COLUMNIST - MOBEEN AZHAR
New year, new thinking
I have a friend who is seemingly hard- wired to organise, diarise and plan the fuck out of every part of his day. Being alone with his thoughts is his kryptonite. Every waking moment must be accounted for – both work and play must be “eff icient”.
After years of thinking, that’s just the way he is, I now believe that his drive to plan everything for maximum productivity/ self- improvement/ fun/ orgasms is really rooted in a fear of missing out. It’s about not being good enough, hot enough, clever enough, woke enough, and not having optimal sexual and romantic experiences at every moment.
I can relate. I used to be terrifi ed of time alone. To this day, I struggle with over- packing my days and worrying about what I could achieve if I planned more and packed more in. This constant state of planning and distraction circumvents the need to be present.
There is always a plan to be realised, and every plan promises a prize. The problem is, that prize doesn’t always deliver contentment.
And if it doesn’t deliver contentment, what’s the point?
Look around you. January is often billed as “the time for a new you”. More likely, it’s the time for short- term commitment to something you’re going to give up on in February. As gay men, we are constantly being told that happiness is just around the corner. It’s just one approval, workout, party, Invisalign brace or hook- up away.
We are taught to be in a constant state of development.
If we feel anything less than perfect, we are encouraged to reinvent, improve, or just spend our way there.
The perpetual state of longing only benefi ts those who want to sell us things.
Self- improvement is a multi- billion- pound industry that identifi es and exploits our insecurities. The intention to make us want to improve ourselves might be well- meaning, but the market seeks to identify that chink of vulnerability in us and then prise it open with surgical tongs in order to make a profi t.
Buy more, consume more = happiness, so the equation goes.
The psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky argues that approximately 50 per cent of variance in happiness is determined by genetics, while another 10 per cent of variance is determined by circumstances, which leaves 40 per cent that we can infl uence.
The “circumstances” part jumps out.
Have we simply accepted that happiness is almost entirely defi ned by status, wealth and a packed schedule?
It’s taken me years to appreciate being anchored in the present and allowing myself to rest with my thoughts, to be comfortable in the here and now. Call it mindfulness or just contentment, but it is the antithesis of planning. To be present and content is perhaps the most urgently needed form of selfimprovement of all.
Take a moment to consider that you could be happy and content this very moment. You’re a human being and to be alive is spectacular, regardless of what happens next.
circumvents the need to be present”