If you’ve been active on any form of social media or your phones, you have most probably seen a photo of someone, clad in winter clothes, posing in front of snow-capped mountains in Leh, Manali or Switzerland. Or you have seen someone rafting in a river, trekking in the mountains, dancing to a TikTok song in front of a monument, brunching or munching on street food in any place that’s not the city they were stuck in for the past 4 months.
I saw it too and it made me pick up my phone and make plans with everyone I have been meaning to meet for the past few months, if not years. Not because I felt like it, but because everyone was doing it. Because the virus seems to have paused for a bit so we can all have fun before it’s back… (sike, that’s just group-think for you!)
We all feel the pressure of wanting to be doing happy things because we’ve been given limited time to do it. It’s basically time to seize the day because the virus says so! As excited and happy as it makes most people, for a lot of us, this new phase of doing things again and going out once more comes with a lot of stress and anxiety.
The concept of “just be happy!” is not new. We have all been told to ‘just smile’ and feel better when we are feeling sad, and we have all been angry about it. But today, the “just be happy” also comes with the environment. The lockdown having eased means we have to be out and about. Technically, we’ve got a short window to enjoy the time and freedom we have, to put a smile on our face, think positive and have fun.
I love that people are having fun, but I also hate that I try to have fun and… I can’t. I tire out quickly, I want my space, I’m more burnt out than I was before I wanted the “break”, and mainly, my (very valid) anxiety of the virus won’t vanish so easily. It’s almost like I feel comfort in not feeling that great or not feeling particularly “happy” and that’s become a problem and a boon in itself.
Basically, my instagram feed didn't have to be about happy things, but now it does! If you are feeling this too, that’s okay. The fact that we feel pressured to feel happy and do “happy” things should be the first clue that that’s not our comfort zone as of now! This can happen because of a lot of reasons.
Through the lockdown, feeling happy might have felt hard. This might also mean that presently we feel unworthy of it or feel apprehensive to feel it again. It’s also scary to go to places after so many months and not enjoy it the same way again. Whether that’s dance clubs or beaches - it’s difficult. People who accompanied you there, or things you saw, heard, smelled not being there can also increase the pressure of having to enjoy that moment nonetheless.
We got used to the new reality, this new normal. The one where we enhanced the relationship we had with ourselves. We weren’t used to as much stimulus anymore, we developed new hobbies and skills and got busy within (and with) ourselves and the minimal environment around us. We have coped with a lot of emotions, made stronger boundaries, have lost and found a lot of things in these years.
All of these experiences can stick with us. We successfully reached a peaceful place of transition where we felt okay and now to transition back can be more difficult. This could mean we feel guilty or scared of going out. We might feel sad and angry about having to go back to the other normal again. We might feel hopeless, shameful, stuck and might blame ourselves for feeling this pressure.
So how do we take the pressure off?
- If you feel like you are not in a space to feel genuinely happy, that’s okay.
A lot of our happiness is commercialised in today’s world. It’s the particular kind of famous food or a trending reel dance - but that doesn’t have to be your definition. It’s okay if your happiness comes out of other things, and it’s absolutely okay if it’s something you don’t want to showcase on social media.
- Forcing happiness also means we are constantly checking in with ourselves.
If you think about it, we also look back at happiness. Most of the time, our happiness is not registered right at that moment. If you are constantly checking in if you are (doing everything to be) happy, it might only lead to restlessness and added stress. Like you are waiting for the emotion, but it won’t come.
- Remember that happiness is not the destination, it’s a part of the journey.
If there’s anything we have learnt in this lockdown, it is that growth will be an emotional journey even if we physically remain in the same spot. Your journey to reach a destination will have many feelings and moments - some of which will be happiness or excitement. Don’t let your destination be happiness, let it be whatever you do that makes you happy. Side note: research on a phenomenon called affective forecasting suggests that we’re actually pretty bad at predicting what will make us happy!
- Happiness might take time.
These good feelings might feel new and uncertain, it might not feel like the happiness you felt through the pandemic. Take your time with it. You don’t have to go to parties and restaurants. Gauge what small things you can do that might make you feel your definition of happiness. Think of things that might always be around you - even if it's a new recipe or a drink from a restaurant that can be delivered to your doorstep.