We cannot always be happy

Can adults and their kids rediscover the pleasure of being 'just fine' in life and learn that losing is also OK?

It's good to be happy, but it's OK not to be happy either...
It's good to be happy, but it's OK not to be happy either...

Pharell has a lot to answer for with his infectious ‘Happy’ and the repeated refrain “because I’m happy”. It’s a great song to sing along to if you are feeling upbeat, but if you are in a foul mood, it might make you want to punch someone. We all get into those kinds of inexplicable funks from time to time.

But everything I’ve been reading lately seems to point to a young generation which is unhappy all the time. I would hate to think how they would feel if they lived in a war zone or in a poverty-stricken country with nothing to eat.

While trying to understand why they are so depressed, I received an article which gives a possible explanation. “How to land your kids in therapy” basically sums it up by saying that, by doing too much for them, parents are not teaching kids that it’s OK to fail.  Hence, every setback plunges them into unhappiness.

Understanding that you cannot be good at everything and that you have to work hard to achieve success is an important life lesson

Even the new trends in education are not helping. Sports activities, just to cite one example, no longer put an emphasis on winners and losers but are more like social get-togethers where everyone’s a winner and gets the same medal. I have tried to comprehend the reasoning behind this but continue to find it highly unrealistic when compared to what happens out there in the real world. I would think that understanding that you cannot be good at everything and that you have to work hard to achieve success is an important life lesson.

A few days later I read another excellent piece written by a Maltese teacher, a blog post entitled, “What’s with our ask.fm generation?” which zeroes in on yet another salient point. Teachers have been telling parents for years to back off and let schools instill some form of discipline in their kids, but by refusing to do so (and by enabling rude, atrocious behaviour), society is now reaping what we have all sowed. Too many obnoxious, unhappy kids with no respect for anyone, everywhere you look.

With no one setting any boundaries and curfews for them, and by getting everything they want immediately, they have nothing to look forward to any more. New gadgets are bestowed upon them for no reason at all, so everything is blasé and met with a bored shrug and “so what?” And you can forget about saying thank you.

It’s not just children though is it? I see this malaise in adults too. A vague feeling of dissatisfaction permeates their lives even though on the surface they seem to have it all

It’s not just children though is it? I see this malaise in adults too. A vague (and sometimes not so vague) feeling of dissatisfaction permeates their lives even though on the surface they seem to have it all. They grumble and moan and whine about everything under the sun, but none of their complaints have anything to do with really serious problems (for example, health issues, the loss of a loved one or financial setbacks). They are just unhappy. Period.

[Please note I am not referring to serious, clinical depression here, which has to be taken very seriously.]

Seeing all this “misery”, my conclusion is that it all boils down to one thing. Western society is suffering from a major misconception, which is that we expect to be happy all the time. It has to be a 1000% high voltage type of happiness, too, not just your run-of-the mill “I’m feeling fine” type of thing. Anything less than that, and we throw ourselves into a melodramatic hissy fit, lamenting to everyone who will listen that we are in the doldrums.

If we remove this highly unattainable expectation from the equation, it makes life so much simpler. We need to recognize and accept that there will be many times in our lives when things don’t go our way and our happiness factor will plummet. We will occasionally wake up feeling down in the dumps because we see grey hairs and wrinkles and become depressed at how time has taken a toll on our looks.

It has to be a 1000% high voltage type of happiness, too, not just your run-of-the mill “I’m feeling fine” type of thing.

Women, especially, will go through a hard time in a society which worships at the altar of youth and, of course, there will be times when the sight of 20-somethings with fresh skin and perfect figures will throw us into even greater despondence.   

In a consumer culture which tells us we should always want to have more of everything and replace what we already have with new “things” which are bigger, better, faster, it is very, very easy to get sucked into this constant underlying emotion of discontentment.

Rather than being satisfied with what we have right now, here, at this moment, we are always searching for something else which might make this nagging feeling of “bleh” go away. The quick fix though will only be a fleeting, temporary solution and will only serve to make us feel (perversely) even worse because what we thought would make us happy (whether it is plastic surgery or a new car) has not worked.

This pushes us into even greater confusion and anxiety as we try and search for something else. The underlying, lingering question continues to be, “I should be happy because I have everything I want in my life, so why am I still unhappy?”

I think this is what ultimately drives people, whether young or old, to substance abuse, or gambling or promiscuous behaviour. It is a constant search to fill the emptiness inside their soul; a bottomless pit of neediness which they try to stuff with things or behaviour.

It is also an attempt to escape from the one truism which many people refuse to accept, which is that life is not always fair. You will not always get what you want, when you want it, so it is useless to keep gnashing your teeth and shaking your fist, cursing your bad luck.

Because, one day, in your old age, you will want to slap today’s younger self silly, wondering what on earth you had to be so unhappy about.

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