In Search of Happiness
A quest for emotional well-being drives the generation of impermanence, we find
The millennials have all the hallmarks that make them riveting subjects of research: they are emotionally fragile, always in flux, confused about their identities, highly anxious and, among many other things, reluctant to arrive at adulthood. Throw into the mix the ever-upgrading gadgets, social media sites, dating apps, and bam, we have before us a thriving — even if slightly dysfunctional — planet to study. At the heart of it all lies the unchanging verity, that we are a mortal lot. For most of us, benchmarks of a good life have shifted from strongly defined parameters like fixed assets, marriage and financial security to ambiguities like finding happiness, following one’s dreams and making an impact. But even if happiness and dreams are like shifting goalposts, should we give up on the pursuit? Or is a life spent chasing your passion or searching for meaning any less than owning your own house?
Living in emotional flux
My sister and I mostly refrain from updating our mother about milestone decisions in the lives of those around us, but on the rare occasions that we do loop her in, she stares at us as if we were talking Elvish. Like, catching up on each other’s lives at breakfast one day, my sister brought up the topic of her manager, Anindita Chatterjee, who was going through quite a tough time in her personal life, a divorce. At the mention, my mother couldn’t help letting out a gasp. In the months that followed, whenever my mother asked about Anindita’s well-being, my sister would reply with the name of a country Anindita would be exploring at the time.
According to a recent study, divorce rates in India are 13 times of what they used to be a decade or so ago. This statistic is often quoted as a prelude to the character study of the fidgety, unsure millennial, who doesn’t know how to hold on to anything in life. Never mind the fact that it could be an indicator of increased financial independence that allows men and women to form a bond only based on their desire to be together, or the fact that today’s generation may be refusing to live a compromise. Or, perhaps, it is the YOLO (you only live once) mentality — because, after all, you do live only once.
Another defining characteristic of the millennials is their procrastination in getting married, an obvious bone of contention with Indian parents. “We [millennials] are torn between the need for parental approval, the need to maintain family traditions, and the desire to break free from these very limiting structures,” says Utsav Mamoria, a market researcher and a writer who has just entered his 30s. Parental disapprovals and disappointments also extend to the professional lives of this ‘startup’ generation, that would rather live on crumbs with a dream of building a successful company than sit with a stable job. Last year in December, Facebook decided to invest in India’s ‘startup ecosystem’, but a recent study by the IBM Institute for Business Value and Oxford Economics found that 90 per cent of Indian startups fail within the first five years.
“The CSDS-KAS youth survey of 2016 found the Indian youth to be a highly anxious generation, with worry and stress weighing them down. Young Indians across age groups are suffering from bouts of fairly high anxiety, with over half (55 per cent) of India’s youth (15-34 year olds) reported to be highly anxious. But this rise stems from a more fundamental change sweeping through society today,” says Mamoria. Another study asserts that a meaningful career is the topmost priority for an Indian millennial, even over marriage.
Even when we reach adulthood, parental expectations add layers and layers of complexity to our emotional conflicts. Add to it the fact that the parents of Indian millennials are from a generation that was an embodiment of sacrifice, specifically for their children. Failing relationships, failing startups or frustration of not finding meaning or love, whatever may be the reason, the statistics are a heartbreaking reminder that an ever increasing number of youngsters in India are on an emotionally rocky ride. And this for a generation that has the emotional compass right at the centre of their lives.
Three years into meditation, I am still working on the same instruction given to me in my first yoga class: ‘Open up your chests and quieten your minds’. Delivered by my yoga teacher in her singular, resounding voice, this has been the very basic principle of our practice, no matter what geometry we are trying to align ourselves to. ‘Cut the dorsal spine in’, ‘Knit those shoulder blades’, and other such physiologically impossible instructions are cried out in our classes week after week.
Our yoga class is full of young IT engineers, corporate workers, bankers, bloggers and entrepreneurs. They focus on the rise and fall of the ribcage, geometry of the bodies and movements of breath. “The way to live and learn is — the heart should lead, the mind, follow. We live our lives exactly the opposite way. We need more emotional strength in these times,” my yoga teacher would say during the quieter moments after class. An ever increasing number of youngsters enrol looking for stability and clarity to manoeuvre their professional lives.
“I feel calm and settled after yoga,” a fellow student, a woman in her mid-twenties, who works in a finance firm, tells me. “I get more done at work.” Following her suggestion, I decided to register for a course in vipassana, an intense meditation technique which involves sitting up and concentrating for long hours. She attended sessions of the course with her boyfriend and they now practise vipassana together. I did not get into the vipassana course, but we registered together for another one, De-mystifying Mindfulness, a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC).
‘Mindfulness has become the basis for numerous therapeutic interventions, both as a treatment in healthcare and as a means of enhancing well-being and happiness… Mindfulness is big business,’ the course description said. By some estimates this form of meditation rooted in Zen Buddhism, is an industry now estimated to be valued at over a billion dollars. Though it is still well behind yoga, which is estimated at 80 billion USD globally, according to a report published in September 2017 in The Guardian. The millennial irony is that we are galloping at breakneck speed towards our goals: the pursuit of happiness and a meaning. And yoga, mindfulness, even travelling have thus become an antidote to our emotionally volatile, overwhelming lives. These age-old mechanisms to slow down, snap out of mind-numbing monotony are now necessary components to survive the frenzied, gadget-fractured lives we live.
To Anindita, the divorce came with its emotional turmoil, and travelling became a truly healing, therapeutic experience. “After my personal debacle, I channelised my energies in a positive way and started travelling the world, which gave me a sense of purpose,” she says. She found her love for adventure, jumped off a plane and dove into the Pacific. By the end of her travels, her Facebook page, Travel Chatter, had more than 21,000 followers.
Anindita was married to her best friend, with whom she still shares a good personal rapport. “We were not meant to be life partners. And we have just one life to live,” she says. Several journeys and numerous passport stamps later, she is past her emotional difficulties. “I am truly happy now,” she says.