David Byrne Launches Reasons to Be Cheerful, an Online Magazine Featuring Articles by Byrne, Brian Eno & More

Hap­pi­ness, we know, is hard to come by, even in the best times. And if we agree on noth­ing else, we might agree that these are not the best of times. An air of gloomy dread and out­raged alarm pre­vails for good rea­son. There have been many oth­er times in his­to­ry to jus­ti­fi­ably feel this way. In 1944, Ger­man Jew­ish philoso­pher Theodor Adorno—exiled for ten years from his home and sojourn­ing through a U.S. he found increas­ing­ly fas­cist in character—resigned him­self to qui­et despair.

“There is no way out of entan­gle­ment,” he wrote in his tren­chant, gloomy col­lec­tion of apho­risms, Min­i­ma Moralia. “The only respon­si­ble course is to… con­duct one­self pri­vate­ly as mod­est­ly, unob­tru­sive­ly and unpre­ten­tious­ly as is required, no longer by good upbring­ing, but by the shame of still hav­ing air to breathe, in hell.”

Adorno’s absur­dist melan­cho­lia came from many places: his assess­ment of capitalism’s inescapa­bil­i­ty, his survivor’s guilt, his gen­er­al­ly morose tem­pera­ment…. He rarely con­fessed to hav­ing hap­py thoughts even when things were going well. Anoth­er thinker of the peri­od, philoso­pher of the absurd and a writer for the French Resis­tance dur­ing World War II, had a very dif­fer­ent take on the ques­tion of hap­pi­ness in dark times.

Albert Camus remind­ed us that all times are dark times for some­one. Speak­ing after the war in 1959, he cas­ti­gat­ed the idea that we should be shamed into mis­ery. “Today hap­pi­ness is like a crime,” Camus sneered, “nev­er admit it. Don’t say ‘I’m hap­py’ oth­er­wise you will hear con­dem­na­tion all around.” One per­ti­nent ques­tion both of these very dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives address is whether hap­pi­ness is moral­ly respon­si­ble.

For­mer Talk­ing Heads front­man, record label maven, and fre­quent cul­tur­al crit­ic David Byrne has answered the ques­tion in the affir­ma­tive with his project, Rea­sons to Be Cheer­ful, first an online com­pendi­um of news sto­ries, now a curat­ed online mag­a­zine designed to be a “ton­ic for tumul­tuous times.” Rea­sons to Be Cheer­ful starts with the premise that we are sub­ject­ed dai­ly to “ampli­fied neg­a­tiv­i­ty” that wild­ly skews our view of events around the world.

It’s an old com­plaint; we’ve all heard, or voiced, a ver­sion of why don’t they ever show any good news? Byrne put his cre­ative ener­gy and resources behind the crit­i­cism to do some­thing about it, “col­lect­ing good news,” he says, “not schmaltzy, feel-good news, but stuff that remind­ed me, ‘Hey, there’s pos­i­tive stuff going on! Peo­ple are solv­ing prob­lems and it’s mak­ing a dif­fer­ence!’”

In their blurb for the intro­duc­to­ry video at the top, the Rea­sons to Be Cheer­ful team describe the site as “an online edi­to­r­i­al project” that is “part mag­a­zine, part ther­a­py ses­sion, part blue­print for a bet­ter world.” The site’s “sto­ries of hope” don’t shy away from sen­ti­ment, but they are “root­ed in evi­dence” and pur­port to show “smart, proven, replic­a­ble solu­tions to the world’s most press­ing prob­lems.”

A sam­pling of arti­cles cur­rent­ly on the site gives us a sto­ry about how lawyers might “end up sav­ing the world” by tak­ing on pol­luters the way they took on the tobac­co indus­try; a piece about how cheap solar in Chi­na has “fueled the world’s green-ener­gy rev­o­lu­tion”; and essays about edu­ca­tion in prison and the cre­ation of a pub­lic water­front from donat­ed pri­vate prop­er­ty on Lake Erie. This being a David Byrne project, there is also, of course, a sto­ry about “the way to a two-wheeled utopia.” The cur­rent edi­tion fea­tures sev­er­al arti­cles by Byrne him­self, and anoth­er by Bri­an Eno.

Byrne and the edi­tors and writ­ing staff make no explic­it­ly polit­i­cal state­ments, but they clear­ly val­ue things like qual­i­ty pub­lic edu­ca­tion, clean air and water, a sus­tain­able cli­mate, and the cre­ation of more pub­lic space—all areas that are now vast­ly under threat. Whether or not you find your own rea­sons to be cheer­ful in this com­mit­ment to pos­i­tive jour­nal­ism may depend on who and where you are, and whether you tend to see the world more like Adorno or Camus.

via Rolling Stone

Relat­ed Con­tent:

David Byrne Launch­es the “Rea­sons to Be Cheer­ful” Web Site: A Com­pendi­um of News Meant to Remind Us That the World Isn’t Actu­al­ly Falling Apart

David Byrne Curates a Playlist of Great Protest Songs Writ­ten Over the Past 60 Years: Stream Them Online

Albert Camus Explains Why Hap­pi­ness Is Like Com­mit­ting a Crime—”You Should Nev­er Admit to it” (1959)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (5)
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  • Doris Daniel says:

    David Byrne’s mes­sage and com­ments by Wern­er Her­zog remind­ed me of what to focus on right now: mem­o­ries of music from Byrne and now his shar­ing of his enlight­en­ing view­points, and rhe plas­tic bag’s jour­ney by a film­mak­er whose name was unknown to me, and rev­e­la­tions from Wern­er Her­zog — gloom lift­ed, think­ing stim­u­lat­ed.

  • Gerald says:

    Rea­sons to be cheer­ful? Not so hard, and you don’t need David or any tome from the self-help sec­tion of your book­store. Just start with the fact that you woke up this morn­ing and were giv­en anoth­er day of life. That’s pret­ty big when you think about it. As far as I am con­cerned, the rest is gravy. As the old cliche goes, you choose whether to see your glass as half full or half emp­ty.

    And, as far as I can tell, these are the best of times. Think hard and see if there is any oth­er time in his­to­ry you would rather to have been born. Life is bet­ter now than it has ever been, whether mea­sured in mate­r­i­al com­forts, tech­nol­o­gy, indi­vid­ual lib­er­ty, health and lifes­pan, etc.


  • Andrew Johnstone says:

    David Byrne Bri­an Eno two won­der­ful oth­er peo­ple so much san­i­ty around with these men 🐓

  • Fernando says:

    Nice! This top­ic of focus­ing on solu­tion-focused news instead of prob­lem-focused news is bril­liant­ly explored by Jodie Jack­son in “You are what you read”.

  • Wendy says:

    For far too long we’ve been told how to feel and think. The news is not new all these sto­ries have been told from Mil­lenia. we need to under­stand is what David is bring­ing to the table which is hap­pi­ness and joy, which is always been there. cre­ate your real­i­ty, not what you’re told but what you feel, it’s your choice

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