Monthly Archives: December 2013

Making the Case Against Happiness: Societal and Religious Expectations

This is the first of what I hope will be a series of posts dealing with society’s incomplete, unfair and misplaced perception of happiness. 

The Happiness Industry is everywhere. It exists because we all want to be happy all the time. From the self help books, to the ‘Lead your life’ seminars, to the daily inspirational quotes, to all the websites and blogs giving you their own unique tips, to the religion sponsored salvation guarantees, to the different schools of thought offering that elusive ‘inner peace’, to the innumerable God Men who claim to know the path to enlightenment, to the beauty products that guarantee your confidence, to the prescription pills promising to alleviate your stress, to the never ending advertisements that promise you happiness in exchange for some of your money. 

The Happiness Industry’s Product is now for sale: EVERYWHERE

IT IS EVERYWHERE.

It is also completely missing the point.

It starts off with parents telling their kids that everyone should be happy in life. That is then upgraded to be a requirement. Subsequently, it becomes an order. Then there is talk of REAL HAPPINESS and that it comes from within. Materialistic objects are then perceived to be providing only temporary pleasure and are apparently never fully satisfying. Then there is the sudden realization that maybe REAL HAPPINESS lies in religion and God. Then there is an alternative school of thought that promises that elusive ‘inner peace’. How about living in the present? Or how about that really charismatic person who apparently performs miracles and who seems to want to help everybody be happy? He can surely make people happy? Perhaps falling in love is the key to fulfillment. Having children and starting a family is maybe what is missing. That promotion should help things get better. No? Then perhaps go back to religion and God. That is always a safe bet, right?

How hard people try….. All the places they look…. All the things they believe in…..

All searching for HAPPINESS. All the time.

I have only one question: WHY?

The answer to that is not a WHY NOT? The answer to the question ‘Why are people always looking to be happy?’ is  that wanting to be happy is simply a consequence of societal and religious expectations. Same as getting an education, getting a job, starting a family, etc. This expectation of being happy is so deeply ingrained in us that it is extremely hard to justify to somebody that being happy should never be considered a necessity. The idea that, as a human being, the objective in life is to  be happy is an extremely fundamental and fixed frame of reference. Everything everybody ever sees is through this frame of reference.

Just one question: WHY?

Just one question: WHY?

A few instances: when we are not feeling good, we are encouraged to talk to people to feel better – nobody says it is OK to feel down; when a friend has lost someone, we tell them everything is going to be OK – nobody reminds them of what a big loss they have just had; when someone is feeling down, we make it our responsibility to make them feel better – we don’t suggest that they try to express it through a form of art; a therapist is always expected to solve other people’s problems so that they feel better; counselling is always encouraged for people to get out of traumatic situations; when we are angry we are told to calm down because being calm makes it easier to be happy – nobody encourages us to listen to heavy metal music in that state of mind.

Ultimately, every state of mind that is not directly linked to being ‘happy’ is always judged to be something inferior – and people are expected to rise above it, whatever it takes. If we are unable to rise above it, we are then considered weak. If we are not considered weak, we are shown a lot of sympathy and/or pity. Being treated with sympathy or being considered weak – fact is that both these are still going to consider us to be inferior and as somebody who needs help. Note that both society and religion has already decided that every individual personally desires to be happy all the time. If there is an exception, then, well, there is apparently something wrong with that person. Right?

And this is where I have a problem. I realize everyone likes being happy – if happy things happened to them. I only question the deeply ingrained dogma of a society to judge a person who is not ‘happy’ as someone inferior to the rest. I also question the even more fundamental idea that everyone in this world should actively strive for happiness all the time and that everything else is a bad idea.

Being a human being is not just about being happy. We have evolved to be able to experience an unbelievable spectrum of emotions. Happiness is only one small part of it. Being happy makes you experience a certain specific sensation or feeling. If the sum total of all the feelings that we have experienced in our life is restricted to this one specific feeling, then can we even claim to have fully lived like a human being?

Happiness is good. But this should never imply the converse – that anything apart from happiness is miserable and unacceptable. And it should never make it acceptable for the society to simply demand and expect people to be happy all the time and consider them inferior if they are not. And so I personally reject all schools of thought that make happiness/salvation/enlightenment as the fundamental objective of a human being during his or her lifetime.

Come to think of it, if everyone from the beginning of time was happy all the time, how do you think our history would read? It would perhaps comprise of one sentence: “And then Mankind lived happily ever after”. That would be such a boring and one dimensional history and I would not want to be any part of it – even if it had made me happy.

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In the next post, I will explore the role of ART in explaining why the societal and religious perception of happiness is incomplete and completely misplaced. 

