In the past few months, I have gone through states of mind that I was initially apprehensive to acknowledge. Admittedly, I felt ashamed to think about it and expected ridicule, condemnation and judgment if I spoke about it. Why? Because that is the way I was brought up. And that is still the way society expects me to be. Society wants me to be happy. Nobody wants me to be sad or depressed. Come to think of it, it is not that everybody wants me to be happy. It is that everybody requires me to be happy.
Anger was one of the earliest responses to my depressed state of mind. Anger not only at the endless snowfall this winter, but more at myself for allowing my mind to get depressed. It really was a matter of ego and pride that I simply continued to refuse and deny the sadness that was consuming me. But why? Why did my pride feel hurt just by me becoming sad? Why did it even become an issue for my ego? The problem was not with my ego or my pride. The problem was what was deemed unacceptable and frowned upon and how I was brought up with those values.
You see, the way I grew up, there was just no room for being sad. Except for an event involving the passing away of someone close, there was never a set of circumstances leading to sadness that could be justified or tolerated. The objective always was to be happy in life. There were always instructions to be happy – by people at home, at school, in the books you read, in the ads that you saw and in the movies you were told to watch. Sadness was never tolerated as a normal state of mind. If you were sad, you just had to put in extra effort and do things that made you happy. Or worse, just stop feeling sad – just like that! Simply put, there was always immense pressure to appear to be happy when you were sad. And if anything, that only made matters worse – starting a vicious loop in the process.
But it got worse. The line that was drawn between being sad and being happy also doubled up as the line between being a failure and being a success. Success and happiness were deemed to feed off of each other in a never ending loop. So was failure and sadness. If you were not happy, you were a failure. Or put it the other way around, you were considered successful only if you were happy. Nobody ever told me, “It’s OK to not be happy all the time.” I wish someone had. Because then I would not have spent so much time growing up feeling like a failure.
You see, just the way success and happiness were deemed to be in a reinforcing ‘positive’ loop, the feeling of apparent failure and sadness were also on a reinforcing loop – albeit a ‘negative’ one, so to speak. And once you get stuck in it, there is no way to come out of it unless someone tells you that it is OK not to be happy all the time.
Truly, there are very few things that can match the profundity of the realization that follows that event – the event when you are told that it is OK to be sad. Till today, nobody has actually told me that. I just decided that was the case. And once I did that, it was the most beautiful and fulfilling feeling ever. It relieved me of so much stress and lifted the massive burden of expectations off my shoulders. Suddenly, there were no obligations that I had to fulfill. I was truly a free man.
Come to think of it, society has made us believe that we have an obligation to feel happy ALL the time. Trying to be happy ALL the time is easily the most exhausting thing mankind has ever conjured up in its entire existence. And the fact that this has been successfully perpetrated through hundreds of generations does not make it easy for anyone to live against this norm.
I see it everyday around me – people making a sincere and inevitable effort to not only tell the world that they are having an amazingly happy time, but to also desperately seek their approval for it. None more evident than on the phenomenon that is Facebook.
If I take Facebook for its word, it means that my friends are always travelling, getting married, having kids, partying with friends, hanging out with buddies or families, in fulfilling relationships, showing off their new acquisitions, cheering for their favorite sports team, coming up with witty or quirky sayings, sharing apparently profound sayings or just being extremely happy and successful ALL the time.
As much as I wish for everyone to be in whatever state of mind they prefer, I cannot help but feel a sense of desperation at play in all those posts and photographs seeking approval and validation for their current states of existence and for what they are able to portray for their life. I suppose mankind has always been that way. With the advent of Facebook, the platform to do that just got a whole lot more convenient and easy. I would be lying if I said that I have not done the same myself. I know how I was when I did that back then. It was also the same time when I used to envy all the happy posts that my friends put up and the approvals they received. I look at that whole experience as a necessary step to take to get to where I am now.
Ultimately, there are just so few instances in life when one feels truly happy. All the other times, it is just an end product of rationalization, denial or pretense. On the other hand, sadness is always genuine – simply because nobody wants to be sad.
But really, why does sadness have to be a taboo? Why can’t it just be another state of mind that completes the experience of human emotion? Why should anyone feel obligated to be in one state of mind or another? Why can’t someone be accepted for who they are even if they are drawn to sadness? Why can’t people be encouraged to generate more art when they are sad? If I am feeling sad, why do people have to sympathize with me? Why can’t it just be a fact? Why should anyone have to deal with their sadness? Why should anyone be judged as a success or a failure based on their state of mind? Why does anyone have to feel sorry for someone else’s loss? What does it even mean to feel sorry for someone else’s loss? Why aren’t we encouraged to read sad and melancholic stories when we are kids? Why do all self help books have to tell us the way to be happy? Why can’t they tell us that it is OK to be sad and tell us how to enjoy its beauty? Why don’t people realize that the most beautiful works of art were created by people who led really sad lives? Why can’t people be encouraged to explore the depths of sadness in addition to the heights of happiness?
When will sadness receive its due approval?