During long road trips when I was a kid, instead of switching on the radio my father sang, sometimes accompanied my mother. My brother had left home, so it was just me in the back, behind a blanket strung from door to door, pretending I was on a pirate ship headed for China, doing my best to blot out my father’s off-key warbling. Bernie was not a happy man, but his repertoire had a single theme: Happy Days Are Here Again, Smile (though your heart is breaking) and Put On A Happy Face topped his hit parade.
My mother wasn’t any happier than my father, but it was as if she had drunk the same cultural Kool-Aid as he. They both had got the message that happiness is the only worthy emotion. The rest—anger, disappointment, fear, sorrow—were signs of a weak character. Shameful. I got the message, too. Like so many Westerners, especially Americans, we believed we were supposed to be happy all the time—as far as I can tell, the number one, surefire predictor of misery.