Reference Anxiety

General Paper Comprehension forced us to discuss an extremely interesting issue on happiness and the problem? I kind of screwed the paper up because I ended up talking about equality instead. The comprehension passages were actually the ones that inspired me to write the article ‘Happiness Equation‘ here on my blog. The feeling of reading something during an exam when I read it for leisure a few months back felt terrible. It’s bad to be too widely-read. Anyway, after the paper, we were asked to discuss it and I came up with the following argument that’s really out of this world (or maybe it has been around but people are just not accepting it too well).

The entire idea of reference anxiety rest upon the notion that one’s happiness varies with the relative difference between the wealth of oneself and that of those whom he can perceive. Therefore, the manipulation of one’s perception of reality can make a whole lot of difference to the way he feels.

As the passages have pointed out, the ‘very increase in money – which creates the wealth so visible in today’s society’ triggers the very dissatisfaction we seek to eliminate in an attempt to make ourselves happier. Tackling this idea of reference anxiety on its own grounds, the acts altruism prescribed do have an immense impact on one’s happiness as it directly affects our perception of the world. To visit a nursing home, or help a friend’s child with homework and perhaps even listen to a friend venting frustration about his public sector job provides a huge opportunity for interaction with the relatively less privileged members of the society and in so doing, when one uses these people as reference, one’s perception of reality is radically altered. As we move towards serving communal goals of making our environment greener or conversing with elderly about their old-age ailments as a means of consoling them, we withdraw ourselves from the overt display of wealth elsewhere that has been making us unhappy. And that, makes us happier, or at least consoled of our status.

This is a real thing, a very real thing. and my thesis? “Reference anxiety causes an ‘upward spiral of discontent’ and superficial altruism is the remedy for this misery.” Everyone, sometimes we just gotta get real and admit we are at fault – sometimes we just need to acknowledge that the miserable life of our neighbours is giving us a good Saturday night joke to laugh about. We exist in the real world, there’s no need to be apologetic about it anyway – and more importantly, there’s nothing to be pessimistic about. If we cannot accept intolerance, or ignorance that arises from inability to recognize the limits to one’s abilities, it’s going to be tough.


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