smoke and mirrors

by rantywoman

Yet most of us insist that New York is the only place we’d be happy, just as parents insist their children are their greatest sources of joy. Maybe the same phenomenon is at work: New York creates moments of transcendence, and that’s all that matters. Or maybe the belief that New York is the best place on earth is what Gilbert calls a super-replicator—a myth necessary to the flourishing of a culture, just as certain genes are necessary to the flourishing of the species. Gilbert theorized that our beliefs that money and children will make us happy are super-replicators—without them, civilization wouldn’t survive. Modern civilization wouldn’t survive without its large cities, either. (Take that, red states.)

And maybe, too, there’s something to all this abundance, all this aspiring, all this choice. For all its confusions, choice is also a source of hope, and for many of us, hope is itself happiness, whether it’s predicated on truths or illusions. This isn’t the sort of thing that gets borne out in surveys. But it’s the stuff of fantasies, novels—of being human. As Julian Barnes asks in Flaubert’s Parrot, “Isn’t the most reliable form of pleasure . . . the pleasure of anticipation? Who needs to burst into fulfillment’s desolate attic?”