If you are ambivalent, it is natural. While it is human to pursue growth and success, happiness is a biological goal of every human being. In fact, our ancestors put happiness on divine pedestal, calling even God, Sachhidanand (the eternal happiness). They went even a step further putting sex statues on the walls of temples- an unthinkable proposition in any other part of the world. In a culture, where there are even precise descriptions of planetary constellations at the time of birth of Lords Rama and Krishna, there is no reference of their dates of death. In fact, the concept of death anniversary first came to this land with Buddha’s Parinirvana diwas. It was not without reason. The overarching philosophy was to celebrate happiness and underplay sadness.
What is happiness? Is it pursuit of material success? Or, something more than that? Does it have many flavours or textures? We will share some research findings. We will also talk about who is likely to be happier than others.
There is an emerging movement led by social scientists like Dr. Martin Seligman and others. They call it a positive psychology movement, devoted to study of happiness, and how people can be happier? Their research talks about three kinds of happiness. One is through pursuit of pleasure, symbolised by celebrities. Researchers steer clear of value judgments and affirm that there is nothing wrong in this kind of happiness. The effects and results are immediately tangible.
The second kind of happiness comes from an intense engagement of any activity. Ask a mother breast feeding her child, a composer composing music, or even a software developer writing a new package. Their excitement and thrill is beyond words. They derive happiness through the intensity of involvement in whatever they do.
There is a third kind of happiness and this comes from and this comes from leading a life of significance for others. There is a saying in Sanskrit that the crux of Vyas’s eighteen puranas is that there is no greater virtue in doing good to others and no greater sin than hurting others. That is the source of happiness for Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Vinoba Bhave, and countless others who live and die for others.
As said earlier, there is nothing better or worse in any of these three types, and an individual’s happiness is a combination of the three types of happiness at any point of time. Those who have more types have more likelihood to be happy than those who rely only on material happiness.
Is happiness an inside thing or depends on external factors? Again, the answer is both. There are certain personality traits that make one happier than others. For example, extroverts are happier than introverts, says the research. One’s world view, philosophy and vision have a large role in one’s happiness.
On the other hand, research also shows that certain level of prosperity is positively associated with happiness. People around a person also make a difference. Those who live in the company of happy people are happier than those surrounded by whiners, critics, run-downers.
Research also says that happiness is learnable and one can train himself or herself to be a lot more happier even in the same circumstances.
So, in an allusion to Biblical injunction, let us go forth and be happy, our vicissitudes notwith standing! We even have a cultural and divine sanction.