A beginner’s guide to happiness in an era of I-want-it-all
I remember how, at University, a professor once said that there are no real failures in life except the ones where we give up and stop trying; enveloping every failure is a multitude of lessons that helps us grow. Every time we win at something, we celebrate our capabilities; but every time we lose, it’s a lesson on how to change and adapt; an introspection into what’s not working right; a signal to change in pursuit of something greater. We all go through numerous changes at various stages of life, and for most of us today, the early twenties serve as a mere starting point of this long never-ending journey of walking on a sea of change. Appalled by such rapid twists and turns in life, our first impulse reaction is to resist them with all our energy; after all, the biggest battles are the ones we fight within ourselves. Eventually, we adapt, accept and move on; and start smiling again, with the consolation that after all, the greatest life lessons are the ones learnt the hard way. But what good is moving on if we end up falling into the same pit again?
I myself have always been a strong proponent of learning the hard way, which also means that in my life, I have given myself ample permission to go wrong, telling myself it’s really okay to not have everything figured out right away. However, learning the hard way is easier said than done, and like everyone else who is fighting their own battles, I’ve had mine too, the biggest of which would be dealing with stress, anxiety and disappointment; after all, we have all had our weak moments of “Why me?”, when the world seems too unfair, and the stakes too high. This journey, more than anything else, has opened my eyes towards the enormity of a simple concept like happiness; how extremely difficult one of the first words we had learnt in our vocabulary can be to understand or realize. Happiness can be synthesized, but can pretending to be happy actually make it true? Does a Fake it till you Make it policy work here? I have actively done courses, read extensively and tried to find answers to a lot of questions related to happiness that have stemmed from my own personal journey. I have tried different approaches and seen some friends seeking therapy to solve similar problems in their own lives, all of it stemming from one primary cause- the inability to accept our current realities. The underlying problem may be the same, but the solution is far from being so. After all, one size can never truly fit all, can it? And hence, here too, like the universal answer to almost every question, it depends, on our subjective realities, our personalities, our very own mental models. The answer is always spelt out clear within ourselves; the only thing that makes a difference is to keep looking.
Emotional dependence can be a dangerous thing. From personal experience, I have seen how easy it is for different people or incidents that occur daily to move us from our comfort zone to a stress zone and soon into the frustrating zone. With this instinct to fight back in self-defense whenever faced with conflict deeply embedded into our reptilian brain, there’s only so much we can do to avoid it. And most ironically, the higher the stakes the person or incident in question holds for us, the stronger the fight or flight reflex works. The irony of the situation here is striking; knowing how precious and scarce a resource like mindspace is, it also happens to be the one we can least control and the one we give up on most easily when faced with conflict.
What makes it so hard then? Is it the expectations from others or from our own selves? Or is it merely resentment we are unsure where to direct? I have pondered over this a lot in the recent past and I think the answer lies again in a very primitive psychological binding that has exponentially grown with time; the tendency of the human mind to always aspire for more, more better, for greater heights. We are stuck in an infinite ratrace compounding onto itself everyday, the clutches of which most of us are unable to escape till it becomes self consuming. We fight with all our lives wanting X; but the moment we have X, it suddenly doesn’t make sense without a Y and we HAVE to plan for a Z immediately. And so the loop goes on.
Unfortunately for us, being stuck in this eternal quest for more, for better, never helps. It only eats us from within and consumes us, till we are yearning to escape. Of course, there will always be people we don’t agree with and situations we won’t approve of, we can’t do away with them. What we can do away with, though, is our judgement. By understanding where people come from in their beliefs, by understanding that between every black and white is a grey zone that blurs the lines between right/ wrong and good/ bad, we can let go, and thus preserve precious mindspace. Research says that if we increase the frequency of happiness episodes in our daily lives rather than their amplitude, meaning if we derive happiness from little things rather than wait for something big to happen, we’d start feeling happier. How then, do we ensure that we continue to derive happiness from all the little things?
I have had my own phases of extreme discontentment and dissatisfaction and that is when I started exploring the field of positive psychology more, of questioning my own mental models. And this is what eventually led me to consciously try and control my energy more. I once learnt a very powerful truth in a class related to psychology: time is limited, but energy, unlimited. Then why not focus on energy rather than time management? And while the channeling of physical and emotional forms of energy is unquestionably the most important in this context, the most powerful is probably spiritual energy. I, for one, started feeling a deep change within once I started engaging in meditation and reflection; a migration towards a greater sense of calm. We seldom have time to be grateful for all that we have, and appreciate all that we have always taken for granted. And today I finally realize, in that moment of rush in this daily ratrace, when things are breaking, and others are winning, all it takes is a one second’s worth of conscious breath to draw back and be grateful for all the little things in life we never spare much thought for: the body that supports us everyday as we race ahead, knowing there is someone out there at that very moment facing an accident that will change their lives forever; the people who support us everyday and make our lives easier, knowing someone out there is losing a loved one as we think; the era of immense advancement we are growing with, that has transformed our lives, knowing not everyone has the opportunity to enjoy its benefits. This one breath of gratitude is all it takes to know that we ALREADY HAVE the seemingly perfect life we are racing for; we already have it all. The only thing missing is our appreciation for what we have in the constant fight for what we don’t. Knowing this, I would like to make a conscious choice every day, starting with today, to be more grateful for all that I’ve been gifted with; won’t you? After all, tomorrow is another day, and what if it is too late to be grateful for today?