Kashmir’s happiness deficit

Resigning to the fate, we fail to explore opportunities of better life.
For the second year in a row, Finland has emerged as the happiest country in the world, followed by the other three Scandinavian countries- Denmark, Norway and Iceland. Finland tops the list of 156 countries in ‘The World Happiness Report’ which is a landmark survey of the state of global happiness. The countries are ranked by how happy their citizens perceive themselves to be. This year’s report focused on happiness and the community: how happiness has evolved over the past dozen years. One just wonders how Kashmir would fare in the happiness report.

The first World Happiness Report was released in April 2012 and ranked the countries based on a variety of factors including people’s health, family and job security as well as social factors like political freedom and government corruption. If the state of happiness in Kashmir is studied on these lines, it is more likely to reveal a gloomy picture. The three-decade-long conflict has taken a toll on the lives of Kashmiris. As if it was not enough, issues like unemployment have made happiness look even more elusive in the valley.

As the discontentment looms large, it is usually attributed to factors like adverse political situation and inept administration. However, besides these external factors, there are many internal or psychological constraints which come in the way of our happiness.

In Kashmir, mutual distrust in interpersonal relations has become more common as compared to the past. We admit it in our casual conversations about social life. People seem to be more suspicious, evasive and distrustful of others in the community. How many times we hear our elders getting nostalgic about the strong bond between the family members, relatives and neighbours in the past. It all seems to be gone, replaced by jealousy and host of other counterproductive feelings.

Materialism has also made serious inroads in our society. According to some researches, people who place a high value on wealth, status, and stuff are more depressed and anxious and less sociable than those who do not. One such study appeared in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, and was widely reported in international media in April 2012.

In Kashmir, now-a-days, if a person is going for some renovation work on his house or buys a new car, it’s not long before his neighbours get anxious and follow suit even if there is no apparent reason or need to feel or do so.

The sense of competition seems simply overwhelming in the valley. Sometimes people think and behave as if all the good things in this life are available in limited quantities and that one could improve one’s position only at somebody else’s expense. We end up putting ourselves under undue pressure just because our neighbour, co-worker or for that matter even our relatives seem to be doing better than us in terms of material possessions or other matters.

We vent much of our negative energy blaming government for our problems. It may not be unique to Kashmir, but we seem to have more conflicting and ambivalent attitude towards the government than perhaps anywhere else. On one hand, we are heavily dependent on the government for almost everything, from subsidy to jobs. On the flip side, however, we are also quite hostile towards it. There is a general distrust regarding the politicians and government functionaries. This ambivalent attitude also reflects our state of alienation and hence unhappiness.

‘God helps those who help themselves’ is a clichéd idiom we are all familiar with, but how many times we find people blaming their luck. The truth is that fatalism has become ingrained in us. There is nothing wrong in believing that our well-being is controlled by fate. But if we use it as an excuse and stop striving for a better life, we cannot expect our dull and difficult lives to change. Infact, this approach has had a dysfunctional consequence on the overall social change in Kashmir. Resigning to the fate, we fail to explore opportunities of better life.

We also seem to lack the ability to postpone satisfaction of immediate needs in anticipation of better future rewards. We want it here and now. This ‘lack of deferred gratifications’ deprives us of many long-term benefits. The mental inertness we exhibit sometimes prevents us from being more imaginative about things.

Some people would argue that the factors leading to our unhappiness are universal in nature, but does it mean that we should take things lightly? If we leave the things as they are, cynicism would only grow in our valley. We are not providing a happy environment for our children. It is not a healthy sign to see the kids develop negative mindset about things in our company. Our youth are already battling the clouds of frustration and we cannot afford to let future generations also fall prey to the disease of disillusionment.

suhail@risingkashmir.com