Attention: The following content has been stripped off of shine and glitter and will not make you feel better about yourself. It’s okay, it doesn’t make the writers feel better either. Today’s mood is #woke. Viewer discretion is advised.
Why does everything nowadays have to be fun, happy and in-your-face?
Bas tells us a first-hand story: “Some time ago, a fellow student that I have known for half a semester asked me what I was up to last weekend. He is an international student and wants to see everything in Europe. He drank beers in Gent, smoked weed in Amsterdam, and saw fashion in Milan. He always was too busy or too tired to work with and he wants to move to New York in a Year I told him that I did the usual, I went hard on the CrossFit Open, chilled, ate a lot, slept a lot, and walked with my dog on a rainy Sunday when nobody was outside. A bit shocked, he looked at me and asked me if everything was ok. He looked like I just told him that I am depressed and considering suicide. I laughed and assured him that I am fine and just had a really nice, albeit modest weekend.
I see similar things happening anywhere. People are busy telling people they are busy. They overexploit their own bodies to go out every weekend to look good – sometimes multiple times a week. I’m not even talking about the ‘substances’ they use to be social, stay awake, or numb their pain.”
This made him think of a Brainwash Talk – his favorite show on a rainy Sunday afternoon. Dirk De Wachter is a Dutch psychiatrist. His job is to talk to people. He is overwhelmed by the amount of people that want to come to him and his colleagues. There are lots of waiting lists. But why do lots of people nowadays want to talk to him? There is no more hunger here, no war, and no epidemics. We never ever, in history, had it this good! But why then are so many people feeling tired, having to take pills, and be diagnosed with whatever? He thinks we are obsessed with happiness. We want everything to be leuk, leuk, leuk. It’s a mistake! Deep down we really have to accept that things can get tough sometimes. Just a bit, not too much. Dirk advises you to be modest. But we have a hard time with the small troubles of our lives. It seems like we cannot accept that daily life can be a bit sad. “BTW, my weekends are not sad!” – Bas Back in the days we looked
up to the sky to heaven and thought about an afterlife that goes on and will be good. We no longer have time for that concept: we want heaven on earth and we want it now. Thank God that our Western pride allows us to create heaven, produce it, and buy it! To Dirk, it looks like a meritocratic mistake that we can get even close to that. And it is this striving for impossible constant happiness that causes much of our misery, depression, and tiredness.
We want everything to be leuk, leuk, leuk.
Often he sees people for whom modest signs of happiness are not enough. They want it all! And they want it now! They want everything to be fantastic, and it’s a terrible catastrophe to just spend your weekend at home – what are you waiting for, go find yourself on the other side of the world! How can we just be, take it easy, ‘gewoon doen’? Dirk pleads for ‘gewonigheid’ – a more modest approach to happiness. A Dutch way. We want far travel destinations, parties, multiple orgasms. Very tiring.
Mindfulness training has become a trendy method for subduing employee unrest and keeping attention focused on institutional goals.
How can we give difficulty a place?
Dirk thinks that it is the difficulties of life that bring love. Love does not emerge on the fantastic side of life, but in those moments when life gets tough. Only then do people realize they need each other. It is then that we value connection – sadly, that mostly comes when life is rough. It is then, that unhappiness, dissatisfaction, and depression are bent into connection. Lovingness arises from a lack of it. (Love is like one of these old games where, as a kid, you wrap a long elastic wire around your waist with a football attached to it. And then you kick the ball and it comes back after it being really far away from you. Please don’t kick love. 🙂 We want to look strong, tough and fun. That sobbing and sadness that we really don’t want and try hard to hide; our difficulties, our hardship, our vulnerabilities, and deficits. We cannot go to our loved ones, family, friend, and international fellow students. Because we want everything to be ‘leuk’. And so we shut off.
Our society seems to overshoot this ‘ikkigheid’, where autonomy is overvalued. The rise of the individual, which was a good thing in
its given context, started at The Enlightenment. It is making a tipping point now to doing everything on our own. Dirk urges us to share our vulnerability, sensitivity, and small sadness with each other. In this way, people can be each other’s psychiatrists. But do we really share them?
Have you renewed your Headspace subscription yet?
This is a cynical question to introduce this critical second part of this article, about Mindfulness. Mindfulness is seen as a means, as a medicine to become happier, more fulfilled, to align your chakras and – lo and behold
– be more productive. But does it really do more than shove the cause of your sad weekends under the carpet? The mindfulness hype has both good and bad sides, of which the latter far less talked about than the former
It’s nice, warm and good in many ways. Obviously, if everyone was more aware, more kind, and more loving, the world would be a much better place, right? What we tend to miss is being more mindful about the nasty side of mindfulness. We are repackaging Eastern traditions to fit the capitalist Western culture. It’s not quite a perfect fit. The purpose goes beyond achieving inner peace, Nirvana, a state of freedom from suffering and rebirth- it’s now a billion-dollar inner peace industry, for the sake of better productivity and efficiency. Companies nowadays know that they’re going to make more money if their employees feel better physically and emotionally – it’s like sharpening your ax to cut down more trees.
Mindfulness became valuable only insofar as it allowed people to handle more stress, work longer hours, make better decisions, and – our favourite – make more money. Moreover, the blame of stress sneakily goes away from the system who is guilty putting so much stress on its people and towards the same people who are now guilty of not practicing sufficient Mindfulness. Oh, you seem stressed. Why haven’t you been meditating lately? As it usually goes in a capitalist society, the rich persuade themselves that they well deserve their wealth, turning a blind eye to the upper hand they were given by advantages such as education, inheritance and class. Absurdly, the poor begin to blame themselves for their failures, even when they can do little to change their circumstances.
It sells to tell you that there is something wrong with your brain, regardless of whether there is or isn’t something actually wrong. And for the purpose it serves, that’s great! That’s just what they needed – a brain hack to
keep the regular people from questioning the current social power structures, and just have them learn to accept and be content with the status quo. Mindfulness training has become a trendy method for subduing employee unrest and keeping attention focused on institutional goals. It’s a commercial psychologism. In the philosophical movement Psychologism, psychology plays a central role in explaining some other, non-psychological
type of fact, structure, or law. There is nothing wrong with psychologism. It just tends to delude people to be open-minded. It puts all the facts
on itself like those 20-year-old #woke psychology students do that Arjan Lubach raps about. Clearly, people need stress-reduction techniques and mindfulness, there’s no denying that. But this new-age version of it should be seen with a critical eye, as it has a different flavor from what it promises to be. We think the rise of McMindfulness here in the West is an effect of our meritocratic individual-oriented society. It is sold as a medicine because we are not looking at the bigger picture. Or are we looking at the bigger picture, but is the bigger picture simply not profitable?
text alice sibiescu and bas vink
media roos vlaar
graphics elena dagg