Sinking into a hot bath. Getting past a green light just in time. Taking the first bite of a perfectly cooked meal. Everyone’s heard of these things: the “simple joys” that, oh-so-radically, might in and of themselves be the ultimate pleasure in life. The epiphany that satisfaction is born from simplicity is a pretty tired one at this point. Very few real people can step into a warm bathtub and think nothing gets better than this--perhaps because we expect it at this point. Or else because we don’t have time to take baths in the first place, considering the ever-increasing pace of our day-to-day life in the age of technology. Shower with your new waterproof phone case, or toss some dry shampoo in your hair on the way to work--that’s more practical, more profitable, smarter to do in a capitalistic culture determined to speed things up at all costs.
I’m not saying that capitalism has deprived us of the ultimate pleasure in life--I’m also not saying it hasn’t, but that’s a different conversation altogether. Rather, I want us to think about the ways in which the simple joys -- like everything else in our lives -- have dramatically evolved in the past few years.
What about winning a mindless Facebook game? What about skipping homework for a night, grabbing an extra dessert, or sleeping in that extra hour? What about making that occasional impulsive purchase online?
All good things, sure, but things that one is compelled to view with a certain degree of revulsion. They’re only temporary pleasures, after all. Surely there’s nothing profound in winning a game on your phone.
Or is there? Why are we conditioned to believe that these little things--miniscule reprieves from our ferociously productivity-oriented lifestyles--are all evil? God forbid we indulge ourselves, right?
Simple joys have never been permanent things. And what we need to start understanding is that it isn’t always a bad thing to exchange productivity for a little bit of extra joy. There’s an awful toxicity to the way that we punish ourselves for having fun--I should be working, I should be dieting, I should be at the gym, and so on. But what we should be doing is allowing ourselves happiness.
Of course, I’m not suggesting overindulgence; sleeping in til 2pm will make anyone feel bad, as will binge-playing Facebook games for three hours or procrastinating on a project until the night before it’s due. But guilt feeds guilt. We don’t need to hate ourselves for allowing little moments of joy--and doing so might even make the more stressful parts of our lives endurable. Pining after a nostalgic fantasia of hot baths, green lights, and warm rain won’t do any good: if we expect something to make us happy, there’s all too much chance that we’ll be disappointed, instead. Maybe those things will bring us pleasure--and maybe other things will, too. Either way is okay--more than that, either way is good. It’s time to remind ourselves that we are not obligated to sadness.