Dairy Queen says Happy Tastes Good.
I have nothing with which to refute the argument, but it unsettles me anyway. Somewhere deep down, it feels like we’ve come too far by now to accept such a bald, simple proposition. It was something that may have been true for our parents once, but not us, and most definitely not now. Heavens no. Those days are gone.
I don’t know how to explain this cynicism, so I’ll try something easier instead. I feel confident asserting that “happy,” for us, now, must taste just a little bit real, a little bit off, to feel true.
To explain why, perhaps we could look at the spiraling dread that lurks beneath everything we read–surfacing at strange times, like in this seemingly innocuous pop culture article about why The Simpsons is no longer relatable that Digg thought I would enjoy reading to kick off my week. (They were wrong). Maybe it has something to do with the toxic dialectic of revulsion and self-reflection inspired by reality television shows like 1,000-lb. Sisters, in which two morbidly overweight sisters struggle with their emotions about food and exercise, or Shipping Wars, in which truck drivers underbid each other to win the privilege of hauling “unusual items” across the country. Maybe it’s Flip or Flop, where the money shot isn’t an orgasm but an itemized accounting of profits and losses surrounding the sale of houses that none of us will ever be able to afford at the end of each episode. This is entertainment for a brutalized populace, trained to cheer for the profits of the haves and despise the failures of the have-nots.
Maybe most of all it is because the line between entertainment content and lived experience is finally thin enough to have disappeared. We’re all content-creators now. We’re out here taking part in the flame war between Wendy’s and Burger King, infinite scrolling and hash-tagging our opinions for strangers. Your favorite creators–from presidents and royals all the way down to the TikTokker working at McDonald’s around the corner–are just as worried about maintaining their para-social relationship with you as they are focused on getting the camera angle and sound just right on that next shot. “Happy” is only happy when it is widely shared, but most of us must accept that the things we share will cast but a tiny ripple on the surface of existence. For the rest, the wider their “Happy” is shared the more must they face the fact that there are many millions for whom happiness is unattainable, millions more for whom it is impossible. Simple pleasures, networked and amplified, amount to something a great deal more complex.
With all that in mind, here are two alternative slogans.
- “Happy Tastes Pretty Good, but Don’t Get Used to it.” — I like this one because it is also very simple. It tells me what to think and it contains a call to action. Don’t get used to it. I can handle that.
- “Happiness Tastes OK. Expect clouds this evening.” — I like this one because it is useful. It also contains a weather report, which does more for me than the many hours of house hunting/flipping content I’ve watched on languid weekend days. After all, information is power.