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Suicide Note

This coffee tastes good. Maybe it always has. I have bought the same coffee for the past 3 years you know. But it’s only now I am really tasting it. Tastes good. I can even feel the nutmeg flavor lingering on my tongue as an after taste. I think I like it. Too bad this is the last time I will be drinking this. Hey, at least I did taste it before the end, right?

Funny thinking about all the things I had never noticed all this time. Like that neighbor’s dog. Did you know they had a dog? Apparently they have had it for over 5 years now. A cute little Labrador that one. Not sure if it is a male or a female though. Just don’t remember it barking or making any noise. Maybe they trained it that way and it never barked or something. I have lived here next to them for 9 years now and I just don’t remember any dog at all. Maybe they even had one before Spice. Yeah that’s what they call it. Weird name if you ask me. I mean, what kind of a name is that? SPICE? Oh well, maybe they like it. The dog surely won’t know what it means. Poor thing.

Well, I definitely know one thing that has happened over the past 5 years. YOU. You just got up and left one morning. I still remember that day. I woke up and you were gone – just gone. Instead I found everybody else – your family, my family, our close friends – all in our house. For some reason I cannot understand to this day, they were all very happy to see me wake up but just refused to tell me where you were. Oh they didn’t have to really. I knew where you had gone. You just got up and left. I knew it was coming for a while – even back then. But didn’t expect it to be so sudden. I mean, you didn’t even pack your bags or take your clothes. You must have been in a real hurry then. Didn’t know you hated me so much.

I never heard back from you again. I tried calling all your friends, family, even your ex boyfriends to see if you were cheating on me with them. But all of them were very rude to me as if it was all my fault somehow. How dare they? They should have seen what a wreck I had become without you – because of you. Maybe then they would see who the victim really was. When I asked my own family or friends, they just gave me some very vague responses. Some would just ask me how I was doing, if I had everything I needed. Some would even volunteer help!

Slowly even my own family and friends stopped talking to me or answering my calls. So much for being the real victim, eh? I hope you are watching this and glowing with pride and satisfaction. I know this is what you wanted – for me to suffer. Well, guess what, your wish has been granted and then some more.

Remember that bar we always went to – the one right beside the university? It’s the same bar we went to the night before you left, remember? Of course you remember. You probably planned it all along – that you would runaway in the morning after I got drunk, knowing very well that I would be fully asleep. I know all your plans now – I am smarter than you think you know. Coming back to that bar now, for some reason those guys don’t like me anymore. I mean, I – we – have been going there for so long and I know those bartenders very well. But when I went back there a couple of weeks after you left, the bartender just started abusing me and yelling that I was not welcome there anymore. They actually got the bouncer to throw me out. Can you believe it? Of course, you probably planned all this too, didn’t you? Making sure that I would be humiliated wherever I went – maybe you had some kind of a deal with that bartender to make sure I was embarrassed in front of a lot of people. Guess what? That worked too. Hope that makes you happy. 

I bought a new car too after you left. Well I had to, after it was stolen the night you left – stolen by YOU to runaway! I tried to file a complaint with the police for the theft of my car but then they just sent me away. They said I was mad! Can you believe it? They think I am mad for YOU stealing my car to run away! Maybe you planned all of this too – probably bribed the cops to make sure my complaint would not be registered. Well, guess what, you can have that car! Never liked it anyway – always smelt of your perfume inside it. Good riddance!

I started smoking again you know. You never allowed me to do it when we were together so I had quit when we first moved in. But then after you left, I just had to start smoking again as a matter of principle. It was my way of saying ‘Fuck you!’ to you. And I do not regret it. I started drinking heavily too. It made it so much easier to get through the day. Then came the coke. I guess I have to thank you in a way for introducing me to coke. I would have never ventured there if you hadn’t left. It took me to a different world altogether. But then, after a few months, I burnt all my savings and got kicked out of my job. My family has been helping me out now for a while. But that’s a different story for another day.

Anyway, I just don’t see the point anymore. Yes, I hate you for leaving me. But I hate you even more for not being there for me when I needed you most – when I was going through rehab or when I was crying myself to sleep every single night since you left. I used to reach out for you across the bed but never found you there again. I thought someday I was going to  wake up and find you back in bed lying next to me. But that day never came. And I now know it will never come.

Because I know you have left me for good.

Wherever you decided to go, whomever you are with now, I hope you are happy. And when you read this someday, I hope you will understand why I did what I am going to do now. Fact is, there is simply no other option for me.

This coffee is getting cold. Now I have to go. I can still feel the nutmeg.

Goodbye.