Happiness is a multi-billion dollar industry. People need help. And in this day and age, they need help navigating a veritable maelstrom of self-help options. Mindfulness workshops. Gratitude challenges. These wellness communities have sprung up all over, well intentioned, but not necessarily effective. Inner-strength and calm is a personal quest, made more elusive and difficult than ever before with the frenetic conditions we call modernity. It’s no laughing matter. But reading Eleanor Davis’s How to Be Happy might help you to do just that. Laugh.
This collection of cynical and satirical cartoons is like an old, pre-digital photo album in which all of those terrible angles and expressions would make the cut. In the first story, In Our Eden, Davis equates the Biblical fall from Eden to the shift from hunting and gathering societies to the agrarian sort that begot our own current situation. Some disgruntled folks go off the grid, in search of a long lost way of life… until it proves to be too inconvenient.
Davis aligns herself with the great Tom Robbins in Sticks and Stones, a love story in which a tribal native woman and your average twenty-something, guitar wielding, white guy try to make it work. In Robbins’ masterpiece, Still Life with Woodpecker, he professes that “the moon invented natural rhythm,” and that “civilization uninvented it.” We see evidence of this all over How to Be Happy.
Because that’s what this book is really about, the ruin of humanity in the name of civilization. This, and Davis’ biting social commentary, unify the collection. And it’s hilarious. Prozac. Yoga. Meditation. Procreation. Nothing is sacred or off limits. But what makes it okay, palatable, even, is the evident sense of camaraderie and catharsis. Davis, too, is searching for the answer.