Challenging the Status Quo: Happiness, Social Media, and the Cotton Candy Dilemma

Discover the bittersweet metaphor of happiness and cotton candy in this thought-provoking think piece. The author reflects on their personal aversion to cotton candy, likening it to the fleeting nature of happiness. Despite recent moments of joy in their life, the author’s bubble is shattered when their city faces a political crisis, forcing them to question their naively happy state. As they navigate their conflicted emotions, they contemplate societal pressures and the romanticization of unhappiness in the age of social media. Join the author as they delve into the profound question: Is happiness simply a facade for dullness? Embark on this introspective journey as the author encounters a little girl on the subway, prompting a realization that perhaps life’s questions don’t always require answers.

I don’t like cotton candy. It’s too sweet in my opinion and it makes my teeth ache. I have never liked it – not even as a kid. Nevertheless, I wanted cotton candy at every opportunity, because cotton candy is „Smurfette“ out of the smurf world- really pretty and sweet in a bunch of no-options.  

Happiness is like cotton candy to me – I want it really badly and as soon as my (for real) tiny hands get it – I take a bite and make a face, my expression showing pure disgust. It’s too sweet. A terrible, trying-to-be artsy metaphor – I know, but I want to set the right path for this think piece.

Lately, I have to admit I have been quite happy: Uni started, I saw my friends again, went out, stayed in, even prepared myself some fine home cooked meals and got another internship, a job offer and I found the perfect 2 Euro Eyeliner which will not budge all night. The only thing still missing is a set sleeping rhythm.

Then, as I live in Vienna, our political system trembles into another crisis and my little bubble gets a crack. My perfect pinkish-blueish-lilacism cotton candy turns sour. I am mad and sad and then I realize how foolish it was of me to be naively happy – I rolled my eyes at myself. I go the news when I was in the bathroom, doing my make-up as I had a planned meeting with a friend to eat cake in the park. I saw myself unintentionally rolling my eyes at myself. I just stared at myself in the mirror and like every time when you look at yourself too long it’s like your face starts to melt in front of you, distance yourself from your body and think how cool you would look in the clothes of the movie Matrix. I gifted myself a little smile and shook my head, it was stupid of me to think I would ever be able to eat this cotton candy fully, bite by bite, chew, and swallow it. My hands, mouth, and whole stomach would get sticky and I would need to be equipped with a water bottle to flush out my system after having a heart attack out of sugar.

“Girls eat cotton candy in Copenhagen” ©Gilbert M. Grosvenor

As I leave my flat to meet my friend, I wonder whether people next to me are really happy – not just the sun is shining so I smile rom-com happy. But really happy and how they do it, considering our not so shiny, quite terrifying future – climate, social, democratic crisis. I am afraid and the more I think about it, the more I am deeply almost disgusted by myself to even allow myself the thought of enjoying a whole cotton candy cone.

It’s not about being ungrateful, but about losing the drive to share your cotton candy with a child whose own portion fell in the dirt at the fairground.

The romanticization of not even striving to be completely happy in order to create art, your dreams or save the planet are deeply rooted within the social media culture of Gen Z. Don’t misunderstand me – I love social media and they are not as bad as they seem to be – they also help people to connect and flee their maybe not so fun lives into their own- which they created.

By trying to be different – everyone becomes the same again. Cotton candy shops have a real economic crisis nowadays. No one feels like they deserve to be happy and I don’t know whether that’s a bit too harsh or if our society is just fucked up like that. As a writer I, of course, prefer option number two.

So, the real question we are trying to answer here is whether happiness is just advanced dullness – I don’t even try to enjoy my cotton candy or the rest of the fairground and stay put at the snack options or I don’t give a shit about the other kid besides me whose cotton candy fell in the dirt. If they look at you with their big brown eyes almost begging to get a piece of yours and you stare back at them and almost with a little smile on your face you obviously finish your whole cotton candy in multiple little bites without asking the other kid whether they want to try yours.

I arrive at the subway station in Vienna – take off my sunglasses and put on my Covid-19 mask. One of the many pros of Covid-19 besides their health-issue related ones is that they build up a barrier between you and the strangely terrible smell at subway station Stephansdom. It’s something between baby poop and McDonalds. I walked into the wagon and saw an adorable little girl being really fascinated with her own reflection in the window. I smiled unconsciously and decided that I don’t have to answer life’s questions.

I rolled my eyes at myself for the terrible POV-main character cliché moment I had created.