Short Story: “The World’s Happiest Person”

A woman knocks on Bernard’s door and tells him he’s won an award.

Portrait of worried looking senior man. © Erickson Stock /

March 24, 2024 23:12 EDT

Something to consider while reading/listening: Would you want to know how happy you are relative to other people?

“I’m terribly sorry, I was in the garden,” said Bernard opening the door with a certain resignation. This smiley young woman with a gold-colored lanyard and clipboard was probably going to ask him to set up a direct debit for a charity. And Bernard was almost certainly going to accept. Great Ormond Street. The Air Ambulances. Refuge. They’d all come to Bernard’s door and left with a sale.

“Gardening,” said the woman with the golden lanyard, “I suspected as much. The sunshine, the closeness to nature, the responsibility over primitive life. I’m sure yours is resplendent.”

“Oh no,” said Bernard, “I plant a few things here and a few things there.”

The woman shrieked and smiled even more so than before. “Modesty as well,” she said, “Why am I not surprised?

“Sorry,” said Bernard, “can I help you?”

“Politeness too,” she said, making another note on her clipboard. “Twice now you’ve said the word sorry though you have nothing to apologize for. I imagine you never want to put anyone out, do you Mr. Appleby? I suspect you eat well don’t you but not obsessively? Exercise, but not too much? How’s your digestion? I bet it’s terrific.”

“I’m uh… it’s uh… regular, yes.”

“And your profession? Retired?” He nodded. “Of course you are.” She made another note.

“I was a school taker for thirty-five years.”

“Mmm. A sense of purpose, responsibility. And you got to use your hands, your body.”

Never in Bernard’s life had anyone ever taken so much interest in him. He’d never met this woman before but here she was at his door. Delighting in every facet of his life.

“Here you are Mr. Appleby.” And from a pocket in her waistcoat, she pulled out a small copper disk. It was old and worn. It had an inscription on it which Bernard couldn’t quite read.


“Sorry,” he said, “what uhm…?”

“It’s your award, Mr. Appleby sir. That’s why I’m here.”

He laughed. “I haven’t won an award. I’ve never won an award.”

“Well that’s what I’m here to tell you,” she said. “This is the award for The Happiest Person in the World.”

“Oh, I see.” And he was genuinely impressed at how convincing she sounded. “This is some sort of joke.”

“No, no. Not at all. Here’s my accreditation.”

She showed him her ID card, dangling at the bottom of her golden lanyard. It had a picture of her with her beaming smile. And the words, “Sandra Bright, Director General (UK), The Global League for Assessing Delight.”

“We monitor happiness,” she said. “That’s what we do. Other companies might take your personal details. All we do is take your happiness. We monitor the levels of every person in the entire world and we hand out this award to the happiest. It’s not been a Brit for over fifty years so this is the first one I’ve ever presented, and I’m pretty chuffed about it, Mr. Appleby, though not as happy as you I’d imagine. Ey, ey.”


“I don’t know what to say,” said Bernard.

“You don’t have to say anything.”

“The Happiest Person in the World?”

“Yes you are. Yes you are. And this is all the more wonderful, Mr. Appleby, because our records indicate you were once one of the world’s unhappiest three hundred million people. So to get from there to here in just, what is it, eleven years, I mean it’s remarkable.”

“One of the…?”

“One of the unhappiest three hundred million, yes. You were down there with the starving, victims of torture, and fans of Tottenham Hotspur.”

“Eleven years ago?”

“That’s what it says here.”

Bernard nodded. “That’s when my first wife passed.”

“Sorry to hear that.”

“No, no.”

“Sometimes these great sadnesses can give us a layer of resilience other people don’t have. Remarried are you?”

“Last year.”


“One daughter. She’s in her first year at Cambridge.”

“Knock me down with a feather.”

“First in the family to even go to university. I don’t know where she gets it from.”

“It tallies, it all tallies. We don’t hold any private information you know. All we know is the happiness levels. But, well, if I may say, you do fit the mould.”

“Sorry, would you like to come in?”

“There you go again, you see, politeness.” She whacked him affectionately on the shoulder. “Putting others ahead of yourself. No, I won’t keep you Mr. Appleby.”

“So… uhmm… is there a ceremony or…?”

“No, no. We don’t do ceremonies or any publicity at all. That’s why you haven’t heard of us. No one has. Except the winners. You’re relieved, aren’t you?”

