well. Upon enquiring what had happened, Timothy revealed to me that his companion had demanded payment for services rendered, by way of six earth worms and two slugs*. This, he explained, was because he was now an outcast from hedgehog society, and thus no longer eligible for free-love**. He’d paid up and enjoyed his brief dalliance, but was now struck with shame that he’d resorted to such tactics just to find relief. ‘But I was happy for a few minutes at least, Dr McCrumble’ said Timothy, as he snuffled back towards his cage at the Institute.
‘I learnt important lessons today, dear’, I said to Dolores that evening whilst we tucked into our dinner.
‘Well done darling’, said my wife through a mouthful of stew. ‘What nuggets of knowledge did you acquire?’
‘I learnt not only that hedgehogs practice the oldest profession in the world, but also that happiness is a state-change brought on by a transient elevation of mood irrespective of the source. It wasn’t the payment that made Timothy experience feelings of joy, but a consensual act involving the exchange of bodily fluids.’
‘Just like every other bloke then,’ said my wife dryly. ‘A quick sniff and a poke, and happiness is guaranteed. Maybe the payment actually dampened the effect.’
‘Good grief Dolores, I think you’ve just hit the spot!’ I exclaimed. ‘If paying for things makes us less happy, we should perhaps abolish money. I mean, let’s face it, money can’t be a source of happiness when it is, in reality, the root of all evil. QED, I think.’
**Behavioural studies of wild hedgehog communities suggest that rutting is preceded by a brief courtship without gifts or payment.