The Friendship of Art

by Bliss Carman

The Burden of Joy


    JOY is the only thing in the world more inevitable, more universal than sorrow. For whether it take the form of love or contentment or delight in power, our capacity for happiness still outranks our capacity for grief; and however sad life may seem to you and me at times, we cannot but observe the Titantic gladness of creation. Even in our own small lives the gladness is more than the grief, the delight is more than the despair. Our very willingness to live attests this truth. In spite of failure and pain and sickness and bereavement and the obscure prosecution of an incomprehensible destiny, we are glad enough to stagger on.

    Is it not good, therefore, to recognize this [Page 1] very palpable fact about existence? And should we not once for all give our desolate creed of disconsolate suffering, and affirm bravely that the soul of man does not realize itself through sorrow and renunciation, but through happiness and achievement? Indeed, happiness is the test of all success, the measure of our growth, the boundary of our accomplishment. To be healthy is to be happy; to love anything is to be happy; to find out the truth is to be happy. These are the three ways in which gladness comes to us; and unless we can attain some measure of such joyousness in body, spirit, and mind, we may be very sure that we are not getting the best out of life. Without his due share of each of these kinds of gladness, no man can be greatly happy; and without something of at least one of them, no man can be happy at all.

    It is only reasonable to recognize this prime necessity of health, or the normal physical condition, as the basis of happiness — at [Page 2] least one third of happiness. To be comfortably housed, to be sufficiently and hygienically clothed, to be well fed, to be properly exercised, to be, in short, at the top of one’s bodily capacity — no man should be content with less than this. Yet how slovenly we are in such matters! Our houses are often a mere storeroom of treasures, or a clutter of uncomfortable furniture and hideous bric-à-brac; our clothing, for half of us at least, is an exasperating menace, hampering the graceful motions of the body, cultivating disease, and irritating the temper beyond endurance; our food, when it is not too rich, is usually ill assorted and worse cooked; our habits of work, or exercise, and care of the body, are seldom other than dire necessity arranges for us. Our constant dependence on drugs and physicians is, more than nine-tenths of it, the result of gross ignorance of natural laws; and the other tenth is most likely the result of carelessness. Why not make a pleasure of physical existence, by bringing to its regulation [Page 3] a little common sense, a little forethought, a little care, a little knowledge of the simplest laws of health? That were surely better than to die of lethargy and indigestion. And yet how unusual it is to see a human being in perfect health and alive to all the innocent wholesome pleasures of our mere animal existence! How commonly one sees the miserable, stuffy, neglected, and ailing body, with no more instinct for physical enjoyment than the unfortunate lap-dog which shares the stupidity of its owner.

    If there were no need for social reform other than this, that there might be less grinding toil for some and more wholesome exertion for others, it would still be supremely necessary for the preservation of the race. We make very lavish boasts of our civilization, our enlightenment, our progress, and yet the multitude of intelligent persons who shudder at the mention of fresh air and cold water is unbelievable; while they still [Page 4] continue to stuff themselves with violent medicines and unwholesome food.     

    This is only the most obvious and primitive sort of happiness, such as savages enjoy. It is something to which we are all justly entitled, but which we have too foolishly abandoned. And unless we are wise enough to return to these simple and natural pleasures of physical being, we shall not only regret it as individuals, but as a race and nation. We ought to have too much pride to be sickly and weak. We ought to perceive that beauty is based upon health, — indeed, that beauty is only the outward seeming and appearance of normal health. This is not a visionist’s theory. It is a very sober scrap of the truth. It does not apply to mankind at large; it applies to you, whoever you are, who read these paragraphs. If you are a man and think yourself tolerably well conditioned, the chances are that you would be still happier physically if your collar were not so high, or your shoes not so tight, or if your hours [Page 5] out-of-doors were longer. While if you are a woman, it is certain that you never take a single full breath during your waking hours; and that if you were asked to walk half a mile on a country road, you would be compelled to hobbled over the ground like a ridiculous Oriental.

    All this, of course, is only the beginning of joy, yet it is indispensable. We must carry an elated chest, that there may be room for a happy heart within. A careful regimen for the body will not secure happiness of the spirit, but it will make us ready for the first approach of joy. If we would entertain angels, the least we can do is to be always prepared for them. [Page 6]