Today’s post is from guest contributor Liz Henry
Back when I was really depressed, happy people made me want to die. They did not inspire me to redirect my thoughts or look at my can of Diet Coke as half-full. The only thing happy people inspired in me were new ways I could torture them. Like, if there was a misery cake, and with each candle I was granted one Happy People Torture, I’d wish for things like: full-fat pumpkin spice lattes, every third page ripped out of Elizabeth Gilbert’s books, the Internet but only in sports references like, “It’s a wheelhouse out there!,” a ban on the color teal, cookies but make them oatmeal raisin and self-cut bangs.
No one gets more up in their feelings than a Happy Person™ when someone else lets the sad out. I imagine being a Happy Person is a lot like walking through Ikea with all its possibilities and combinations, and an earnest belief that no space is too small to feel big. And then, well, Happy People meet the brick wall of reality doom. The Ikea stuff must be put together with only one’s wits and a wrench thingy to guide the way.
At the very least, Ikea is the small talk of furniture—no one really wants to know that we’re all cheaply constructed but more or less functional if we share the right angle on our Instagram feeds.
A few years back, I saw the Pixar movie “Inside Out” with my daughter. Drowning in my chair from the tears leaking out of my eyeballs, I spent 90 minutes watching an animated tween girl and her personified feelings battle over joy and sadness. Which one, the movie asks, is more important? Or, can they coexist? Obviously, as a children’s movie, the question is answered with a sledgehammer: joy and sadness inform, compliment and rely on each other for their very existence.
In other words, the happy stuff in life is made possible by the sad stuff and the people who force us to deny our realities suck. Let me pull in some more Disney characters because why not: Did Pooh ever tell Eeyore to smile and did Eeyore ever question Pooh’s pantsless visible belly outline? Are you kidding? The Hundred Acre Wood does not play. It’s sugar, sadness, and no pants.
WHAT A BUNCH OF FUCKING LEGENDS.
Now that I’m on the other side of depression—I slid down the rainbow right into a pot o’ golden french fries—I can see Happy People™ for what they are: emotional police handcuffing the rest of us with their nonsense. They’re like feelings fascists making us suffer through forced smiles and, in the before times, filling quaint main streets with Life is Good stores.
If there is any service I can do in this world, standing out front of a Life is Good with a poster board sign reading, “IS IT THOUGH?!” would be a contribution I’d love to make.
I want to be clear: Happy People, the ones I’m writing about, enforce toxic joy at all costs. They have a freshly baked whattabout every time you drop a status update that’s even a whiff of a real emotion that doesn’t land somewhere between “lust for life” and “walking on the sunshine.” They’re the reply guys of Twitter, but smiling women with a hundred thousand Instagram hashtags and a preferred color palette. They start team meetings by asking the not at all squirm-inducing question (and during a pandemic no less): What’s bringing you joy?”
If it were possible for me to die from a shriveling hard-on, “what’s bringing you joy” would certainly do it. I’d like to strike it from the record. Just like salad with the dressing mixed in and Justin Timberlake. It’s dressing on the side and Janet Jackson forever.
I feel a special kinship with the Sads. Sadness is my factory setting—it’s always there, kicking in like an air conditioner compressor blowing cold air whenever I go and get ahead of myself with some piping hot enjoyment. “Careful, bitch,” my happiness suddenly says, “play too close to the sun and you might get burned.” My favorite people are underdogs. The best stories are the down-and-out ones. I like the thrill of redemption instead of the tyranny of having it all. Resilience isn’t smiling through pain; it’s moving on with scars. The people who know the difference are my favorite.
So maybe the next time you’re forced indoors or your sweet tooth is throbbing for some microwave cake-in-a-mug, make sure your scissor drawer has a pack of candles. After all, you have some wishes to make.
Liz Henry writes good stories and makes bad choices. Her writing has been featured in the New York Times, Washington Post and Brain, Child Magazine. Read her emotionally slutty newsletter, The Non-Squad, here [http://www.tinyletter.com/lizhenry].
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