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Rationalising (un)happiness

There’s been a spate of popular posts on LinkedIn about being ‘anti-TED’.

TED, being almost synonymous with the ‘underdog surviving all odds’, or ‘standing up against oppression’ etc. That type of feel-good, almost twee frameworks of ‘success’ that makes you want to roll your eyes. It’s like when you go on a date and the stranger orders a burger without any patty. I saw a woman do that once, I kid you not. The poor service staff looked so confounded.

Anyway, all those anti-TED misanthropes made me think about the way we talk about emotions in the media. It seems to veer towards two extremes now. Either you are some sort of mindfullness yogi to be celebrated for achieving ultimate vegan zen. Or you deserve our full sympathies for your medical depression.

What about all the bits in between? No one ever talks about asinine boredom. Irrational frustration. Or just desperate unhappiness.

I’ve been desperately unhappy lately. I don’t use the word ‘depressed’ cause I’m Asian and depression doesn’t exist in Asia. Non-PC jokes aside, I do have issues with the way depression is conceptualised. There’s an entire anthropology library on the medicalisation of bodily phenomena and the pharmaceutical hegemony etc. I’m just going to leave it as “I don’t feel comfortable with applying that term to myself”. I simply don’t identify as depressed, and no, this is not me obtusely ignoring ‘my problem’.

I do admit to feeling like I’m in a pit sometimes. I like to think that’s normal though. Who doesn’t have problems eh? At the moment, I’m not particularly fussed by it. After struggling for a while, I’ve recognised that there’s nothing I can do to improve how I feel, so I’m gonna apply some buddhism to the whole situation. My weird sense of acceptance made me think about how culturally, we always try and ‘solve’ unhappiness. We all do that. If someone tells us they are unhappy, the first thing we do is ask “Why? What happened?” There’s this presumption that there must be a cause behind that despair.

But what if there isn’t? Or what if we just simply don’t know? Emotions are often our body’s way of summarising our subconscious thoughts. Or our suppressed conscious thoughts. The problem with having a really strong force of will, is that your ability to go into self-denial is of corresponding strength. You almost think you can will yourself into being happy. Maybe it’s a reality you don’t want to face. So it’s not particularly useful when people ask you why you are unhappy. You are either unable or unwilling to tell them. That’s why you were unhappy in the first place!

In my sales pitches, I always talk about how academic research has shown that people don’t know what they are feeling. Not sure why I am so surprised to find that out for myself that’s really the case. I don’t know, or don’t want to admit to myself why I am unhappy.

And I’m ok with that. Humans are complex, I can only hope to understand myself. Someone once told me that all psychologists studied the subject because they hoped to understand themselves. I laughed it off as a joke. I’m now seeing that it’s really true. I probably got involved in social cognition and anthropology cause I was never able to make sense of the way I behaved.

What is happiness anyway. It’s just a human construct!

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