Thursday, June 19, 2008

Shadow Life

The other day I read a quote on Happiness Economics – it said that Happiness X Age graph is “U” shaped – viz. people are happiest when they are very young or very old.

That might explain it. Might explain why as people I know, people who are in their late twenties and early thirties – people who on the face of it are entering the peak phase of their lives with a career (that has begun to take shape and take off), a partner (for companionship) and in some cases a child, feel the way they do.
People who ARE talented, educated, reasonably affluent professionals – but who secretly, within the confines of their homes – battle with demons – unremitting and vitriolic of anxiety and stress.

And it’s happening across the genders, across the professional and personal spectrum, across socio-economic classes, and familial backgrounds.

At a personal level for the girls – I thought, I could understand – it was either the pressure (societal, familial, peer or even self sometimes) of getting a spouse before marriage. And the adjustments and compromises AFTER marriage – and make no mistake, a significant amount of onus still lies on the girl.

I have seen most of the girls I know – brought up to be independent and opinionated and free spirited – shed that skin, after they get married to morph into someone’s wife and daughter in law – with all the concomitant pressures and expectations.
Often give up on flourishing careers to trail with the husband all over the globe. Change countries, career paths, lifestyles, everything – and do so gracefully, happily and willingly, not as a forced sacrifice, but as a conscious life choice. Or sometimes, not do any of those things and continue exactly the way there were before marriage. But in all cases, something subtle changes within – I have seen this time and again as my friends, and acquaintances have got married – that somehow, they lose a little bit of the “light” within. Maybe what I call the “light” is nothing but the spark of adult independence which gets dulled as it gets enmeshed with another individual’s life. A child of course, will tone down a person even more. It has nothing to do with how happy or unhappy one is in the relationship – or how much in love one is.

Maybe that’s what one calls growing up. Where one gives up a part of oneself in order to gain something else. This process of changing or giving up, of losing oneself to become someone else is almost phoenix like – in the sense that the earlier avatar needs to be completely destroyed, for the new one to be born. Add the pressures of a professional career, priorities recalibration, to the mix, and that’s a fairly potent recipe for anxiety.

The men (and for the so-called-career women), the anxiety seems to stem more from a financial and professional standpoint. Perhaps it’s the state of transition between learning and performing, or between choice and need, between enthusiasm and ennui.

And to a great many of us, it is often coming to terms with one’s ordinariness. Making peace with the fact that even an above average intelligence often, doesn’t not translate into anything much in the daily scheme of things. And accepting the reality of the environment, of a lopsided world, where merit often needs to kow-tow to shrewd mediocrity

For many, it is facing upto the unpleasant truth that the professional glass ceiling is not too distant– where the opportunities are scarcer and the competition, exponential. Where the need to hone skills is high, but the drive is fading, and energy often drained away, dealing in a morass of managerial mundanity.

And for both is the constant balancing – between work and home, between parents and children, between companionship and ‘space’, between sharing and independence, between integrity and getting-work-done, between salary and fulfilment.

In this scenario, it is not surprising that there is no balm for the anxiety – the only thing which is there is the strips of ineffective plaster – in the form of consumption and the addiction to buy, to booze, to over indulge. To suppress the symptoms but not affect the cure.

The time where one is willing and able to absorb, grow and blossom the most is often strangled by the poison within.

A pity, really.

The second of the posts I had wanted to write on anxiety and depression. The first one is here.


Nowhere Man said...

Brilliant!! Extremely well written!! Nothing new for the fellow cynics in the wonderland but refreshing all the same :)

" ..And accepting the reality of the environment, of a lopsided world, where merit often needs to kow-tow to shrewd mediocrity

For many, it is facing upto the unpleasant truth that the professional glass ceiling is not too distant– where the opportunities are scarcer and the competition, exponential. Where the need to hone skills is high, but the drive is fading, and energy often drained away, dealing in a morass of managerial mundanity. "

Amen to that!

You earned yourself a fan.

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yesbob said...

ahoy there too !!
strong stuff, this post...

Lekhni said...

You are tagged! Writing Haiku, no less :)

Arunima said...

why are you blogging about my life?

Epiphany said...

Agree with the graph part...I just thought as do not know what is in store for you in your "prime" while as senior citizens you have "been there done that"...It is only in your middle life you have an opinion and try to control what is going on...But I do agree with the reasons you mentioned for the anxiety of life...

Cynic in Wonderland said...

thank you nowhere man. i am relieved to hear that other people also feel this way and its not just my circle of aquiantances.

parnika - er ...thank you

long time yesbob.

lekhini, will do the haiku

arunima - hmmmm.. et tu?

epiphany - extended mid life crisis perhaps. scary tohave it last so long tho.

Vikram said...

If you see it Cyn, anxiety paradoxically is not the problem, it is infact a marker to the solution.

You are anxious only when you feel something is not going as you would want it to. A desire is not getting fulfilled. And therefore everytime you feel anxious, do a little introspection and you would possible find something that can bring you happiness.

The actual problem unfortunately comes because of conflicting desires. The fulfillment of one of your desires thwarts another desire. Your desire to remain ethical and honest conflicts with your desire to win the contract that can be won only on payment of some bribe.

And to resolve these conficts of desires, you must know the priorities of your desires (typically know your values) and have the conviction to stay with those values.

Easier said than done? Maybe :)

a million different people said...

Written very well and I agree with most of it. Okay, all of it.

I think we need to give merit to shrewd mediocrity. :) Because I've always thought that it's not what you have, but how you manage what you have that matters.

I really like what I read. :)

Scribbler said...

I see it somewhat differently and yet very much the same. We are happiest when we are very young and when we are very old because, for varying reasons, we do not face any great pressures; put another way, because we do not have any illusions of what we can achieve in the world. We do not imagine that we are in control to that extent. This takes away so much of what we suffer when we expect something out of life.

In the middle phase, when we are positioned as productive members of society, as human beings with potential and influence (we have more potential but less influence when we are younger -- more influence and fewer possibilities when we are older), we believe that we CAN. The trouble is that sometimes we forget that we MUST and that we CAN, within limits, but that those limits always exist. Such is the finitude of life.

Growing up is learning that we can do something and learning how to do it. Growing older is learning that we
can still do something but that there are many things we could do or could have done that are no longer options. To grow old peacefully is to accept the finitude.

I have been afraid of death all my life. Not so much because of the unknown but because of the cessation of possibility for this consciousness I inhabit. I lost the fear on a day when I was alone, in jeopardy, in pain, and immobile, and knew that I had no control whatsoever over my circumstances or the situation. I was quite ready to die, to let it all end, to have not achieved so much that I wanted to achieve--quite ready to be content with whatever I had managed to achieve or not achieve in 24 years of existence.

Sometimes I think back to that day and wish desperately for that contentment and that peace.

Cynic in Wonderland said...

vikram you are probabaly right about the desires, but i am not sure most of us even know what they are. how many times are you haunted with this vague sense of restlessness when things are going perfectly okay and you wonder and you brood and you dount really know? that causes anxiety. also managing desires of others. that is difficult.

a million different people. by all means, there is merit in shrewd mediocrity at an abstract level. but when a talented person who is not manipulative gets shredded - becoz of a temparement flaw(?) thats when there is a problem.

absolutely scribbler - the anxiety comes becoz of that exactly. one has expectations about what one can do and one cannot fulfil those.

Aqua said...

OMG...when did you get inside my head? it's like reading a bit of myself.

Arunima - she's writing about mine :)