Em sat at her desk, eyes shining, barely suppressing the bubbling joy inside. Then the guilty and alarmed look in her eyes: “Can I really be this happy about a spreadsheet?”
This is what we call geek happy. It’s the ludicrous thrill when, after iteration after iteration, you’ve done it. It works. It’s smooth, beautiful and yes, at the end of the day it’s a functional formula in Excel. It’s definitely worth savouring and celebrating.
Geek happy is the joy when a geek meets or does something is just fantastically and satisfyingly fabulous. And yet you’ll only understand it if you’re a geek too. The delight, the joy, the grin of satisfaction and achievement after a battle hard-won. And the pleasure and joy in inanimate objects, beautifully, pleasingly designed. The immensely enjoyable spectrum of emotions that comprise geek happy.
But the flipside is the shame. It’s the guilty look I saw in Em’s eyes. And it’s not Em who should be the guilty one here.
Throughout geek life, we get excited about stuff that we shouldn’t get excited about. Spreadsheets are only the tip of the iceberg.
At UEA there’s a most fabulous door. It’s a metal door, you could call it a gate in fact. It leads to one of the bike sheds. But I think of it as a most amazing door. When you open it, it pivots marvellously smoothly on its hinges. No squeaks. No over-resistance. Smooth, satisfying motion. Even better, when you stop moving it, it stays put. It doesn’t swing back and forth. It doesn’t move a millimetre. It’s just beautifully and satisfying perfect at being a door. As I sit here remembering it, I feel a warm contentment at the recollection.
But who would understand my joy about this feat of entryway engineering? Other geeks, for sure (some, at least), but non-geeks? No, not really. Not at all.
Non-geeks respond to geek happy with looks varying from amused to perplexed, from scornful glances to outright taunting and ridicule.
This is where the shame is from. This is where the feeling of ‘oh shit, I’ve goofed again’ is from. Where the fear of letting your geek happy joy show comes from.
We’re conditioned to reject our own in-the-moment experience of happiness in favour of someone else’s idea of what an appropriate and permissable response is.
It’s the people who don’t understand, telling us we’re wrong to feel what we feel.
It’s there when I tell friends to go visit the amazing constructions that keep the Netherlands from being flooded, and they look at me as if I’ve recommended a dogshit museum.
It’s when you’re coding and you finally finally finally get the bugger debugged, you whoop and throw your hands up like you just won a gold medal, and your flatmates say ‘yeah, whatever’ with the facial expression of ‘dude, you’re so lost’.
I call bollocks on this. On all of this.
So Em, dear Em, yes, you have permission. You can be happy. You can be pleased and revel in satisfaction at your work. You can throw a mini dance party and fist pump at your desk.
If it makes you happy, as long as it doesn’t harm yourself or someone else, it makes you happy.
If other people don’t get it, it’s not your problem.
If they want you to be miserable, they can forget it.
Celebrate that these things make you happy. They’re what make you you. We need more of that.