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

 

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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.

731 Days of Writing and Community

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I began this blog two years ago in a hotel room far from home, filled with questions of my worth. It wasn’t a very happy day, but then, my life was not particularly cheerful to begin with. There were times when I cried so much I wondered if the flow would ever stop, and there were days when between a quick smile and laughter I’d say to myself, who are you deceiving?

Who was I deceiving? Nobody. It was my subconscious indicating its need for expression. So when an old friend sent me a link to her blog, I thought to myself, I can do this too. And I did. My first month, in hindsight, turned out a summary of my persona, since the things I wrote about reflected my interests in culture, relationship (with others) and emotions. The second month in a nutshell: identity crisis.

I love that writing can express oneself, thoughts, emotions and interests. It didn’t seem quite appealing on the first trial and there were times I thought to quit this blog and move on… but I didn’t. Two years after I am still here. Writing. Sharing. Relating. With you. Because you let me. With every view, like, comment and share, you tell me you’re here and I am not alone. So that young woman who faced an identity crisis no longer exists and in her place is one eager to discover more about herself and this community.

The benefits that have accrued cannot be quantified. I’ve been more attentive to the world around, not just walking through it. I’ve listened to strangers, not only because they provide fodder for the next post (which is totally great), but because I understand what community means a lot better—it’s experiencing one another.

So this is me saying THANK YOU for walking and running with me. For teaching and helping satisfy that primal urge for communication. And most importantly for being you, because by so doing you let me keep being myself. Right here.

Alive, Barely Breathing

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The days past since my last post on a pet friend turned food. The stats tell me you’ve visited weekly, especially Sundays and Fridays. Everyday my Reader and mailbox flood with new posts from other blogs and websites I follow– I wonder how they write, where their inspiration and drive comes from. One word comes back each time, discipline.

According to Brian Tracy, discipline is doing what you need to do, even when you don’t feel like it. Timi likes to write about this and sustaining momentum—I think it’s an admirable thing, being able to push yourself to do the necessary. One of the biggest problems of my life is keeping to something. You’d declare me mad for writing that now seeing as I’ve kept this blog for over a year and stuck to writing one of the most life-sapping exams of my existence lately. Indiscipline should not exist in my vocabulary yet sometimes it seems that’s my enemy.

Few weeks ago I read a post on Holistic Wayfarer’s blog. Where does your writing fit in the scheme of your life? Is it hobby, work, life, cathartic, fun?

I’ve thought about that—what writing is for me. Writing isn’t fun. Nope. It’s not hobby; I’d rather read a book. It’s neither work nor sums up my being. There are a number of things capable of filling those slots. For me, this is air; the cut I bleed through. When the voices in my head refuse to shut up, I write. When my eyes see too much, I write. When my heart is heavy, I write. When the injustice around me becomes too much to bear, I rip the Buffon behind it in the comfort of my ink.
At this rate when I’m married dear future husband might have to keep his eyes peeled for epistles in sheets from a troubled future wife. Just because.

There is a backlog of unwritten trouble. The people in my close circle have been supportive and I love them dearly for this. Sometimes though this thing around my neck squeezes a little tighter, and I don’t think it will go away until I write and do something I’ve toyed with for a while now—stick the pages in a bottle and let it float across the Atlantic… or sink. It’s a very cliché thing to do, but it does seem like fun. Briefly considered burning, but when have I ever been able to let written words die? It’s sacrilege.
What ritual would you do with your pages if you had to write something cathartic?

On a lighter note;
I signed up for a course on WordPress about brand building… or something similar; then didn’t follow-up. I’m blaming indiscipline, disinterest or the world was too much with me.

Also been toying with new themes for the blog– can’t seem to settle. Perhaps you could help. I’ve vacillated between Motif and Highwind and… searching. I’d like to go grey (no colours.) What do you think?

The news is downright disturbing lately; reports of rape, violence and sexual crimes against women and children. The madness in the world now is capable of taking the shine from your perfect day. On the one hand I think people have gone mad and these things are end-time signs; on the other I think maybe this isn’t entirely a bad thing—the news. Bad things have gone on for decades, if there’s so much of it hitting the news now then it can also mean people are speaking up and becoming vigilant with our children. The latter gives me a modicum of hope; the former depresses.

Well, guess I’ll be seeing you. Do tell me how you’ve been and what pages of your life this hermit has missed.

Freestyle Writing Challenge

I picked up this Freestyle Writing Challenge from George and he’s come up with an interesting topic that tickled.

If you were invited to someone’s home for dinner and the meal was the worst thing you’d ever tasted, what would you do?

I have never considered myself a foodie, nor am I big on paying visits to people either, but as a general rule peculiar to me and maybe a number of people around, my eyes and nose eat before my mouth does. What this basically means is that I have to find a meal visually appealing as well as having an irresistible aroma before the thought of munching comes in.

But what if the sight and smell are deceptive? That’s a funny one seeing as I have been caught smack dab in this situation before.

My facial expression says a lot and so I expect that the faces of others would too. Naturally my first reaction will be to see how others are taking this onslaught of their taste buds. It’s always exciting watching people pretend to love something. There’s the initial shock accompanied by a widening of the eyes. The forced swallow with a wince, like the esophagus is trying so hard to keep the food down. Then there’s the total lock-down. The last part I love the most: Pretense with a pretty smile that fails to touch the eyes.

Next up is seeing how the host/hostess handles their plate, and if they’re even aware how horrible the food tastes. Maybe they’ll pretend it’s decent or they’re just clueless.

