The Ruricolist is now available in print.


Happiness is joy at rest. Joy is a reaction, sudden, and fleeting. That is not to say that happiness is joy watered down, nor joy repeated – that would wear you out, or familiarity would diminish each occasion of joy. Rather, joy and happiness are made of the same stuff, of fear and uncertainty. Joy follows their resolution; happiness must be accompanied and fed by them – what we believed was inevitable, what we believed was already rightfully ours, never makes us happy.

Happiness is a human invention. Wild animals know joy by occasions; only pets know happiness. They are mutually exclusive. Joy belongs to a resolution – you are hungry: you hunt, you kill, you eat, you rejoice. Happiness belongs to a balance – you are hungry, there is food, you eat, something reminds you that there might not have been food, and you are happy. If you forget hunger, you cease to be happy – your circumstances are no longer a balance, but a given. Happiness must be reminded. For animals, it is reminded by instinct; for human beings, it must be reminded by memory.

Happiness, remember, comes in bottles, powders, and pills. It can be forced by lowered expectations, by narrowed attention (which values avoiding the depressing over facing the unpleasant), or by a sheer plodding effort no different from any other, which effortfully attains the state to which drugs make a shortcut. What we mean when we say that we want to be happy is that we want the right to be happy – we want an excuse to be happy – we want happiness and self-respect.

There are only two schemes of pleasure in life – the smooth, straight way of happiness; and the rough, winding way of joy intermitted with distress, desperation, and disappointment. These are not absolute commitments – as it is good and necessary for all simply to be happy sometimes, so there would be something distasteful in never choosing to set happiness aside, neither for joy nor for sorrow. It would a self-indulgent and antisocial vice to be always ready to reconcile yourself to the way things are – to smother the itch of discomfort or inconvenience that mothers invention, the restlessness of curiousity or the pain of perplexity that searches out discoveries, the indignation that demands change.

As life and history are a infinity of problems, the only excusable function of happiness is between them – it cannot be allowed to avoid them. Happiness is not something you are, it is something you wear; and like any cloth, it has proper and improper climates and seasons.