“I am a bit.”

“Wouldn’t want any fuss?”

“Ah well, I mean…”

“Classic, classic. All the… If I had a bingo card, Mr. Appleby, I’d be well on my way to a column. Ooh, do I detect a fellow bingo player in my midst?”

He felt himself flush. “Uh… well, I do uh… I uhm, I’m the caller at a local residential home.”

“Of course you are. You do lots of volunteering, I suppose?”

“Uhm… not so much, not so much. Bits and bobs at the Church, you know. But aside from that.”

“The Church. The Church. I’d be calling it now, Mr. Appleby. I’d be calling Bingo. I’d have to. All the ingredients are there. Is yours a fiery and unwavering faith in the almighty is it, Mr. Appleby?”

“No, no,” he said, “I always like to keep an open mind.”

“Of course you do, of course you do. Look, I’ve taken up too much of your time.”

“Oh don’t worry.”

“You enjoy your award now.”

“I’ll do my best.”

“You take care.”

“And you.”

Bernard closed the door behind her and looked again at the dirty copper disk. Had that conversation really just happened? Was he, Bernard Appleby, seriously the happiest person in the entire world? And if so, shouldn’t he be jumping for joy, popping the Champagne, knee-sliding along the grass outside?

He went upstairs and retrieved his mobile phone from the bottom drawer of his desk. It was an old Nokia that could only do calls and texts. He turned it on and, once it had loaded up, dialed his daughter’s number.

The phone rang out. So he called again. And again.

“Yeah,” came the answer at last.

“Flora,” he said, “it’s dad.”

“Yeah, I know.”

“How are you getting on?”

“What do you want?”

“Ah well. Nothing, don’t worry.”

“What is it? It’s not Pickles?”

“No, no,” he laughed. “The cat’s fine. Uhm… it’s silly really but uh…” And he explained what had just happened.

“Dad,” she said, “have you checked you’ve not been burgled?”


“Was this woman with the big smile distracting you so someone could burgle the house?”

“Oh uhm… No, no.”

“Have you checked?”


“Check dad, check. They could’ve snuck in round the back while you were at the front door. Pickles is a pure breed and I’ve heard there are groups who go around and…”

“No, Flora, listen…”

“I’ve got to go dad. Text me when you’ve checked.”


She hung up.

Bernard did as his daughter asked. He checked the house, checked the side gate, found the cat sleeping peacefully underneath the picnic bench. And he called his wife. The wonderful Stella who he’d met six years ago, when he’d given up any hope of ever finding love again. Stella had rebuilt Bernard’s confidence piece by piece. If this was a genuine award, it was hers as much as his.

“Hiya,” she said.

“Stella, it’s me.”

“You durnt have to say that, love. I know it’s you, your name comes up.”

“Stella, do you think I’m the happiest person in the world?”

“You been drinking?”

He explained what had happened and she laughed hysterically. “In the world, Bernie. The happiest person in the world? What about millionaires? What about super models? Sports stars? How could you…? You are winding me up?”

“She says they don’t have any information apart from…”

“You don’t believe her, do you? She’s on a wind up, she must be.”

“I am very happy,” he said. And he couldn’t help laughing himself.

“I know you are petal. And this is adorable but…”

“She said gardening is a big…”

“If I have to hear about that sodding garden one more time.”

“She knew I was… eleven years ago… my numbers were very low. But… meeting you… I…”

“Stop it, will you? I’ve just had me lunch. Don’t wanna throw it up. I’ll grab a bottle on the way home and we’ll have a good chuckle about this, eh? Happiest man in the world. You do make me laugh.” (Hangs up)

Not just the happiest man, he said to himself, the happiest person in the world.

He googled the organisation. The Global League for the Assessment of Delight. And nothing came up. But then she… Sandra Bright, the Director General (UK) had said they don’t do publicity.

He decided to put it on Facebook, just to see if anyone could shed any light.

But what’s my password? He thought. Oh good, the computer’s done it for me. Oh no, incorrect. I need to… what’s this? Send a password reset to my email. Ok. Not a problem. Can’t see it in the email. Refresh page. Refresh page. Refresh page… Ah, there it is. Here we go. New password. Very clever. That was easy enough. Ok, I’m in. Not posted for, ooh, eleven years. That’s uh… here we go.’

