Monday, November 18, 2013

Was Your Childhood Happy?

The Human Brain

False happiness renders men stern and proud, and that happiness is never communicated. True happiness renders them kind and sensible, and that happiness is always shared.
Charles de Montesquieu

Children Playing in Rain, Bangladesh:  Jashim Salam, for National Geographic, writes:
“Children playing in seasonal rains are a great sight of monsoon and six seasons here in Bangladesh.
The effect of climate change is making this rare as less or more rain is causing great disturbances
around the country. Heavy rain causes floods and landslides, and makes millions homeless and
takes the lives of many others. The climate should behave like normal for our future children to
play like this in monsoon rains, and people must take responsibility to reduce pollution and save
our world.”
Photo Credit: Jashim Salam; 2010
Source: NatGeo

How happy was your childhood? Some will say happy; others unhappy. To a large degree, the answer to that question relies on memory, which although not always reliable serves as a place from which we judge our lives. It's all about memory and how these unique collections and recollections solidify and become personal stories of how things were. Our memories have the power not only to influence us, but also to rule over us. Collectively, they are that powerful.

Last week, I posted an article, with commentary, from Scientific American on how memory and nostalgia has a positive influence on creativity. This is not surprising to those of us who would claim being sentimental, who cherish their memories and who even talk about their childhoods with enthusiasm. And to do this without embarrassment; too often we misunderstand why this is so and why we look back. To a large degree we view our childhood as far more simpler and far more fuller of happy moments than this generation of children.

Or so it seems when talking to my school-aged children, who have far more toys and gadgets than I and most of my peers  ever did. If we want to determine how future generations view their childhood, it is worthy to look at how happy this cohort is today.This is not to say that this generation does not have moments of happiness today, but rather that the quality of the happiness, if I can use such a word of measurement, is less than what it could be, or should be. There is such a thing as genuine happiness, where the emotion cannot in any way be fabricated, faked or manufactured. A genuine smile is real, as are genuine laughs and squeals of delight emanating from a small child.

I sense that we have mistaken hype and hoopla, and manufactured energy and excitement—common to the sporting arena and pop music concerts—for the real thing. It’s a happiness of conformity and not of personal experiences, chiefly gained through the many trials and tribulations of life. I sense that there is a whole generation of young people my 11-year-old son’s age who have not felt the genuine emotions of happiness, or of joy. It’s not their fault, of course; it’s not the fault of parents, either, since they (we) have today limited influence on our children. (Although, after a long and failed period of leniency, we have now strictly limited online games for our children.)

Even so, in many ways  it’s  losing battle, notably because of the way our society has progressed, or to put it more plainly, the presence of electronic media and online games among the younger generation escaping into the world of fantasy and play—without having anyone physically present to play with. The media has become an extension of our human selves, to borrow an idea from McLuhan. The effects of all kinds of new media vary, but one worrisome trend is the absence of physical play and spontaneous (unplanned) outdoor activity among the younger generation.

Thus, in the future, their collective memories will be largely influenced by how happy such young people today were in the online world. That is, the virtual world, a step or two removed from the real world. So, when you try to mimic the real thing, you only get a poor imitation. And we, society, that is, are in many ways very poor and, to a large degree, very unhappy.

My view is that the expectations and promises have not and can not be met, since they are a chimera, and what a monster it has become. Until we fully understand and make sense of the online world, and see it for what it is, which has become harder to do because of the rapid changes to technology, we will face uncertainty. That is, until we realize and apprehend that what is real and genuine today is what has always been real and genuine yesterday, and so on; and might I add, unchanging: human relationships.

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