Review: Aggressively Happy

Finding happiness in a fallen world

Review: Aggressively Happy

On the surface, Wendell Berry and Joy Marie Clarkson don’t seem to have much in common. One is an aging poet-farmer who writes on a typewriter in a shed, the other tweets a lot about tea and art. One is generally considered a grump while the other is often gleeful. But the two are kindred spirits, however unlikely. In the front matter of Joy Clarkson’s new book, Aggressively Happy is a quote from Berry’s poem, “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front.” “Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.” It seems appropriate that Clarkson is the new Books & Culture editor at Plough Quarterly, as both she and Berry have, each in their own way, worked to cultivate a deep appreciation for the goodness of life.

Early in Aggressively Happy, Joy Clarkson tells the story of the book’s title. After tweeting about the pleasure of a new lipstick or some equally innocent frivolity, an unknown commenter declared her to be both disgusting and aggressively happy. In Clarkson’s telling, she’s bemused, but after puzzling over the insult, decides she rather likes the idea and adds “aggressively happy” to her Twitter bio. The question Aggressively Happy concerns itself with, then, is whether or not it is “disgusting” to pursue happiness with gusto—or if, after having considered all the facts, it’s the only way to be joyful in this life.

The question presses because it’s easy to believe brokenness is the basic rule of the world. Lies, after all, must dabble in truth to draw the unwary and weary away into dark woods of doubt (or doom-scrolling). Isn’t this the truth of life in a fallen world? People, perhaps Christians most of all, are not surprised by the catalogue of ignorance, pettiness, and pure venom that the very-online hold in their hands daily. The same darkness greets us on the street when we choose to venture out.

This is the temptation with which Clarkson engages.

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