(Mr. Suhail Ahmad, 29, was born in Srinagar. He did his Bachelor's degree from Sri Pratap College, Srinagar, and completed both his Master's and M. Phil degrees in Mass Communication and Journalism from the University of Kashmir, Srinagar. He is currently working with local English daily ‘Rising Kashmir’ as Sub Editor (News). Previously he worked with the Daily Etalaat (English) as sub-editor and with the ‘Mirror of Kashmir’ as an associate editor. Mr. Ahmad has worked with a Delhi based rights group, The Other Media, heading its civil society initiative desk at Srinagar from 2007 to 2009. He has also worked with an NGO - Institute of Peace Research and Action (IPRA) on its project Cultural Renewal of Kashmiri Student Youth as Programme Officer and Editor from 2006 to 2007. I edited severalissues of IPRA’s magazine ‘Guftaar.’)
Earlier this year, United Nations came up with its first ever World Happiness Report. The 158-page report reviews the state of happiness in the world. The rankings in the report were based on a number called the ‘life evaluation score’, a measurement which takes into account 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 22 years of bloody 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, which breeds evils like corruption. However, there is more than meets the eye. Besides these external factors, there are many internal factors or psychological constraints, to be more precise, which come in the way of our happiness.
The UN report states while the basic living standards are essential for happiness, after the baseline has been met happiness varies more with the quality of human relationship than with income. In Kashmir, over the past two to three decades, 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 this year.
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 the 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 things are left to their own, cynicism would only grow in our valley. We are not providing a happy environment for our children. It is certainly 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.
I somehow hate the word ‘introspection’, but in the context of this piece, it looks like the first and perhaps the most important step we can take as we try to make our lives happier.