Seriously, since when did we all decide that we need to be fucking happy all the time? Recently, happiness hasn’t been something you work towards, it hasn’t been treated as a welcome result of actually doing worthwhile stuff, it’s no longer something that you practice or a mountain that you climb. Now, you have to be happy as a default state of mind, you owe it to yourself to just be fucking delighted twenty four hours a day. The very concept of happiness has changed. Happiness used to be a result of your general situation, with happy friends and a happy family in a happy community. You were happy because the general situation was exceptionally acceptable. Now, you’re encouraged to simply ignore and avoid all bad feelings, to stick your fingers in your ears and ignore however your friends, family and community might feel. Just make sure that you’re happy. Now we’re encouraged to pursue and gorge on happiness for happiness’s own sake. Be happy! Be happy! Be happy!
Hey, and guess what, while I’m writing this exit polls for the UK election have just been released:
In 2019, I’m supposed to reject all negative thoughts and ensure that I still feel happy, rather than properly react to it. There isn’t a better time to write a blog post about how all this is absolute bullshit.
Your happiness is important now as an abstract notion to force your consumption. Enforced ‘happiness’ the marketing breakthrough of the past decade. The best sellers list is full of books like ‘Zen and the Art of Ignoring Benefit Cuts‘, ‘Good Vibes or Cancer, Your Choice‘ and ‘Everything is Ignorable‘. We’re sold comfort blankets and £12’000 Lego playsets and other infantalising nonsense to help block out the adult world and retreat to our safe spaces of childhood. Remember when you were a baby? Life didn’t crush your spirit back then, did it? Buy yourself a fidget spinner and an ‘adult colouring book’! Block out the horror that’s been built around you! Be happy! Be happy! Be happy!
It’s now such an imperative to be happy, to reject all bad thoughts, that it’s no longer clear what happiness is. It’s certainly not just something you feel, it’s not that quiet satisfaction you get when you’re free to release a massive fart in an empty room (as happiness was officially defined by the Royal Linguistics Society between 1924 and 1978), that kind of happiness is useless, nobody knows about it, no company can market its products to it, it some real tree falling in the forest shit. Who gives a shit if that tree’s happy? I mean, it’s unlikely. It just fell over. Nobody’s happy when they fall over. Rather, now you’re encouraged to appear happy, to look like you haven’t got a care in a world that’s 100% things worth caring about. You can’t show any sadness, or disappointment or, y’know, reality or it’s like admitting a major fault in your character. Why aren’t you as happy as me? Didn’t work hard enough? Gaze upon my Instagram filters over champagne bottles being inserted into a beautiful Sherpa’s anus as the sun rises over Mount Everest. Look at my experience! Look at my happiness!
Happiness didn’t used to be this aggressively pushed necessity, this intensely crucial experience, this essential mania. Epicurus- one of those beardy old Greeks that you used to pretend to know all about at university house parties because it would totally make people want to have sex with you- had a way more chill view on happiness back in the ‘Original Summer of Love’ in around 300BC. When everyone’s running around in togas and fighting dinosaurs, you’re naturally going to develop a way more stoic outlook. Epicurus- the most epic of all these dinosaurs- defined happiness as simply the lack of aponia- body boo-boos- and ataraxia- mental boo-boos. A little over 2000 years ago ‘happiness’ was basically defined as ‘things not being fucked up’. This definition held until the Declaration of Independence in 1776. When Thomas Jefferson punched an alien in the face before promising “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Welcome to Earth’ he wasn’t advocating the pursuit of Snapchatted snowboarding holidays and iPod ‘mindfulness’ apps. Happiness didn’t really involve any material element at all, in the 18th century if your genitals hadn’t rotted off through syphilis and you hadn’t lost sight in both eyes (because of the syphilis) then you could consider yourself rather fortuitous and hence ‘happy’.
In fact, when the word ‘happy’ first appeared in English sometime in the 14th century (for you history buffs, this is post Battle of Hastings but pre-funny fat man killing wives. Basically ‘Peak Black Death’) it actually meant something close to ‘lucky’ (possibly related to ‘happenstance’), as back in ‘The Dark, Smelly Ages’ people thought that God controlled absolutely anything, so any decent thing that ever happened (and decent things almost never happened in ‘The Dark, Smelly Ages’) was entirely down to just being lucky that the crazy Catholic God happened to be in an unusually good mood that day. Seriously, we’re going to have to stage an intervention for ‘The Dark, Smelly Ages’ about their boyfriend God, that does not seem like a healthy relationship at all. The word ‘happy’ didn’t mean… y’know… happy until the 16th century (Tudors! Sex! Gunpowder!) before Thomas Hobbes really got the ball rolling in 1651 (mostly civil war, not a classic year) by writing that Leviathan that happiness is the endless pursuit of desire. The filthy git. ‘The felicity of this life consisteth not in the repose of a mind satisfied. For there is no such finis ultimus nor summum bonum as is spoken of in the books of the old moral philosophers.’ Filthy! From Hobbes’s dirty old writings about pursuing desire and ‘summum bonum’ (which is Old English for ‘Summon the boner’) we can draw a straight line to people today’s endless grasping of ‘peak experience’ to best perform as if they’re happy, exhausting themselves travelling the world to post pictures of them smiling next to masturbating chimps in Buddhist Temple as they compete with the world to demonstrate how happy they are! There’s no point debating whether these people are ‘really happy’: this is happiness now.
And it’s an overwhelmingly Anglo-American desire. Other countries aren’t quite as manically obsessed with appearing happy. Have you ever seen a Russian smile? No! They’re fucking miserable, because life is fucking miserable, especially if you’ve only recently been introduced to capitalism’s deranging effects. Look at the French, they’re moody fuckers much of the time, because they don’t send themselves loopy searching for happiness in every single stinky crevice, but this only means that they really appreciate the things that actually make them happy. Y’know, wine, cheese, onions around the neck, 19 year old girlfriends naked from the waist down as they scrawl cubist paintings with a black cigarette between their lips. The French, The Russians, the Chinese, the Sudanese, the Madagascans, everyone outside the cringeworthy Anglo-American alliance (The UK very much James May to the USA’s Jeremy Clarkson) tend to view positive and negative emotions as equally important and worthy states of mind, that ‘happiness’ needn’t be pursued and ‘sadness’ not necessarily avoided. Brits and Americans though? Their whole cultures are based around masking negative feelings and repressing any complaints. America has been swamped by Disneyland fraudulence, they’re fine, thanks for asking, how are you? Whereas as an Englishman I have now made it (ahem) 29 straight years avoiding any hint of a slightly unpleasant conversation. ‘Happiness’ is really the only option.
The happiness fetish can be placed alongside capitalism’s decimation of your mental health. Make us all depressed, sell us pills that force us to ignore this, then make happiness essential so to even furrow your brow slightly at the hideous system that’s been constructed around you would mark you out as just a miserable killjoy who refuses to join in the fun.
Sigh, I’m sorry, but the Conservative majority means that my whole life and career is officially fucked probably until I’m 40. The majority of the country has voted to prove that they hate people like me and they hate the work I do. You’ll allow me this one depressing post, won’t you.
I’ve written two ‘reviews’ of this album this year, probably talked about the actual music for maybe 32 words. But you don’t need me to tell you it’s amazing, it’s the 38th best album of the year. Listen to it on Spotify. Buy it on Bandcamp, you cheap fucker, it’ll be the best $1 (or more…) you’ll spend all week.