Russian novelist, Leo Tolstoy once said, “If you want to be happy, be…”
But how remains the million dollar question. Life is beautiful. Happiness makes it so. Individuals and nations alike strive for it. Societies can’t be built upon frustration and despair.
There are many things in life that instill hope, confidence, though life is always punctuated by agony and ecstasy. At a time when negativism is pervading our lives, search for happiness is significant.
Even the concept of development is being redefined. An economist like Amartya Sen and organisations like United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) popularised the concept of human development based on the level of happiness than the mere indicators of economic development like Gross Domestic Product (GDP); the great idea that can change the way the world looks at it came from a tiny nation. Bhutan measures prosperity by gauging its citizens’ happiness levels, not the GDP.
So, what makes you happy? What makes you unhappy? Happiness is perhaps difficult to be defined but easy to be experienced. Aristotle, inarguably one of the greatest philosophers known to mankind rightly observed, “Happiness depends upon ourselves.”
To explore the world of happiness furthermore, let us look at some of the factors that possibly define or undefine happiness.
Quite often, success and wealth are equated with happiness. But, certainly not, warns Raj Raghunathan, professor at the McCombs School of Business, University of Texas and author of ‘If You Are So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy?’
The smart and the successful aren’t always that much happier than their not-so-smart or successful counterparts. Wealth doesn’t contribute to happiness beyond a point.
Fame, too, doesn’t bring lasting happiness. And if you thought being better educated will make you happier, think again.
Yes, these are some of the factors that can certainly give us happiness.
But, the point is they need not always make us happy. Thus, the quest for eternal happiness sows the seeds for spirituality. Happiness in the real world is our task.
Happiness is the state of mind apart from the result of physical and material well-being. It’s an emotional attribute. You need to set your emotions right to be happy and to make others happy.
It is rather if you want others to be happy, practice compassion; if you want to be happy, practice compassion.Thomas Jefferson said: “Our greatest happiness does not depend on the condition of life in which chance has placed us, but is always the result of a good conscience, good health, occupation, and freedom in all just pursuits.”
Sonja Lyubomirsky, professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of California, Riverside and author of ‘The How of Happiness’, stated that it’s a myth to believe that happiness can be changed by changing life circumstances.
Life circumstances contribute to only about 10 per cent of happiness, which, essentially, is an element of one’s positive psychology.
Researchers have done many empirical studies to unravel why and how some people appear happier than others.
Sonja Lyubomirsky explained the cognitive and motivational processes that distinguish individuals with exceptionally high or low levels of happiness.
These processes include social comparison (how people compare themselves to peers), dissonance reduction (how people justify both trivial and important choices in their lives), self-evaluation (how people judge themselves), and person perception (how people think about others).
All of these processes, it turns out, has hedonic implications – that is, positive or negative consequences for happiness. Raj Raghunathan in an article entitled, ‘7 Ways you’re Thwarting Your Own Happiness’ (Time.com) delves on happiness sins that destroy happiness.
One sin is devaluing happiness: not giving happiness much priority. Another sin is chasing superiority, which translates to wanting to be better than others at something or the other.
This desire results in social comparisons, the tendency to judge oneself relative to others, typically on wealth, power, attractiveness and fame. Yet another sin is wanting to be the centre of attention—the desperation for love and adulation.
Perhaps, the most important sin is the desire to control others or outcomes.
Although, such a desire can be a good thing up to a point, being overly controlling of others and outcomes will demoralise and impact whatever of happiness remains.
Other happiness sins include distrusting others, having an indifferent pursuit of happiness, and mind addiction. As Sonja Lyubomirsky rightly observed, “Happiness is meaningful, desirable, and an important, worthy goal, because happiness is one of the most salient and significant dimensions of human experience and emotional life,
because happiness yields numerous rewards for the individual, and because it makes for a better, healthier, stronger society”.
Beware of happiness killers. Don’t commit happiness sins.Obsession with unhappiness is a deadly sin. Philosophers have interpreted the world of unhappiness in many ways. But thing is to change it. Several empirical studies revealed that the quest for changing the state of unhappiness rewards happiness.
Charlie Chaplin has perhaps the best take on the qualitative difference between happiness and being unhappy-Life laughs at you when you are unhappy, life smiles at you when you are happy but life salutes you when you make others happy.