The Melancholy of Parties

The paradox of melancholy lies in how the seeds of sadness sit latent (and ever ready to germinate) within happiness. Just as life implies death and pleasure implies pain, happiness implies sadness. It is the foresight that this momentary (and precarious) lofty feeling will soon (all too soon) descend back to the pits of despair which constitutes a feeling of melancholy.

While basically anything can prompt melancholy, one particular situation will always provide fertile soil for this most paradoxical of feeling: parties.

You might have been a bit hesitant to go, but after some careful and considered cajoling by friends, they convinced you to come along to the party. As the music pumps and the drinks are poured, you find yourself (surprisingly) having quite a good time. But then, you are suddenly struck by a feeling, perhaps the same feeling that caused your anxiety about going to the party in the first place. You begin feeling melancholic.

Although you are now surrounded by friends and immersed in the bonhomie of the party, you realise just how joyless and lonely your day to day existence is. You begin to see that while you’re having fun tonight; the other 99% of your week is devoted to mind-numbing drudgery and minutia. This moment is effervescent, bubbly, but soon to pop (any moment now) and all that will remain are the still waters of everyday life.

You want to feel good like this all the time, but you know you can’t. The very knowledge of your somewhat miserable life outside of the party is the very thing stopping you from enjoying the party. So, not only do you feel melancholic, but (adding insult to injury) you begin feeling disappointed in yourself, because you now have a slither of happiness within your grasp that only you are stopping yourself from enjoying.

There is another type of melancholy that typically arises at parties. If the first is melancholy because life beyond the party is seen as lacking, the second type arises when life within the party is seen as lacking.

At the party (but one can easily substitute a bar, club, pub or festival), one will be surrounded by all types of people having a stupendous time. The lights are low, alcohol is being passed freely; and banter and laughter fill the room.

The idea of sociability at work here is that people relate to each other best when they are close together, in a good mood, and maybe, just a little bit drunk. But the melancholic sees through this pretence. Or rather, they see artifice and the beauty of constructed situations as pretence, as fakery and mimicry. The cheeriness and superficial banter are not seen as invitations to pretend – in the tradition of the Italian carnival­e – but rather, are seen as indications of the emptiness that lies within most social occasions. The melancholic – perhaps more than other people – sees that real connection requires more than false smile and the conscious effort to be funny and friendly.

The melancholic grasps in the joyful atmosphere of parties what is truly lacking: intimacy. Melancholy, if anything, is moral witnessing to the disparity between how things are, and how we would like them to be.

While the world around us emphasises buoyancy and joyfulness, melancholy alerts us to the inescapable fact that life is inextricably entwined with pain, suffering, and loneliness.

Melancholy, viewed in a more philosophical light, is not a problem at all; for melancholy is at its heart a realisation, a revelation, and a prompt from the deep recesses of our soul to deal with the way we are living. It is a call from the beyond to take stock of our life, and a suggestion to begin living it differently.

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