The Tyranny of Relentless Positivity

I spend a lot of time — maybe you do, too — thinking about happiness. What is it? How can I get more of it? But there are other times — and maybe this also applies to you — when I just think, forget all that: Life is hard, and who says lasting happiness is even within reach? It’s in those moments that Samantha Irby’s work feels so valuable and refreshing. I spoke to Irby, the best-selling humorist who recently published her fifth book of essays, “Quietly Hostile,” and who is a contributing producer on the new season of “And Just Like That,” the “Sex and the City” revival, about the tyranny of positivity.

A running theme in your work is that you’re a mess and you don’t understand how to make life go smoothly. But do you think other people are walking around thinking, I’ve got everything under control? I know people who have it together, which, when I look at them, I feel even worse. My wife is very put together. She knows where her stuff is and she has routines. I see this in other people and then I don’t know where my glasses are or where I put my shoes and I’m like, how am I getting through the same life they’re getting through?

But from afar, you’re successful. Are you just locked into a certain idea of yourself? That could be true. But, OK, I don’t know that I’ve ever said this to anyone before, so we’re about to get into it.

Please. I think there is a part of me that because I’m in this fat body that doesn’t work right — I saw somebody say that straight white men are the only group you can still joke about. There are fat jokes everywhere. I’ll always feel a little less-than because of my size and, secondarily, my Crohn’s disease. That is why I will never view anything I do as extremely successful because there’s always, yeah, but you look like that. I don’t mean this as Feel Bad for My Fat Struggle, it’s just real! David, people hate fat people so much. I don’t think there is a way — at least I haven’t figured it out yet — to both feel successful and exist in a world that’s like, I don’t want to sit by you.

What do you think of happiness as a goal that we should all be striving toward? I think that leaves a lot of people out. It feels dismissive or unrealistic to tell people who are suffering, “Hey, you just got to be happy,” because it’s like, well, are you going to put me somewhere that makes me happy? Are you going to give me something that makes me happy? This is the perfect example: I don’t take beach vacations, but you see people posting about their beach vacation on social media, and they’re like, “Black people don’t travel enough. We got to get out there and travel!” What if I’m disabled? Or too poor? The thing where whatever you aspire to is a thing we all should aspire to — I hate it. That kind of messaging just exists to make people feel bad. When you flatten everything into “be happy,” it’s like, what does that mean? It means a different thing for you than it does for me, and can you ever get there? For most people, the answer is no. The dishonesty behind positivity grates on my nerves.

For more

Read my full interview with Irby here.

During that interview, she mentioned her love of the comedian Paul Mooney, who left behind a complicated legacy, which Vulture explored.

Apart from her books, Irby may be best known for writing the fan favorite “Pool” episode of “Shrill,” which was celebrated for its joyous depiction of a “fat babe pool party.” Slate explained that episode’s importance.

If you’re looking for a different perspective on happiness, read my interview with Laurie Santos, a Yale professor and “The Happiness Lab” podcast host.

Unsurprisingly, Irby’s ideal Sunday comes with a little vinegar: “If it is football season, I like to post up on the couch and watch all of the games. I watch the noon game, the three o’clock game and the Sunday night game, which is maybe a sickness.”


War in Ukraine

Russia blew up a Ukrainian dam from within, evidence suggests. These graphics show how an environmental and humanitarian disaster may have started.

To resist the Ukrainian counteroffensive, Russian troops have improved their defenses by learning from past mistakes.

War and the pandemic may set the global economy back by a decade, the World Bank warned.


“The fires here are unstoppable”: French firefighters, the first foreign reinforcements, arrived to help put out the blazes in Quebec.

Militants killed at least 37 people, including many students, at a high school in Uganda.

The Taliban runs on WhatsApp, but the platform keeps kicking them off to comply with U.S. sanctions.


Ron DeSantis is young and has little kids, and he wants America to know it.

With abortion restricted in many states, reproductive rights advocates are trying to make birth control access a right.

Other Big Stories

Minneapolis residents said a damning federal report on the city’s police department affirmed their mistrust of officers.

Tension between New York City and its suburbs over issues like crime and congestion have gotten worse.

After winter storms, California rivers are too dangerous to enjoy.

The shortest hole in U.S. Open history tormented golfers.


This Father’s Day, Esau McCaulley recounts how he learned to forgive his father, who struggled with addiction.

Trent Davis Bailey’s mother died in a plane crash in 1989. Having children of his own forced him to finally reckon with the loss.

Here are columns by Maureen Dowd on Donald Trump and Ross Douthat on masculine alienation.

The Sunday question: Is Trump’s indictment good news for his primary opponents?

The charges have prompted Republican presidential candidates to run on whether they would pardon Trump, “suffocating the G.O.P. primary,” The Hill’s Myra Adams writes. But if another candidate wins, “Trump now has a real personal interest — his own liberty — in ensuring that a Republican wins next year’s election,” Jason Willick writes for The Washington Post.


Beyond the grill: Dads’ cooking has become more inventive. Here’s what they’re making now.

Infertility: The emotional toll is real for men, too.

Sign in the crowd: Kourtney Kardashian announced she was pregnant at her husband’s Blink-182 concert. See the video from CNN.

Vows: A vegan restaurateur and a meat connoisseur fell in love.

Lives lived: Carol Higgins Clark was a best-selling suspense novelist who collaborated with her mother, the famed mystery writer Mary Higgins Clark. She died at 66.


Find a Father’s Day gift for less than $50.

Pit olives and cherries with this tool.

See what millennial dads are reading, watching, doing and wearing.

Guess where these buildings are in our architecture quiz.


National dishes: A new book looks at the histories of some of the world’s most iconic food.

Our editors’ picks: “The Late Americans,” a novel about sex and grad students, and eight other books.

Times best sellers: Elliot Page’s memoir “Pageboy” is a No. 1 debut on the hardcover nonfiction list.


On the cover: Diaries from three young women dreaming of a new Iran.

Considering an open relationship? This sex therapist wants you to think hard about it.

Eat: Yotam Ottolenghi explains how he comes up with a new recipe.

Read the full issue.


What to Watch For

Antony Blinken arrived in Beijing today, the first visit of a U.S. secretary of state to China since 2018.

Tomorrow is Juneteenth in the U.S. Financial markets will be closed.

John Durham, the special counsel who investigated the Russia inquiry, will testify before lawmakers on Wednesday.

Wednesday is the first day of summer.

India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, will travel to Washington for a state visit on Thursday.

Brazil’s former president, Jair Bolsonaro, is scheduled to go to trial on Thursday over allegations of election fraud.

The N.B.A. draft is on Thursday.

What to Cook This Week

In her Five Weeknight Dishes newsletter, Emily Weinstein shares this tip from a reader: If you’re cooking for picky eaters, try a Niçoise salad, which lets everyone pick their favorites off the platter. Emily recommends this sheet-pan roasted salmon version, with potatoes, tomatoes, olives and more. You can also try a pasta with creamy lemon sauce that is great for nights when you need something simple.


Here are today’s Spelling Bee and the Bee Buddy, which helps you find remaining words. Yesterday’s pangram were buttoned, unbuttoned and undoubted.

Take the news quiz to see how well you followed the week’s headlines.

And here are today’s Mini Crossword, Wordle and Sudoku.

Thanks for spending part of your weekend with The Times.

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