|If there is one good thing about being sick, it’s that you can indulge in movies or shows without the guilt. Often it is the only thing your mind is up for as the books seem to require too much brain power.
But when your indulgence leads to a musical about Mary Poppins, you know you went too far.
I am a big fan of Ms Poppins – at least, the one in the books. She is a fascinating character – a woman protagonist in earlier literature was such a rarity that some character flaws like vanity and obsessiveness about the looks can be overlooked.
I admit, she is also a little mean.
But one can guess that her meanness is a front to protect her secret – that behind the ‘not a hair out of place’ appearance she is hiding another world.
The World of Joy.
The world where people are allowed to wear bright pink colours, sing music in the street, dance till they are falling of their feet or fly into the sky with umbrellas. Mary Poppins has a key to this other reality, much more fun than the grimy England houses with black chimneys, grey and black clothes and skies covered by industrial smoke.
Sadly, this wonderful World of Joy is only visible to kids. Just like in a real life. It is only as kids we are allowed to laugh when we see oddly shaped things, make soap bubbles or chase balloons.
As we grow older, most things that brings us joy, are called ‘childless’, ‘silly’, or ‘frivolous’. As we grow, our life slowly becomes colourless and dull. Admittedly, some seriousness is necessary – we might struggle to achieve much at work if we spend half an hour in an elevator because we pushed all the buttons for fun, just like kids do.
And yet, to re-discover some happiness we felt as kids, we are better off joining them in search of Joy.
Kids don’t need much to have fun – they can take couple of duvets, few old clothes and a box with old journals and play a shop all day.
Kids don’t really notice if they are getting into a Lexus or Mazda, just the colour that is brighter, more exciting.
Above all, kids don’t control their joy but embrace it – if it’s funny, they laugh. If it’s weird, they get curious. If it’s exciting they jump.
And after all that, they sleep much better than most of us!
Inviting Joy in our daily lives can disproportionately enhance them. And it’s not just Mary Poppins saying it.
Seeking pleasure and moving away from pain is one of the core concepts of philosopher Epicurus, who lived around 350 BC. The emotions of sorrow – as a state to avoid – and joy – as a state to seek – is part of the philosopher’s Spinoza’s teachings. While he didn’t understand a pleasure in the same way as Epicurus (as sensual pleasures, like good food), Spinoza suggested to seek out joy to live a good life. Even Nietzsche – not someone we associate with sunny outlook – wrote a book about Greek gods Apollo (embodied by cold rationality, discipline) and Dionysus (embodied by pleasure, festivity, chaos), stressing the need for balance between the two.
Capping it off is Antonio Damasio – the neuroscientist that stresses the evolutionary value of emotions for optimal body functioning, using the most recent scientific knowledge of brain and body, while borrowing ideas from philosophers to build hypothesis’s where science is still lacking.
In other words, his books are as far away as one can get from the frivolous Mary Poppins, and yet carry a similar message – that Joy is crucial for our well-being. In Looking for Spinoza, he writes:
‘Joyous states signify optimal physiological coordination and smooth running of the operations of life’.
Joy doesn’t need to involve colourful balloons or singing in the street. And joyful experiences can feel fleeting and pointless – like trying to keep sand in our hands.
But purposefully seeking out joy is NOT silly – it’s one of the smartest things to do to increase your well-being.
Sadly, in the end of the Mary Poppins movie, a conversation with the chimney sweeper concludes that ‘of course, the adults will not remember anything by tomorrow’. The reason could be a magical potion of forgetfulness but the truth is probably much more mundane.
We are so afraid to open ourselves to intense emotions, afraid to lose our ‘control’, that we proactively write them off as ‘nuisance’. We proactively work on ‘serious’ stuff or focus ‘major’ goals.
Even if life is often what happens in between them.