I like Bruce Springsteen. I have listened to the Greatest Hits CD a few hundred times. I guess pathos appeals to me. I am not a happy person. Don’t get me wrong, I have had my moments of happiness, but they are more of an exception than the rule. I try to be happy. But it is like teaching a slob the merits of industry—it just does not work. There is almost a will to be unhappy and when you see a mental image of yourself as a clown doing antics to get a laugh you become convinced of the futility of the effort. I have tried the trick where you compare yourself to the less fortunate: to me, I always seem worse off. I have read the Happiness for Dummies books, but I can’t keep the pointers straight in my head.
“The secret of being miserable is to have leisure to bother about whether you are happy or not. The cure for it is occupation.” —George Bernard Shaw
Looking back at my life, I think the only happy times were when I was too busy to notice that I wasn’t. But there could be a different explanation for my misery—loneliness, and my inability to find someone to offset it. I am not sure which is true: if I am chronically depressed or if I am a victim of circumstance, timing, or society. I am going to assume it is the latter because the former would imply that there is something wrong with me, and that would only make me unhappier.
“Those who are unhappy have no need for anything in this world but people capable of giving them their attention.” —Simone Weil
Having been born and brought up in India, where people’s interest in others lives may be considered extreme, I find the complete lack of it in the United States very disorienting. Here, the only people who are even remotely interested in your life, if you are not a celebrity, are members of your immediate family. This would explain my need to start one pronto. The irony is that the prolonged solitude has made me incapable of being genuinely interested in another human being. I am incapable of looking beyond myself to empathize with, relate to, and find enthusiasm in another person’s life. In other words, I have developed an allergic reaction to the very thing I crave and so the cycle of my misery continues.
“You have to be complete in yourself.” “Happiness comes from within.” “Happiness is a state of mind.” I have heard all kinds of advice on the importance of being self-reliant for happiness. But I wonder, are we not a social beings? Is it so unhealthy to expect an external source of strength, solace, and joy that is not supernatural? After all, if each of us is meant to be an island, why are there so many of us? And if we are to not expect anything from another (since expectation creates unhappiness) why does marriage exist? The purpose of marriage, in my opinion, is to provide a legitimate license for expectation.
So, I continue to look for “The One.” Meanwhile, I have come across a practical recommendation for being happy, which is also easy to remember: “Smile!” The physical act of smiling apparently improves the mental state of a person. So if you see a girl with a wide, unnatural grin pasted on her face, do say “Hi!” It could be me.
“My dearest girl, dearer to me than anything in life, if you are unhappy, let me share your unhappiness. If you are in need of help or counsel, let me try to give it to you. If you have indeed a burden on your heart, let me try to lighten it.” —Charles Dickens
Sree is a high-tech design engineer and a part-time MBA student.