I’m writing this post on a bad day. I’m listening to the music that mattered to me in my teens, partly as a way of holding myself together, partly for comfort. This is hardly an unusual thing to do. Music has a huge power to connect us to different times and places in our own history. A song can bring back a whole summer, or a friendship circle. A song can represent a relationship, and all too often when relationships go wrong, it’s music we turn to for comfort.
There’s something uniquely powerful about being held for a few minutes by a stranger’s musical exploration of heartbreak. It eases the feelings of being alone in that, recognising our shared humanity as we suffer.
People tend not to reflect much on happiness. When we’re happy, we just get on with it, usually. There isn’t the same urge to reflect and to try and understand why we are happy, or what happened to put us in this state. Grief and pain tend to invite introspection and because of that, we can end up seeing them as more intellectually meaningful states while our less considered happiness can seem trivial. This in turn informs how we value certain kinds of art – things that challenge us and reflect distress are often seen as more valuable than art forms that are designed to cheer and comfort.
We need all of the things. We need comfort, and reflection. We need things that lift our spirits and help us process our grief. None of these things is intrinsically more arty or important than any other. Good art is about being human, being real, and making sense of whatever comes our way. Of all the feelings we might have, happiness can be the most ephemeral and hardest to reach for. We live in a state of grief and loss, killing our own home and with most of us suffering immensely from the horrors of late stage capitalism. Right now it’s easy to create and share expressions of distress. Perhaps what we most need are truly heroic acts of creativity that show us how to feel something other than despair.