Happiness is relative

Every once in a while a writer says something that has you nodding like a madman in unalloyed agreement. I’ve been reading essays by Meghan Daum, and much of what she writes strikes a mean, piercing chord. Far from negative, Daum trades in an admirable candor, some of which is rimmed with bile but is mostly benign and boldly human.

Take this paragraph from her collection “The Unspeakable.” It could have — should have — been written by me at my most exposed. And though it makes her sound morose and malcontent, she is not. She’s merely describing how some people see her — including, sometimes, herself.

“Clearly, I am a killjoy. Clearly, I have problems with pleasure, with letting go. Surely, I am an unhappy person. I do not enjoy most activities that are commonly labeled ‘fun.’ Moreover, I’m weary of ‘happiness,’ both as a word and a concept.”

Daum grazes dysphoria (a state of unease or generalized dissatisfaction with life) and hints at anhedonia (the inability to feel pleasure). But, like me (mostly), this isn’t quite accurate. Daum lives big and loud and gulps life, in all its pitiless unpredictability. She’s a humanist, not a pessimist, even if unhappiness creeps in with unsettling frequency.

2 thoughts on “Happiness is relative

  1. Agree her perspectives are interesting. I read her articles/essays years ago–when she was connected with Thomas Beller and the Open City Magazine alums/NYC literary crowd. She got well known with that 1999 New Yorker essay about having to leave NY city and relocating to Nebraska but then ironic–opportunities that followed post NYC exit, which I thought was honest and forthright — including the personal difficult stuff about making mistakes, accumulating debt, and made me feel (a bit) better about not being able to move back to NYC in the 90’s, the navigating the post college re-session, etc.

    Liked by 1 person

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