The pursuit of happiness
Is there an irrefutable and absolute happiness? SNIGDHA POONAM tries to find out what makes people happy
Photo: Sampath kumar g.p.
Smile a while Spending time with friends ranks high on the happiness meter
And they lived happily ever after, say the fairy tales. Have you ever wondered if they really did? They could have in fairy tales but in reality, we are still chasing happiness and it only gets more elusive by the day.
Mankind has been united in the conviction that happiness is a very desirable state. We are driven by the need to be happy behind everything we do. When young, we study well to get good grades so we can be happy with the accolades.We grow up; get jobs to earn money, security, status — all for happiness. And then inevitably get into relationships/marriage all again for — happiness.
We chase money, health, growth, fame, power, property and relationships, not for what they are, but because we think they could lead to happiness.
Yet, you will acknowledge that this is fleeting happiness. Getting into a foreign university is what you always wanted, but leaving your girl friend behind, that totally kills it. Losing weight may transform your life but it means never having ‘Death by chocolate’ again. Promotions mean no holidays, and high-end cars means gallons of petrol. No matter what or how much you have, nothing seems quite enough. Is there an irrefutable, permanent and absolute happiness? Or better—what makes people happy? A good bank account, a good cook, and a good digestion, said Jean Jacques Rousseau.
We have proof he wasn’t much off the mark. Debi Prasad Sarangi, 26, a journalist, says all it needs to make him happy is an evening spent with good food and great drinks. It is slightly more complicated for Shilpa Krishnan, 21, who wants someone to love and talk to. “It would be nice to have someone to make me want to get up every morning and not want to go to bed.” For Shrekahnth, a young designer, happiness lies in pursuing his professional dreams. “The day my designs are showcased in fashion weeks in Paris or London, I will be the happiest. Hundreds of cameras clicking my creations and me, that’s my idea of happiness.”
Like on everything else, researchers have something to say on happiness. Martin E.P. Seligman, author of “Authentic Happiness” says, “Everyone has a ‘set point’ for happiness, just as they do for weight”
In pursuing happiness, he suggests “we should have more trust in our own resilience and less confidence in our predictions about how we’ll feel. We should be a bit more humble and a bit braver.” According to another study, topping the list of needs that appear to bring happiness are autonomy, competence, relatedness and self-esteem.
The findings contradict conventional notion about what makes people happy and why, and suggest that the fundamental realities of money, marriage, and job security have far less to do with daily moods than factors like deadlines on the job and sleep quality. One of the most consistent findings in the study was how little difference money made. As long as people were not battling poverty, they tended to rate their own happiness in the range of 6 or 7 or higher, on a 10-point scale.
Lord Richard Layard, professor of economics at the London School of Economics, and author of “Happiness: Lessons from a New Science”, says: “We should not sacrifice human relationships nor peace of mind for the sake of higher living standards, which will be growing anyway.”
Well said. Simplified, it means that over 50 years, the world, especially the western societies have got richer but not happier. Americans are no happier in 2008 than they were in the 1940s. And even the Japanese, who went from the rock bottom of poverty in the 1950s to be the affluent force they are today, did not become happier.
The term Gross National Happiness, first expressed by the King of Bhutan is definition of development in terms of happiness of its people, rather than in terms of an abstract economic measurement such as GNP. It is rooted in the Buddhist notion that the ultimate purpose of life is inner happiness. Is it? Why are we still looking for happiness outside then?
“One of the happiest men I ever met was a 64-year-old Chicago welder with a fourth-grade education,” psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi says. “The man took immense pride in his work, refusing a promotion to foreman that would have kept him from what he loved to do. He spent evenings looking at the rock garden he built, with sprinklers and floodlights set up to create rainbows.”
Defining the what, where, when and how of happiness is a far more complicated quest — one that has produced conflicting answers — easier is to learn to be happy.
According to the book “Happiness: Lessons from a New Science”
Some of the things that do not relate to happiness
Age, gender, looks and IQ, education (except to the extent that it affects income)
Some of the things that do make us happy include:
Family relationships these are more important than any other single factor
Financial situation: not our luxuries, but how we stack up next to those around us
Work: when meaningful, work can be more important than the money
Our inner self
Philosophy of life
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