BUOYANCY: A STATE OF MIND
Buoyancy existed but was discovered in 212 B.C. by Archimedes and stated as ‘Any object, wholly or partially immersed in a fluid, is buoyed up by a force equal to the weight of the fluid displaced by the object.’ A ship floats in water due to the buoyancy principle and indeed is a remarkable discovery. English language further embraced the word buoyant and formally appended the synonyms resilient, invigorating, cheerful, light hearted and so on to it. Today when we say he is a buoyant person it means he is upbeat, sprightly and enthusiastic. We also use it to define economic situation; the mobility sector is buoyant, activity remained buoyant in the 1st quarter, buoyant growth in trade etc.
MECHANICS OF FLOATING
Inside water, we know how to keep ourselves buoyant, by controlling our breathing (deep breath and holding in) and using our arms and legs for gentle propulsion. Fat remains afloat compared to muscle hence thin and muscular people have a proclivity to sink unless certain techniques are mastered. Density is key here. The more dense the object or body, the lesser opposing force it receives from the water. Muscle & bone have more density than fat hence tends to sink faster. If the liquid in which the body is immersed has more density than the body, then too the body remains afloat. Liquid metal ‘Mercury’ is a classic example. Heavy objects such as bricks can float in a container of mercury due to high density of mercury. Fresh water has lower density (1g/cm3) and salt water has a higher density of (1.02 g/cm3) hence it is easier to stay afloat in a calm and still ocean than in a swimming pool.
The upper body also has more surface area and air in the lungs hence due to buoyancy remains afloat in comparison to legs which do not experience enough buoyancy hence tend to sink first. Eventually with a smattering of scientific knowledge about buoyancy combined with conscientious practice in the pool, we seem to learn how to remain afloat in water in perpetuity. However when it comes to psychological buoyancy, we seem to be erring on the side of disadvantageous. We vacillate from happy to sad to anxious to stressed to depressed and other extraordinary diverse moods and this is cyclical. Why aren’t we buoyant all the time on land? Why don’t we remain afloat with positive moods as per the definitional essence of the word?
The first explanation that we offer ourselves as to our despondency is environmental factors, predominant amongst them being health anxiety, financial worry, relationship turbulence, poor grades, work-life despair, ambition agitations, fears about the future, boredom, social strain, past trauma and so on. These seem to encase itself in such a way that we are convinced they are externally triggered for instance; bad boss, lousy increments, bullying friends, unlucky health exigency, uncompromising spouse, high taxes, incorrigible traffic, recalcitrant children, bad government, social relationships etc. This is consigning causes for one’s situation to aspects outside of the self so that we don’t need to take responsibility of our situation. In social psychology this is called ‘Attribution’.
Human beings are hardwired for such attribution errors. If the child gets sub-optimal grades it is attributed to deficient teaching or tough question paper set or everyone found it tough etc. If someone accosts cancer it is attributed to a merciless god or past sins or undisciplined life style or some other reason. A perception that it could also be just an unfortunate random cell multiplication never occurs. We have this inordinate need to provide every aspect in life with an explanatory framework regardless of whether that framework is truth or conjecture. This is an internal organizing mechanism and by attributing it to reasons outside of oneself, the mind remains in relative discomfort. This behaviour, though it borders on self-deception, allows people the perception of remaining in control. Attribution error also says that when others make a mistake we attribute it to their inefficiencies and internal traits but when we make a mistake we tend to attribute it to circumstances.
Melvin Lerner (1977) therorised about ‘Just World Phenomenon’ a belief that people get what they deserve and deserve what they get. This makes people believe the world is just and fair and we can remain in reasonable control of our lives. If something does go wrong it is attributed to factors outside of one’s control and by abdicating this ownership one learns to preserve one’s buoyancy however life is going to be met with existential realities such as death, accidents, aging, disease, bereavement, relationship shelf life, job loss, wealth loss, missed out promotions, passed over, sporting failures and many others. Loss of buoyancy and depression happens either when people confront such experiences or catastrophise about such eventualities. The above seem to be non-contractual intruders into life but if one understands the inevitability of these occurrences, one’s awareness is heightened and this can result in better coping.
Perhaps it is exaggeration to state that everyone experiences an accident or wealth loss and other adversities but aging, eventual loss of key faculties and death are certainties. Need to generate wealth to sustain life is also a certainty barring for those who inherit it and the one’s who are being provided for. This survival aspect alone is one of the biggest contributors of distress and loss of buoyancy these days. Loss of a loved one is bound to make one plunge into despair, nothing wrong about this emotion however remaining in chronic despair is lack of awareness to take actions that can alter one’s circumstances. We are fully responsible for our own destiny, buoyancy and well-being and the first step is to take ownership of this aspect.