Joie de vivre is a French phrase that is thrown around by Francophiles to justify the indulgence of an almond croissant, but there is much more to the philosophy than laminated dough.
Joy has always separated the French from the duty-bound Brits and the Puritan Americans. Both of those cultures traditionally attach guilt, shame and atonement to pleasure and leisure. And perhaps as a counter-move both of those cultures have driven a billion-dollar self-improvement industry – the cult of happiness.
The French, by contrast, have little use for books and podcasts that give people permission to experience positivity – they just, you know, do it. It’s not conscious – it’s cultural.
Enmeshed in the fabric of everyday life is this combination of being present and stepping into things that are just fun – not just almond croissants – but sunshine, friendships, wine, cheese, and the pure joy that is a simple striped Breton T-shirt that works with everything.
The thing about joy as a cultural pillar is that it is neither held up on a pedestal by gurus to be worshipped in stadiums. Nor is the absence of it seen as a personal deficiency – more like a natural and tidal process. A comfort that Joie will return to the forefront like a season.
Joy is a word we tend to bring out at Christmas time in peak excess, only to rush into a lean penance in the new year to punish ourselves for the indulgence.
Joy, without scarcity, enables temperance that we can also observe. There is no oscillation between binging and deprivation, the way that we tend to experience it – and I’m thinking about alcohol as well as almond croissants.
So far from euphoria and excess, the French concept of joy seems to offer up a deliberate and moderate practice. It seems much easier to achieve.