Art of Happiness revisited
We are without doubt the most evolved generation of Homo sapiens. Look at it in any way - in terms of health, longevity, technology - the unimaginable possibilities man is capable of is mind bogglingly impressive and yet…yet happiness is in short supply.
In today’s world happiness is becoming increasingly elusive. It is ironic, isn’t it? In this age of enthusiastic consumerism money is all that is needed for buying happiness. Right? Ed Diener, the father of positive psychology, also called ‘Dr Happiness’ however found that money after a point cannot buy happiness.
So the super rich may be having as hard a task at remaining happy as the abject poor. One has everything and the other has practically nothing and yet the happiness quotient may be the same… . Strange are the ways of this world. Maslow, a famous psychologist had devised a motivation scale for human beings called Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which I like to look at as a happiness scale.
We achieve the first level of happiness when we are able to provide the basic necessities of life (food, clothes, shelter) to our families. People who don’t have to worry about where the next meal is coming from and have a shelter over their heads are blessed indeed. Do we feel blessed?
The next level of needs naturally are higher and man starts aspiring for a worthy job, good health, property and myriad other luxuries. Do you remember the joy of buying that first refrigerator, first car or the first home or the first anything? The joy is unparalleled! In this moment of exceptional happiness, it is again a good idea to count our blessings… . To thank God for showering these blessings on us. You know gratitude engenders more happiness.
But what Maslow’s hierarchy of needs demonstrates that after a point, ability of financial success to buy happiness starts diminishing. After further quanta of financial increments one can clearly observe the law of diminishing returns coming into play - not only happiness does not parallel the financial curve, happiness gradient actually starts declining.
And then one stumbles on the untold joys of anticipation. What one needs to understand is that anticipation is an important ingredient for happiness. We can plan a visit, a movie, reading a book, going on a picnic or buy something. There is a great joy in planning. So one can say it is a happy man who postpones gratification. Anticipation and planning are an important component for keeping the happiness quotient thriving. Remember the anticipation and the joys of day dreaming of doing a hundred wonderful things as soon as the exams are over?
Going back to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, higher needs like family, friendship, intimacy, sense of connection subconsciously begin to take on greater value and meaning. This is an interesting need and a high level of well being can be attained by practically everyone! It just needs wisdom to appreciate and nurture the real wealth in our lives - our relationships.
The quality of life can have several definitions. I remember when I was living in Delhi, while waiting for my bus, I glanced at a nearby shanty. To my surprise, the ill-clad children sported sparkling eyes and exuded merriment while they chased each other amidst squeals of laughter. They had the added luxury of several pets such as dogs, hens and geese. Even the stray vinca was bursting forth with flowers.
Life looked set to overflow with joy and laughter. The sight brought a smile to my eyes. They may have lacked many necessities but they were replete in the happiness quotient. Here I could see God’s justice being meted out - they easily had the lion’s share of shared laughter and carefree merriment while I stood passively waiting for my bus.
Self esteem and self actualisation as you know are ‘higher needs’. These are purely intrinsic qualities. These emotions are prerogatives of any section of society. It just depends on what our motivations are.
Manjhi, a poor labourer, lived with his beloved wife in a village in the Indian state of Bihar where the hospital was just across a mountain. Tragically, he lost his wife when she fell ill because taking her to the hospital took far too long on the winding dirt road. Heartsick, he could have just lived a bitter life cursing the government. Instead he resolved to build a shorter road by literally cutting through the mountain. He triumphed over nature and human inertia (as well as many other roadblocks) and cut through the massive mountain with a pick and axe.
He is now known as the Mountain Man. He worked for a cause, a goal. Researches now show that for long lasting happiness people should pursue goals involving personal growth, connection and contribution rather than goals involving money, beauty and popularity. This fortnight, lets work towards greater self growth, towards harmony between people and between us and our beautiful planet. Any plans for growing a plant? Any one composting? Anyone spearheading segregation of waste? Do share your ideas and efforts in making our world better.
Allow me to end with one of Shams of Tabrez’s 40 rules of love from the book of the same name, authored by Elif Shafaq, “The universe is one being. Everything and everyone is interconnected through an invisible web of stories. Whether we are aware of it or not, we are all in a silent conversation. Do no harm. Practise compassion. And do not gossip behind anyone’s back - not even a seemingly innocent remark! The words that come out of our mouths do not vanish but are perpetually stored in infinite space and they will come back to us in due time. One man’s pain will hurt us all. One man’s joy will make everyone smile.”
Bis zum nächsten Mal (until next time)! Good bye!