When Did We Outlaw Happiness?

I was reminded of a phenomenon that happens often.  For some sickly reason, whenever an adult in the United States is happy or announces happiness for “the wrong reason”, there is a substantial segment of the population that feels the need to smear that person and their happiness.

This past week, there have been many things to be outraged about.  Tuesday past, one of our candidates for President of the United States was not indicted for her mishandling of classified information (something I consider a necessary skill to be President).  The government announced its determination that it appeared clear that she had mishandled information, but they were not going to charge her for a crime – in other words, they chose not to enforce the law in her case.  This caused some consternation and talk about injustice, but the general public response seemed to be “Well, what did you expect?”

Followed by that was the death of two separate people at the hands of police officers in two unrelated incidents, each with video that recorded the death of the suspect.  Followed by these events was an attack on police officers in Dallas that killed five officers and left seven more wounded.  In an unprecedented move, instead of following regular protocol with this suspect, the police chose to attach a bomb to a bomb-disposal robot and kill the suspect at a time when he was not an immediate threat.  What is troublesome is not the question of his guilt, but that standard legal processes were (yet again) not followed.

And in all this week, there was one big thing that has made people happy: Poke’mon Go!  In case you have somehow not heard of it (maybe because this article is old), Poke’mon Go! is a simple phone game that uses GPS to let people walk around, find, and collect fictional characters while competing with each other for control of virtual landmarks around their real cities.  By its design, this game leads people to both exercise and interact with other people.  This game has led to a tremendous amount of positive human interaction and connection in the past week, some of it across multiple generations.  It was also the source of a number of small but cute stories about the players interacting, meeting new people, or finally walking five kilometers for the first time in years.  Basically, it was the only bright spot in the whole week.

And this is where we come to the problem in our country: Yes, in a week filled with injustice and good cause to be outraged, the one thing that some people have chosen to be publicly outraged about was the one thing that made people happy.  It wasn’t just vague outrage, but clearly directed anger toward the people who are literally just sharing that they are meeting new people and having a good time on social media (i.e. their own personal/public space on the Internet).  This one moment of happiness is what some people in our country want to beat down and extinguish.  The commentary was very specific, questioning the maturity of the people who chose to play this particular game and dare to share their happiness with anyone else.  The message from these monsters was clear: You are not supposed to be happy, especially not because of “a stupid game”.

The attitude is familiar, but thankfully there seems to be so many people enjoying this particular game that detractors are the minority (for once).  It is no small wonder that depression is rampant in our country, considering that attitudes like this are not uncommon.  The things that should bring us together in outrage are met with apathy, while the things that bring us together and give us joy are condemned and insulted as “childish” and “immature”.  One particular meme specifically said “I don’t play Pokemon because I am an adult with better things to do.”

There are legitimate complaints about the game – It can cause people to be distracted and behave unsafely (seriously, don’t play while driving and avoid dark alleys), or make people be inconvenient (e.g. don’t block somebody’s driveway), but those are problems that are easily fixed.  That was never the issue to these people; they were just upset that somebody else was having a good time.  For some reason, we culturally accept and believe that having a simple good time is wrong, and that these “bullies” (for lack of a better word) ought to be listened to instead of ostracized and left to think about what they did wrong.

The solution to this problem is simple: We must stop trying to spoil other peoples’ happiness, and stop letting other people do it.  Happiness is not just for children, and it is not a sign of immaturity.  We must stop telling ourselves that we (and other people) are not allowed to be happy over the small pleasures in life, and we must stop listening when other people tell us that we are not allowed to be happy.  And most of all, we must stand up and defend each other’s right to be happy.  As long as the problems will still be there for us to fix after a moment of rest, there’s nothing wrong with putting down the heavy burdens for a moment instead of constantly dwelling on everything that is wrong.

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