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Disappointment Is Our New Routine. What’s The Antidote?

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Disappointment Is Our New Routine. What’s The Antidote?

By – Ranjan Yumnam
Every day, as the dawn breaks and I lie lazily in bed before my feet touch the contested soil of Manipur, I will first notice the alarm clock beside my bed. It’s always there, and it’s so comforting. After checking the time on the clock, my day begins with unexpected events and disappointments fighting for my attention.
For one thing, the alarm clock and daily disappointments have become the only constants in the theatre of absurdity. This routine is only broken by exceptional news that didn’t happen, like Myanmar not having developed a nuclear bomb yet. The lack of bad news has become a source of happiness in this crazy world that seems to be fasting on a smiley-free diet.
When the real world is not as it used to be, one turns to people who lived producing profound quotations. Epicurus, a sage for the lost and defeated, produced one recognizing that disappointment stems from unrealistic expectations. He advised, “Beware of seeking solace in the external, for it is a fragile refuge.” Another stoic celebrity, Seneca, wrote, “The greatest obstacle to living is expectancy, which hangs upon tomorrow and loses today.”
Despite all the good-sounding and healing words from dead philosophers, we are always sad due to the news glut of random events we are not responsible for. We have our favourite escape modes: books, movies, Twitter et al. If all the self-help books and likes have taught one thing, it is this: they can’t help you much. You may sometimes enjoy the spiel and immerse in the spiritual act of reading and absorbing the pretty words, but once you sit up and lose the crap, the temporary reprieve from a Deepak Chopra will simply evaporate. We keep on piling book after book that promises to provide us with the final map to an uncertain world and navigating in it.
Disappointment is Original Sin
If only living it as easy as it is made out to be. To live is to carry an original sin, as Christians say. This is one of the views the deeply religious hold. For many people, life is made up of hope for better things to come. Most of the time, we look forward to some idealistic event that lies in the future and spend most of our time in the act of waiting for that moment. That elusive high point of our life is always deferred and it exists beyond your foreseeable crystal ball.
The brighter future, the bleaker present, and the golden past era is illusory thinking. Recently, I read a book that underlies this belief of mine, ‘Same as Ever: A Guide to What Never Changes’ by Morgan Housel. The book condenses and shows us that few eternal rules dictate the shape and content of events in our lives and they have their counterparts in the past disguised as unique phenomena. He gives examples galore. I will pick only two ideas filtered. The first evergreen tip is that if you want to be happy, lower your expectations. Happiness does not come from objective conditions; it is created by the gap between expectations and reality. This thing called happiness lasts only till you seek greater fame, wealth, and praise. How true. I get the feeling that Shahrukh Khan is only as happy as the size of his last box office hit or flop.
Second, why progress is so hard to see? One important reason is that we have a bias for bad news and are easily affected by it, while good news is cherished momentarily and then dismissed as the new normal until it becomes an entitlement. Behavioural economists often call this loss aversion, and our happiness lowers more by the loss of possessions than by the gain of new things or status. Putting this in his own words, Sam writes “Good news is the deaths that didn’t take place, the diseases you didn’t get, the wars that never happened, the tragedies avoided, and the injustices prevented.”
My point is that the bad news is visible and vicarious like the lingering images and rawness of the ethnic clashes that we experience now, its brutality, the videos of houses burnt, people fleeing their homes, lives lost, and roads cut.
No Small Consolation
There is no small consolation. Manipur is now the ground zero of a historical tragedy where faith in humanity is tested. The daily impact of the crisis is too huge to be healed by some strings of words, and this linguistic deficiency is easy to see when blood is spilt all around. But seeking an immediate resolution to the gargantuan crisis will also create more disappointments. The middle path seems more practical, which is to say some things are within our control, and some things are not. “It is only after you have faced up to this fundamental rule and learned to distinguish between what you can and can’t control that inner tranquillity and outer effectiveness become possible,” Epictetus said as if he could see what is unfolding now in Manipur.

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