By Pulkit Sharma
Today more than ever, we are buying into the illusion that happiness depends on external factors such as possessions, status and wealth, says Pulkit Sharma
The Facebook profiles of a young couple of my acquaintance were enviable. Each waxed eloquent about the other with poetic expressions of love. Their status updates registered their presence at umpteen happening parties, sports and cultural events, as well as at exotic destinations in India and abroad. Every week, they broadcast the acquisition of a costly possession – the most sought-after gadget, designer attire, a piece of newly acquired jewelry, an expensive watch or a luxury car. They had a long list of friends and followers on Facebook who admired and envied them, and sought to emulate their happiness. Paradoxically, the couple’s happiness was also heavily dependent on the adulation of their followers. They planned and did things to remain in the limelight. Being in the public eye was the only thing that gave meaning to their existence. At a certain point, when they toppled from their position at the centre-stage of society, they felt empty, depressed, and aimless and began having huge fights between them. The image of happiness that they had created in the eyes of the world was the glue that kept their selves and the relationship intact. With the glue gone, everything came crashing down.
Today, everyone wants to be happy but they either have no idea how, or entertain a faulty notion about what will make them happy. People usually feel that everyone but they has a happy life. Unhappiness seems to be a curse issued to them alone. As a result, everyone feels pressurised to be happy. They hide their sadness from the world as well as from their own selves. This starts a rat race where everyone is doing what others are doing in order to feel happy.
We are living in a culture that has come to value a quick, loud, superficial and greedy notion of happiness. It seeks excitement that can make it forget past traumas, inner emptiness, and meaninglessness. The logic goes thus: “I don’t know what makes me happy. But having a certain set of possessions and experiences makes everyone happy. This kind of happiness is valued and sought-after by everyone around me. Therefore, I must also hurry up and catch the bus.”
Childhood is the time when one picks up and internalises these notions. A lot of parents who come for psychotherapy tell me how hard they are working to secure the future of their children. They feel that by earning loads of money and social prominence, they will ensure happiness for their children. The parents typically work for long hours, frequently travel and are too drained by the time they reach home to understand and respond to the feelings of the child. They frequently change homes for better jobs and promotions, and uproot children from their familiar attachments.
A lot of parents hire expensive caregivers to look after their children. The irony is that in the process the parents tend to outsource and ignore their basic role – parenting. Children grow up without being adequately parented. Parenting requires consistent availability, energy, discipline, support, care, empathy and acknowledgment of the needs of the child. Children seem to get everything else but this basic thing. As a result they are sad, enraged, violent, self-destructive, aimless and develop dependency on disparaging anchors. They seek solace in drugs, sex, possessions and various forms of excitement. No wonder there has been a rise in personality disorders among youngsters.
The sad part is that these exact choices, which deny children the things that really matter in their lives, are likely to condition them to fake happiness. They learn to ignore their own interpersonal and deeper needs as they are not understood and mirrored by the people around them. They adopt the culturally prevalent mantra of happiness and ask parents to give them possessions and exciting experiences. This confirms the already existing illusion parents suffer under that expensive branded clothes, eating out, throwing grand parties, travelling to exotic places, buying the latest toys and gadgets is what makes their children happy. This vicious cycle has made everyone crave for and value fake happiness.
It is time to sit back, introspect and discover what makes us really happy. We need to understand that our mind is highly impressionable from day one. It is born without any identity and as a result feels very scared. In order to escape from this fear, it starts identifying with whatever comes its way. The notion and concept of happiness that all of us carry is a product of this process. However, the irony of this fake happiness is that it lasts for a few minutes, hours or a couple of days. As long as we identify with what the world values, we will be unhappy. Real happiness can come only when we decondition our mind. We need to observe and undo this false identity and notion of happiness that it has absorbed. When this illusion breaks down we will discover the real happiness that lies within.
About the Author :
Pulkit Sharma is a clinical psychologist and psychoanalytical therapist at Vimhans Hospital, Delhi
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