The idea of happiness

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Everyone in this universe wants to be happy. The pursuit of this elusive state of mind and wellbeing has been the subject of countless studies, books and films. From the Dalai Lama who in his book ‘The art of happiness’ says that happiness is the purpose of life and that the very motion of our life is toward happiness to religious thinkers, philosophers, writers there is a great volume of work on the matter. Interestingly, even as there is not one single universal definition or agreed to standard of what is happiness and what it constitutes, there are overlaps in how happiness are perceived. The Dalai Lama’s take on happiness is akin to Aristotle’s endorsement that it is a central purpose of human life and a goal in itself. He said all those years ago before the advent of self-help books and chat shows that would obsessively try to pin down what happiness constitutes that a ‘happy life’ requires the fulfillment of a broad range of conditions inclusive of physical and mental well-being. The Dalai Lama, a man who has not been able to go back to the country he belongs to and continues to see many others become suffer the loss of their cultural roots says in his very popular book that happiness can be brought in when one is able to fight depression, anxiety, anger and jealousy and says that meditation can be a medium to be able to pass through the aforesaid hurdles. Here, the stress on emotions and mental beliefs is but natural since it comes from a spiritual and temporal leader. In the practical world today where stress is the hall mark of modernity and as natural as breathing, where consumerism and competition and the fast pace of life gets in the way of having time for reflections, the other reality is that one will have to spend money to go for meditation classes and fit them in to an already packed life.

But it isn’t just ancient thinkers, intellectuals and spiritual leaders who have come up with their theories written down in their treatises or books. There are people who have penned down their works based on their lives mirroring their search for the meaning of happiness. In 2006, a Hollywood film starring Will Smith, ‘The Pursuit of Happyness’ based on the book of the same name captures the real life struggles of Christopher Paul Gardner, a man who struggled through parenthood and homelessness to eventually emerge as a stockbroker ended up touching audiences. Another hugely popular book on the topic made into a film is ‘Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman`s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia’ a memoir by American author Elizabeth Gilbert. The book describes the author`s trip to the three countries following an unhappy marriage and subsequent divorce. The book details her experience during her time in Italy marked by eating and enjoying life (Eat), in India where she sought spirituality finding her spirituality (Pray) and in Bali, Indonesia looking for ‘balance’ between the two and where she found love (Love) in the form of a relationship. Nearer home, happiness is considered serious enough to be assessed nationally in the small neighboring kingdom of Bhutan that a ‘gross national happiness’ was designed to define an indicator that measures the quality of life and social progress in more holistic and psychological terms than only the economic indicator of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) that is used as an indicator of the economic growth and well being of a nation. Coined in 1972 by Bhutan`s King Jigme Singye Wangchuck signifying an effort to build the economy of this kingdom nation, the phrase has now come to signify tangible indicators which are used to measure growth and standard of living. The four pillars of Gross National Happiness as propagated in Bhutan are centered on the promotion of sustainable development, preservation and promotion of cultural values, conservation of the natural environment, and establishment of good governance. Simply put, it is an eclectic mix of cultural roots and the spiritual but with elements of practical economics. But then the next critical question is whether happiness has anything to do only with material possessions like money, wealth and the power to get things going and whether people without these, can stay happy. The wise ones say that happiness is a space where one derives satisfaction from what one has in life while remaining open to what one can achieve. Happiness is not to do only with one side of the material and the emotional/mental state of mind but a practical marriage between the two. Strangely, there is not enough on the topic in our state, neither in terms of literature or films or music though on second thoughts, it must be natural for a state grappling with social crimes, killings and ineffective governance and the daily frustrations of a growing urban life going out of gear through the lack of tap water, electricity, good drainage, easy traffic flow to have little on the matter. What an unhappy lot we are, so much so that we cannot even imagine how it must be to be happy.

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