Thursday, August 25, 2016

My greatest source of (un)happiness.


I happened to stumble upon this hilarious talk by Prof. Dan Gilbert. He is one of the leading researchers in the field of positive psychology and the author of the best selling book, 'Stumbling upon Happiness'.

A few years ago, one of my European friends had a rather peculiar observation about how modern humans reproduce. He said to me, "People spend all of their 20s trying hard not to have kids. And then the same people spend all of their 30s trying hard to have them". It was so true in that given moment -- at a house party of about 30 drunk adults in their twenties -- that it made me laugh and broke my heart at the same time. I was once discussing the modern (?) dating problems with my mother, who in spite of her rather liberal stand on relationships and dating, still believed at the time that getting me married and having a grandchild would make her happy. The discussion came to all the deal-breakers in modern relationships. And one person not wanting kids was always trending on the breakup analysis. Even for her, it was unpalatable. "If you don't have kids, what do you do all your life?", she exclaimed.

"You travel! You set up a food truck! You read as many books as you want!" , was my answer at the time. But inside I knew that all of this is never going to  make me as happy as having a kid would!
I was not entirely right. Before I sound like I regret becoming a mother, let me establish the boundary of my thoughts. I don't think having a child is going to make you happy, if you are not already reasonably happy. A sad person wanting a child in order to become happy, probably won't work. But as you go about your reasonably happy life and happen to have a kid, I think you'd find that your happiness is a bit on the decline. :)

Kids are cost and energy intensive. For the first three months or so, it feels like a startup which is going no where. You are just feeding and cleaning a strange little human. You love them to bits but they are just using you for  nourishment. They don't smile at you. They are constantly stressed and have trust issues with you. The sleepless nights don't help, and neither does the constant anxiety of doing something wrong, for you are nursing a piece of your own heart.

As you get back to your life, amidst various judgments (should you have any other life now?), the graph definitely picks up. Your child supports you through this ofcourse. I watched this talk again and again. Then I realised that before we can summarize that kids make us unhappy, we should also define what makes us happy. Not in terms of circumstances, but in terms of the state of our mind.

The great thing about toddlers is that they live in the moment. On my way to work every day, I used to hear my son yell "fan" from his car seat at the back. Initially I dismissed it as his word practice. Eventually, I realised that he used to say 'fan' every day at the same spot on the road. One day, I pulled over and checked, and to my surprise, there it was! A giant air conditioner fan installed on the third floor of a school building! After the initial swell of pride, and the superiority of my DNA, I realised that he could do that because he was drinking everything around him with his eyes. I never do that anymore.

At our recent vacation in Pondicherry, my son threw a tantrum because he wanted to go to the park (of all the things we could do, we had to drag ourselves to a park which felt no different to what we do in Pune). We dragged ourselves, feeling sorry that we cannot just sit at a French cafe, sipping on an espresso, eating a pan-au-chocolat. Once inside the park, it was obvious that we HAD to buy a soap bubble maker. So I sat down on a bench and started making bubbles for Vikram to chase. All of a sudden two blonde kids showed up next to me. They were French and they followed the bubbles and realised I was the source. For the next 30 minutes or so, I was standing on a park bench like an idiot and blowing bubbles at roughly 7 kids. They were all so deliriously happy that it indeed made me forget that I was pissed off about coming to the park instead of a cafe!

I think that's how kids make you happy. They are, like Prof. Gilbert says, like cashmere socks. Sometimes you like them because you are spending so much of your life and money on them. At others, they genuinely make you feel warm and fuzzy. Even if it is only for 30 minutes in an entire day. :)


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