By: Parag Phukan
A worldwide survey reveals a disturbing fact that most people in the world are unhappy or ‘narrowly’ happy. Happiness or the state of being happy is a fuzzy or rather an elusive concept with wide ranging subjective connotations. With many synonyms, the politicians, economists, religious gurus, psychologists, philosophers, medical researchers, and for that matter, everybody tries to define happiness from their own perspective making an apparently mundane concept a complex phenomenon. Happiness is a state of mind; if you genuinely ‘feel’ happy then you are happy, subject to the conditions leading to that blissful state. The term happiness cannot be embodied in a definition with rigid boundaries,it’s a dynamic state of mind. Albeit subjective, however, certain fundamentals are universal, irrespective of the individual’s nationality, culture,religion or similar.
In most religions happiness and bliss are central to the philosophy. Many greats analyzed the factors leading to the state of happiness and theorized it. Aristotle in his thesis, “Nicomachen Ethics”, believed that a man seeks riches, honor, health and friendship to be happy.
As per ‘Maslow’s Hierarchy’, in the pyramid of happiness, a man reaches the peak of self-actualization after fulfilling routine needs successfully. But the crux of the problem is, after scaling the summit of happiness there’s nothing else to do than to climb down. So, enjoy the excitement of climbing and if you lived a fulfilling and meaningful life you can enjoy it a second time while climbing down. Because happiness is a journey, not the destination. If one doesn’t pick-upsmall little bits of bliss on life’sjourney but plan to be happy only after reaching the set goal instead, it might be too late without any guaranteed fruition.
People keep shifting their goal-posts further and further and create newer benchmarks for happiness that finally becomes an elusive affair. Making choices constantly decrease happiness. It is known as the ‘if–then’ mindset which is fundamentally flawed and a defeatist-syndrome. Actually we chose to be unhappy, knowing or without knowing it. Sample these: ‘If I get that job, then I will be happy’; but after sometime we get frustrated and look for an alternative avenue. ‘If I can marry that beauty, then I will be happy’, only to find later that both are incompatible and end up in a miserable conjugal life. ‘If I can buy that latest car or a bigger house, then I will be happy’; but after a while better models get launched and the new house has many inconveniences; so on and so forth. Ironically, intelligent people who are supposed to understand the intricacies of life, are an unhappier lot. For an ordinary man ignorance can turns in to bliss. Situations of unhappiness happen by default,but happiness isdetermined by how we react to those. Things or situations that cannot be changed or done anything about, should be taken in stride and accepted gracefully.
As per medical science, there are four hormones that determine human happiness: Endorphins, Dopamine, Serotonin and Oxytocin. We have to make efforts to get those generated in our system to be healthy and happy. When we exercise or laugh heartily, our body releases Endorphins. So thirty minutes of exercise or watching a funny stress-buster can supplement you with your dose of Endorphins. When we get appreciated we feel accomplished and happy because Dopamine gets released. Men become happy by acquiring modern gadgets, women by shopping. When we do things selflessly for benefit of others, it transcends us to a state of bliss because such acts release Serotonin. Oxytocin is very humane. When you hug someone you love or just put your arm around, the closeness of human relations releaseOxytocin to make you happy. All these important hormones although act independently can give you happiness together.
In modern times, Happiness Quotient (HQ) has become a subject of research along with quotients like, IQ, EQ, SQ etc. Since about half a century, many disciplines like, Gerontology, Social Psychology, Economics, Medical Sciences etc. are busy in conducting happiness-research.
A few scales also have been devised like, Subjective Happiness Scale (SHS), Positive And Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS), Satisfaction With Life Scale (SWLS), etc. But the path-breaking model to measure overall happiness of people by an index, namely, Gross National Happiness (GNH), was suggested by the past King of Bhutan, JigmeSingheWangchuk in 1972. In Bhutan’s policy formulations, GNH index is considered more important than GDP (Gross Domestic Product). Measured in a single digit, GNH has nine verticals and 33 different indicators.Taking the cue, the UK started measuring GNH and subsequently thewhole world followed. Presently, Finland, Norway, Denmark, Iceland and Switzerland are ranked first to fifth, respectively in world GNH index with India ranking poorly at 133.
To measure the health of governmental policies GDP, GNP or even GNH is fine, politically or economically. But do they really reflect the inner happiness of the citizenry? Many economists believe that richer nations are happier. But the effect tends to diminish over time as wealth-linked happiness is not linear but logarithmic. Too much or sudden wealth has led many to a mental disorder called ‘Affluenza’. Money is important to happiness but only to a certain point. We tend to equate pleasure to happiness. But pleasure driven happiness is temporary and outer; real happiness has to be from within and that’s perennial. Life isn’t always fair, but it’s still good. Let’s make the best out of the ‘good’ part and choose to be contented with. As already mentioned, good hormones generated in the body augment our immune system to keep us healthy and happy. So don’t worry, be happy!
(The author of the column is a former Vice President of Reliance Defence& Engineering Ltd., Gujarat. Presently, he is a freelance writer, management consultant and professional trainer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)