In praise of melancholy...

This article, by Eric G. Wilson, a professor of English at Wake Forest University, is adapted from his book Against Happiness: In Praise of Melancholy, published this month by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.





The title says it all - although it doesn't seem to be against happiness, just manufactured happiness. You know the type of person - we all know one or two, those who have a need to always be 'happy, happy, happy' or at least in that 'positive-thinking-zone' and will get slightly manic if their mood drops a milimetre beyond what they're comfortable with, as though it's a moral personal failing.



Wilson claims the Americans are particularly fond of this mindset - although the few Americans I know have been anything but, as happy as I am to sit around in melancholy showers. Perhaps they've just become infected with the English Malady? Wilson's argument embraces the dark and the light and every other shade in between - in stark contrast to the emotionally immature 'there is only light' not so quasi-religious troopers. With this pressure of the positive and happy It's no wonder dependence on anti-depressants is sky-high, something which the mass media loves to pore over. Yet Government is constantly lamenting what its representatives term 'sick-note' culture and would no doubt love to have those serial sick-note offenders on anti-depressants if it means increasing productivity rates. Which is it to be?



To embrace melancholia or just plain old general unhappiness means accepting ouselves as being more human than is currently the case - not less, which is what the happy-clappy brigade and/or self-help book addicts seem to want to do. And to do this often means making changes for ourselves that make us feel more comfortable in our own skin and in our own lives, and can often mean going against what the mainstream espouses. One example of this is the hermit, or the recluse. Ok, the saying goes that 'no man is an island' and if we dare stay in alone on a Friday and/or Saturday night we are to consider ourselves 'sad'. Solitude has become as alien as those Americans who accept their melancholy. Solitude for many equals melancholy and vice versa. Yet solitude can be the tonic that is needed for a jaded melancholic spirit - the time in which we can re-connect to 'what's really going on with us' - a connection to what our most innate selves, which is what Anthony Storr's excellent Solitude points to, which I relished earlier this year and made me feel better about being what one of my school reports once said 'loner'. (Although how much of a loner one can be living in London and with constant communication with four brothers and two sisters and their dramas I don't know).





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