Monday, July 30, 2018

Modern Unhappiness

Two or three months ago, I couldn’t remember the last time I had felt really happy. I realized that most of the time, I was just doing all the things I had to do, and it felt like there was never time, opportunity or energy to do anything I wanted to do. I felt like all my responsibilities were weighing heavily on me, all competing for my attention, none of them getting enough, leaving me feeling like a failure in all departments.

I even wrote about happiness (posted on my blog here) last year. I had realized how important it was to find happiness right in your current moment instead of waiting for it on some faraway horizon, and it helped me a lot to go through that exercise. However, somewhere along the way, I lost that happy feeling and it was replaced by worry, stress and the feeling of being overwhelmed. I just felt like there were a lot of negative aspects of life to deal with now, and they always overshadow the positive ones. I fell into a woe hole and couldn’t get out.

I started to wonder if this unhappiness was just a part of getting used to the stage of life I’m at now, compared to my life as a teenager/20-something-year-old. More responsibilities, more things to worry about, less free time, less opportunities to do the things that were considered happy fun 15 or 20 years ago.

This was depressing me even more, so instead of thinking about the stage of life I’m in, I zoomed out and started thinking about the stage of history we are in. We’re dealing with new technology to which nobody before us has had to adjust. Every time something massively and significantly new is introduced, it takes time for people to get used to it. Just like any relationship, after we rejoice in the benefits, the positives, the novelties, we start to see the detriments, the negatives, the realities.

Over the past ten or so years, we’ve begun to live in the world of social media. We’re connected, but are we too connected? We see everyone’s up close and personal lives (at least, what they choose to share) every day. We see the best photos of someone when we feel our worst, exhausted from the day. We see friends’ and families’ vacation photos, feel happy for them, but also feel a side of sadness that we aren’t on vacation. We see people posting about the positive relationships they have and can’t help but hold up the relationships we have and compare them, maybe feeling bad about being bitchy to our husband when someone just posted about how in love he or she is with their spouse.

We can’t help but compare, I guess, even though we know we shouldn’t. We can’t even be completely happy for the people we love because we can’t help but position our lives against theirs, noticing all the ways we don’t measure up. No generation before us has had the same barrage of images at their fingertips on a daily basis to peruse and position and zoom in and react to as the people alive today. And it’s hard. It’s really hard to not feel jealous of a celebrity who just had a baby and looks beautiful and has full-time nannies to help her. It’s really hard not to feel a twinge when you see people hanging out and doing something fun when you are lying in bed, exhausted from the day, not doing anything fun.

Isn’t it ironic that the advancements associated with the Internet and smart phones that are supposed to make our lives easier and better actually make them harder?

It’s great that emails come straight to your phone, but it blurs the line between work and leisure time. It’s great that you can Google anything, but that black hole of the Internet is easy to fall into—it’s a slippery slope that blurs the eyes, overwhelms the mind and can eat up so much time...and can we even remember all we read?

It’s great that you can buy clothes online, but now companies pump out “new arrivals” at least monthly, and when you start looking for a specific item, you can get lost in the Internet. Just lost in the Internet. I have started looking for something I wanted and found myself on boutique web sites based out of Australia, wondering, how did I get to Australia? These are cool things, neat conveniences, a massive amount of options, but also way too many options.

We see ads tailored to products we have searched for, we are pressured to buy, we are pressured to keep up with trends in home decorating, fashion, jokes, news, and it all flies by so fast, like running to catch up to a train but never managing to jump on it.

New technology is always cool, but it has the propensity to create just as much unhappiness as it does happiness. Modern unhappiness. The unhappiness that comes from wanting what you don’t need and not feeling satisfied with all your needs actually being met (first world problems). The unhappiness that comes from having all the cool and fun things we have, but then wanting the newer model that comes out six months later. The dizzy, headachey feeling you get from scrolling on your phone for an hour in your bed in the dark. The empty feeling you have from looking at Instagram images and wanting things you saw but then forgetting what you saw because you just looked at 100 images in 1 minute. The slightly dissatisfied feeling, off to the side of your mind, but noticeable enough, that results from being on Facebook for too long, reading opinions in the form of posts and discussions in the form of a series of comments and pictures upon pictures upon pictures of people and babies and pets. Cool, but also not cool.

Where we are in history, with the Internet and how it connects and disconnects us, is the place where the cloud of modern unhappiness hangs.

To feel sorry for ourselves about this wouldn’t get us anywhere, though. Anyone older than you would probably chide you and say, “You’re lucky to have all that you have. We didn’t have [this] when I was your age.” This is true. We are experiencing a new type of unhappiness, but all the people who lived and died before us had reasons to be unhappy, too. Disease, shorter life expectancies, world wars, outdoor washrooms, you know, there is a huge range of things.

