By Jamuna Rangachari May 2008 When you pursue happiness, it eludes you. however, when you recognise that happiness is the soul’s natural state, all you need to do is eliminate all that comes between your happiness and you Be Happy• Be content with what you have• Cultivate compassion and empathy; try to contribute meaningfully to the happiness of others• Do not try too hard at being happy; just accept the current moment for what it is• Be present in the current moment; don’t dwell on the past or worry about the future• Accept what life brings you• Explore your interests• Nurture relationships I am so unhappy. Even though I try extremely hard to bring back the happy times into our home, my children just don’t respond,” says Vrinda Kamat (name changed), a housewife who spends all her time finding and organising functions for her children. She does not realise that they have grown up and are engrossed in their own lives. Still hankering after the old days, Vrinda cannot understand what else she needs to do. “My mobile is so outdated. I will have to change the model again. I hope this one is good enough for a while,” says Kaustub Mehta (name changed), a media professional, who constantly needs to keep pace with gizmos at a frenetic pace in order to be happy. In a sense, both the above scenarios are variants of the pursuit of happiness – a mantra of today’s world. On the material front, if we have a cycle, we want a scooter, if we have a scooter, we want a car. When we get a car, we want a bigger one. The list is endless.And so is the pursuit. On the status front, the moment we get a promotion, we begin hankering after the next one. A pay hike is good only if nobody else has got a higher one. We want a separate cabin and privacy if the other guy has one. Again, the list is endless.And so is the pursuit. Even on the emotional and relationships front, our relationships are evaluated on the basis of how many visits, how many phone calls, how many invitations one gets and gives. We seek to create a perfect family of always smiling people around us, and are disappointed if things are not picture perfect. Yet again, the list is endless.And so is the pursuit. The fact is that the pursuit of happiness is a strange term. Like many oft-repeated phrases, one repeats it mechanically but it makes no sense whatsoever. Happiness is not an object or person that can be pursued. It just is. In fact, perhaps it is this very phrase that is often the seed of much discontent and unhappiness. Gross National HappinessSociety is a reflection of the state of the individual and here, we can see that our measure of happiness is increasingly being defined by material possessions. It is also reflected in our daily language. We all have an unhealthy bias towards the material aspect of our lives. When we say things like, “he is very successful,” we mean materially successful. “She is doing well,” implies her material well-being. By “they are comfortable,” we mean materially comfortable. As we continue our march towards greater economic prosperity, our happiness doesn’t seem to be increasing. In fact, we find ourselves more discontented and unhappy. The pursuit of acquisition, status, image, and rewards has become the dominant part of our pursuit of happiness. Non-material values like personal growth, caring, trust, respect in our relationships, and community connections seem to have taken a backseat. It is time for us to realise the futility of pursuing one set of goals to the exclusion of the other, and that the pursuit of happiness is about pursuing both sets of needs, and maintaining a healthy relationship between them. When our intrinsic and extrinsic pursuits are balanced, we can realistically look forward to a happier tomorrow. An innovative initiative in this direction is the concept of Gross National Happiness, first expressed by the King of Bhutan, His Majesty, Jigme Singye Wangchuck. It is rooted in the Buddhist notion that the ultimate purpose of life is inner happiness. Bhutan being a Buddhist country, its king felt the responsibility to define the nation’s development in terms of the happiness of its people, rather than in terms of an abstract economic measurement such as GNP. Bhutan’s minister, Dasho Meghraj Gurung, put the Bhutanese philosophy succinctly: “The ideology of GNH connects Bhutan’s development goals with the pursuit of happiness. This means that the ideology reflects Bhutan’s vision on the purpose of human life, a vision that puts the individual’s self-cultivation at the centre of the nation’s developmental goals, a primary priority for Bhutanese society as a whole as well as for the individual concerned.” Motivated to preserve its pristine nature and unique culture, Bhutan has thus far succeeded in limiting exposure to global trade, foreign capital investment, modern mass media and tourism. GNH is an official policy of the kingdom, having been passed in Parliament, and is perhaps best illustrated by some examples from Bhutan that prove that happiness really does take precedence over economic prosperity there. The country limits the number of tourists that visit it, because the Bhutanese had complained that the environment was being affected, and sacred lands spoiled. The limiting was therefore aimed at increasing the happiness of the people. Similarly, demonstrating that the concept of GNH is inextricably connected to accountability, anyone with a grievance can go directly to the king, and get a hearing. GNH is also intended to provoke discussion about how altruism, or spiritual and moral beliefs, can be integrated into economics. That is, it is intended to question the basis on which modern economics is founded, where well-being is judged on the acquisition of material things, consumption and production. Economics has limited itself to things that can be measured monetarily, and this is its weakness as well as its (empirical) strength. In Buddhism, happiness is not determined by what we have and own (although this can be useful in alleviating poverty and allowing generosity), but also by our knowledge, our living skills and our imagination: by being, not having. Compassion and co-operation are as important to achieving happiness as competition. And developing our minds could be the key to all of these changes. We can all take a cue from this novel concept, and reprioritise our lives. Instead of being stuck with the old paradigms of production and distribution, we need to ask questions that are more inclusive and global. Questions like ‘How do I know when I have enough?’, ‘How can I make sure others have their share too?’ and so on. We need to find a way to incorporate our intrinsic needs and goals into the very definition of what it means to be successful and happy. The Soul’s Natural StateIt could be true that we are sometimes not too happy. There could be circumstances one is not comfortable with. However, this is no reason to stay unhappy. One has to find a solution to the issue. The problem is that very often, there is no real reason, and yet, we are filled with angst. So, what does one do? While we wander frantically pursuing happiness, we must remember that happiness is the soul’s natural state. We were meant to be always happy. If we are not able to breathe properly, we would probably see a doctor. In a similar way, if we are not happy, particularly if we cannot understand any clear reason for our state of unhappiness, we should probably see what the doctors of the ‘soul’ have to say about our state. These doctors are available aplenty in life and in all wisdom traditions, be it in the form of folklore and stories, injunctions and guidelines for living. Compassion and Empathy“The fact that I am able to bring happiness to others makes me immensely happy,” says Dr Kiran Modi, the founder of Udayan Ghar, a public charitable Trust, working since the last 12 years, for the quality care of disadvantaged children and women. With the mission of the Trust being ‘regeneration of the rhythm of life of the disadvantaged,’ the Trust runs various programmes to aid the disadvantaged. Actively involved with its activities all through the day, Dr Modi has found the key to happiness. No wonder, her simple definition of happiness is the smile of a child. “To me happiness has always been in giving and doing for others: my family, my friends…the help you can give, the smile you can share, the shoulder you can lend,” says Anouradha Bakshi, founder of Project Why, a social empowerment initiative operating out of Giri Nagar slums in Delhi. Today she spends all her time working towards raising funds, implementing new project ideas, and fighting for the rights of her adopted community. Anouradha has never defined any rigid guidelines for the scope of work in Project Why. Every new person who came up with a problem became an impetus for another initiative. Today, the main street of Giri Nagar throbs with energy radiating from Project Why offices. Loud sing-alongs of children, people bustling about purposefully, and neighbours pitching in to help are everyday happenings. “As you move along, you reach the stage where you are able to reach out beyond your realm. You can be content with yourself within your world, or view this moment as a way to repay a debt you owe; share some of what you have, bring smiles on unknown faces and hope to those who have none. And strangely it is you who feels rewarded,” she says. Since time immemorial, masters have pointed out to us the wisdom of shifting the focus from oneself to the other to be truly happy. Albert Schweitzer said ages ago, “I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I do
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