Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Don't worry, be unhappy.

What if I am moody and happy about it? Am I happy? Can I be glum and still walk with a spring in my step? Can I be uplifted and downcast at the same time? I recall Alan Bennett once said, "I am not happy; but I am not unhappy about it." My point?

I think we pursue happiness the way teenagers in Korea pursue reconstructive surgery. It has become a sport or a fad for us. It is in fact all the rage. Even the American Constitution hints to
 this craze: "…life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness". Go into any self-help section and I assure you that the how-to happiness literature will be clamoring for your attention like an intoxicated mascot waving frantically. 

This is the age of consumerism and comfort. It is also the age of happiness at all cost. It really doesn't matter how you feel at any given moment of the day, all it matters is that you can pursue happiness if you just slavishly follow certain simple 
steps. Notwithstanding the standard deviation, here are just some of the steps. First, make up your mind to be happy. Second, be happy. Third, think happy thoughts. Fourth, think more happy thoughts to replace unhappy ones. Fifth, be unfazed. Sixth, focus on relationships. Seventh, be positive. Eighth, live your dream. Ninth, don’t worry, be happy. And finally, stay happy.

Of course, I am missing out on the context and the inspiring personal 
anecdotes here. Needless to say, there is more to those ten points. But the point is not that I do not believe in them, or some of them. The point is about putting up with them at the expense of authenticity. The point is also about trying to be all of them for a pretentiously long period of time and discounting (or downplaying) how you really feel. Here is what I mean in a nutshell.

In this spoon-fed happiness culture, we tend to be happy for happiness' sake. We suppress our real feelings for the less representative-of-ourselves feelings. We swallow anger, hide frustration, cover up pain, deny sadness, bury negativity, and dampen regrets. We do all that because happiness as we know it is all about humming to the tune of "the sun will come out tomorrow," when more likely than not the rain will persist for many tomorrows to come. I know it is a metaphor and it is a feel-good song but sometimes feeling good may not be all that good for you at a given moment. It is just not you - period. And trying not to be you is going against the grain of what makes you you. Something's got to give somehow and in due course.

In fact, let’s face it, not all negative feelings are bad. I guess we avoid them because the pursuit of happiness will not tolerate the presence of unhappiness. But what if unhappiness, in whatever forms, be it anger, regret, anxiety, sadness and melancholia, is part of who you are and how you deal with what life throws at you.

We are all unique in our own ways. We are different by reasons of our different experiences, personalities and backgrounds. We deal with situation in our own signature style. Different people, different strokes. Of course, we can do with a little consideration and moderation with our negative thoughts and moods when relating to others. But I can't imagine a world whereby everybody, or almost everybody, are happy all the time like those happy, pliable wives at Pleasantville. In such a world, we are basically an undifferentiated bunch of cheery people devoid of personal quirks and individual eccentricities. How's that for a happy society? Uniformity is the enemy of diversity and the enemy of diversity is inauthenticity. 

So, I am back to Alan Bennett's quote, "I am not happy; but I am not unhappy about it." I guess we should not discriminate against our less buoyant emotions or treat them with extreme prejudice. We should take the good from the bad and sift the bad from the good. Here is what I mean. To some extent, anger is a show of resoluteness. It can motivate and inspire us. It primps us up to fight for our rights, to make a stand. Regret can be transforming. It stops us at our tracks and causes us to reflect. We can be morose about it but it is a positive kind of moroseness - so to speak. And anxiety, a sprinkle of it here and there, compels us to prioritize. Being anxious, without the chronic stress of course, keeps us on our toes and pushes us to get things done immediately.

a brush of sadness keeps us humble, realistic and vulnerable.  There is no better cure for our ego and pride than to be inoculated by the rueful jabs. I believe that a cheerful heart is no doubt the best medicine but not without the bitter administration of some negativity to wake us up, keep us grounded, nudge us forward and redirect our path.

So if you are unhappy now, feeling sad and even disillusioned, and you find it hard to be nice or smile, then don't. Be yourself. Get to know 
yourself. Retreat to your secret garden of solitude and reflect, reappraise and recharge. Take a break from happiness. Respect and sort out your own feelings. Pay attention to them. They are messengers sent your way and you have to learn to decode them. Most of them are constructive rather than destructive. After a while, they will take their leave and how you respond to them is what will make the crucial difference.

And of course, the sun will come out tomorrow - eventually anyway - but while it is still raining, you can always dance in the rain. Don't miss out on a good drizzle. Don't waste a negative. And don't be smothered by a positive. Cheerz.

*Image taken from “abc.net.au.

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