Namaskar Y'all - 2018


The Quest for Happiness

By Shyama Parui

Smiling faces, exotic locations, family pictures complete with coordinated attire seem to be the norm on social networks. A carefully curated version of our life is presented to the world with the touch of a screen. This is not a new phenomenon. Across time and cultures, the game of one-upmanship has existed in many forms. So far, I haven't seen any “friend" post about pouring coffee on his colleague's desk out of jealousy (Have you ever thought about doing this?) or the driving error that caused a dent in his car (Ever happened to you?). Parents rarely announce the failures of their children or declare their own struggles. Sometimes, I wonder if there was an argument right before the forced smiles and whether the vacation was truly smooth sailing. After all, life can't be that perfect because it is….life.

Caustic complaints, incessant outbursts of frustration or anger stir up negativity and it may be wise to stay away from it. At the same time, the constant pressure to live up to today's image of a “happy" person can break a mature adult, let alone a volatile teen. There is stigma associated with sadness – the emotion that we all seem to want to get rid of. Naively, happiness is perceived as the complete absence of the opposite. Empathy is also a rare quality and those lacking in it will point to outwardly symbols such as a house, gainful employment, etc., thereby denying you the right to have any thoughts of despair.

Dejection from a plateauing career or being an empty nester appears unjustifiable. The India that I recall from 20 years ago was also not open about sharing painful problems. Women quietly stayed in abusive or unhappy marriages, because they were taught to believe that they were lucky enough to be married. Depression was considered a passing phase and the relative seeking psychological help would often be labeled cuckoo.

Not wanting to be a crowd follower, I wanted to buck the trend of pretending to have an ideal life, because let's face it, no one does. Instead, I wanted to focus on a healthier state of mind that included social media detox. To be authentic, I gave myself permission to feel disappointed, annoyed or even jealous, because unless I acknowledge and fully experience my negative emotions, how will I cherish those on the positive end of the spectrum?

My self-imposed challenge was to set out on a 24- hour quest for a bigger slice of happiness that offered feasible actions and did not involve family, friends or worthless apps. The allure of instant gratification was, alas, too hard to resist. Diving into quick fix territory of the internet, self- help books and advice collected over the years, I decided to try a few handy dandy tricks to see if something would click.

Count your blessings –As I was noting all the reasons for gratitude, my conscience was admonishing me for wanting more joy. Thankfully, the rational part of my brain was quick to point out that my inner voice had never stopped me from caring or loving more.

Carry out your actions without expecting a reward – Ancient wisdom that still applies today, but one of the hardest to pursue. My next goal is to cultivate the patience to carry this out diligently.

Fake it till you feel it – Seriously? Perhaps suited to actors, I failed miserably in my attempt.

Move to the World's Happiest Country- I contemplated moving to Finland, but my fear of Arctic chills made it rank low on the feasibility scale. I don't think I can persuade my family to move to Colorado either, even though it houses some of USA's happiest cities. Discouraged by my lack of progress, I turned to meditation.

Meditate – A novice at meditation, my concentration quickly broke at the sound of my sister's phone call. She immediately sensed that something was amiss and the concern in her voice was more soothing than measured breathing.

Foster friendship – Intuitively, it seems like the most practical and easiest things to do. Nevertheless, trying to sort through hundreds on your list to select the ones who will be empathic listeners and genuine supporters, can add to the complexity of an introvert's life. It can appear cumbersome, like packing and loading the car for a trip to India, but an undeniably valuable gift.

Write a poem – A tough one. My love for reading poetry is in sharp contrast to my skill in writing poems. The first draft was so pitiable that I reverted to prose, which ultimately turned out to be a rewarding experience.

“Be good to me and kind to me" – Held by a magnet on the refrigerator, this was scribbled under a list titled, “Confidence Building Behaviors." Since we owe ourselves the same compassion that we show to others, I decided to model the advice I give to my kids.

Commune with Nature– Stepping out in the morning sun is always invigorating and a recent trip to the mountains made me realize Nature's power as a mood elevator. Even though the trees were bare, my mind filled them with color. Tender green leaves, bright red rhododendrons, and bronzed branches embracing each other.

Serendipity – Sometimes, you will chance upon things that will delight you. Old pictures from a trip to Goa with my college pals triggered such a burst of euphoria that I forgave shallow online communities.

My point is that it is okay to be melancholic, gloomy or whatever you want to call it. Just as it is irresponsible to act on every emotion, it is unhealthy to hide all of them. Men face immense social pressure to be stoic in times of loss, and women do not want to be seen as unprofessional by expressing emotions. Being honest with my feelings helped me reconnect with the things that make me smile, look forward to tomorrow, and charge ahead. It is an infinitely more fruitful exercise than trying to the keep up with the Guptas or trying to outshine peers with more “likes." The quest for happiness was well worth the effort, you could even call it an investment in well-being.

(Disclaimer: This has not been tested on others.)

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Shyama is a long time North Carolina resident and an ardent writer. You can reach her at: shyamashree_parui@hotmail.com