Joy: An apologia
Culture Vulture, under the blighted influence of the tragic anti-hero of Nathanael West’s depression-era masterpiece, Miss Lonelyhearts, has become obsessed with happiness. Or more precisely, the expression of happiness.
I mean, the universe is this incredibly big, complicated, scary and painful place, and yet those of us lucky enough to have the time to sit and read a free weekly newspaper are, for whatever reason, doing OK within it.
But it’s so easy to take for granted, and so difficult to publicly admit, that one is happy, content or comfortable. Public displays of joy, like public displays of affection, are so unfashionable and uncool that one feels positively gauche just walking down the street with a smile on one’s face.
And if we encounter a smiling stranger perambulating down a sunlit sidewalk, we’re as likely to be suspicious of their character and motives as we are to simply smile back in mutual acknowledgment of the pleasantness of the circumstances.
What’s up with that guy, we wonder, cynically speculating on what manner of artificially induced altered state of consciousness could compel a person to wander the streets smiling at strangers.
And that brings us to the crux of the problem of defining and expressing joy: Like every other human emotion joy is ultimately a solitary experience; but, also like every other human experience, happiness can only be arrived at by interacting and collaborating with forces and entities perceived as being exterior to one’s self.
Forces and entities such as the lovely I. Daphne St. Brie, with whom I was discussing this topic mere days ago.
“You know,” she said, with sunlight filtering becomingly through tendrils of her strawberry blond hair as we drove toward the Grocery Outlet. “I’m an intelligent, inquisitive person, but I just can’t figure out the whole religion thing. Yesterday I was driving up Neal Road to work and the sun was shining on the clouds and it was just gorgeous out. I was listening to Midnight Oil and Peter Garret was singing, ‘Everybody says, God is a good man,’ and of course the first thing I thought was, who says that God is a man? And why do they think He’s good? I mean, if God created everything, He’s obviously not all good. But then I looked at how beautiful it was out and how good the music sounded and I thought, ‘You don’t always have to explain everything or know why or how it’s happening. Sometimes you just have to accept on faith that you’re allowed to experience a moment of joy and peace despite everything else that’s going on in the world.’ And I thought about how some people spend their entire lives worrying about God and the meaning of reality and everything, and I realized I don’t have to do that. I realized that by knowing I don’t have to worry about that kind of stuff I have so much more time to do other things. It put me in a really good mood.”
Gazing at my darling and absorbing the natural wisdom that emanates from her like a soothing mist, I felt happy, content and comfortable. I was still feeling that way the next day as I walked down Second Street with a smile on my face. If you saw me and wondered about it, that’s why.
I was having a moment.