Balloons and the Politics of Joy

TheAestheticsOfJoy Balloons Overview1

Whew. It’s been an intensely political few weeks, and I’ve been finding it hard to keep from reading all the news alerts the minute they pop up on my phone.

He said what??

They did that??

Who hacked whom??

It has been alternately shocking and inspiring, distressing and uplifting. An emotion-filled roller coaster, whatever your politics. (I’ll keep my personal views out of it, except to say that watching the first female presidential nominee in America claim her nomination was meaningful to me in a way I couldn’t have anticipated. I think this tweet summed it up best.) But I don’t think anyone quite realized how amped up we all were until those balloons started falling.

They’re just balloons, people! Just pockets of rubber filled with air. But falling ten-thousand strong from the ceiling of the Philadelphia Convention Center, they were an inexorable wave of joy. Watching it on the livestream, it felt like a joyful kind of snow. Red, white, and blue orbs mixed with confetti, drifting slowly downwards onto the jubilant crowd below.

Suddenly, the tweets streaming into my feed weren’t about policy or who put who in their place or who said WHAT?! It was a collective outpouring of elation, as photos and gifs of Bill, Hillary, Tim Kaine, and others playing with balloons started pinging around the web. Suddenly, all these serious politicians were playing like kids.

Balloons seem to have this power to bypass all our adult reserve and beckon our inner children to the surface. Their lightness and roundness—like so many other childhood toys (think of beach balls, or bubbles, which do the same thing)—are like a primal invitation to play. It’s almost impossible not to reach out to try to catch them, swat them, or throw them when they’re falling near you. Even watching at home, there’s a pleasure to be gained just from seeing all these serious politicians behave like preschoolers (and not in the name-calling, squabbling way, but in the giggling, playful one).

Maybe it’s just reassuring to know there’s something as deep and human as joy that alive inside our leaders. That our government of, for, and by the people is helmed by people. And not just people who are capable of feeling the indignation that propels them to fight against injustice, or the courage that enables them to make the hard, awful decisions. But people who are capable of feeling joy, and sharing joy. Because in a union that will always be imperfect, joy is the most equalizing, leveling force we have, and it’s far more effective than hate.

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Hey, Guess What?

The Aesthetics of Joy is now a book! Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness is now available for preorder.

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