That’s Men: Enjoyment would be so much better if we could take the money out of it
A woman whose husband doesn’t like to see her enjoying herself was explaining to me the other day that enjoyment is a radical act which a large part of the human race is unable to tolerate.
It seems that whenever she appears to be enjoying herself, for instance by buying something that she likes and that doesn’t cost very much, or by having a laugh with a female friend, the husband puts on a grim face and begins banging around the place.
His own mother, she assures me, was the same as her and so here we have yet another case of a man marrying his mother, but that’s a story for another day.
Her story got me thinking, though, about the dim view which much of the human race takes of enjoyment. I won’t go on about the puritans, or the ascetics of various religions, or of the place that self-mortification had in the Catholic Irish worldview up until Vatican II undermined all that in the 1960s.
Back when I used to be sneaking into Hammer Horror movies it was a given that if the scene showed a crowd of people enjoying themselves, they could be pretty sure of an early visit from Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, or some other grim character to teach them that life is not about having fun.
The same idea comes up in horror and murder movies now, so this dread of enjoyment continues on, even in our hedonistic times.
Today, I notice that the guidelines for what are considered reasonable living expenses for people who need to use the new insolvency legislation would appear to take a dim view of enjoyment.
What Archbishop McQuaid used to call “frugal comfort” is about as good as it is meant to get, it appears, for people who must throw themselves on the mercy of the banks who made unsustainable loans to them in the first place.
Even trips to the bingo hall, I suspect, will be noted by shadowy figures following the insolvent through the streets. Personally I hope they manage to keep their heads up high enough to knock a bit of fun out of life and that the million dollar men of the banking system will never find out about it.
On a whole other level, the treatment of asylum seekers reflects an absolute determination that no enjoyment will enter their lives.
To spend years in some former hotel somewhere in the country on €19.10 a week will certainly put paid to any notions they might have about enjoyment – and that’s if they can get it: not all do, according to the Irish Immigrant Support Centre.
I recall a time when certain people harboured dark suspicions that the poor might be enjoying themselves by watching “colour television” behind our backs. This was considered an insult to the rest of us.
What was to happen if the poor had found a way to make life enjoyable ? Well, you have only to look at the collapse of the world financial system for your answer.
The problem with enjoyment is that if people could figure out how to enjoy themselves under more or less any circumstances, the whole system of order as we know it would collapse.
If we brought ourselves to believe that we could enjoy life without having the latest version of everything, then commerce would be in ruins in short order. Even politics might be in ruins pretty quickly. And religion would most definitely be up the creek.
Champions of enjoyment
The Epicureans were the great champions of enjoyment in the ancient world. They reckoned that you should knock your enjoyment out of the simplest things. A loaf of bread, a jug of wine and thou, would more than suffice. No iPhone required.
But you can’t have people going around enjoying themselves like that. Who would make money? Who would get bonuses? Who would run themselves into a heart attack in the rat race? That woman’s enjoyment-denying husband was wiser than she realised. And so was his mother.
Padraig O’Morain (pomorain@yahoo.
com) is a counsellor accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. His book, Light Mind – Mindfulness for Daily Living , is published by Veritas. His mindfulness newsletter is available free by email.