In the Republic of Happiness

In the Republic of Happiness

Jacquelyn Smith makes a welcome return to the pages of after a self-imposed hiatus.

In this thought-provoking piece she looks at ‘what makes us happy, or not as the case may be.’

Recently, I met a friend to go see Dans la République de bonheur playing at the Grand Théatre de Québec. My friend, whom I had not seen in a year, aptly suggested the play as we are both lovers of theatre and culture, but mostly because of the last time we had seen each other, happiness was at the heart of our conversation.

One year ago, on a cold January evening we warmed up over spicy curry and tandoori chicken. My friend asked me if all was well. Truthfully, I answered it was not. After mutually sharing our woes, we finished the evening by toasting to better days.

The next day, for me, things got worse. Much worse.
After a harrowing year, I was happy to see my friend’s smiling face. We had just a few minutes to catch up on the events of 2014 before the play began. As the lights dimmed, I was excited. Last year had left me feeling burnt out, where fiery passion and contagious joy had once been, now lay dust. Coming back to Quebec City, seeing friends and picking up my old life was bewildering. I had changed, but my life in Québec had not.

Truth be told, despite all signs that the title was satirical, I went into the play looking for a little bit of hope on that icy Thursday evening, to get me back on my feet again.

Hope, I did not find In the Republic of Happiness.

As the curtain drew after the melancholic performance of ‘The Happy Song’ (where the character Bob, after telling his family why his wife hates them and sets off to start a new life in the title’s Republic, cries tears of blood), I looked at my friend. I couldn’t quite read his expression.

‘What did you think?’ I asked him.

‘I thought that was amazing! I can’t believe that a play that provocative would make it to Québec City! Did you see all those people leave? That was an extraordinary critique of our consumerist, individualistic society! What did you think?’

He looked at me the way that most of my friends do, waiting to see the person I once was, ready with fire and brimstone to pronounce on some social ill.

I just wanted a happy ending.

‘It showed us what happiness is not. It didn’t show us what happiness is.’

‘Maybe it is supposed to make us think of what wasn’t included in the play’ replied my friend.

We made our way to Pub Galway or avenue Cartier where my friend had his long overdue dinner. We chatted about what was not in the play and the cornerstones of happiness: love, compassion, kindness and human connection, as I stole some of his fries. We discussed the trials and triumphs of the past year. We discussed illusions of happiness, Martin Luther King Jr and the struggle of the human condition.

As I snuggled into bed that night, I thought about watching the live performers deliver a scathing commentary on all the things that we turn to in order to get a toehold on happiness: sex, food, family, smartphones and retail therapy, even fitness and fresh vegetables, nothing was sacred.

‘They were so busy trying to be happy, they never stopped to ask themselves what happiness is’, commented my friend about the characters.

Then I thought of the warm French fries with my friend on a cold evening.

Maybe that was the holy trinity of happiness: art, friends and food.

Categories: Opinion

About Author

Jacquelyn Smith

Jacquelyn Smith was born and raised in Hamilton. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in International Developement from the University of Guelph and is currently studying Law at Université Laval. Jacquelyn Smith lives in Quebec City.

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