In a world where unhappiness is forbidden by law, a young girl struggles to find a way to cope with her crippling depression and anxiety, fearing she is the only one in the world who feels this way…
After the last great war, life in what was once, one of the most powerful countries in the world, fell apart. High taxation and forced conscription managed to win the war but at the cost of the country. Everyone was broke, capitalism collapsed in on itself, no man was spared. The rich and poor alike fell into destitution, there was no money left to hire men to work the fields, stock shops and clean the streets… No-one could stop the riots, the sky high murder rates and equally high suicide rates. People were starving in the streets, mothers were smothering their babies in their cribs to save them from a life of pain. Due to heavy bombing, over half the population was homeless, and whole areas of the country had turned into war zones of their own. There was no shelter from the long winter that followed, no clean water to drink and wash in and no food to share. Famine and disease overcame the healthiest of men. The powers that be were desperate, you can’t rule over a dead and dying population.
Many thought all hope was lost when a revolutionary saved the day in the most unconventional way. Happiness, he told, would cure the world of all its ills. And so began The Good Life Revolution. When people are happy, they do not steal, fight and murder. When people are happy, they have hope and strive for a better future. When people are happy, they come together and make the changes that are so desperately needed.
Plunging themselves into even more debt, the government begged and borrowed every penny they could to fund this new project and one person at a time founded the life we enjoy today.
Joy woke up from her dream feeling… what? She didn’t know what she was feeling, there were no words for these emotions, not anymore. Then again she had never lived at a time when there were, the brief lesson on what would happen if the world wasn’t happy played over and over in her mind, the warning was clear, be happy or else- for the sake of the human race. But she wasn’t happy, Joy didn’t know, couldn’t know the names of the feelings she was burdened with, for months now, she had been sliding into depression, her anxiety was getting out of control. She had no idea why she had these alien feelings and how to rid herself of them. Her head sort of hurt, her thoughts were jumbled and spinning like the tumble dryer, her mouth was dry and her heart pounded. Joy closed her eyes tight and tried to make these feelings go away but the more she thought about them the harder and faster her heart thumped against her rib cage.
Distraction, she decided, she needed distraction. She dragged herself out of bed, pulled a thick jumper over her chilly arms, and stumbled over to the Self- Care Centre in the corner of her room.
‘What a beautiful morning!’ the machine said in greeting as it sensed her approach. Joy ignored it and requested one oral hygiene tablet, popped the small blue pill in her mouth and chewed the recommended, 45 seconds, until the froth filled her mouth, she spat out the remains and rinsed like every other morning, seconds after, her hair was combed and plaited by the long arm to the left of the mirror and a fresh floral scent misted around her.
The machine declared her prepared for the day and ended the interaction by proclaiming ‘You are the most wonderful you can be’ before shutting itself down. Joy rolled her eyes and continued on into the kitchen.
“Good morning Joy!” her mother beamed. Her smile was radiant like every other morning but her eyes, as always, were clouded, they never truly focused on anything.
Joy mustered up all of her energy and plastered a fake smile on her face. “Good morning mother! What fantastic thing are we doing today?” Joy remembered her Grandmother, telling her secrets from before, when people asked how everyone was when they spoke to each other. She remembered at the time being stunned, imagine a time when everyone was not always happy? Joy now desperately wished that she had spent more time speaking to her about this, she wished someone would ask her how she felt, she wished she could tell someone, anyone how she felt, without fear of punishment. Maybe Grandmother would have known what was happening to her and how to stop it? Joy kicked herself internally, wishing for other things was stupid. ‘The happiest moment of your entire life is always right now’. She repeated the old mantra to herself over and over.
Joy’s mother seemed to not have noticed her youngest daughters internal monologue at all. She just carried on beaming while she popped two Meal-1 Packs into the pressure oven. “Why today is the happiest day of the week!” Her mother gushed. (Everyday was the happiest day of the week, so that meant nothing to Joy.) “Today is the day Merry is coming to take us both on a tour of the higher calling centre!”
Merry was Joy’s older sister and had finished all of her learning. She was now a Mother- Maker. When baby applications were made, Merry made sure all standards were met and enabled people to concieve, it was one of the most wonderful of jobs, or so Joy had thought once upon a time. Now she had mixed feelings, the new, different feeling she woke up with whenever she thought of all the people who weren’t mother material, men and women, who would never get the chance to hold their very own beautiful baby in their arms.
Joy was 17 and coming to the end of First Phase Learning and would soon have to enter Second Phase which was taught exclusively in Higher Calling Centres around the country. Her reading, writing and basic mathematics were up to date and the teachers had deemed her lucky enough to find her higher calling already. Joy had also been taught everything there was to know about being exuberant and grateful for all things in life and how to enable others to feel the same, and taught what to do if she suspected someone was not exuberant and what would happen if everyone weren’t.
“That sounds fantastic mother, I can’t wait!” Joy enthused, even though thinking about all these things were making her hands really shaky and her forehead feel a little clammy. “Meal-1 smells delicious this morning! Thank you dearly, mother”
Meal-1 was a small bowl of mixed oats, cooked in hazelnut milk with dried fruit pieces, it was the same everyday. Meal-2 would be a salad with either a meat or cheese substitute and Meal-3 would be soup or stew. ‘Isn’t life great when you know every meal will always be perfect!’ The black bowl containing her food told her.
She sat opposite her mother, who hummed a jaunty tune while delicately picking at her food. Joy’s mother was not always like this, there was a time when Joy was very small that her mother did not smile and hum her way through every moment of her day. Someone had called the Quality of Life Enforcers and they had taken her mother away, she was gone for 3 months. When they returned her, she was perfectly exuberant but wasn’t the same person at all. She didn’t remember her daughters very well and had forgotten simple things, she often stopped halfway through conversations, slack faced and opened mouthed and stared off into space before carrying on right where she left off. ‘It’s just a normal part of happy-making’ they were told. No one questioned the Quality of Life Enforcers, no one but them knew exactly what happened in those inconspicuous looking buildings but there were rumours, plenty of rumours, the most telling on of all… Not everyone who went in, came back out again.
Like her dad…
Joy shuddered and shook her head. Joining her mother in humming, she blocked out all negative thoughts and focused on her food. ‘The past is gone and the future is bright!’ She told herself, immersing herself in the moment.