Authenticity and The Social Epidemic of Happiness

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The image of happiness is laughing eyes and tongue sticking out in a picture frame. My mobile camera goes click-click, balanced on a selfie stick held at an angle that flatters the errant jawline of my cheek. Eyebrows on fleek… click. One-eyed wink… click. Kim K’s pout … click. Goofy squint look… click. Two dozen pictures and filtered edits later, instagram is ready for my awesomeness.

The image of happiness is a facebook post; pre-wedding shots overflow feeds boldly captioned ‘save the date’. Wives flaunt husbands. Husbands flaunt wives. Parents share pictures of kids at every stage of their growth in a surprising wave of media parenting.

Yet, the paradox of our existence is with all the happy media frenzy, there are many out there who suffer bouts of depression.

Last month I had an emotional breakdown. I had spent the early hours of my birthday thinking where my life might be headed, and days on social media binging on everyone’s happy story, wondering why my life wasn’t cool enough. And inasmuch as we’re told never to compare our journey with that of other people, we can’t eliminate the lines of our individual existence that crisscross and overlap, nor can we deny its existence. So may be this comparison is a natural response to our shared reality.

I’ve been thinking about this, our social epidemic of happiness. The unicorn moments we love to create for the pages; the frames of laughter we hang on our wall or store in our mobile phones; moments of bliss we are all too happy to share with the world. Then there’s everything else either dialed down they are barely noticeable, or completely tuned off—and that’s the part we wish remains undiscovered.

In her Tedtalk, Brené Brown speaks about the power of vulnerability; the difficulty in letting ourselves be deeply and vulnerably seen by others; our need for connection and erroneous belief that being vulnerable is akin to weakness. We think that to belong means to put up a happy front for everyone… even ourselves. And so we try to numb those feelings, but we cannot selectively numb “[because] when we numb those, we numb joy, we numb gratitude, we numb happiness… and then we’re miserable.”

So I went through an emotional breakdown and cried and deleted my evil social media apps and shut out all my friends. But the thing is I didn’t feel any better. I still walked around trying to stop my cracks from deepening, and I struggled with it long enough to know my way wouldn’t work until I brought back the evil apps and talked to someone. And that’s exactly what I did. By opening up to someone else, I revealed another part of myself and learned a bit more about them. My feelings weren’t abnormal. My sadness was shared by many others. In my vulnerability I had connected. In connecting I allowed myself more joyful emotions.

Put into perspective, we can begin to appreciate the masterpiece that is Pixar’s Inside Out. Our mantra may be simple: sadness is negative emotion; happiness is positive emotion.  So when the photographer asks us to stare at the camera, he demands a smile before clicking the shutter button, adding to our belief that to immortalize this emotion is better than to do the other. But in truth sadness need not be the opposite of happiness; sometimes it could be another path to happiness.

The most interesting image I have of myself is an ‘accidental’ photo over three years old. Clad in a red tank top, hands clasped beneath jaw and eyes staring down a table, I’m the perfect image of disappointed. It’s still one of my favourite pictures, not just for its authenticity, but because every day it reminds me that we are a ball of emotional energy—not just happy ones, but sad, vulnerable, weak, crazy energy, and it’s okay to share those too.

 

Image: Instagram @Anapuzar

 

Happiness Through The Hour-Glass

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If you had asked me what happiness meant a decade ago, my answer would have read: it’s finally coming home to good food and a warm bed. You see, I was in a boarding school that availed me only the basic luxuries—as basic as they could get. When I posed the same question to a group of friends, answers differed with each person defining happiness as best he could, given the prevailing circumstances of their lives.

I used to think this was a one-definition-fits-all thing; that you could tell people what should give them lasting happiness, and that the sum of one’s feeling would be their dreams, both short and long-term, fulfilled. I may have been wrong.

It explains why a person living in luxury would consider suicide when they can afford everything they ever wanted. Why a mother would kill her own baby if children are God’s gift to man. Why certain people suffer spousal abuse, if the call to marriage is the highest union that two people can find. Why privileged children run away from home, when there are less privileged that would die to have just a bit of their part. Or why some go into crime even when provided for by the State. The paradox is that people want happiness but do not understand why their desires, now fulfilled, leave them feeling hollow still.

The much I’ve come to know is that our personal and collective definition of happiness changes the longer the sands pass though the hour-glass. It was Heraclitus who said that no man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he is not the same man. If human character was subject to time and experience, one’s perception of happiness is also subject to the same prevailing influence.

It brings some perspective into this ever elusive definition. In fact I am willing to bet that if I threw open the same question, obvious as the answer(s) may seem, it will take some thoughts to offer one that pleases you.

So I asked myself again: what does happiness mean to me?

Over time it has been so many things, but the passage of time has helped to refine my perception. The more sand has escaped from the hour-glass of my life, the clearer I see through it. Whereas happiness used to mean getting as much as I could within the shortest possible interval; now it is knowing that happiness is not in achievement itself, but in the journey between how soon I want it and when I eventually get it.

A Threefold Lesson  

“Some of our biggest lessons come in beautifully wrapped little packages of experience.” 

Of all her body parts, Mma’s hair held the least appeal. It frizzed, broke and resisted every act of taming irrespective of her efforts. This was a cross, a very surprising cross because for years she had been blessed with beautiful hair—long, soft and admirable. Continue reading

Life Like A Movie

wpid-WP4Phone_20140818125841.jpgYou know how psychology tries to explain how the male-female mind works in different situations? Well I’ve had enough of it.

They say women make room for their emotions and as such carry hand bags; and men compartmentalize, hence carry a wallet.
Men are physical beings; women are emotional beings.
Men like to have sex; women would rather eat chocolates and cuddle than have sex.

When a man is stressed and going through some tough times– especially of the financial variety– he looks inward and tries to sort it out himself; women like company. I’m guessing whoever began the expression “misery loves company” was probably thinking women. Continue reading

Counting Blessings

imagesCA96F1XR[1]The past months have been an emotional roller coaster for me; from momentary happiness to an instant bubble burst, I can’t say I have been the happiest woman on God’s green Earth. Continue reading

Love, Friendship, Happiness

“I want someone who will love me for who I am, not someone who is trying to change me”

Love requires that every man accepts you just the way you are. It does not try to visibly change you; it doesn’t ask that you become less of yourself. It sees you for what and who you are, and chooses to accept you good and bad.

Continue reading