After the week-long hustle in the office, sitting with a cup of masala tea on a Sunday morning always feels delightful to me. The usual anxious mind is at ease, the relaxed shoulders and legs are in no rush, the brain is trying to decode the language of birds on the balcony and the heart sings a soothing symphony for itself.
Is it that I am pursuing happiness on weekdays in this capitalist world and earning it on a weekend?
Happiness is subjective. I wake up and observe the ‘now’ and the bliss happens. I am not thinking about being happy. I am not asking dreadful existential questions. I am not comparing. I am not running to chase butterflies of joy. I am just being one with the calm. That’s where the bliss lies.
Bliss is the ultimate stage of Ananda, where the duality ceases to exist.
Happiness? The sensation attached to material gains is usually associated with happiness. Hence, by its nature, happiness is slippery, short-lived, and would be followed by unhappiness. A vicious circle of transcendental emotions. You cannot escape unhappiness. Our life is designed that way. However, you might not find happiness if you keep pursuing it.
Research says pursuing happiness comes with significant costs including the constant feeling of time scarcity and paradoxical reduction in happiness itself. The harder we try to make ourselves happy, the more we feel like we are running out of time to achieve that.
I have been writing on mental health along with spirituality and wellness for six years and have said across many articles to step down from the hedonic treadmill of chasing happiness or trying to be the most positive person on the planet. Both won’t work and would leave you exhausted.
A wagging tail of a dog indicates happiness but does the happiness live in the tail? Happiness lives in the moment.
Myths around Happiness
People are awful at predicting what would make them happy. Scientists call it affective forecasting. You overestimate the happiness a particular thing might give you. Once it is there, it loses the charm. You can have a favorite food that makes you happy, but you can get fed up with it if you eat it every day.
Dean Burnett, author of “Happy Brain: Where Happiness Comes From and Why” says, “If you have $500 that goes into your account every two weeks in your paycheck, that’s nice but that doesn’t really excite you, whereas if you find $20 in the pocket of your jeans, that’s brilliant.”
Happiness is often misunderstood. It carries the baggage of our overwhelming expectations and flawed assumptions.
More Money = More Happiness
Famous economist, Richard Easterlin has been exploring happiness for the past 50 years. The Easterlin paradox is named after him that states at a point in time happiness may vary directly with income both among and within nations, but over time happiness does not trend upward as income continues to grow. So, money helps you until your particular level of needs is met. Beyond that, more money doesn’t make you happier.
In 1972, Bhutan decided to prioritize Gross National Happiness over GDP as their nation’s goal. In the race of attaining economic prosperity at any cost in the consumerist world, this perspective shift of understanding that the purpose of life isn’t being rich but to be contented is exemplary and extends to individuals as well. Finland tops the list.
Success = Happiness
Success, promotions, all might excite you but shouldn’t be the reference point of your joy. Practically speaking, an increase in income would raise the standard of your living but won’t necessarily raise the standard of happiness.
Your goal would shift to the next dream car and dream home. The goal can be there with a sense of gratification of the now. The material gains give you instant gratifications but are fleeting. The thrill of anything new and shiny wears down and you feel you are at the baseline again. You start running on this treadmill that never stops. Next mile to cover.
Happiness is always on the next rung of this endless ladder.
No Negativity = Happiness
Escaping negative emotions should never be the goal. Forced positivity always brings frustration and a lost sense of purpose. Don’t get persuaded by catch-phrases like manifestations, affirmations, and positivity. You can use these techniques but without the expectation of them turning your life upside down and with the acceptance of all emotions-irrespective of the good-bad label.
Unpleasant emotions often teach us survival skills, coping mechanisms. Sometimes emotions associated with a catastrophe lead to perspective shifts and a change in the direction of life.
Seek yourself, seek life. The quest itself is a satisfying journey and an end…
Sound like philosophical mumbo-jumbo?
Neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp says that of seven core instincts in the human brain (anger, fear, panic-grief, maternal care, pleasure/lust, play, and seeking), seeking is the most important. “It is your subcortical SEEKING system that helps energize your neocortex — your intellect — and prompts you to do things like buy this book and also to learn from books, if they are engaging” (Panksepp and Biven, 2012, 102). When this system is underactive, mammals feel depressed and hopeless. Evan Thompson, a philosophy professor at the University of British Columbia, says that the entire field of philosophy can be seen as an expression of this seeking impulse.
… Pause. Reflect. Breathe. Cultivate Mindfulness.
Introspect. Grow. Cut toxic ties.
However, I wonder why everyone’s definition of happiness differs?
Cultural and Personal Perspective
Ikigai is a Japanese concept that refers to something that gives a person a sense of purpose or a reason for living. It has gained popularity in recent years and the Venn diagram is often seen making rounds on social media.
The sense of fulfilment one derives from life is deeply personal and can be different. Ikigai for the older generation in Japan is to fit the standard mold of company and family” whereas the younger generation reported their ikigai to be about “dreams of what they might become in the future”.
Similarly, happiness parameters change with every generation or imaginably, with every individual as well.
Personally, I feel Ananda* is in compassion; in giving something. It could be back to humanity, nature, and its beings, or in general. Anything that is beyond the world of consumerism and fills you with bliss because of ‘doing’ without a thought of ‘receiving’. The receiving is in the act itself. The joy is in doing. That is my Ikigai.
To my surprise, science agrees. According to a study published in Review of General Psychology, “individuals who report a greater interest in helping others, an inclination to act in a prosocial manner, or intentions to perform altruistic or courteous behaviors are more likely to rate themselves as dispositionally happy.”
This doesn’t mean that you will be untouched from the other moments where bliss might seem to have evaporated into thin air. Being a human who has bills to pay and bliss to find is nothing short of walking on a tightrope.
However, knowing and reminding yourself that the balance can happen if you allow it without the fear of falling or anxieties of reaching the destination, you’d know the art of joyfulness.
Chasing happiness? No. Choosing happiness.
*Ananda: (in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism) extreme happiness, one of the highest states of being.