The floor below me, in my apartment on Avenue du Parc in Montreal, lived a Quebecois man in his mid 40s, maybe a little older. He chain-smoked and played French language hard rock at volume levels that shook my furniture, not incessantly—in the manner of a natural born asshat, but periodically—in the manner of a man determined to live freely, occasionally unconstrained by social convention. We’d bumped into each other enough coming and going to recognize each other, but he was never easy to miss.
Three seasons, my downstairs neighbour walked his dog up and down the avenue shirtless, long and greasy grey hair halfway down his naked back. He wore the same pair of jean shorts, either homemade or highly haute couture because the cutting was so uneven that the threads and jagged strips created almost a zig zag pattern most distinctive. His dog was as big as he was; often they gave the appearance of a dog walking his master. I wasn’t working and was supposedly writing a dissertation; and he didn’t work, so I saw him quite often, and, whenever I did, he was always smiling huge. As he walked, his head swivelled with this smile, as though he wanted to include the whole world in his happiness and make sure no one missed out on his joy. Shirtless in the sun, pulled up and down Parc Avenue by this enormous dog, to and from his shitty, rundown one-bedroom with no soundproofing at all.
I was walking along Parc with friends from school when we passed him, looking as I’ve just described him, the happiest person alive, and so I pointed him out. I said something like, “I would be totally ok if I ended up like that.”
They disagreed with me. They thought happiness without ambition was an illusion, and also that no one who ended up in an apartment as rundown as mine could ever be truly happy in the long-run. These were then, as they remain, fair points. But all of the happiest people I’ve ever known, or seen, live in basic apartments in culturally diverse urban neighbourhoods. They seem capable of summoning the most immense happiness by doing nothing so much as strolling the streets. On the other hand, many of the most successful people I’ve known, in their posh houses and positions of privilege, look like they want to gouge out their own eyes with a fork no matter how much they earn or how they spend it.