In a future where sadness has been outlawed by chemical means, a man struggles to live an empty life.
This science fiction story asks the question: Does sadness provide meaning to our lives?
It is part of the Tales of Hope, Tales of Despair collection, available on all major retailers.
This Sadness Makes Me Happy
As Dr Mark Tate opened the door to his brand new, all-digital and improved Happiness Approved (TM) house, the first thing he was hit with was the disgusting smell.
His wife hadn’t taken out the garbage again.
The house was ultra modern, with every imaginable comfort. HDTV in every room, full access to the Internet with super speed WiFi, walls that changed colour with the sunlight to best project a happy mood. Being happy was important.
People who were not happy were Non-Happiness Criminals. Non-Happiness was the only possible crime, now that all the old crimes had been abolished.
Mark’s house was built with the best technology to keep him in a positive, optimistic mood all the time. The government wanted him to be happy. A happy citizen was a productive citizen.
Too bad the fancy electronic house didn’t clean up after itself.
Mark opened the fridge to drink some apple juice. It was at just the right temperature so that he could enjoy the cool taste without it also giving him a bad throat. A bad throat made one stressed, and being stressed led to anger. Which led to Non-Happiness Crime. Which was bad, so the highly sophisticated electronic made sure the temperature was neither too cold nor too hot. Even the fridge wasn’t too cold; Mark didn’t feel the cold blast of air he had felt in the bad old times. Now the air from the fridge was cool, but not cold.
He heard groaning and moaning sounds from his bedroom. He opened the door to see his wife having passionate sex with their neighbour. He immediately closed the door. Then, remembering something, he opened it again.
“Honey, I forgot to buy milk. I’m sorry.”
She looked over the shoulder of her lover. “That’s fine, dear. You can go again later. There’s some milk powder in the cupboard.”
Mark closed the door and made his way to the kitchen. He had to throw the garbage out. The smell was horrible. It was sure to lower his happiness index and get him in trouble with the law.
He made some tea using milk powder. It tasted okay. Could have been worse.
On the table where he sat was a photo of his teenage daughter. She had died two years ago. He hadn’t cried. He hadn’t felt anything. It was all due to the Positivity Drug (TM).
He was one of the people who had helped make it, so it wasn’t like he could just ignore the results. Ten years ago, the Be Positive Movement (TM) had finally gained control of the government and the two houses of parliament. Their philosophy was very inspiring. All our problems were caused by the constant negativity spread by the media and newspapers. Humans were a happy bunch, if we were just allowed to be.
Of course, people refused to be happy. Hence the Positivity Drug (TM). It was optional, but with Non-Happiness now being a crime, people took it anyway.
And it worked. Crime was down. People no longer felt sad. There was no anger or hatred anymore. The prisons had closed down, police officers retrained into more useful jobs, like Happiness-A-Okay (TM) officers, whose job it was to measure the level of happiness in individuals, and if it wasn’t, recommend them for Loving Positivity Care (TM) in a Happiness Centre. If the happiness level went down, you were treated as a sick person and given all the help you needed. After all, happiness was our natural state, said the Be Positive Movement (TM). Why would anyone not want to be happy?
Mark thought about all this as he looked at his dead daughter’s photograph. He had helped develop the drug, though it’s not like he had an option. The Movement paid his salary. He did what was asked of him. And he had to agree the world was a much better place now. You could walk down the middle of New York at two in the night and never once be mugged.
And yet, Mark felt something was wrong. He felt he should have cried at his daughter’s funeral. Instead, he just felt sort of empty inside. He wasn’t sad, as the drug suppressed symptoms of sadness. But he wasn’t happy, either. He sort of just was. Existing.
His wife was starting round two with their neighbour, so he decided to go for a walk.
That was the other thing. Now that negative emotions had been abolished, one was allowed to do anything that made one happy, as long as one didn’t harm others. Adultery was no longer a crime. If it made one spouse happy, who was the other to complain? Mark agreed with the logic. How could he not? The drug suppressed any negative emotions.
