Solace and Support
Do you feel isolated in a world where the rules have changed? Here's how to find happiness in a rapidly transforming world.
ANJALI WAS AT A COLLEGE reunion, meeting friends after 20 years. She had gone rushing from an important meeting with local community leaders at the organization where she worked. The afternoon had been spent trying to convince the headmaster and teachers of the local government school about the need for sports and games amongst children. It was somewhat exhausting and she had looked forward to meeting her friends. It had been a pleasant evening, but while returning, she recalled with longing their college years. They had been an idealistic bunch wanting to do something meaningful and give back to society. They would discuss their dreams and career goals. Today, she had felt a strange sense of isolation. Most of the chatter centred on achievements, cars and houses. She had wanted to share and discuss something more meaningful, but there had been no opportunity.
Many of us may have felt this way at some stage. In a society that appears to applaud material success, accolades and achievements, the focus on relatedness and social connectedness has taken a back seat. Everyone appears to talk about themselves, and gaining attention is a pastime, thanks to social media.
While most people around us seem to be engaged in this activity with a lot of enthusiasm, others find it exhausting and isolating, but may refrain from going against the tide. Yet, studies show that materialism leads to social isolation and those who are socially isolated tend to seek happiness through possessions. These become the symbol of one's identity and are flaunted to make one feel more secure. However, studies also indicate that once the basic comforts of food and shelter are met, undue aspiration for material comforts does not seem to increase happiness, but rather contributes to mental health problems. Constant preoccupation with materialism and accolades builds a sense of competitiveness, which may never make a person completely satisfied or happy. On the other hand, someone who does not want to tow this line, but focus on leading a life bereft of too many frills, may also question this decision once in a while.
Imagine a room full of people discussing real estate, while you are struggling to save stray dogs or trying to make a difference as a social worker or teacher. Many people who make these choices tell me that they end up questioning their decisions. Some even wonder if they are wasting their time as they are not able to relate to a vast majority of their relatives or colleagues.
How, then, does one overcome this sense of isolation and feel secure about one's decisions in an environment that appears to encourage pursuits that bring instant recognition and fame?
Find like-minded people to lower your sense of isolation. I still remember the joy I felt when a friend organized an afternoon of music in her home with simple food and drinks. There was no pressure to dress up or discuss property prices. It was one of the happiest days.
Organize groups and activities that hold meaning for you. It could be poetry reading, a walking trip with friends or an evening out. Activities that allow you to bond naturally and without pressure are ideal.
Social connectedness is the key to feeling less isolated. Try and meet up once a month with friends at a unique location that suits your tastes and has a suitable ambience for sharing and laughter. Social rituals are very important for maintaining connectedness.
Reach out to friends and family when they are in distress. One of the problems of our society, which focuses only on success and achievement, is that people don't access support systems even when they need them. An illness or loss can make a family isolate itself because of secrecy or stigma, especially in a culture that does not encourage connectedness and is in collective denial of failures.
Even if the person does not want help, volunteer to assist in small ways. Sometimes, that's the most valuable thing you can do and, in the process, save a family or a life.
Reflect on the meaningfulness of your choices. A meaningful life is the surest path to happiness.
Dr Prabha S. Chandra is professor of psychiatry, NIMHANS, Bengaluru. She specializes in mental health problems related to pregnancy and post-partum.
Taken from Prevention