Thursday, July 2, 2009

Chronic Dissatisfaction

There's a scene towards the end of Woody Allen's 'Vicky Christina Barcelona', when the Spanish artist, played by Penelope Cruz, accuses Scarlett Johanssen's American wanderer, of 'chronic dissatisfaction'. When I heard that phrase, I absolutely fell in love with it. It rolled off my tongue beautifully and seemed to describe perfectly, the ills of all mankind - and more specifically, all that bothers and depresses me.
Yesterday, while watching Allen's 'Husbands & Wives', I heard the phrase again and realised, Woody obsessed about it as much as I did.

Yes, there are legitimate concerns in my life. Yes, there are plenty of things that are far from perfect and yes, there are less than perfect traits within me that prevent me from making those things perfect. But as I lie contemplating these (and my) imperfections, I leave little to no room for the fact that I too am infected by that most deadly of spiritual viruses - chronic dissatisfaction.

For a while, I thought chronic dissatisfaction was part of the human condition. One has to be dissatisfied to move, to create, to bring change, right? But the more I thought of it, the more I disagreed with this theory. Dissatisfaction in itself is desirable at many levels. And it's definitely not a flippant feeling one develops when things are not going one's way. It's a state one reaches (according to me, of course) after passing through the phases of 'adjustment', 'compromise' and attempts at understanding. Dissatisfaction, then, necessitates the need to improve upon the present situation.

But when the word 'chronic' is attached to it, it becomes something else together. It becomes a trap that most of us seem to be falling into the older we get. It describes the state of constant disdain we exist in, hopping from one miserable event in our lives to another, forgetting that life is a mixed bag of happy and unhappy, fun and drudgery, the creative and the mundane, stability and shake-ups etc.

When I was younger, we were constantly in 'Do' mode. We didn't have the time to stop and be dissatisfied. Yes, there was the adolescent angst, but even that was something we waded through, soaked in and thoroughly enjoyed. We loved hating parents because it made us bond with friends more fiercely. We loved hating our teachers because it made us 'punk'. We revelled in our rebellion. It made life more colourful, more eventful and well, sexier.

The older we got, the more trapped some of us began to feel. Trapped by the fact that we're not half as footloose and fancy free as we'd once believed we were. Our universe has shrunk, our options have narrowed and while the world continues to be, in theory, our oyster, many of us find we've already sucked much of the saltiness out of it. And so we enter the state of chronic dissatisfaction. That bit of grey gunk sitting in the centres of our hearts that we can't trace the origins of. That regret-tinged slime that settles on every thing that we possess...things that we chose to possess. Some of us learn to live with the chronic dissatisfaction by sitting on it and pretending it doesn't affect us. Some of us can't stand its prodding and so are never still. We keep moving, never locating a home - more comfortable searching than finding.

If we're lucky, a few of us, will someday see the light. The freedom loving gypsy forced to get married, the single person who craves a partner, the broke professional missing the 9 to 5 and the overworked corporate flunky sleeping away his Sundays. Someday, we'll all locate that little bee in our bonnet. We'll confront our chronic dissatisfaction and banish it by owning up to our lives. We'll stand up straight and say - this is the only life I could've had because I made it. I made this moment I'm standing in and I take responsibility for whatever exists in this moment.

And when we're done with our confessional purge, the good news - the moment that comes after that.


  1. That line caught me spellbound as well. In fact, "chronic dissatisfaction" was the search term that brought me to your blog. I see words like chemicals: separate, they may be just innocous, uniteresting liquids but combined-- either on purpose or by accident-- and they will sometimes release millenia worth of human meanings and emotions like verbal nitroglycerin (not just 'chicken soup') for the soul; reminds us they are alive and endowed with something latent and powerful. But you have an artist's heart and you already feel this.
    I also share your love of music: to me its like we are still hearing echoes of the Big Bang and trying to imitate those lost vibrations that remind us of a pre-existent moment when all mind and matter were one. Ask any quantum string theorist and they will tell you that the universe is not simply particles and space but a symphonic arrangement of strings and waves.

  2. Hi Mark, Sorry it took me so long to reach your comment...I still don't believe anyone other than me (and 3 other people) reads my thoughts.

    I love what you write about words, about verbal nitroglycerin...for me the privilege of using words as my tools and my playthings has made the difference between sanity and insanity.

    and, of course, who can deny the sheer power of words that can help two people from across the globe say hi :)

  3. i too came across this as part of that search. very very enlightening. and yes that movie does touch us in some way. my husband recognises himself as "christy" always doing what has to be done. afraid of taking risks cos a lot is at stake. thank u

  4. grace
    my name is garima and my email address is
    well i guess the only way out of chronic dissatisfaction is accepting it as a too much satisfaction itself sometimes becomes a cause of utter dissatisfaction as says the theory of psychological complexes....may be being an escapist sometimes can b a temporary solution .bt in the long it also ultimately leads to dissatisfaction/,it is a viscous circle hard enough to break by an ordinary human being

  5. Well, respectfully, I'll disagree. I don't think it's natural for us to be dissatisfied unto eternity. Dissatisfaction is just a means to get us to ACT so that we can aspire for what makes us happy. To becomes stuck at the level of dissatisfaction is understandable, but not a 'given'.

  6. well sometimes u keep on looking for euphoria that we thnk will make us happy one day and during the struggle for attainment of this neverland we end up being utterly we have to get away from our aspirations and then only we can escape this chronic dissatisfaction for good..i wish i can apply the same in my life atleast once!!!!!!!!!!!