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The Pursuit of Happiness

Anam Sufi ponders the concept of "happiness"...

So something has been grating on me for a while now; it's nothing spectacular or bombastic as political revolutions or cases of sexual harassment. Rather, the slow burning revolution that has been expanding on an aggregate and global level, in terms of the human psyche. Is it just me, or does anyone else feel as though a strong arduousness has begun to shadow the concept of “happiness”? 

I believe Cairean society (generically speaking) has assumed a parasitic stance when it comes to the scale of happiness and disarray. There’s a sort of obsession with the image of the tragic hero, one who has been through harrowing circumstances, been dealt injustice, and who is thus apparently allowed all sorts of debauchery on the merit of having been wronged.

I spent some time pondering the term “deep”. What does it mean when someone uses the adjective to describe another as such? I used to believe ‘deep’ translated into the ability to think beyond one’s self, to replicate the nature of the universe and expand towards an infinite and unseen realm of existence. But nowadays I feel the term has been demoted to only include those who have witnessed hardships in life. Sure, there’s something to be said for the development of character depth when it comes to overcoming such calamiti, but my observations have led me to believe that there is an increasing sense of contentment to sit idle and bask in the grotesque glory of emotional turmoil. People find communal catharsis in their shared feeling of gloom. And while this sensationalist attitude isn’t necessarily worthy of rebuke, I find it a shame that for many, this phase is increasingly becoming a safe haven of stagnancy. 

Perhaps this isn’t a localised existential crises. Perhaps the contagion of cynicism is a global affair. I realise the ridiculousness in compartmentalising the whole world under a banner of such a normative statement, but the burgeoning evidence showing aggressive movements to propagate happiness, is what fuels my thoughts. We’ve all seen it, #100daysofhappiness, we’ve all heard it, “Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth”, and most recently, we all went along when the UN instated “International Happiness Day” (lols). Maybe this isn’t a new phenomenon; maybe it’s merely the advent of social media that’s led to recognition of endeavors aiming to facilitate “good vibes”. But if not, it certainly makes me wonder; why now? 

I believe it has a lot to do with a spike in depressive tendencies, particularly amongst the youth. We are a generation born in the fast track lane; we were taught to compete, to be the superlative, and fed the story that utility breeds success. While this holds true in some respects, its fissures became stridently apparent after leaving university. The weight and stress of having to find your niche, apply the studies you spent years investing your efforts in, are not even given ample opportunity to flourish. Unemployment and underemployment runs rampant, leaving you stuck on a metaphysical treadmill; constantly running, but getting nowhere.

Faced with such dim prospects, there’s a nostalgia for having no responsibility; a want for dependency. So you can imagine the fermentation of such desires in the context of collective pools that embrace depression and allow it to linger for long. 

Against such an experience, the question of resilience and coping becomes extremely important. What informs our coping mechanisms? I like to think more attention should be paid to the political and social framework that plays an underappreciated role in influencing how people deal with things. Buddhism’s advocacy of cultivating detachment, the Taoist tradition of adapting to one’s environment, and the Confucian tradition of overcoming hardships by acquiring righteousness through knowledge, have each echoed influences within their respective geographies. Along this vein, where then does Egypt fall?

I don’t want to get into the religious aspect of things, but will instead argue that perhaps a rise in this feeling of angst due to lack of control is owed to the declining glory of the country’s history. In its recent history, Egypt and Egyptians experienced an unprecedented euphoria during the revolution(s). But where do we find ourselves now? You can smell the pungent stink of polarity amongst the masses in every alleyway of the city. Yesterday’s enemy might tomorrow be the president, the economy is still down, and unemployment still high, and all the efforts of the revolution seem to have been conducted in vain. Upon living through such an aggregate and collective experience, would it be too far-fetched to argue that the feeling of futility has left its imprint on the individual psyche as well?

I feel I’ve rambled on long enough. In fact, I am not even sure if this constitutes news, or an opinion piece.

But then again, this is not a judgment. This is not an answer. 

This is merely food for thought.


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