Once upon a time, a Twitter troll accused Joy Clarkson of being “aggressively happy.” Clearly, this person thought they’d delivered the snappiest insult of the 21st century and given Miss Clarkson the what-for. Joy, however, in the Joy Clarksonest way possible, simply thanked the disgruntled individual and added the phrase to her Twitter bio–because, in her own words, “I’m not always aggressively happy, but I want to be.”
Now before I go any further with this review, let’s clear up one thing (just as Joy does in the introduction to her debut book): being an “aggressively happy” person does NOT mean you’re a Pollyanna, refusing to see the hardships or evils of this world and pretending everything is hunky-dory. That level of self-delusion can only go so far. At some point, you will stare into the void and find (just as the philosophers say) that the void stares back.
But you don’t have to blink. You can look back at the void, recognize it for what it is, and not be utterly daunted by it. You can be a realist who believes in the goodness of life.
Joy writes in her introduction:
“There is such a thing as toxic positivity, a compulsive need to look on the bright side that lends itself to a perpetual denial of the real, deep difficulties of life. A happiness that ignores pain, injustice, and brokenness is not worth having. But a happiness that can stand tall, look like in the eye, and smile anyway? That is well worth the fight. And a fight it must be.”
Her weapons in this epic fight for joyful courage are summarized by her chapter titles:
- Befriend Sadness
- Flounder Well
- Remember: You Have a Body!
- Enjoy Things Unironically
- Tell Yourself a Good Story
- Be Like Mr. Collins
- Believe in God
- Accept Love
- Expect the End of the World
“Befriend Sadness” and “Accept Love” both made me cry: they touched on two of my biggest insecurities (“Is it okay for me to feel sad sometimes?” and “Am I even worthy of love?”), yet comforted me with truth. “Flounder Well” encouraged me, because it showed me that 2019–a spiritually pivotal year for me–was when I learned to flounder well. “Tell Yourself a Good Story” convicted me, since I typically don’t tell myself a good story about myself–and “Be Like Mr. Collins” sparked some pretty spirited conversations when my mom read it aloud at the breakfast table! I also got to read Aggressively Happy as a sort of two-woman book club with my dear friend Caroline, author of the blog Cosmos and a Cuppa, and our conversations about it were heartfelt and often quite vulnerable.
All in all, Aggressively Happy inspired me in my own, never-ending quest to live well in a hard and cynical world. It challenges toxic positivity, yet also rejects the passive despair that marks the lives of so many, whether Christian or not. It will make you laugh and cry–and it will remind you that “death is not the truest thing at the heart of the universe, but life, beauty, [and] joy.”
One final note to conclude my hearty recommendation of Aggressively Happy: I think it pairs beautifully with her older sister Sarah’s book, This Beautiful Truth (which I reviewed here). Sarah’s writing is deeply poetic and heavy with a sense of soaring beauty beyond these Shadowlands. Joy writes with her own keen awareness of sorrow and longing…but you also get the impression that she’s typing away with a merry, often sassy twinkle in her eye. The books are excellent on their own, of course, but together, they work like a super-vitamin and appeal to a broader range of personalities.