Thursday, 11 December 2008

Avoiding Cynicism

I fear I've grown cynical as an adult. I seem to take things for granted that I, as a kid, would normally be in awe of. Take visiting a restaurant for example. As a kid, every visit to a restaurant, whether it was a fast food or a fancy and expensive one, would be an adventure for me, but nowadays, I seem to take these visits for granted, they're all pretty insignificant. I seem to have lost that feeling of wonder that I used to experience every time I went somewhere, even if I'd been there previously, whether it was a restaurant, hotel, park or just anywhere. My questions are one, why is this so? and two, is this normal, or something I should be worried about?

The answer to the first question is simple. Priorities change. Adults see the world through different eyes compared to kids. The second question is trickier. It's completely normal to not feel the same way about stuff that you felt as a kid. But what's not normal is that it's replaced by such a level of cynicism. It can't all be because of frequency. I go out as an adult about as often as I did when I was a kid. I suppose in one way, it's O.K. Restaurant wise, Mumbai is full of good cheap restaurants for the common man, where the food is good, service is quick and the ambiance is non-existent. Maybe the point of these places that I frequent is that you're supposed to take them for granted.

But that doesn't explain my present ho-hum reaction to all the fancier places. Why? To answer this, I'll need to look back to my childhood again, beyond the changing priorities and differing world views, to the fact that maybe I was never in complete control of my life when I was a kid. The only time I went out was with my parents as they handled everything. The travel, the ordering, paying, etc. So, could that be the main reason I saw the world through rose coloured glasses then, as compared to now?

If that's true, does an aspect of the world cease to be amazing once you figure out you can control it? The answer might be yes. Look at magic tricks. When I was a kid, I used to practice all these magic tricks as a hobby. One thing I realised growing up was that every trick I saw on T.V that looked amazing would cease to be amazing once I found out how it was done. Even adults feel the same way. Watch a group of people watching David Blane levitate or Chris Angel walk on water and then watch their faces as you tell them how it's done. All you get is a blank look. You've taken away the awe and wonder that they felt just a moment ago. You've given them knowledge which leads to a feeling of control, but at what cost? I guess sometimes ignorance is bliss. Sometimes, people prefer ignorance, even if they don't know it at the time.

So does not being in control prevent cynicism, which in turn increases feelings of awe and wonder that lead to happiness? Maybe for some things in my life that I know will make me happy if I don't try to control them. But having someone lead you by the hand everywhere and spoon feed you all the time certainly isn't a solution. So if being in control of things is a natural human progression, so too must be the cynicism that goes with it. So that answers my second question about this being normal. And brings up a third one. Should I do anything about it?

Sure I should. I have a right to be as happy as possible as often as possible. How do I do this? First let me look at the other things that make me happy. Like music and movies. Maybe I can find a pattern here. I love watching Spielberg movies because they make me feel like a child again. I also like movies that make me experience something new, and make me feel like I'm part of something great, even if they make me think a bit. But I'm not in control of the movie making process. I don't suppose the people who are feel the same way about the movie as I do. So the control rule holds true here as well.

As an aside, being in control should not be confused with being knowledgeable about something. For example, many of us experience more happiness when we analyse movies for a greater level of appreciation, which in turn leaves us cynical towards their more mundane forms. And maybe this isn't bad. Maybe this is how we as humans make sure that evolution picks out only the best, most creative, and innovative kinds of music and movies to experience, for our own benefit. So maybe cynicism is goes hand in hand with happiness, as a certain level of one guarantees a certain level of another.

But coming back to the control rule part, I've figured out that multiple things that make me happy vary in the levels of happiness they provide depending on the control I exercise over them, which is unavoidable anyway. So how do I increase happiness? One way would be to to simply look for other happy experiences to replace the experiences that get diminished over time.

So I've learnt the following. Cynicism is unavoidable. What I like today I might not like tomorrow. Therefore, I need to constantly surround myself with things I like and constantly try to find new things to Iike. To do the first part, I need to make sure I avoid the average products in this world that lean toward making me cynical, avoid what I know I'll hate, and focus on those that fill me with pleasure. I should do this by following reviews, be they of restaurants, food, music, movies, plays, or any household inanimate object. And share my experiences with others. And for the second part, I need to look for new experiences in everything I do. And try to turn everything I do into an awesome party, even a trip to an Udipi joint.

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