There is a lot of talk nowadays about the young generation being entitled. They expect a lot without wanting to work for it, which anyone over 25 would scoff at. But you know, every generation must look at their kids and what they have and say to them, “When your dad and I were kids, we never had this.” We say to our kids things like, “Did you know that we had to drive to a video store, rent a movie, drive home, watch the movie, REWIND the movie, and return it, and all you have to do is pick what you want to watch from thousands of titles, from several databases on your TV and press play?” I remember my parents would say the same sort of thing to me, just one-generation-up sort of things like, “We had to go to the movie theatre to watch a movie!” And then you get into the generation before it talking about walking to school uphill both ways, barefoot in the snow.

You get the picture. Every parent will tell their kids they have it sooo good, and life is so much easier with so many more amenities than when they were kids. Doesn’t that mean that we are all a little entitled, compared to the generation before us? None of us realize how lucky we are to have what we have because we don’t realize how hard our parents had it? We take for granted what we have and expect it to be that way and heaven forbid your Wi-Fi cuts out on your back deck? We want what we don’t need and feel bad about our lives if they aren’t as good as some famous person we don’t even know, living in California, having followed her dream to design clothing for cats, and now we want her haircut and the hand towels she has in her kitchen? We are told we must follow our dreams instead of being told that if everyone had their dream job, society would collapse?

Every generation has faced different challenges to be unhappy about. Even though there are different things that can cause unhappiness, perhaps people have always been able to come back to the SAME THINGS to build happiness. Perhaps happiness is that simple.

If you think about happiness in the simplest way possible, what, at the very root, are the things that make us happy? Going back to Abraham Maslow's ideas, here are a few simple ways to feel happy:

·         Having food to eat/eating good food (sometimes in solitude, but a lot of the time with family, friends, at gatherings, holidays)
·         Loving others and being loved
·         Feeling safe, secure, cozy
·         Doing fun things (hobbies, vacation, parties, down time), doing what you love to do and are good at doing
·         For those who are religious, the fulfillment that comes from having a relationship with God

      These are a few. Perhaps you can think of more. 

      Whatever your age, we can find happiness in these things, or variations of these things:

Babies basically eat, sleep and are held and made to feel safe. Toddlers are happy when they are eating snacks, doing fun things, living securely and safely within boundaries. Teenagers hang out with friends and eat pizza; they need to feel like they belong. Eventually, parties transition from pop-and-chip movie parties to parties with beer that you don’t want your parents to know about to parties you host at the home you own to intimate dinner parties with delicious food. Either way, it’s all a variation of the happiness that comes from being with loved ones and enjoying food and drinks together.

Whatever your age, you probably feel happy when you can share a meal with family, go out for dinner with friends, are told you are loved, have a cozy bed to sleep in, and get to do fun things once in a while. Perhaps as we get older, our opportunity for happiness grows and gets more complex. For example, we want to be happy ourselves, but we also want our kids and other loved ones to be happy as well, which is just as much, if not more important than our own happiness. We can start throwing in more things like the happiness that comes from working hard to achieve something, or the happiness that comes from seeing our children grow up, or the happiness that comes from being a support for others and from feeling supported by others.

It would stand to reason, then, that if our capacity for happiness increases by growing and becoming more complex, that we would have more opportunities for happiness and be more happy. Why is it that so many people tend to feel more unhappy?

How can we be happy in the long term? How can we develop a habit of happiness? How do we combat our modern unhappiness?

Down to its very core, once you wipe away all the things that tell us they will make us happy but actually don’t, we really could be more happy. Did you eat today? Do you have food in your house that you can make tomorrow? Do you have any plans on the horizon? Did you do anything fun in the last few months, memories you can replay? Do you have a bed to sleep in tonight? Do you have people in your life whom you love, and love you? Do you have a cozy couch to watch TV on? Are your needs met?

These are just a few things, but really, if you boil it down to the basics, the same things that have made you happy all throughout your life, the same things that have made people happy all throughout the ages, then you probably have all the ingredients.

Bake a happy cake and eat it. IT WILL TASTE GOOD.

Think about your kids. Your parents. Your boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, wife, sister, brother, friends. Think about what they have done for you. Think about what you can do for them.
If you don’t like a certain part of your life, don’t complain—change it or decide to accept it. Be realistic.

Be grounded in the day. Get out of the Internet; climb out of the dark hole and tell yourself what day it is and what you are doing in that moment. Find something to be happy about—find a positive thing. Take a moment to let yourself laugh or joke about something. Spend more time being you in person with other people also in person. Find joy in the everyday—you have chores to do, but you are able to do them. You have dinner to make, but you have good food to cook. You have work to do, but you have a job that is making you money. All these things seem so basic, but they are so much more than what so many people have.

We live in a very exciting time in history, and we are learning how to navigate the Internet and all the inadvertent collateral damage that comes from falling into it. We can do it. It’s our responsibility as people alive right now to assess the downfalls of new technology and develop ways to prevent it from hurting us. As adults, we can do what we want, I know, but we should also set boundaries for ourselves so we don’t self-destruct.

We will be subject to this new, modern unhappiness, but we can fight it and find the same, reliable happiness here, too—just like those before us did.