Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Happy All the Time

The late Laurie Colwin once wrote a novel entitled Happy All the Time. It was a cute title for a book and for the age of excess (the 70’s) in which it was written. But it’s a lousy idea for living. Many metaphoric vessels crash on the shoals of happiness, which are like the Scylla and Charybdis of the Age of Sensation. For those of you who don’t know what the Age of Sensation is, it refers to materialism. Living in the Now is a nice spiritual premise that’s at the heart of the Buddhist view of life. It’s ironically also a premise that’s used to defend the unmitigated pursuit pleasure, to the extent that we equate happiness with pleasure. And there is an almost Darwinian selectivity involved with this pursuit. Those at the top of the food chain, who have the right mixture of looks and brains, are awarded disproportionate amounts of pleasure as compared to those unfortunates who have lost their brains and looks or never had either. To be the valedictorian of your class at the very best college and also be blessed with perfect skin and a nice chin is the opposite from being an impoverished leper. Class used to define some of these separations, but now inequity is dished out in a more democratic way, though the results are markedly the same. The happy who have everything don’t need anyone to talk to and the poor and miserable who live in a perennial state of loss aversion are virtual chatterboxes. There are of course a small category of winners who are perpetually miserable and of losers whose profound sense of oneness with the universe allows them to be exultant (despite the existential reality of their condition), but these tend to be the exceptions. If you are looking to have a good conversation about the meaning of life, you’re not going to find it with the winners in the sweepstakes of life. You have to seek out the black sheep in the human family. The last shall be first.


  1. This is great.
    A friend of mine is serving a two-week sentence in a nearby county prison for an act of civil disobedience. Her stories of the people she's met and the way the penal system works illuminate a society that allows predation to systemically and incrementally deprive the poor of what little they have. She has been changed by her experiences of depending on other inmates for basic amenities (pencil and paper, for example), though not in the way the penal system intended.
    Not all poverty is miserable; it provides an opportunity for choice, generosity and reciprocity. And a fabulous life of privilege can dull one's awareness; so much becomes taken for granted.
    The great challenge in every socio-economic stratum is to be able to distinguish between material needs (and wants) and necessities; to decide whether we are more than the sum of our posessions.

  2. What we are inadvertently talking about is updating The Rights of Man. Hamlet is performed in modern dress, but Thomas Paine’s work is relegated to a dusty carrel. The Rights of Man! That’s what needs to be in Neon on the Deuce.

  3. jylle benson-gaussApril 24, 2013 at 4:35 PM

    I've exceeded my daily quota of stereotypes. Thank you for putting this discussion back onto the firmer ground of drama and literature.


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