I spend a lot of time — maybe you do, too — thinking about happiness. What is it? How can I get more of it? But there are other times — and maybe this also applies to you — when I just think, forget all that: Life is hard, and who says lasting happiness is even within reach? It’s in those moments that Samantha Irby’s work feels so valuable and refreshing. I spoke to Irby, the best-selling humorist who recently published her fifth book of essays, “Quietly Hostile,” and who is a contributing producer on the new season of “And Just Like That,” the “Sex and the City” revival, about the tyranny of positivity.
A running theme in your work is that you’re a mess and you don’t understand how to make life go smoothly. But do you think other people are walking around thinking, I’ve got everything under control? I know people who have it together, which, when I look at them, I feel even worse. My wife is very put together. She knows where her stuff is and she has routines. I see this in other people and then I don’t know where my glasses are or where I put my shoes and I’m like, how am I getting through the same life they’re getting through?
But from afar, you’re successful. Are you just locked into a certain idea of yourself? That could be true. But, OK, I don’t know that I’ve ever said this to anyone before, so we’re about to get into it.
Please. I think there is a part of me that because I’m in this fat body that doesn’t work right — I saw somebody say that straight white men are the only group you can still joke about. There are fat jokes everywhere. I’ll always feel a little less-than because of my size and, secondarily, my Crohn’s disease. That is why I will never view anything I do as extremely successful because there’s always, yeah, but you look like that. I don’t mean this as Feel Bad for My Fat Struggle, it’s just real! David, people hate fat people so much. I don’t think there is a way — at least I haven’t figured it out yet — to both feel successful and exist in a world that’s like, I don’t want to sit by you.
What do you think of happiness as a goal that we should all be striving toward? I think that leaves a lot of people out. It feels dismissive or unrealistic to tell people who are suffering, “Hey, you just got to be happy,” because it’s like, well, are you going to put me somewhere that makes me happy? Are you going to give me something that makes me happy? This is the perfect example: I don’t take beach vacations, but you see people posting about their beach vacation on social media, and they’re like, “Black people don’t travel enough. We got to get out there and travel!” What if I’m disabled? Or too poor? The thing where whatever you aspire to is a thing we all should aspire to — I hate it. That kind of messaging just exists to make people feel bad. When you flatten everything into “be happy,” it’s like, what does that mean? It means a different thing for you than it does for me, and can you ever get there? For most people, the answer is no. The dishonesty behind positivity grates on my nerves.
Read my full interview with Irby here.
Apart from her books, Irby may be best known for writing the fan favorite “Pool” episode of “Shrill,” which was celebrated for its joyous depiction of a “fat babe pool party.” Slate explained that episode’s importance.
If you’re looking for a different perspective on happiness, read my interview with Laurie Santos, a Yale professor and “The Happiness Lab” podcast host.
Unsurprisingly, Irby’s ideal Sunday comes with a little vinegar: “If it is football season, I like to post up on the couch and watch all of the games. I watch the noon game, the three o’clock game and the Sunday night game, which is maybe a sickness.”
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THE WEEK AHEAD
What to Watch For
Antony Blinken arrived in Beijing today, the first visit of a U.S. secretary of state to China since 2018.
Tomorrow is Juneteenth in the U.S. Financial markets will be closed.
John Durham, the special counsel who investigated the Russia inquiry, will testify before lawmakers on Wednesday.
Wednesday is the first day of summer.
India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, will travel to Washington for a state visit on Thursday.
Brazil’s former president, Jair Bolsonaro, is scheduled to go to trial on Thursday over allegations of election fraud.
The N.B.A. draft is on Thursday.