Eight ways to stay festive in uncertain times

Last Updated: Sun, Nov 03, 2013 07:20 hrs

Joy is tricky. We are better at handling sorrow, although not always. Sorrow leads to acceptance – instantly or eventually. Joy, on the other hand, puts us in control. We may do as we wish to celebrate.

This tends to take the inhibitions away. The festival of Diwali is such an occasion. It heralds the best part of the year, which can go all the way until Holi. Here's the thing: remorse follows celebration when no thought goes into the elation.

An additional factor this year is the uncertainty in India. These are rough times. There's a sense of restlessness. We don't know what's in store. The economy is fragile, the politics nasty, and society in a state of churn.

In a simple way, uncertainty may be understood as a state where we're not sure about income. The expenditure is clear; revenue is not. This creates stress. When a festival such as Diwali comes along, humans tend to let go. There's a surge of emotion, helped along by a need to feel good.

From my counseling work, I have learned that a dash of foresight may benefit more than a ton of hindsight. Here are eight ways to stay happy in anxious times. These are not dull or boring. They release dopamine in the brain by healthy activity, which helps us register pleasure from positive associations.

1. Limit the expenses.

Many things are associated with celebration: clothes, food, decoration, gadgets, gifts, parties, liquor (even drugs), nicotine, and so on. All of them involve expenses. The first thing to do when there's ambiguity in the air is to cut costs.

Unless there is dependence on alcohol and other drugs, you won't need them. Homemade non-alcoholic drinks are a fine way to discover new delights. They also save money. Good clothes are not synonymous with brands. The climate in India for most of the year requires cotton, not silk. You can get comfortable, good, inexpensive stuff in cotton.

Gifts are best made, not bought. And, parties are about people. Not the goodies. When people like to meet people, nothing else matters. Nature provides enough fruit and vegetable if we know what to do with them. Go ahead. Enjoy.

2. Avoid the sweets.

There’s no way of knowing the levels of adulteration in commercially made Indian sweets. The best is to do them at home. In any case, sweets are no longer a sensible option. The overall slide in Indian lifestyles means that overdoing sweets may have negative consequences.

It is a lazy and comfortable option to order the sweets. Fruit is far better. Nuts are good too although many people tend to see them as a gift cliche. Art is contemporary – you can buy fine prints of great paintings at reasonable prices.

The idea is to avoid the unnecessary calories. Getting rid of unwanted flesh can be difficult. It requires motivation and commitment. It’s far easier to avoid unhealthy sweets.

3. Stick to lights (LED if you can).

India is among the noisiest countries on the planet. You’ll need to go away to a remote location to escape the sounds. Diwali is associated with firecrackers although they tend to appeal only until the mid-teens. The truth is that ears are not designed to deal with the blasts of Diwali.

Lights have almost no negatives. They are attractive and soothing. The earthen diyas are an evergreen option but LED lights are truly spectacular. They use minimum energy and are magnificent. There are Chinese options that may be bought in bulk; they are inexpensive.

If you want more honest and upfront stuff, then there are branded non-Chinese options. An LED Diwali can warm the heart and save many from the torture of extremely high decibel level sounds. It gets better with Christmas and New Year’s but Diwali could be great and soothing as well.

4. Involve children (and adults) in acts of service.

The best gifts are time, labour and affection. Children don’t forget experiences and it is thus a sensible thing to involve them in doing. The best thing is to take them to orphanages and help the needy enjoy a super festive season as well. Children can help at old age homes too.

Great places for adults to volunteer are fire stations and hospitals. These are the two services under maximum stress during Diwali (and also the New Year’s). Firemen and doctors would love the extra hands.

Make sure that you choose where you’ll serve and reach them ahead of Diwali. They’ll put you through a basic drill and you’re ready to go. Remember, you’re there only to help. Not to perform complex tasks that is best left to the professionals. It might be the best festive season of your life.

5. Clean and tidy everything.

Go over every inch of your surroundings – the ceiling, the fans, the lights, the books, the wardrobes, the wall decoration, the kitchen, the garden, the cars, and the study. Everything. India is a nation of dust. It settles over everything unless you happen to live where it snows.

Usually, people tend to hire help for this. This robs you of the many benefits of cleaning up yourself. Your body gets a workout, the mind calms down, you’ll find plenty of stuff to give away and this has spiritual benefits. And, your surroundings will sparkle.

It gets better if it is a family exercise. In residential institutions like rehabs it builds strong community bonds. In colonies, it could work just as well. There’s always a mountain of filth to clean anyway in many Indian lanes.

6. Cook. Don’t buy.

Hotels and restaurants can tempt with seductive offers in the festive season. They are an option. But, really, there’s something lacking when you head to a restaurant on important days. Cooking at home is warm and exciting. It brings everyone together.

You could cook up a storm. There are many food channels on television anyway, with a range of foods you can try at home. Also, food in Indian eating establishments is almost always high on sodium. You won’t do that at home.

I’ve felt great helping at home with the prepping, cutting and cleaning. It’s better if you can actually cook. It’s fine even if you can simply eat well at home. Saves money and improves morale.

7. Write. Create.

Blessed are those who can make things with their hands. I can’t. I write. It works well for me. It helps my faculty of thought. It keeps me from negative activity. Creating something saves us from ourselves and, who knows, it might help others.

Shoot films – shorts, documentaries, features. Write – books, blogs, narratives, plays, stories. Make music. Paint. Whatever. It’s a terrific way to deal with the anxiety of uncertainty. Besides, our work is ours. It’s what we can monetise. It’s what we leave behind.

One instant opportunity: India doesn’t have many great festival themes in films (Hindi, definitely). I can’t seem to recall great books (in English) on festival themes either. There’s space here, and a great way to use one’s skills and assets.

8. Think long-term.

There’s always tomorrow to think about. The short-term gratification of intoxication is of no help the next day. Festivals are not about drinking, gambling or otherwise splurging. They are about coming together and enjoying the good in all of us.

Economic wisdom is necessary for overall development of the individual, the family, the community and the nation. People I work with usually have better stories when they emerge from festivity in a positive mental, emotional and physical state.

Give sobriety a shot this festive season. It’s fun. It’s safe. It’s tasteful. May all of you have a great time.

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Vijay Simha is an independent journalist and sobriety campaigner based out of New Delhi. His most recent journalism assignment was as executive editor with The Financial World, New Delhi, and tehelka.com.

He was a guest on Season 1 of the popular Indian TV show Satyamev Jayate, hosted by Aamir Khan.

Vijay blogs here and may be cont acted at vijsimha@gmail.com.

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