Welcome to the North Korea of Happiness: Be Cheerful or Die Trying
Illustration: Shruti Yatam
Are you happy?
It’s a burdensome question. If “happy” is your constant state of mind, hop on aboard, you’ve made it, you’re a champ, pass the joint and please remember that sharing is caring. But if you are not, you should be ashamed of yourself. If you don’t shit sparkle and radiate glee, you are “doing life wrong”.
Welcome aboard the North Korea of Happiness, where the ultimate goal to everything you do is a nuclear explosion of joy.
I would call myself a fairly cheerful person, who loves to laugh as much as the next guy. I am happy in certain moments, but then also sad, hopeful, anxious, disappointed, fearful in others. I live in the polluted hyper-city of Mumbai, last went on a date when LK Advani ran for Prime Minister, and have to travel in jam-packed trains every day, so there’s only that many things I can be happy about. At times, I’m neither happy nor unhappy, in a fairly even state of mind, especially at work or when thinking about something. I figure that’s how most people are.
But it’s not a mindset that is acceptable anymore. One is bullied into being happy and ragged about life choices and decision-making – as if there is one giant conspiracy that is keeping me from reaching a state of constant delight and I must be rescued from it.
And this manufactured sense of happiness is pervasive: At work, at home, among my peers, friends when we go for a beer. But more than anywhere, it’s on my social media. On Instagram and Facebook and Twitter in the form of #HeartReactsOnly and #MyHappyPlace and #LoveMyLife. It is like a friggin’ rash that I can’t seem to lose.
Ironically, it is this constant reminder of how I’m not leading a happy life, that is making me… unhappy.
It’s no longer enough that you have to score 99 per cent at school, go through a gruelling college course, a tricky relationship and end up at a stressful high-paying job. You now also have to carry around this additional weight of being happy while you go through the entire ordeal, parts of which are pretty horrifying. This existential-meltdown-inducing question is quite often invoked by a close friend who’ll ask you at the end of a detailed story, “But, are you happy?”
Whether it’s your childhood, education, relationship or career, everything must be defined in this simple yes or no binary of happiness. We love binariness in this country: People we disagree with are anti-national, news we don’t like is paid for, and politicians we don’t like are liars. Well, one of the three is actually true. Binary judgments about happiness though, aren’t.
If you’re not happy with any aspect of your life, just quit it and find the next greatest thing that will change your life forever. After all, you can only either be happy or unhappy. If you’re unhappy, it’s a problem. And if it’s a problem, you must fix it ASAP. There’s no place for other feelings, emotions and different states of mind, fuck psychologists and their 100+ years of research and study. You are either operating at Dan Bilzerian level of ecstasy, or Kumar Sanu level of perpetual disappointment and sadness. There’s no middle ground.
Of course, there is a market feeding and supplying this idea of eternal pleasure. You can instantly go from unhappy to happy by applying a cream on your legs that makes you look younger by 10 years. After all, it is that dark spot beneath the knee that’s keeping you from being happy. Every fear, every insecurity can be addressed. Every third person has written a self-help book and there are more TED talks about how to be happy than there are actual happy people in the world. Yale University now has a course, teaching students how to be happy. If advertisements are anything to go by, you could literally buy yourself happiness. Maybe someday Amazon will sell Happiness as a product with same-day drone delivery; maybe Alexa was laughing for sheer joy.
But before we can bottle and package happiness, there’s always the quick fix. Let’s get high on LSD at Calangute beach, make a bike ride to Ladakh, attend the Jaipur lit fest, go trekking in Himachal, attend the music fest in Pune, or visit Comic Con in Delhi. These are all pursuits that are meant to make us happy, and we must not miss out on anything. It’s a competition of happiness between you and your friends’ Instagram account to be around all the “cool” events happening in town.
There is only one problem, however. And it’s not me, it’s you.
This mad dash for happiness is based on two faulty presumptions. One, that happiness is the sole barometer of judgment for the worth of all life, and secondly, that happiness should continuously exist, every moment, until the end of life.
It’s equally important to be hopeful, sad, disappointed or anxious, as it is to be happy. It’s only when you are sad, that you can know what’s it like to be happy. The more one consciously tries to attain happiness, the more elusive it appears. Trying to make life more meaningful might perhaps be a more noble goal to aspire for, and you deal with everything that comes your way, happiness or otherwise.
Happiness is like an orgasm, it lasts a few moments. And you feel really good. And you can have one every now and then. But to expect life itself to be one long orgasm, is to be a little insane.