Is joy a philosophy of action?
Essentially, it is a state of contemplation, of accepting what is. This could be the opposite of an action-based approach. And here lies the paradox: joy gives us the power to act, but is not a driving force. We thrive on just being, and we are happy with what we have, which gives us the strength to act. To change the world, we must have the strength to accept things with joy. Joy is transforming acceptance, or inertia, into action.
Joy is often compared to happiness, is joy a lack of ambition?
Happiness is long-term, it is a state. Joy, on the other hand, is an isolated, sudden, sometimes even brutal outburst; it’s an emotion. Sometimes it is impossible to find happiness, but this does not preclude joy. It’s the same with Champagne: despite life’s ups and downs and challenges, we can still appreciate its virtues. I would even go so far to say that it is noble and chivalrous to claim that celebrating life is always possible, even in less happy times.
Why are you interested in joy?
It was something my publisher once said about me; I have faced difficult times but always joyfully. And there’s your subject, he told me. Before that, I was interested in beauty and the relationship between philosophy and psychoanalysis. It’s all quite similar in fact as complete joy can be found through psychoanalysis, and Freud means joy in German!
How can we cultivate joy?
We need to find joy in real life. Forget hoping for change and reconnect with the present. Hope kills joy and displaces our zest for life. It is important to be able to embrace what we have, accept it for what it is and connect with the present. I also believe we need to reassess our relationship with our body and routine; enjoy simple pleasures such as going for a walk, doing sport, having a drink outside in the fresh air. It’s quite simple really. Relationships with others are also important. We need to be mindful of what we have, not what we could have, since the idea of happiness makes our existence seem worthless. It is important to seek out the good in what we have, without minimalism or pessimism. All these moments of joy, no matter how insignificant, are filled with cosmic energy; when we are living in the moment, we are present in the world, which means that we exist and that we might not have been. We are here; existing is an incredible feat, and many miracles have taken place along the way for us to get thus far, which is already considerable. We must make the most of the little we have.
Are some people more capable of joy than others, and has this always been the case throughout time?
The human capacity for joy remains the same: relationships with the present remain true throughout time. The obstacles, however, vary. In western society, war and disease have been replaced by the onslaught of social networks and terrorism. Envy and comparison create frustrations which also stand in the way of joy. Instead of romanticising, we need to make the necessary decisions to firmly live in the present. The philosopher Epicurus believed in a cosmic vision of life being a miracle; consider then, like him, that all this might never have been.
Your latest work, Les vertus de l’échec (The virtues of failure), seems in some way also to touch upon joy?
Yes, because we are more joyful when we have experienced failure. Not because I want to encourage failure, but rather to explain that simple pleasures are all the more intense by virtue of failure, which strips us of all our existential longings. Joy is intensified and enriched by our failures. Joys that come late in life are particularly precious. We should be true to ourselves about these “threatened” joys on borrowed time; there must be a limit to this inaccessible happiness. Experiencing failure proves to us that the threat is very real and that all joy is fragile; true joy is being clear about what makes us angry.
Author of ten novels and philosophical essays published in twenty countries, including Quand la beauté nous sauve (2013), La joie (2015) and Les vertus de l’échec (2016), Charles Pépin’s forthcoming work is dedicated to solitude.
He has also written several comic books, together with illustrator Jul: La planète des sages. Encyclopédie Mondiale des philosophes et des philosophies (1 & 2) and Platon la Gaffe, Survivre au travail avec les philosophes. Allary éditions