But if they were my friends I’d simply say, “Oh God this is terrible. Were you sleeping when you cooked this?” And perhaps think of how the meal can be salvaged in any way. We might laugh over my outburst. Or they might feel ashamed and I’d feel terrible about blurting out my thoughts insensitively.

Otherwise I’ll be good natured, swallow the meal without complaint—even commend the cook—and pray I don’t puke before it’s over.

Then I’ll make sure I never eat another meal there again. So help me God.

Word count: 310

Time: 4 minutes

The Rules

1. Open a blank document.
2. Set a stopwatch timer to 5 or 10 minutes, whichever length you prefer.
3. Your topic is at the foot of this post BUT DO NOT SCROLL DOWN TO SEE IT UNTIL YOU ARE READY WITH YOUR TIMER!!!
4. Once you start writing do not stop until the alarm sounds! Do not cheat by going back and correcting spelling and grammar using spell check (it is only meant for you to reflect on your own control of sensible thought flow and for you to reflect on your ability to write with correct spelling and grammar.)
5. You may or may not pay attention to punctuation or capitals
6. At the end of your post write down the number of words to give an idea of how much you can write within the time Frame.
7. Put the whole document onto your post and nominate 5 others and give them a new topic. Remember to copy paste the rules in!

Nominations:

Target Verified

Tolawrites

A Prompt Reply

Chynanu’s Blog

A burdie from Lahore

Sheedart’s Blog

If you’re reading this and want to partake, please do.

Your Topic:

Tell us about something out of character.

 

Flirting With Darkness

                                                     

My blogging friend George over at the Off Key Of Life does this exercise where he plays on the dark-side. The general idea is to get out of your comfort zone and write something different fiction-wise. It seems like a good idea so I’ve decided to give it a shot too. Why did I choose flirting with darkness? Because that’s what it feels like to me lol. Continue reading

When It’s Never Enough

My new friend and I walked down the length of the University’s road in search of an ATM. It’s been less than 30 minutes after feeding on what was no doubt the most decent meal we’ve had in weeks—not decent because we couldn’t find anything to eat all these while, but because we could finally begin to feel the knot in our belly loosen enough to savour the taste of food. We had just written the most important exam of our lives—you could say for now because when the next one comes this will be bumped down to second place. Continue reading

Dear Authors, Why Are Academic Texts So Boring?

I’m a reader, have been for as long as I can remember. One day I opened my really beautiful eyes (oh please check my picture) to behold a new world. It wasn’t one of amniotic fluid and echoes from mama’s vocal cords. I saw a brighter world. A noisier world without the natural filters I was used to; a world with lights, colours, textures and books. Continue reading

On Blogging: A Journey in Twelve Months

1. There’s something about February that makes people want to start a new life on a blog. I don’t know what it is, but everytime I visit a site, I dig into the archives to uproot the first post. February! Continue reading

Journey to self

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“Self-acceptance and self-knowing are deeply interconnected. To truly know something about yourself, you must accept it. Even things about yourself that you most deeply want to change must first be accepted – even embraced. Self-transformation is always preceded by self-acceptance.” – David G. Benner (The Gift of Being Yourself)

When P asked that I told him something about me that no one else knew, I froze. There are a hundred things people don’t know about me seeing as I am a reticent being by nature, never particularly willing to share myself completely with anyone. I’ve often been forced to wonder if I’ll make a decent lover or wife. Maybe I will, when I find a good reason to trust another man with myself. Or maybe I won’t. It’s is after all said that the heart of a woman is an ocean of secrets.

Either ways, there are two major reasons I don’t feel compelled to reveal my feelings to others: the first is that the more people know, the more vulnerable you become. The other being the fear of being misunderstood and judged. You see, I have stumbled too many times in search of my identity. I have discovered hidden perks that would make my folks and friends cringe inwardly. But right beside that quirky and perky female is the tolerant and compassionate one people are accustomed to.

For years I thought the latter persona a more acceptable version of me and inadvertently repressed the former. Can’t confess it was healthy. Sometimes an emotional outburst reflects itself in very crazy ways most people can’t relate with. It was widely assumed that I was most surely facing an identity crisis. I believed that for a while, until I realized they were all wrong. I wasn’t facing an identity crisis, I was learning more about what was in me.

The more I explored my mind, the more I discovered more colors and shades. The more curious I became of my environment, the more I understood that I could be both the quiet pool and the raging ocean. When I began to embrace my numerous personality traits–both those I loved and what I so desperately wished wasn’t mine, the better my relationship with myself and others got. Oh, they aren’t any less surprised by something new, but they’ve stopped thinking something’s wrong with me.

Today I am learning to hone my strengths, and manage my weaknesses–not shy away from them or pretend they don’t exist. I am learning to assess my blueprint and decide how to project this to the world, to create a healthy balance of sort with myself. Most importantly, I understand that to know love, I must first learn to love me–all of me; this way I can also learn to love others and all their different hues, and give those who want to, a chance to love me too.

“Being loved for our best selves is something we should rejoice at, but being loved for our very worst is a joy that reaches to the innermost parts of hearts, healing us, blessing us, and providing us with the strength we need to live a full and beautiful life.” – J.Soriano

Free Fall

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This is the first time I’m doing this–writing without thinking. Sometimes I have thoughts and words buzzing in my head, that i can’t seem to communicate. Feels like some disability of sort, epilepsy of the mind perhaps? Which someone was kind enough to term ‘writers block’. And other times when I manage to get something coherent out, I feel stupid afterwards.

You think maybe that’s some complex? I don’t feel inferior to anybody, intellectually intimidated Continue reading