Truly, the French have a delicious sense of the sublime and the ridiculous.
Take happiness for example. They’re fed up with the “concept” of it, the annoying lists of five or 10 ways to improve it so that one can lead a life of what an amusing tongue-in-cheek article in Figaro Madame magazine referred to as the concept de bonheur obligatore.
They fear they are being forced to comply to yet another form of political correctness which they think may be sending them down a path toward an overdose of “zenitude” and really, they just want everyone to leave them alone so they can get on with their lives.
(Don’t worry, zenitude is not a word in French either. It’s a joke.)
For those of us born in the United States we know that the Declaration of Independence and our Constitution guarantee the “pursuit of happiness” but when that hope was included in our inalienable rights the Founding Fathers were thinking of the abstraction in far more noble terms like freedom, religion and the common good as opposed to “what can I do for me today?” . . .
Back to the French. They plan on purging their mailboxes of daily doses of “feel good news.” Too much is too much. It’s depressing. Who wants to be pressured to find their happiness and then work on it to keep up the pace? It’s exhausting.
The article was sprinkled with English words like “daily feel good news” and “lifestyle, mind style, think tank, Sunday talks” (weekend pep talks to rev up one’s joy), happy lab, and more. The funniest part of the piece was the “translations” of happiness and feel good.
- Happiness: Happinez
- Feel Good: Filgoud
They may be trying to fight the good fight, but clearly the forces of forced joy are gaining Gallic ground. Classes and businesses are popping up throughout the country offering courses in “How to realize your potential” and “How to make your life a success” or, as the journalist ironically pointed out: “Other such courses easily taught in two-hour lessons.”
As with anything that has a commercial ring to it, these enterprises of bonheur are suspect in the minds of the French, and, one must admit, they have a point.
In my almost three decades of living in this country, one of the attributes I like most about the French is their refreshing attitude that I see as a healthy melange of the pragmatic with the romantic. They do not expect to be happy every second of their lives. They know it’s not normal. C’est la vie. But, they do know how to relish and celebrate the emotion when it arrives, unexpectedly or not.
A Harvard study on the subject — everyone is obsessed with it it seems — makes some sane sense of the sentiment we constantly pursue.
Perhaps the most agreeable and pleasant way to live our lives is in quiet, productive contentment and let the exhilaration of happiness surprise us.
What do you think?