Forced happiness

by Giulietta Consentino

Many people still think of the mind and body as separate entities wrapped in one package. Increasingly we are taking a more holistic view that a ‘healthy person’ is someone whose physical wellbeing includes mental and emotional stability.

Not everyone accepts this holistic premise though. Many philosophical and religious traditions take a more conventional metaphysical approach, specifically distinguishing between the two. They talk like we are the ethereal drivers of some biological machine. On the contrary, almost everything the mind does depends on the body, the mind is of the body: Mens sana in corpore sano – ‘a healthy mind in a healthy body’ both working together to ensure physical wellbeing. But is there any actual evidence that positive thinking can heal the body? Well, I suppose we could consider the well-documented placebo effect as being a great example of mind over matter – almost like we are capable of tricking our immune systems into action – so how come nobody has abandoned the pharmacy?

focus glassIn today’s digital frenzy, it’s easy to lose sight of holistic balance. Our constant craving for something new seems more and more insatiable. New icons, new looks, new products, new recipes, new places to hang, new movies to see, new bags to buy, new… It’s like we all signed up for a fast-track quest to personal betterment but didn’t read the small print. Whole industries have evolved that acknowledge our dissatisfaction, and offer a solution – usually for a price. Just check out the multi billion dollar wellbeing industry. We’ve all come across health and wellness articles with their lists of seductively empty buzz-words like: ‘stop worrying’, ‘look on the bright side’, ‘you’re nothing less than awesome…’ Add to this, variations of perfect hacks, how to’s, tricks and tips for maintaining a euphoria of positivity, which promise that perpetual happiness is within your reach – it almost seems too easy – relax, buy another skinny latte.

Funnily enough, the easier we believe it is to obtain, the more difficult it becomes to be happy. All the modern comforts we have at our disposal might, in fact, be the very thing preventing us from achieving simple ol’ happiness. Too much of a good thing might literally be too much. This trend for forced positivity, which to me sounds a lot like, “fake it ‘til you make it,” could lead to a mental and emotional crisis. I mean, what are we trying to make? What’s the destination? Where’s this elusive nirvana? Just looking at my timelines, it appears to be a place of dieting, cosmetic surgery and endless face-tuning. In short, it seems like sweeping everything negative under the carpet, and just focusing on the journey to happiness ignores the fact that this is it – like it or not you have already arrived.

It’s true, nobody wants to be around a continually miserable person, but there has to be a point where we realise that it’s okay to feel burdened by life sometimes. Yeah, we’ve all lied and said we’re fine when we’re not, because, you know, nobody wants a truthful answer to that question – do they? “Hey, how are you?” “Oh, well, I’m not doing so well, my cat left me and my colleagues think I’m mental…” I mean, awkward!

Past generations, who had experienced the hardships of World War II, learned to simply ‘suck it up’ and deal with life without these unrealistic expectations of ultimate happiness. They didn’t over-think it, probably cause there’s nothing much to think of.

To survive or not survive. So, perhaps the secret to happiness is limiting our choices, hot or cold, black or white, to be or not to be… People realised that anger, frustration, struggle and overcoming obstacles are a normal part of life and key to finding contentment. Happiness was seen as being content with whatever you could achieve, life’s fundamental necessities had to be earned and happiness was measured in small increments.

By contrast, we live in a world of endless choices – do you want the veggie shake, the smoothie, the detox with quinoa, the regular or the large? The current generation’s sense of entitlement to personal wellness, happiness is exacerbated by life coaches, self-help books, online blogs and internet influencers who now permeate every corner of our lives.

Yes, sometimes we all need to suck it up, toughen up, or find mechanisms for coping with life without viewing happiness as a right, automatically ours for the taking. Rather than some self-help guru coming to the rescue, it’s up to us to find what works for us and make it happen.

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