I would like to explore the theme of happiness in the pre pandemic and post pandemic eras. Psychologists would define happiness as a state of well-being that stems from a sense of meaning and satisfaction, which is not untrue. I would define happiness as a state of fulfillment or contentment that is derived from the ability to feel compassion for others and act upon that feeling. A starving man, when given two bread rolls, will derive great satisfaction from eating the first bread roll but he will derive happiness from the second bread roll if he can bring himself to give it to his starving fellow.
On the very first page of Station Eleven Jeevan Chaudhary, in an impulse of compassion, leapt instinctively to the stage to perform CPR upon a dying Arthur Leander. He was unable to save him: “But now there was a prickling at the back of his neck, a sense of being watched from above.”(5). Jeevan told the young Kirsten that “he [Arthur] was doing the thing that he loved best in the world ” (8). As he departed the theater a few minutes later, Jeevan told the paparazzo “ I want to do something that matters..”(10). “Outside in the clear air, away from other people…….he [Jeevan] felt extravagantly, guiltily alive” (11). A few minutes later “.. he [Jeevan] found himself blindsided by an unexpected joy” (11), when he realized that he wanted to be a paramedic and help others.
Zooming forward to the first lines of part IV: “SOMETIMES THE TRAVELING SYMPHONY thought that what they were doing was noble. There were moments around campfires when someone would say something invigoration about the importance of art, and everyone would find it easier to sleep that night” (119). This state of fulfillment or contentment that is derived from the joy and hope that their art brings to the hard-pressed occupants of the towns that they visit, comes at considerable personal expense for the actors and musicians of the Travelling Symphony: “At other times it seemed a difficult and dangerous way to survive and hardly worth it…” (119). Such is the nature of happiness (state of fulfillment or contentment), like a salmon that fights her way upstream to spawn; it may exact a high price from it’s seekers but one which they readily pay to fulfill themselves. This sense of fulfillment, of having almost reached an ultimate state of release, brings with it a desire to transcend the present “Kirsten stood in a state of suspension that always came over her at the end of performances, a sense of having flown very high and landed incompletely, her soul pulling upward out of her chest” (59). “Perhaps soon humanity would simply flicker out, but Kirsten found this thought more peaceful than sad.So many species had appeared and vanished from this earth; what was one more?”(148)
Mere survival is thus insufficient.