Be Happy or Be Normal?

In order to be happy, have you spent your life resisting social pressures to be normal?  Has anyone said to you, “Why can’t you be like everyone else?”  I can certainly relate having elected not to be a wife or mother.  The inability for society to easily accept what does not fit into the bell-shaped curve of the norm (approximately 66% of any population) means many of us exist outside of the mainstream.  Hmmm, this means I am not normal.  I wonder who gets to decide what normal is.  The masses?  If so, is this why democracy (majority vote), as a political standard, is crumbling  around the world?

Conforming to the norm of “keeping up with the Joneses” was most obvious in the 1940s and 50s.  None the less, almost 70 years later the political need to control the behaviour of others is evident in the rise of radical right-wing populism.  “Marine Le Pen in France, Viktor Orban in Hungary and Donald Trump in the US combine populism with [anti-immigrant] nativism and authoritarianism” according to Professor Cas Mudde, author of Populism: A Very Short Introduction.

Even though the popular phrase — It is what it is — suggests otherwise, accepting others as they are and for the choices they make may be one of our greatest human challenges.  In spite of ourselves, we appear to be confronting that very challenge.  In every aspect of contemporary life, accepting a new normal or iVUCA — interconnected, volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous — reality is vital for planetary survival.  Relative to our physical environment, politics, economics and social values, change is the new normal.

Novelist Janette Winterson was asked by her mother “Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?”  Winterson provided her answer in her autobiography of the same title.  When we continually opt to please others by compromising our integrity, we build resentment and ill health.  For further evidence, consider this — the World Health Organization states “depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide, and is a major contributor to the overall global burden of disease.”  Hence, conforming to others’ wishes for the sake of being normal erodes happiness and increases mental illness.

Fortunately, we can choose the change we want to be.  But, will we?  Do you want to be happy or normal?