He took a picture of the copper disk. Added a brief explanation and pressed post.

Then he made himself a cup of tea, and asked Pickles the cat if she thought he was the happiest person in the world. “I must be, right Pick? Free to sit with you and drink tea in the middle of the afternoon. It’s not a bad life.

“Now then, let’s have a look at my post. Zero likes. Zero comments. Ok. Well… you’d think somebody would uh… Refresh page. No, still zero.”

He scrolled down and saw something from Alan Clark, his old neighbor. A joke about someone robbing a bank. And not a particularly pleasant one either. Fifty-two likes, Bernard said aloud, “For that. And mine… refresh page… still zero.”

He saw a post from Stella. She does like Facebook. Pictures of the two of them. In Tenerife. On a River Cruise along the Thames.

Oh dear, thought Bernard, maybe that’s why nobody’s liking my… A lot my friends on here are joint friends with Scarlett. Maybe they don’t… the idea of me with another woman. It has been eleven years, I… Surely they’d want me to meet someone else. I… I’m being silly, being very silly.

“Refresh page. Still zero.

Log out. Log out. Log out, Bernard. Come on, man. Although, what was it that I was posting eleven years ago? Oh dear. Oh no.”

He looked back on his own timeline, eleven years ago. Political rant after political rant. Complaints about his internet provider. Screenshots of companies making grammar errors. This person was useless. That person was horrible.

He didn’t recognize himself. The passion. The vitriol.

“Come on Bernard,” he thought, “I can’t beat myself up, that was a difficult time. That was the hardest time of my… of my…”

“Oh dear,” he thought, “That must be what some of my old friends still think of me. No wonder my new post is… Refresh page. Still zero.”

Bernard closed the laptop and there was a ring at the door. As he approached, he could see the gold shimmer through the glass and he felt his spirits rise at the thought of another conversation with Sandra Bright.

But this time she wasn’t smiling. Her face was solemn, stony. She couldn’t look him in the eye.

“Fraid we’re gonna have to take that back, Mr. Appleby,” she said.


She nodded. “Fraid so.”

“You’re not… you’re joking.”

She took a deep breath. “Our numbers are updated in real time you see. And, since I gave you this award, I’m afraid to say you’ve dropped from happiest person in the world to six hundred and thirty seven million, one hundred and sixty one thousand, three hundred and forty seventh happiest person in the world. Still not bad but…

“Come on,” said Bernard, “I…”

“You’re miles away mate. And oh dear…” she was looking at something on her clipboard. “It’s getting worse. You’re not even in the top billion now. Go on, hand it over.”

Bernard felt his hand tightening its grip on the disk. “Why should I?” he said.

She shook her head. “This award is for the happiest person in the world. You’re not even close.”

“I was until you knocked on my door.”

“Oh yes,” she said. “Blame the messenger. That’s the route to happiness alright. Come on, I won’t ask you again.”

No, shove this, thought Bernard. I won it, I’m keeping it.

“I won it,” he said, “I’m keeping it.”

“Now don’t make this difficult.” And she pounced. Sandra Bright dropped the clipboard and used one hand to grab Bernard’s right wrist while using the other to prize open his fingers.

“What do you think you’re doing?” He said. “Get off. Get off.”

“Let go, Mr. Appleby. This award is the property of the GLAD.”

“You gave it to me.”

“And now I’m taking it back.”



“Stop it.”

“Just doing my job.”

“Stop it, stop it, stop it.”

The disk fell from Bernard’s hand and struck the pavement. Sandra scurried after it, picked it up and secured it in the pocket of her waistcoat. “I’m sorry it’s come to this,” she said, “I hope you have a wonderful rest of your day, Mr. Appleby.”

“How can I?” said Bernard. He folded his arms and clenched his teeth. “You come to my house, give me this award and then take it back? I didn’t ask for it, I didn’t want to get laughed at by my wife and daughter and go on Facebook and find that nobody’s interested in anything I do. I was having a great day until you came along and now you’ve ruined it. It’s an outrage. It’s an absolute outrage.”

Sandra Bright collected her clipboard from the floor, reconnected her lanyard which had popped apart in the struggle, looked Bernard straight in the eyes, and said, “Oh cheer up, you miserable old sod.”

[Doe Wilmann first released this piece on his short story podcast, Meaningless Problems.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.


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