The Illusion of Urban Life: Are You Actually Happy?

The pandemic is slowly weaning off its layers of restrictions. Life is busier than ever. This weekend, rather than hanging out on a solo shopping spree, and later worried about how to make more space at home for my new Dyson vacuum cleaner. with my family, I worked on a report because it could get me a bigger bonus.

Anticipating that extra dough, I went When I spotted my neighbour, I looked away rather than make eye contact and risk small talk. On Sunday I went to a party, drank too much, and woke up on Monday with a hangover. As I write this in the evening, I’m aware of a thicker layer of smog, and I can’t help but worry about what it is doing to my health. The bougainvillea outside my window also wears morose grey flowers rather than the bright pink of smaller towns.

The city is making us miserable, and I’ll tell you how.

Cities are home to millions, yet they epitomise the irony of being lonely in a crowd. As you walk from the parking lot to your office, there are people you see every day, but no one you have bothered to look at. Was that a mischievous glimmer in his eye? Did she look pale, scared? Neither you know, nor have the mental bandwidth for. Just like that you end up in your cubicle and work for the rest of the day.

Moreover, no one is even noticing that we live amidst nothing but cement. ‘Jungles’ of concrete, we call it euphemistically. Every inch of land that can be used to grow a tree, is instead used to make one more room. We are swapping out the living for the dead with every choice. Tiny studios in high rise buildings cut people off from social interaction, making us even lonelier.

When we crave for a real emotional connection, we binge watch soap operas instead of meeting another human.

Add technology to this. When we can Big Basket our groceries and Netflix our need for being with people, why would we leave our four walls? We are living as prisoners, forever disconnected from nature, from the source that we came from.

Cities also never sleep. A bustling nightlife steals the sleep from our eyes.

This makes us unproductive at work, more irritable, likely to have mood swings, more anxious and stressed, and at higher risk for depression. Moreover, traffic jams turn 5-minute commutes into a 30-minute one. Think loud horns & broken silencers. Traffic congestion is stressful, exhausting, and contributes to air and noise pollution. Consistent exposure to honking is also known to make you angrier, trigger a rise in blood pressure and spike levels of anxiety.

In a city, change is the only constant. We are continuously being challenged to upgrade ourselves. As new models of smartphones come out every other month, we find ourselves in a race to grab the latest. In fact, even when we see our colleagues on an expensive vacation, we feel like we need one too. So, we tend to outdo ourselves by working extra hard for that promotion, just to feel like we are finally fitting in. But in reality, we are burnt out and overwhelmed.

In fact, our relationships are as scheduled as our work commitments. When we lack emotional support in such a robotic routine, we start to lose interest in things that once made us happy.

Our futures are planned from the get-go, and our lives are expected to follow this path. Almost every family gathering turns into an arena for everyone to boast about their successes instead of having a meaningful conversation.

This way, a lot of our social interactions just become chatter. Even making new friends feels like a huge task. No wonder, everyone is telling everyone else, “hey, you never reached out”, or “it seems like you are so busy that you don’t have time for us”.

Small changes can go a long way!

Just because city life is not like the perfect happy place we see on ‘Friends’, it doesn’t mean it's impossible. Even adding a bonsai plant to our living space can make a difference. Or replacing your next travel destination with a countryside experience can give you much needed touch with nature. This can make you calm, boost your physical activity and help you generate a sense of meaning to life.

If you can’t get away, take a free guided meditation or yoga class on YouTube to relieve all that cooped up stress. When you wake up, instead of checking your phone, tell yourself positive affirmations like “I love myself for who I am”, “I’m grateful for everyday” and “I am doing my best”. This can help you refocus your attention to yourself, your strengths, and your progress.

To stop overspending, make a note of your purchases. At the end of the month, look back on your list to revaluate if what you bought is still important to you. To take it up a notch, you can set daily spending limits on your credit card to be more mindful of what you are buying.

When you next take time out to meet with your family and friends, make it a rule to put your phones away. Instead of just engaging in conversation, try to play a board game or a sport together to improve your social interaction and strengthen your bond. Instead of small talk, ask about their goals, purpose and what makes them happy.

At the end of the day, if things are getting too overwhelming, you can always seek professional help for both your physical and mental health. In doing so, we can achieve a healthy balance in an urban lifestyle without missing out on the real joy.

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