The Thief of Joy
It was the absolute spontaneity of Thursday afternoon’s explosion of joy that marked it off from every other celebration we can recall. No one had really dared face peace. It was too good to be true—it and all the gains which it signified for human beings the world around.
So when it burst unexpectedly upon us—through a giant hoax—there were no preparations, no set attitudes, to greet the glad tidings. There was only a spontaneous eruption of long pent-up feelings, gushing forth to find their own natural channel of outlet. For those first early hours after the supposed news arrived the doings were an utter improvisation. People laughed and sang and wept and cheered and talked to strangers and marched and countermarched and waved, and altogether dumped their emotions out upon the highway exactly as they flung papers from their office windows.
Can such a celebration be repeated? When the real news of peace arrives shall we have another celebration as good and joyous as those first hours? Hardly, we think. The edge has been taken off. What is more, even on Thursday the celebration had become formalized, had begun to run in routine channels, by nightfall. Broadway became more and more like an election night as the hours passed. To be sure, the doubts cast upon the news undoubtedly damped some spirits and took the thrill out of the evening. But, even more, the first spontaneity had worn off. Hearts were still aflame, but there was need of forced draft and fresh fuel from new recruits to keep the thing going at full tilt.
Anticipation is, in truth, the real thief of joy. The best times are always the unexpected ones. It is not the parties that you plan for weeks and look forward to that come off. There must be surprise and novelty and freshness to yield the last word in happiness and thrill. That we had on Thursday afternoon. The real thrill has passed, never
That is a beautiful piece of writing, and the final paragraph provides words to live by that have proved true, time and again, in my life.
I found my way to this having read a quote attributed to Theodore Roosevelt, “Comparison is the thief of all joy,” as a piece of advice to those in polyamorous relationships, upon meeting their partner’s partners for the first time. I wanted to understand the context in which Roosevelt was speaking and, instead, found that he was likely misattributed as the source.
Which, in itself, is a lesson similar: the most interesting learning happens when you wander accidentally in the side door of something.