Lord Save us from The Happy People


 A psychologist asked the young David Bryce-Jones during a job application process what had been the happiest day of his life. His answer was that for him, "sunshine and clouds went together.” There was for him, in other words, no happiest day.

 From which we may gather that Mr. Bryce-Jones was not the sort who is going to happy talk to you to death about his happiest day at Niagara Falls where he stood with his honey in their matching vacation outfits.

 And so, not a happy talk/happy day kind of guy, Mr. Bryce-Jones was disinclined to rate one day as happier than any other.  

 Which was, in my estimate, a rather mature answer. For this young man had already understood that sunshine and clouds go togetherHe had already discovered that meaning comes through the mix and mystery of things.

 Already fledged, Mr. Bryce-Jones had no wish to play in a happiness ratings game with this pseudo-psychologist.

  But of course, by not happily talking about his happiest day, he was, in effect, pouring scorn upon the therapist's question. 

 By refusing to go along with the questions on the psychologist’s  questionnaire form, the young man wasn't getting on with her program. He was refusing to sell himself out by a passive compliance. 

 For his experience of life, with its richness of ambiguity and mystery, did not square with the way she wanted to measure his fitness for the job. 

 Now, to this response of his, we may imagine a look of disapproval on the therapist’s face, or perhaps more likely, a poker face - the pretense of objectivity.

 But you can feel, if you’ve been been there that, behind the expressionless face, the wrath of judgment is upon you.

 It is like that kind of unreal encounter where the interviewer spends more time taking notes than actually looking at you.

 This is what the young Mr. Bryce Jones was up against and chose to respond (I’m happy to say) with integrity rather than with any effort to impress the interviewer.

 But the psychologist persisted. Ignoring the young man's comment about sunshine and clouds going together - without skipping a beat - she then asked: “What has been your unhappiest day?”

 To which Mr. Bryce Jones gave the cheeky response that he had already answered the question. 

 Well, I trust that I, too, in such a situation, would not go along with a question about my own happiest day. For I have understood as well that, sunshine and clouds go together.

 Which is true, for instance, of great music. Great music always has the mix and mystery of many differing elements.

 As I write, for instance, I am contemplating a piece of music which both tears me apart and inspires. 

 Another parallel is Socratic dialogue - which is the nature of a real encounter between true friends - where there are both elements of inspiration and at times, a seering struggle of conscience.

 But it’s amazing actually how many people feel that conversation is about happy talk - peppy talk. For example, I once heard a priest say (who should have known better) that he felt required to be a cheerleader at the bedside of a patient in a  hospital. 

 "Aren’t you supposed to encourage the patient?" he naively asked. “No." I replied.  "You’re there to create enough space for reality to break in. While the glee club swarms the patient’s room with happy, peppy talk, your task is to break past all of that as a reality-creating presence."

 And thus it is that I care less about happiness and more about meaning.

 Meaning trumps happiness every time. 

 But I am up against a culture which is caught up in the pursuit of happiness. 

 It is as if we are all being perpetually interviewed and found wanting by the happy people, who exist as a plague upon the planet, now patrolling the streets everywhere. 

 My struggle and perhaps yours too, is about how to maintain integrity against the happiness pushers - the superficiality specialists.

 How do we resist caving in to their order to be happy?

 How do we maintain ourselves against the happy people who wish to squeeze us into their happiness project? 

 Dear Lord, I pray, save us from the happy people! 

 Lord, help us rather to be heroes on another level entirely. As Henri Tracol states: “There is a heroism in acting without any other sanction than the intoxication of moving in the direction which is truly one’s own.

  "These words have accompanied me unceasingly since adolescence.

    "They resound in me more and more like a call to free me, among other things, from the childish fascination with results, with ‘progress’ accumulated like a possession.

     "It is by repeatedly divesting himself of his layers of clothing that a being comes to life.” (Henri Tracol, The Taste for things that are True)

 We come to life to the degree that we are "moving in the direction which is truly one’s own.” 

 Nothing else will do. Nothing else will ever really satisfy.

 Especially not, mere happiness.


 Dixie, Randy Edelman