Myth of Happiness
I know everyone wants to be happy. It's not rocket science, after all, to figure out why the idea of happiness sounds incredibly appealing and necessary. We like what it offers, the sensation it gives and the pleasure it brings.
It's as if happiness holds the key to everything we aspire and cherish. No wonder, everyone works hard for a little bit of happiness in their lives. There are some who even regard the pursuit of happiness as a legitimate and constitutionally mandated goal. The idea that happiness goes hand in hand with the good life appears to be undisputed and unchallenged, and for many, it's just what the doctor ordered.
But is it the real thing? I mean, is it really what we need in life? Does it hold meaning and significance to all that we do, all that we are, and all that we want to be?
The more I think about it, I am increasingly compelled to say, no.
It's not that I don't like being happy or that I am against happiness per se, but it's just that I feel having happiness as our sole focus in life can be dangerously misleading. It offers so much and yet when it comes to the crunch it fails to deliver. It comes across as something truly desirable but on closer observation one realises it cannot, by itself, satisfy our inner most urge to find meaning and purpose to our life and to our existence.
Happiness is morally and ethically neutral. It is the result of a certain emotional and intellectual process. It is a by-product of our efforts to create a certain state of affairs and a consequence of favourable courses of action that we sometimes undertake. Mother Theresa may have found happiness in caring for the poorest of the poor but, by the same token, a serial killer's idea of happiness might involve a few badly disfigured corpses.
But do you get the picture?
Happiness alone cannot be our ultimate goal because it would be plain impossible to do so. The focus has to be on the process, the motivations and the emotional drivers that create a feeling of happiness in our hearts. Christ has said somewhere, 'out of the abundance of a man's heart, the mouth speaks'. Assuming one's mouth is the gateway for articulating all that the heart wants to express, including, perhaps, happiness, then, it's reasonable to assume that the spotlight has to be aimed at the nature of that abundance in a person's heart.
So the real battleground is the heart or, in other words, that place in our consciousness, which we like to regard as the nerve centre of all our motivations. It is there where we get a peek into our self and to all that it desires. In other words, what motivates us to be happy says a lot about who or what we are. It holds a mirror to our soul and reveals our self for what it is. We may like what we see or we may not like to accept it, but that which makes us happy gives a clue as to where the inner compass is pointed at.
However, we live in an incredibly superficial culture where externals are of greater significance than issues that grip the soul. Let's face it. We are entertainment driven, satiated by sensations, tickled by things that give us pleasure, and challenged by sound bites. In such an environment, happiness matters a lot because the emphasis is more on the sensation that it gives than on the forces that act as motivators.
Happiness for happiness sake, thus, becomes the new mantra, and determines the direction we want our desires to take. Or at least to make it THE desire. The trouble with this focus is not that it holds the possibility of leaving millions of people with a perma-glee look on their faces – what a horrid thought – but that it generally and invariably leaves millions of people less interested in soul searching, and ending up as pleasure minded robots who have lost the ability to think, to rationalise, to argue, and to really and truly, understand themselves.
Of course, this is just the worst case scenario. And, maybe I'm being way too harsh than required, and, perhaps, some would say, there is no need to go so deep and analytical about happiness. But I beg to differ. We can't take something as important as happiness very lightly, and dismiss it as inconsequential. Anything that gives a peek into a person's motivations has to be taken seriously. It's a barometer for more important things and holds the possibility of unravelling the mysteries of the human heart.
Or, at least, that's what I think it's supposed to do.
Having said all this, let me clarify that I do believe that being happy is a state that we all need to be in because the alternative is not very promising. We must aim to be cheerful at all times since a smile and a sense of humour can work wonders in steering us away from being dull and lifeless.
Am I contradicting myself? Not really. While the importance of happiness cannot be underestimated, nevertheless, the underlying motivations must always be on the forefront because they hold the power of transforming a neutral emotional state into one that is full of meaning and purpose. It makes us go beyond clamouring for happiness for happiness sake and instead prompting us to look under the skin of that which gladdens our heart.
Ask yourself then, what makes you truly happy? Is your happiness prompted by things that are temporal or by things that are eternal? Does looking after the interests of others inspire happiness, or are you happy taking care of yourself? Are you happy living as an island, or is your happiness found in recognising yourself as part of the mainland? What are those things that drive you to pursue happiness?
These are questions that only you can answer truthfully to yourself. Question is, are you satisfied by your response? Are you happy with what makes you happy?
Your answer will determine whether or not happiness is all that it's cut out to be.