In this essay, Zadie Smith makes a distinction between joy and pleasure, in a bid to understand what we mean when we talk about joy. She defines it as, “the strange admixture of terror, pain and delight.” To Smith, pleasure is something that makes us feel good in a simple way, whereas joy depends on risk, or a proximity to pain. She quotes the writer Julian Barnes, who received a letter of condolence from a friend, who told him, “It hurts just as much as it is worth”. It is an essay which feels true and an urgent prompt to consider your own pleasures and joys and work out why they matter to you.
First published in The New York Review of Books, 2013 and collected in Feel Free, Hamish Hamilton, 2018. Available online here