By: Max Bruns ~Advertising Manager~
At 7 a.m. every Wednesday, the alarm sings out the iconic words by Bobby McFerrin that might score every cliché moment of distress in popular movies: “Don’t worry, be happy.” I get up, brush my teeth, take a shower and throw on some gym clothes. Then, I walk to Gallagher Student Center, pick up the 1200-1500 newspapers that are to be delivered around campus and I walk the route with a smile and a whistle.
This is the Disney version of my Wednesday sojourn around campus, and it is very unrealistic. If I’m ever awake at 7 a.m., it’s because I didn’t sleep the night before. Half the time my alarm clock doesn’t work, and I can’t whistle at all. But in some ways, this Disney version is accurate because the feeling of joy, literal joy, that the story seems to exude is absolutely true. I get true joy out of delivering the paper every Wednesday. In fact, it is one of the small joys with which I measure my life.
The theory of small joys is something that my dad and I have been developing ever since I was a little kid, and I’m sure it’s a commonly held theory that is widely written and talked about. Nevertheless, it holds true to form – if you measure the small things in your life that make you happy, they will amass and, over time, form a sustainable center of happiness from which you might draw happiness in other areas of your life.
Everyone who has the phrase “that’s privileged” gracing the tips of their lips right now, please inhale deeply instead of saying it and just give me a minute. I know that “happiness,” the kind you’re thinking of, is a privileged kind of happiness. The kind of happiness where you don’t have to worry about money or stress about safety in your town is not the only kind of happiness. It is a privileged kind of happiness, but it is qualitative and informed by societal context.
I believe that there is something universally regarded as happiness. It rests inside the human soul, and it cannot be taken away from a human being. It can be stifled and shuffled and de-prioritized, it can be challenged and suppressed and widely diminished, but it is not something which can be stolen. And, the way to access it is through the theory of small joys.
In everyone’s life, there are moments that are better for their mental, emotional, spiritual and/or physical health than other moments. The ones that do the best things for mental, emotional, spiritual and physical health are moments of joy. If your cultural context is that you are a poor, single, working mother in a country with high crime, your moment of joy might be that your kid didn’t spend all his money on lunch and now you have two extra dollars for the week. If your cultural context is that you are a rich, married, working father in a city with no crime, your moment of joy might be that your huge meeting with the investors ended early, and you can go home and see your wife.
Qualitatively, these two scenarios are extraordinarily different. In terms of social justice and identity politics and general fairness of life, there are many reasons why saying the working mom is happy in that moment seems absurd. But quantitatively, the working mom’s spiritual, emotional, physical and mental health is increased by the extra cash, and that is a moment of joy that she can look back on and draw from in the future. Small joys are important because they color moments without joy with the tinge or potential for joy in the future and with the memory of joy from the past.