The pursuit of happiness! No, I am not going to give you a review of the Will Smith starrer. I haven’t seen it yet but have heard that it was a very poignant flick. Now, we all are working to be happy, right. Not working only but doing anything to stay happy, keep ourselves and all around us happy and to maintain it that way. Happiness is a pretty absurd concept to me. I mean I am bewildered by the very word, almost always.
My parents used to say, “Mayur just get a good percentage in 10th and you are set.” I thought, back then, maybe that will bring me happiness. Then it was “do well in 12th and you are set. Look at him.” I thought, maybe there was the path. My uncle subsequently told me, “Crack the IIT and you are all set for life.” I thought that’s it, this ought to be the answer to the mystery of the ‘path’ to happiness. My best friend got into the IIT. This guy is a dude, he simply used to rotate the pen using his thumb and index finger and eureka! as if by some magic brainwave he had the answer to every damn bewildering IIT question I threw at him. I thought probably rotating the pen was the path to all happiness (Lol!). So, I flipped my pen on my index finger and viola ...I didn’t crack the IIT. Damn. I was so freaking naive back then. I still am, I think. I got through a B-grade Engineering institute and compromised on my happiness – by way of.... contentment. But the question still remained lurking at the back of my mind - What the hell is happiness and how to get to it?
I met a lot of people in the institute who harped about their relatives or friends in IITs or MITs of the world but they themselves had to settle for this shit. I began to think,” Boy, those guys in IITs / MITs might be shitload happy. But is this shit? And were they happy?” I didn’t know. Stories of my fellow mates in first-year engineering re-appearing in IIT entrances started to float around. “Abbe, did you hear X is giving IIT this year. Awesome yaar!” And on the desire to get happiness, hearing these stories, gutsy stories so to say, used to give me goose-bumps. Those years at grad passed by with fun, frolic and ‘just pass ho jao!” thingy and this thought, this ‘happiness mystery’ got pushed aside. Third-year, I started to hear something new. “Bro, that guy got placed at Halliburton.” “Bro, he got picked by Infosys.” I enquired what’s all this hue and cry about and then I got exposed to the word J..O..B. Job. I thought, now this definitely has to be it. Just get a job after grad and I shall be happy. The money will keep flowing in. Boy, I am set now.
Enter 2002. Recession hits. Markets collapse. Job scene – bleak! So with great difficulty, I get a job at Wipro. I am posted in Chandigarh. Awesome place, nice quiet peaceful life, away from the hustle-bustle of the metro, in a quaint annexe I set up my little home all gung-ho to take on the new sales roles at this esteemed organization. I am happy, so to say. But my happiness was ephemeral. My immediate peer sold triple of what I had to and I was asked to leave. Again, this wasn’t the answer. During this time, I got exposed to another awesome abbreviation – I...I...M – Indian Institute of Management, the foremost management institute for MBA in the country. And so like a script in my mind, I began vying for that, on the pretext that this would bring me happiness.
And with this ‘happiness’ pursuit in mind, I gave it my all, however, I didn’t make it. I was solaced by everyone, then, that “Beta, it’s okay, IIM is not the be-all and end-all, settle for B-level.” Again happiness compromised by.....contentment. By now my crystal ball of ‘happiness’ had developed quite a few cracks on it. Then the scurry for specialization then began in post-grad - marketing, finance or logistics. Finance – sounded suave and seemed like my shortcut to happiness. Crack it in finance -> Get an (imaginary) high paying cool-sounding job and I shall be well on my way to happiness. But I knew shit about finance. I mean, hello! I am an electronics and telecommunication engineer with a not-so-successful stint at Wipro, I didn’t even understand F of Finance, let alone accounting (cost and management), financial management, companies, firms, capital markets et al. This was like a shot in the dark for me except I knew it wouldn’t hit the target. But somehow I managed to scrape through. I am good at giving my sincere best to things and working a tad bit hard. But after all this crap, I still am not feeling happy. How the hell do I get to happiness?
Okay, I get placed from campus, spend five years in the company, quit it, start a business, fail, start another, fail and so on and so forth. To cut the story short.. the pursuit of happiness is still on, I tell myself.
What exactly is this pursuit?
We see this happening on a day-to-day basis also, all the time. Recollect the launch of any awaited iPhone. Lines form up outside Apple stores across the major cities of the world. Imagine yourself standing in one ...Imagine yourself a die-hard Apple fan for a moment. Or imagine yourself queued up for the launch of your most awaited PS5 video game. Or remember when Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2 final book of the series was going to hit the stores – massive lines of avid Harry Potter fans formed outside major bookstores, just to get a first hand buy. It was crazy.
Once you have got whatever you had lined up for, after a while of devouring, it kinda loses its sheen. Doesn’t it? After a week – it’s like banal or ‘just another’ thing in your collection of things. We don’t actually attach importance to the final thing like – purchasing the iPhone or purchasing the video game or purchasing the book but what does become written indelibly in our minds – is the pursuit. And that’s what is called the pursuit of happiness.