Mark went for a walk in the shopping district. It was full of flashy goods. Every store had a government-mandated sale, so that the customers felt happy and continued shopping. Credit card debt was a thing of the past, as one could pay one’s debt off by volunteering as a Happiness Monitoring Officer. The job was simple, merely checking that everyone around you was happy and reporting anyone who was not, so they could receive kind and loving care.
As he was walking the street, he saw her.
He saw her everyday.
The only person in New York, if not America and the world, who disobeyed the Non-Happiness Crime Directives. She was openly sad, was often seen crying in public, and refused to be happy, no matter how many notices she was served.
Since they lived in enlightened times, it wasn’t like she could just be carted off to prison.
Happiness-A-Okay (TM) officers had tried to get her checked into a health facility, but she tried to bite and attack them. Since the officers’ own Happiness Indexes were going down, they were ordered not to engage her unless they could do so without harm to themselves.
These days, everyone ignored her.
People crossed the street to avoid her.
Mark knew that once she had been a good citizen, with one of the highest Happiness Ratios in the country. And then her son had died, and she had refused to take her pills. She said they were of no use. They couldn’t imprison her, so they did the next best thing: She was put in society’s trash can. People ignored her and she got no government help, which meant she was reduced to begging and eating from garbage cans.
The crazy woman was getting too close to him, so Mark crossed the road to avoid her.
That was a close one.
He went to a restaurant and ordered a cheesy burger. It tasted delicious. The food nowadays always did, now that food processing had been banned. Everything was fresh and straight from the farm. Of course, the farms were overseas, as there wasn’t enough land or workers to grow so much fresh produce. As he bit into his triple cheese fresh meat burger, he wondered if the farm workers overseas were required to be happy as they toiled on the farms to produce enough food to feed one billion Americans everyday.
Even though the food was fresh, nutritious, and organic, he didn’t feel like eating. Since wasting goods was discouraged, being against the principles of the Be Positive Movement (TM), he put the remaining burger in his coat pocket and walked out.
Mark didn’t know what to do in his free time. He remembered the bad old days, when he felt stressed after work and went drinking with his friends. Or he took his wife to an expensive restaurant, feeling guilty the whole time. Their income barely covered their expenses back then, and any luxurious splurging meant weeks of budget cuts.
That was then. Now, they rarely went anywhere. The thrill of trying new food, of staying out late in new places, the risk of embarrassing yourself in late night drunken pub crawls—it had all gone. He wondered if it wasn’t just sadness that had been abolished.
In a dreamlike state, he walked home, to find his wife eating some bread and jam. “I didn’t feel like cooking. Here, have some,” she said, giving him the jam jar.
“No thanks, I’m not hungry,” he said. He sat down and asked her hesitantly, “Jenny, do you feel happy?”
She put down her bread and looked at him with a disapproving look. He felt stupid for asking such a question.
“I’ll have you know,” she said finally, “my Happiness score was the highest in the state.”
She continued eating. “That said, I don’t feel happy at all.”
He was surprised now. “You don’t?”
“I think your test just measures a lack of stress, mental or physical. I don’t have any of that. But I don’t feel happy at all. I feel kinda empty.”
“That’s how I feel too.”
“Is that so? Don’t you build the drug and the tests? Aren’t you supposed to be more enthusiastic?”
“I just work for them, honey.”
“And there you go, shirking responsibility again.”
Once, he would have felt angry. He would have shot back an insult, maybe even slapped her. Not now.
He knew the chemicals in his body were suppressing that automatic animal reflex. But did those chemicals make him happy?
“I need to go for a walk,” he said.
His wife had finished eating. “Stay. The Smiths are coming. Mrs Smith is pretty fine looking, and she loves wearing those short, tight dresses. I’m sure she could be convinced to drop her tiny dress for you. I’ll sure convince Mr Smith.”
