"Happiness is that which everyone longs
but so few of us actually get
Happiness is that which rights all wrongs
and leaves us without regret"
Is feeling happy a choice or an acquired skill? Is it permanent or situational? Is it success or contentment? Is it an illusion created by our 'selfish genes'? What is this intangible, elusive yet much coveted happiness that we so completely feel but cannot really explain?
THE SCIENCE OF HAPPINESS
Daniel Gilbert, Professor of Psychology at Harvard has written in his incisive book 'Stumbling on Happiness', what the business of happiness really is about. Human beings seem to value so many things from the mundane to the sublime- from the everyday miracles to higher abstractions like truth, justice and so on. So, is life more than a pursuit to happiness? No, says Dan Gilbert. All human behaviour is essentially about attaining happiness, albeit in different amounts. And this difference in the degree of happiness makes us feel that what we experience is actually two different emotions. He brings this about more lucidly with the example of 'hot' and 'cold'. He says that 'hot' and 'cold' are not really two different things but simply two manifestations of different amounts of molecular motions. So, what appears different is actually two degrees of the same thing. Eating your favourite chocolate, getting a promotion and saving a life- all bring happiness in different degrees, thought the first act requires no effort , the second conscientious hard work and the third chivalry.
GENES Vs CULTURE
The great Indian adage says that 'happiness dwells within you'. It does- in our genes. But some of the notions about happiness are reinforced by our culture. For instance, we believe that so many things make us happy- like having money, having kids and so on. Is it possible to unlearn these notions and imagine a different future for ourselves? According to Tim Wilson and Dan Gilbert, human beings are not really good at deciding what will make them happy. Apparently, we do not seem to learn much from our experiences as we think. Positive or negative events do not hit us as hard as we imagine. We vastly overestimate the hedonic consequences of these events. Both retrospections and future simulations share so many biases that reinforce each other and give us a distorted view of how we may actually feel. This makes us lousy at future predictions.
Is it good to be happy all the time? Research and experience tells us that negative emotions have an important role to play in our lives. The feeling of fear and anxiety actually prevents our worst fears coming true. Anxiety can be debilitating only when it is extreme. Otherwise, it ensures that we take the appropriate actions to deter us from crises. To be happy and complacent all the time can be harmful. That extra bit of adrenalin rush when we are anxious makes us alert and smart. As Prof. Gilbert lucidly puts it, 'Emotion is a compass that tells us what to do, and a compass that is perpetually stuck on north is worthless'. So much for our fairy tale wish to be always happy!!
THE GREAT HAPPINESS INDEX
In this one race, Mankind seem to be united-to attain happiness. Our former President Dr. Abdul Kalam gave a wonderful formula for National Prosperity Index as a genuine indicator of our well being. Bhutan measures its prosperity in terms of Gross National Happiness. In a world where neo-classical economics and sophisticated technology give birth to financial crises and global warming, some people believe that going down that path of primal innocence is the only way to salvation. Is happiness to be found in the garden of such childish delights? We remain sanguine that the path to everlasting happiness lies in embracing reason and knowledge and not to dwell on some long lost fantasy of primordial times. Yesterday is dead and gone, tomorrow may never be ours. The best time to live is now.
Originally Posted by Deepa Kylasam Iyer
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