2.45 am… I woke up and looked out of the window. It was a jet-black sky with twinkling stars, spread like diamonds across the universe. There were so many of them. I was wide awake in a few minutes. I walked out to the patio, barefoot, my soles feeling the cold of the tiles and wetness of the dew.
I slipped on my headphones and listened to Tom Petty, walking, sitting, walking some more. I wasn’t searching for specific songs to listen to, just his greatest hits. Listening as a way to pay homage to a great rocker. I was introduced to his music by one of my oldest friends, Tito. He turned 50 earlier this year, much like me last year. I turned 51 last week. We have been roommates twice, survived a handful of heartbreaks and even a move to the suburbs. We now live on the opposite coasts, so to keep in touch we text each other ―sharing music tips and often talking about the great music we come across. Our friendship was cemented by our love for music and Tito’s obsession with MixTapes. Tito and I share a lot of memories together, and while we both lived through tough times, I don’t remember having a sad day when we didn’t talk through things.
Tito is the charter member of a very personal club of mine called “The Circle of Happiness.”
What in god’s names is that, you might ask.
The circle of happiness is a group of friends, family members, coworkers, colleagues, lovers, acquaintances, and those you encounter during the daily business of life. These people are a net positive to my life and add a vital ingredient of happiness to life. Their contribution is not a kiss, a gift, or money. Their contribution is instead a question, a smile, and a few moments. Their contribution is to make me feel — I am better because I have them in my life. There are no metrics of friendship, no length of time associated with it. There are no expectations, no engagement commitments. There are no likes, no tweets, no reminders of fake Facebook anniversaries.
In order to have a circle of happiness, you need to understand what happiness really is. We all have a different interpretation of it. Mine is very simple: a state where I don’t feel hopeless, but instead hopeful. Happiness is knowing that the present is reality and the future is a gift. And most importantly, it is not about negative emotions. Happiness is not a mythical objective, but instead it is about feeling a sense of gratitude. It is not about smiling all the time, but instead it is about not being angry, resentful, spiteful, or jealous.
I am blessed with a great circle — my family, many friends, great co-workers and great people. And the best part is that I don’t need a web service to keep track of this circle. A few of us chat on a daily basis in the Telegram app. We talk about events, discuss news. It is our proverbial chai-shop. Others stay in touch on WhatsApp. Others on iMessage and some are just email and phone friends. Some I see once or twice a year, others every day. Some I have met only a handful of times in my life, others have known me since I was conceived. I can be honest, real and direct with them… whether in real life or in digits via various communication tools. And for sure, we don’t always agree about everything (or in some cases, anything) but they all make me happy and thus make my life better.
A few weeks ago, when returning from Tito’s birthday celebrations while sitting on a cross-country flight, I started looking at Facebook from this lens and realized that I had lost the plot and was living outside this circle of happiness. Here is what I wrote:
“Looking through a wider lens, I am starting to find a subtle change happening in myself. Despite my best efforts, I am starting to see my life in context of life led by others. It is not how I think and who I am, and perhaps a little time off the networks will give me better perspective.”
Facebook is not net additive to life anymore — even though it deems itself a social network and Mark Zuckerberg passionately talks about connecting everyone on the planet, the harsh reality is that it is nothing but a giant advertising network. For a while I thought it was more than that, an answer to my prayers. In a 2007 column, I wrote:
Whether in Parisian cafes, Bombay chai stalls, or Manhattan singles’ bars, humans have an overwhelming need to get together, talk, communicate, and interact. Our genes are coded that way. It’s no surprise that as we rush toward an always-on, ever more connected society, we want to mimic these offline interactions on the Net….What we need is something more intimate, meant for a tight group of friends and family members. It’s not about performance; it’s about connection.
Facebook managed to keep me around for a decade, as I used it to form connections. It became addictive, thanks to algorithms that prayed only to the god of growth and its ultimate goal: subjugation of all human attention to the frivolous flim-flam in between an endless stream of pennies-a-minute advertisements. It is not a circle of happiness; instead it is a dystopian web, where performance is the currency, not real connections.
It has been over two weeks since I took a Facebook vacation. It is becoming more like a sabbatical. I don’t miss the pointless chatter. I don’t miss the news links, the videos and the baby announcements. I miss some of the people, but inevitably find other ways to connect with the ones that are important. I feel bad that I have not gone back to thank everyone who might have wished me well on my birthday. I am still bummed for not replying to people’s messages on Messenger. Some of them will give up, but the important ones will inevitably find other ways to connect with me.
I am, for now, in a cocoon called my circle of happiness.
October 2, 2017