The death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput caught many of us off guard. It got most of us to think what could have caused a young 35-year-old ‘successful’ actor to take his own life. It sparked off discussions, tweets, posts and messages on social media platforms on the need to pay attention to mental health and the need for people to talk to each other besides being conscious of one’s own feelings. For me the irony of the man’s death became even sharper when I saw a video of him addressing a group of IIT students in which he talks about how to find happiness in life.
While Sushant Singh would have taken the real reason for his decision to end his life with him to the grave, the only conclusion that I could derive after seeing that video was that humans are ever changing, evolving and dynamic beings. ‘Happiness’ or ‘peace’ may not come from a few Zen-like realisations. Our emotions get swayed and affected by all that happens around us. But again, this doesn’t mean that we stop reflecting on the meaning of life and indulge in gluttony and hedonism, and make the most of time while we can.
What are the thresholds?
Giacoma Casanova, the 18thcentury Italian, often dubbed as history’s most famous lover once remarked, ‘Cultivating whatever gave pleasure to my senses was always the chief business of my life; I have never found any occupation more important”. History is replete with examples of people who travelled that road and ended up destroying themselves. Like the law of diminishing returns, the pleasure derived from sensory stimulus becomes less pronounced with each exposure until we go numb or increase the stimulus to the point of burn out. This is why we have seen so many successful people being addicted to alcohol, sex and drugs to the point of self-destruction.
The ordinary man or woman might say that moderation, finding joy in little things and practicing gratitude is the true secret to a healthy and happy life. Many may critique that approach as encouraging mediocrity especially those who are ambitious and hungry for achievement and recognition.
So, if we are such emotionally volatile beings, how do we go about the business of life and happiness? Well, my guess is as good as anyone else’s but I believe having a fundamental understanding of two facets will help build a strong foundation. This could serve as the basis to take things forward. The first is a true understanding of oneself, and the other being our sense of community and humanity; the ability to empathise, relate to and bond with others.
You don’t have to imagine yourself sitting in a yogic pose on top of a mountain when you think of self-awareness. First, be brutally honest with yourself about what you want in life. If you feel the need for it, write it down on a piece of paper. Then close your eyes and imagine yourself achieving that goal. Try and visualise every aspect that comes with it and experience it in your mind. Do you still want it? If you say yes, then great.
Some of us may however realise the hollowness in our dreams just by visualising it in detail. Others might want it even more. Of course, the only true way to know whether or not our current goals and ambitions will bring us lasting happiness is to experience it first-hand. Many people–when starting out in life–chase money and fame, work hard, rise from rags to riches perhaps but only to realise that they are lonely, sad and unfulfilled towards the end of their lives. Now that you truly know what you want, you have clarity of vision and that will serve as your north star as you navigate through life.
Sense of community and harmony
Many of us truly feel fulfilled when we are acknowledged by others as contributing members of society. Robert Clive established British rule in India and grew fabulously rich through loot and plunder. Clive yearned for recognition and acceptance but he died a broken man when he returned to Britain because he was not accepted into the folds of the English aristocracy. Individual achievements only hold meaning if others around us actually appreciate these milestones — thus fulfilling the basic human desire is to win validation. Sadly, modern day society does not delve deeply enough into this fundamental truth and solely encourages its members to chase individual achievement.
Developing a strong sense of community will lead to happier people and a more peaceful society. The feeling of community is something we are rapidly losing out on and even deliberately opting out of, especially in urban spaces. The educated modern urban Indian family treasures the liberation that comes with anonymity more than the prospect of having dependable but often nosy neighbours.
Urban Indians have taken to virtual groups and associations where they can bond with like-minded people rather than bonding with people in their physical proximity. This unfortunately leads to a cocooning of the mind as we interact with people who more or less are replicas of ourselves in terms of ideologies and belief systems. What could be an alternative is to have a more inclusive mindset where we can, if not empathise, then at least lend a patient ear to the other side of the political, religious, economic and social spectrum.
An inclusive society must be encouraged
An inclusive society is one in which dialogue between people with various viewpoints is encouraged right from the formative years. It should also not be lost on us that the death of Sushant Singh Rajput has created more trauma in our minds than the death or suicide of a migrant labourer during the same time. As uncomfortable as such truths are, these are the under currents that truly shape society.
Our sense of humanity is often skewed as we can empathise only with someone from a similar background as ours. This needs correction. We must consciously work towards a societal structure where everyone can empathise with human suffering and one in which we can more readily share our ideas, joys, fears and anxieties without being fearful of being seen as weak or different.
The self and community should form our foundation on which, we can erect our pillars of religion, politics, economics and ideologies. And on this foundation,we can build the grand super structures of our dreams. The problem is that far too often, too many of us rush to erect our pillars and monuments on a base of loose, quick shifting sand. The outcome is witnessing all our hard work crumble like a pack of cards. So, let us get to know and appreciate ourselves and the people around us better.
I have a strange feeling that such an approach–though by no means an all-encompassing solution to all our problems–will at least give us a good starting point. Cheers!