Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Run for Happiness

If there was any one goal that anybody and everybody who has ever walked this earth had, it was to achieve happiness. It is amazing how an indefinable concept which exists purely in the realm of our imagination has so captivated all humankind. The only other parallel perhaps, is religion. Like the Holy Grail, people from time immemorial have been in its pursuit, and barring a very select few, all have failed to realize it on a permanent basis; for those that have, have made it to the pages of Scriptures. True that all of us have experienced happiness as punctuations in our lives, but it was only for a short while at best. This incomplete and temporary realization of the dream has whetted our appetite for more and thus was born the quest for eternal happiness in all of us.

But what exactly is happiness? Few seldom ponder, yet all are in pursuit. Perhaps it could be defined as a state of euphoria, where the mind is devoid of any care or concern. It is an emotional state which makes one appreciate and enjoy life, to love and be loved. In modern parlance, it is called a state of high where the mind perceives everything as beautiful and bright, human interactions enjoyable, and the world around mellow and hospitable. It is a state that permits the soul to absorb the nutrients of life readily and easily, a point where the subliminal meets pleasures of reality.

For the realization of happiness, one must be capable of dispersing any and all forms of sadness. Whatever the stimuli, the mind has to forsake negativity completely. Though it is possible to alternate between happiness and sadness, it is not possible to experience both at the same time, unless maybe in a figure of speech. It is a mutually exclusive proposition. Since both happiness and its antitheses sadness are a state of mind, we have very little control over it because much as we would want to, we can't twist and turn the mind with a wrench, nor can we beat it into shape with a hammer. Unlike an ailing body which can be subjected to machines for cure, there is no device yet to tame the mind. In the absence of a mind control mechanism, happiness defies human effort to force it into submission.

It is common knowledge that mind's host, the brain, works on electrons and can be chemically tampered with and fooled into a make-believe state. Armed with this fact, people have sought to chemically subdue the brain with drugs. Addicts report the achievement of euphoric state when on inducers like alcohol, cannabis and opioid analgesics for example. Like the false dawn before sunrise, this form of hijacked happiness has a limited life span of a couple of hours at best. For those branded as addicts, even this limited span is acceptable in preference to its complete absence. Unfortunately, nature likes being coaxed, not forced. As a result, as soon as the drugs wear off, the mind realizes it had been tricked and it proceeds to extract its revenge on the body. And we are all aware of the price addicts have to pay in times of withdrawal.

The alternate approach to a state of drugged happiness is one of mind control. Yoga and meditation are at the front runners in this field. The technique is to try to detach the mind from the body. Thus freed from physical bondage, it is said that the mind floats naturally in a state of happiness. Yes, easier said than done! Few if any amongst us, have that will power and discipline to control our body at will, let alone the abstract. Images of Lord Buddha come to mind immediately. Turn the pages of scriptures and you will see Lord Jesus Christ, Lord Krishna, Guru Nanak-ji and their disciples and hermits across the globe practicing and preaching the techniques of meditation through prayers, chants and counting of beads. Interesting it is to note that they did it in retreat, away from the hubbub of life. Interesting too is the fact that all these scenes from the scriptures have been depicted with surreal serenity and calm; maybe to accentuate the point where wretchedness gives way and happiness takes over?

Now let us revert back to the lesser mortals like us. It is undeniable that any average man would leap up in joy if he won a lottery ticket. I use the term joy in the absence of a good alternative and because the words joy and happiness have been traditionally used in tandem, but does this joy necessarily lead to happiness? Can money or materials alone provide and sustain happiness? If hypothetically, that person continuously won lottery tickets, would he have guaranteed happiness for life? No denying of the saying that, lack of money is the root of all evil, but is the reverse of it also true? I wish I had a billionaire to answer that one for me.

Though sparks lead to fire, but fire is no spark. That difference is of profound importance. It would be reasonable to assume that joy triggers happiness, but then what sustains it? That is the million dollar question. What is that unexplainable fuel which makes happiness burn longer? What is the magical experience that gets etched on our minds, that just thinking of it years later, puts us in a state of happiness? What is the sauce to tempt happiness to linger? Does pleasure lead to happiness or happiness lead to pleasure? I wish we knew!

Instead of trying to chase happiness like a mirage, it might be a better idea to let it come to us like a gossamer dream. We only need to develop a capacity to catch when it comes. Haven't we all experienced the sudden inexplicable joy at the sight of dark rain laden clouds? Felt happy at the sight of an old faded photograph of ourselves amongst long dispersed classmates? Happy to listen to an old nursery rhyme our grandmothers once sang to us? Happy for an oldie we accidentally heard over the radio that we and our high school dates liked so much once upon a time? Even the happiness we feel simply driving home after work on a Friday evening. All these trivial incidences have managed to alter our moods and made us feel good, feel happy. And they cost us nothing. We didn't have to chase them; they always came to us from nowhere, just like that!

I have good reasons to believe that material ownership is not quintessential to happiness. In fact, wise people say that quite the opposite is true. I guess the trick might be in voluntary relinquishment, in giving up desires willingly, in harnessing ambition. The less we hanker, the less we tax ourselves. Absence of want will surely create more space in us to let happiness float in and make us its home. It would then have a pride of place in our hearts. The less we crave, lesser is the competition we are likely to find ourselves in. The less rat-race we run, the fewer is our chance of being disappointed with failure. Less disappointment would mean less negativity. Surely happiness cannot afford to ignore such a vacuum.

Now here comes the kicker. After all the things we do to make ourselves happy, isn't it odd that we don't teach our children anything about it? Are you aware of any school which has ever dedicated a class solely on the discussion of happiness? We teach our kids physics, chemistry, mathematics, even how to brush their hair, brush their teeth, tie their shoelace, but no, nothing about what it takes to be happy. The most important education we choose to ignore. We prefer to leave it up to the kids to figure it out, leaving it to a hit or miss situation. Isn't that strange?

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