I thought I was the only person who enjoyed their hangovers. Apparently not

A hangover is a day when you allow yourself to be a child.

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Is it just me, or does anyone else really enjoy a hangover? I put the question into Google, and discovered a Reddit page devoted to the subject, under the headline: “Why do I naturally not give a fuck when I’m hungover?”

The thread was started by a man who summed up the feeling with eloquence.

It’s like, because I feel like shit, I don’t have the energy to care about stupid shit. Even though I feel like shit I’m at ease, in a certain Zen-like state. I don’t really have anxiety about anything because I just don’t give a fuck. Does anyone else experience this? How can I reach this state all the time, and not only when I’m hungover?

His words were profound. One of the greatest fantasies of modern living, it seems to me, is attaining a state of somehow not giving a fuck. It is striking how much energy we put into the conceiving of mental strategies to outwit the natural impulse to worry. We work for hours to rig up a finely wrought bower of rational thought that would seem to protect us from the tiresome process of caring about things we naturally care about. But step out of the bower for a moment and it all comes crashing down. Unless you’re hungover – when something else happens, and life is bliss.

Reddit Man asks why he is so “at ease” when hanging. Then he answers his own question: because physically, he feels terrible. A hangover, others are quick to inform him, is essentially a physical injury. Moreover, it is an injury that our system kicks in quickly to repair, and we are very adept at this – in fact, the repair process is highly pleasurable.

A hangover is a day when you allow yourself to be a child. Yesterday, I ate a large tub of Chinese food at 11am. I sighed heavily all day. I spoke more confidently in front of my colleagues, and couldn’t be bothered to worry about whether I sounded intelligent, or sounded like a douche. I got a lot of work done, because I stomped through my tasks like a toddler. And when evening came, I cancelled my plans without guilt, and was in bed by 8pm watching Seinfeld with a tin of tuna on my chest. I found almost everything that happened during the day hilarious, and I thought that everyone I met was great.

For those who have a similar response to hangovers, I’d suggest that for people like us, the day after a night out is just as much a tonic as the night out itself.

Theories of neurochemistry abound. Brain activity is significantly reduced in a hangover, forcing you into a nice kind of conservation healing mode. The “feedback loop” that creates stress, sending messages from brain to body, is dulled, and alcohol suppresses the adrenal glands. Increased sex drive is reported. This is not the case for all, and many people report the opposite from their hangovers – the world is dark for them.

I thought more about the idea that humans crave a permanent “Zen-like state”. In another life, I was a hippie, living in San Francisco in the late Sixties. I don’t even like San Francisco – and I would have been the kind of hippie who ran with Charles Manson – but I fantasise about this alternative me, long of dress and hair, drifting from camp fire to camp fire, at peace with myself and the world. I speak my mind freely, I have no idea where I’m staying that night and don’t care – and I am creatively on fire, composing dozens of songs using some kind of stringed instrument that I carry on my back, a bit like Joni Mitchell.

The closest I’ve got to this living out this Zen fantasy (without the songwriting) is hangovers. It’s how I feel wandering round festivals, when I’m hungover; and it’s how I felt the day after a wedding in Italy this summer. It was early afternoon before I could raise my eyes, but I’d already spent many happy hours, head down, drifting about the garden, mumbling to people and laughing at things.

As to how to achieve the Zen-like state without a hangover, who can say? Reddit Man has a surprising suggestion. Just work harder.

“I was once exhausted from working my ass off,” he recalls. “I was in a similar state – but I also felt accomplished and what not.” 

Kate Mossman is the New Statesman's arts editor and pop critic.

This article first appeared in the 05 September 2018 issue of the New Statesman, The hard man of the Left