Sunday 23 November 2014

The Weekly Read: Are Irish people incapable of being happy?

In the latest of our entries in an Irish Independent student journalist competition, in association with Campus.ie, Emily Bodkin asks are Irish people incapable of being happy?

Library Image. Thinkstock

“Happiness is not a destination. It is a method of life.” ~Burton Hills

US Irish folk tend to be a rather miserable lot most of the time. In fairness, we haven’t had much to be happy about in last four or five years. We’re broke, we have "zero" job opportunities, our friends have left for Australia and we have been unknowingly filling our bodies with horsemeat. Yes, we have plenty of reasons to be glum. But putting all the obvious plights to the back of our minds, some people can never seem to find a happy medium. Even if they have a job and a significant other or are at university with great friends, there is still something missing. They aren’t happy. Why?

Firstly, how can we define happiness? Many philosophers, poets and musicians have spent decades trying to convey the meaning of joy and contentment to the masses. Scientifically, happiness can be seen as a state of well-being and fulfilment. That sounds easy right? Think again. According to the HSE,in Europe, one in five people will suffer from a depressive disorder during their lifetime. It is also important to note that depression is on the rise, especially among adolescents.  Despite the abundance of amenities and luxuries such as the expensive cars and IPhones, people find it hard to plaster a smile on their face from day to day. Where did it all go wrong for us?

Worrying is obviously top of everybody’s list when it comes to the greatest source of unhappiness. Constant fears and regrets can wreak havoc on an individual’s psyche. ‘Where am I going to get money for that?’ ‘Was I too pushy in that meeting?’, ‘Am I ever going to get a job I enjoy?’ These thoughts swirl around in the mind and make it impossible to get piece of mind. Until you manage to swat the unnecessary worries away, you will be plagued with feelings of uneasiness and doubt.

Perhaps this may be controversial but, there may be something to the opinion that some people hold. That is: having too much positivity could prove to do more harm than good. While no one is saying that having a positive attitude is wrong: it may be blasphemous to suggest it. But being overly-positive when life isn’t going you way? Are we trying to fool ourselves? It is not called being negative, it’s called being a realist. People have a tendency to put on a brave face and ignore the deep-rooted problems in their lives: this leads to frustrations with themselves and those around them. It is vitally important that people stop and take the time to say ‘Things aren’t great at the moment but, I accept it and will make the best of my situation’. Pretending that everything is rosy will get you nowhere.

As mentioned, acceptance is an important part of happiness. In a growing number of cases, many people have reported that they are not satisfied with aspects of their lives e.g. dead-end jobs, turbulent relationships and lack of a social life. Whether we can blame it on the rise of social media or, but people seem to expect more from their lives. Constant images and posts of friends and other family members on Facebook or Twitter can make for some harsh viewing.

Picture the scene; you are at home, alone, on Saturday night. Within the space of an hour, you are bombarded by images of everyone you know, even the guy you went to playschool with, having the time of their lives while you watch repeats of Friends and Two and a Half Men. Now that sounds depressing. Studies have proven that Facebook lowers self-confidence and encourages jealousy and self-hatred. Social media has become such a way of life that many use the websites to validate their social standing. If their photos or posts don’t get any likes or comments, their self-worth takes a nosedive. They wonder why their lives aren’t as exciting or interesting as their peers. Our happiness now depends on how popular we perceive ourselves to be online.

Finally, one reason people may not be bursting with happiness, is because they are trying to be happy. They figure that if they have enough money, their problems will disappear. If they get married, have a family and a beautiful house, then happiness will soon come. If they lose the weight, they’ll be happy. If they jump through all these hoops, that happiness is the guaranteed result.

It is as if society has been fooled into thinking that at some stage, life becomes easy and blissful. That happiness is something for the future. Why can’t you be happy now? Life may not be perfect but when is it ever going to be? Of course there is hardship and suffering; no one is denying that fact. But some things are out of our control; why not try to make the best of it?

Emily Bodkin is a journalism student at DCU.

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