As children we are exhorted to study harder, respect elders, obey, eat, shut doors softly, never talk back, forgive and smile. Rarely are martial strategies explained to us; how to navigate social minefields, when to put your foot down, why draw boundaries. The good and bad, the beauty and the beast, co-exist in us in constant bickering. No wonder we grow up into dual entities who say one thing and think another.
Showing the other cheek, studying killingly boring subjects in depth, putting up with nasty people in the name of networking, staying on in toxic marriages because what will people say, not naming abusers in any field for fear of fingers pointing in own direction...
Our core values whitewashed, inner urges channelled for sublimation, the emphasis is on ‘be nice’. But the ‘other’ us, aware of every injustice and taking the world in a personal way, is forever restless. Turning to scriptures a little late in life, we seek to understand being jobless, childless, rootless, loveless, joyless, anything-less, all-less. Life, at best an uphill trek, gets trickier to navigate with every birthday.
Thus the modern trend to de-clutter, to quit corporate rat-race, to grow own veggies, to muck about in gardens; by middle age, one feels too burdened by presumptions and suppositions, expectations and the vanishing of self into generalisations, and attempts to set his world right, one wall at a time. We suddenly and abruptly want to be happy.
As if the huge salary, villa in a gated community, the international school for the kiddos, manicured microscopic lawn, grand car and exotic vacations are a myth we invested in a foolish fit. Next in chronology comes the search for a pair of hallowed feet we can touch; we want a guru, we want him now!
What if more mindfulness was at work when we started out in life? Imagine if our parents taught us to follow our hearts and placed no special stress on financial solvency? What if we grew up confident, non-competitive, carefree? Would we be happy now or... a hippy? Would this replace one extreme with another; make us laidback-lazy instead of the anxious nail-biters we are now?
The secret ingredient missing looks to be happy. Whatever we do – live life in the fast lane or putter about backyards growing sage and basil – it is being content that makes all the difference. To enjoy life, to get into it heart and soul and come away transformed, this is the magic formula our ancestors should perhaps be whispering in our ears about.
The human need to succeed could then be applied to states of mind, to a personalised nirvana, because each one of us is different and needs to tailor an individual plan to keep self in the business of bliss. Happy is when you agree with yourself most of the time. When regrets are placed in perspective. When who you are is who you want to be.
As homo sapiens, we are prone to taking the planet for granted, parental preaching as sacrosanct, and second-guessing ourselves. Perhaps our inner evolution is dependent on being trained for happiness. Which just means an awareness of what makes us unhappy and doing our best to stay away from that thing/theory, person/act. Here’s to happy, to each his own.
Shinie Antony is a writer and editor based in Bangalore. Her books include The Girl Who Couldn't Love, Barefoot and Pregnant, Planet Polygamous, and the anthologies Why We Don’t Talk, An Unsuitable Woman, Boo. Winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Asia Prize for her story A Dog’s Death in 2003, she is co-founder of the Bangalore Literature Festival and director of the Bengaluru Poetry Festival.