“I find sex boring,” he said.
“So do I,” she said. “But we have to do something to pass the time. There is nothing on TV.”
That was true. Their 8K HDTV took most of the wall, but with violence now banned, there was nothing to watch on TV. The two channels constantly showed Be Positive (TM) workshops from around the world.
“Have a three-way,” he said. “On me.”
Mark left the house. He wanted to be alone. There was only one place he was guaranteed to be alone.
He went to the riverside park. It was empty at this time of the night. People were at home, preparing to get their beauty sleep, so they could remove any lingering stress of the day and recharge their Happiness Index (TM).
He used to bring his daughter here all the time. Those were happy times. Even when she had turned into a teenager and was too old (and too cool) to play catch or Frisbee with him, she would still just sit with him, admiring the slow-flowing river, the ducks fighting each other for the bread the visitors had thrown, quacking loudly like their lives depended on it. That was happiness. Why didn’t he feel like that anymore?
As he made his way to the bench he used to sit on with his daughter, he felt something was wrong.
She was there.
The Non-Happiness Criminal.
A part of him wanted to turn back and run away, lest he catch her criminal tendencies.
Another part didn’t care.
The second part won, and he went to sit by her. She was staring at the river too.
He sat by her for minutes; she ignored him, and he was happy with that.
Which was why he almost jumped in the air when she spoke to him.
“So who did you lose?”
He gripped his seat hard to not fall off. “Sorry?”
“I saw you in the graveyard. Who did you lose?”
Tears came flooding to his eyes. He realised he hadn’t taken his pill. “My daughter. She was only fifteen.”
“I lost my son too. He was twenty. They told you not to cry, right?”
He wiped his tears. “Yeah. Not outright. But it was hinted at. My sorrow would bring down the Happiness Index of the whole community. My employers doubled my dosage. And I didn’t feel anything.”
“What do you feel now?”
He clutched his heart. “Sort of empty.”
“Would you like to share your story with me?”
He looked at her with distrust. Ten years of training not to trust anyone with his emotions.
“I understand,” she said. “You don’t trust me. That’s fine. What works for me is sharing my story with animals. You can be guaranteed they are not informers.”
She got up to leave. “Goodbye stranger.”
As she left, the emptiness in his heart started beating even louder. It wanted to come out.
He heard a whimper. It was a stray dog. Stray animals were killed, in case they depressed anyone. This one must have survived somehow. It looked hungry yet scared. No doubt it had been hurt by humans before.
Mark took out his half-eaten burger and put it on the ground. “Here, boy. Help yourself.”
After a few tentative steps, the dog came over and started chewing on the burger. The burger vanished in seconds. The dog didn’t leave, though. It sat by him, its head resting on his shoes.
Mark stroked the dog’s head. And remembered how he used to stroke his daughter’s head in this exact park.
“You know, my daughter died a few years ago,” he said to the dog, feeling a little scared. But the dog didn’t judge him. It didn’t say he needed to think positive, or that it was his own fault.
“The Positivity movement blamed me. Said I must have wished for her death somehow by my negative thinking. Said I must use it to grow.”
He could feel more tears welling up. He was dangerously in the Non-Happiness Crime Zone.
“But no one let me cry. No one said it was okay to feel sad. I lost my child, dammit. No parent should have to bury their child.”
The tears were flowing openly now. “Who are they to tell me I can’t cry? I feel how I feel. Why do I have to feel happy all the time? I am sick of being happy. For once, I just want to feel sad.”
The sadness flowed over him, like a thick, viscous liquid. It covered him in its embrace. For the first time in ten years, he felt heartsick. He wanted to cry. He wanted to scream. Instead, he just sobbed quietly. He felt peaceful, after all these years. That was his state of being. This was who he was.
He was a Non-Happiness Criminal now. But he didn’t care.
“This sadness makes me happy. I am going to cry, dammit, and to hell with you and your positivity.”