“If I get that cool paying job, I’ll be happy.” : the pursuit of happiness by way of a cool job
“If I get that cool phone, I’ll be happy.” : the pursuit of happiness by way of materialism
“If I give this gift to my brother, he’ll be happy and so I will be happy.” : the pursuit of happiness by way of keeping others happy
“If I become a millionaire, I’ll be happy.” : the pursuit of happiness by way of money
Now I belabor about this pursuit just to bring a point to the fore – that we all are vying hard in life i.e. vying for what? happiness, right? But what if this game or this pursuit – to happiness - is a fallacy?
Now my story may have had shades of this pursuit, but think about it in your lives too!
I bring a perspective to you here ‘coz the first step to any change or rewiring yourself is awareness of what is.
PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS: reality or fantasy.
Back in the 80s, some researchers conducted a survey on the happiness index of the people they surveyed, on a scale of 1 to 10. In different situations or circumstances in their lives, these people were bombarded with survey questions asking ‘How do they feel at the moment?’. Hundreds of thousands of people were surveyed and to the researchers’ surprise, it was observed that on average people always seemed to hover around the 7-rating. Be it getting a fat bonus, or going on a dream vacation or taking girlfriend out, etc. They rated it 7. If there was adversity that they were dealing with, like the death of a loved one, they rated lower for some time but eventually came back to 7. If there was an extraordinarily happy event, the ratings spiked for some time but bobbed back to 7 again. The researchers deduced that despite any situation – a happy moment or sad moment we always are at 7 happiness level. No matter how bright or happy the moments are, our minds seemed to invent some form of sadness or pain in our lives or in that moment, to bring back our happiness level to a 7 calling this pursuit a distant dream or a fantasy or a fallacy that we all are working towards. .....(Reference from Everything is Fucked by Mark Manson)
Enter our era, the twenty-first-century generation, the psychologists are already calling it ‘a selfie culture’ and the situation has become far worse. We eventually want to achieve or do something not to satiate our souls or seek fulfillment but to look good on our Instagram accounts (and on other social media platforms). Someone else’s so-called projected “happening life”, on their social media accounts, has become the cause of our state of melancholy or our governing lever of happiness, despite leading a happy fulfilling life already. We want to only go on a vacation to have that display picture to, as if, to beat someone else’s. Rather than savoring the moment, seizing ‘happiness’, it’s become more important to capture the moment, faking happiness, on a selfie-stick, just to upload on our social media accounts to portray how happy we are. In our era likes and followers have replaced or trumped money and power of the yesteryears.
Savvy this, on how we respond:
“How are you today?” – usually, the reply is “I am okay” or “Theek hun!”
“How was the exam?” – usually, the reply is “Theek tha” or “it was okay”
“How are we feeling today?” – usually, the answer is “I am fine”
“How was your interview?” - usually, the answer is “It was ok, decent.”
(and my favorite..) “How’s life” – “Bas yaar, good”, another way of saying ‘Theek chal raha hai” or “going on okay”
Then when you dig deeper and enquire further with these people about how things actually were, you find out, ‘Ohh! Every damn thing is great in this or their life or their job, but still, they don’t feel awesome or great?’ This ‘okay-ness’ or ‘fine-ness’ or ‘theek-hai-ishness’ for that moment is human nature that despite everything going right we still attach just enough form of negative or pain to that circumstance or situation or to that happy moment, to bring back our level to Average or a 7-level.
Or savvy this: When someone says or comments and how our mind perceives it
Don’t you do so too? Haven’t you felt so? Or haven’t you heard people say so? We all have heard so. We ourselves do so all the time. We all feel so. I do. It’s sort of humanly robotic. To put it another way, no matter how good our circumstances or how good anyone is to us, our minds fit in some predetermined or preset amount of pain in it and acts in accordance with it. And that’s how this seemingly futile happiness pursuit goes on. There is no fixed answer or solution to this and on and on rages this debate on this mysterious path to happiness.
I conclude by posing some thought-inducing questions to ponder on:
They say happiness is a ‘state of mind’, but is it? Or
Is happiness, in the moment or something in the future? Or
Is happiness something that we are working towards? Or
Is happiness an outcome of something happening? Or
Is being happy a state of contentment with what there is or being satisfied with what we have? Or
Is happiness about having gratitude for what we have or what we have been given and then subsequently being content? Or
What about the people harping about – ‘stay hungry’? Is that hunger or desire a path to one’s happiness? Or
Is happiness supposed to be equated with contentment? Or
Is happiness a destination?
Despite being in the most opportune of times ever, we still are feeling job-less or ‘work’-less. Despite making the most progress as a society, depression has become a reality and is ever rampant. Despite being so culturally exposed, we still are bound by our regressive thinking. Despite making the most technological progress in the last couple of decades, we find that extremism continues to grow. Despite being so ‘safeguarded & protected’ we still are facing privacy issues. Despite having shortcomings, we still are judgemental about others. Despite becoming social-media-fyingly extroverted, we still feel complexed and are more isolated within ourselves. Despite becoming self-sufficient, we still need acceptance from others. Despite becoming so independent in our thinking, we still value the opinions of others and are bothered about others judging us. Despite working so hard, we still feel hopeless. Thanks to social media the more knowledgeable we get, the more it becomes a bane for us. Despite being so blessed to be born in the era, we still carry a zero-gratitude attitude. Despite having everything, we still want more and get greedy. Despite being exposed to knowledge and information, we still choose to give a shit about our planet and the imminent crisis. Despite awareness of the widespread problems, we still don’t give a fuck about our health.