Friday, January 25, 2008

Happiness !

Of late, I am trying to nail down an answer to the inflation adjusted million dollar question - "What makes me happy and what should I do to achieve and maintain the state of happiness"? I came across numerous articles from 'life coaches' to the modern day 'gurus'. 90% of the material I came across had lesser value than the nutritional value in deep fried Twinkies. The rest of the decent sociological researchers get a bad rap because of these phony gurus (Deepak Chopra anyone ?)

Out of the remaining ones, I extracted the following crucial information on happiness that resonated with my feelings.

Long range Happiness is a state of mind and is rarely altered by the context. Yes, we are happier if we get a promotion (or) get a salary hike. But after 60 days (mileage varies), we just get back to our natural level of happiness (or lack thereof). There may be lots of reasons for this. But they are all variations of the 3 basic reasons
  • Hedonic Treadmill - You wish you'd $1000 more per month for a little bit more comfortable life. You get a $12000 hike, you spend all on home re-modelling. There are problems with re-modelling. You need some repair and you are worse off than you were before you got the hike. The premise is that your 'basic' needs increase to consume the extra loot.
  • Endless comparison - You joined your corporation as an entry level programmer along with 10 of your classmates. You were the star, stood out from the rest of the pack, were diligent, didn't mind burning the midnight oil and your management recognized that and promoted you. You feel good, again for a short time only to recognize that your peer group is no longer the 10 class mates you left behind in dust but a whole bunch of new peer group where the competition is more aggressive. Now you know why the Peter's principle - that everyone rises to the level of one's incompetence, is almost axiomatic.
  • You handled money in a way that it brings more problems than happiness: In the landmark movie 'Ab Thak Chapan', Nana Patekar gives an oration on the difference between 'strength' and the 'nuisance value' in his characteristic dead pan style. I will leave it as an exercise to the reader to watch the movie and savor Nana's delivery. This scenario is usually encountered by guys who inherit a windfall - which brings all the unnecessary attention, unnecessary friends, unnecessary habits, unnecessary stereotypical and publicized failures.
So, what can we learn? The lesson is neither intuitive (more money more happiness) nor a cliche (money does not bring happiness). The truth - as always, is somewhere in between the two simplistic extremes.

Money does bring in happiness, but only when it is spent to acquire 'experiences' not 'possessions'. This was the point that hit me on the spot. When I spend the money on a 2 week outdoor camping trip, to learn to play a game better, to acquire new skills, to watch an astounding movie (Go Coen!), to acquire a Teaching Company of America DVD, it just feels right. And at the end of it, if I do it right, carry it all the way through, I come out as a more enriched person. On the other hand, if I spend the money on _Fill_the_name_of_a_possession_, I am just the same dumbass with one more possession.

So, what's my take? I value life. From the bottom of my heart, I appreciate the opportunity to walk on this Earth at a time where a RTW ticket is within the reach of a college hobo and more than 75% of the world is living in relative peace. I don't know what I was before I was born, neither do I know what the heck awaits me at pearly gates. What I know for sure is that Here and Now is real.

Looking back, if there is one topic that naturally intrigued me when I was a child, it was the literature on lands that are foreign to my immediate surroundings. There was a mystic aura when I read about the glaciers in Patagonia, curiosity when I read about the island continent of Australia and how the provinces where neatly drawn with a ruler, the vicarious pleasure I experienced when I read about the train from Vladiovastak to St. Petersburg and the inexplicable reverence when I watched the documentary on Leshan Buddha. I didn't do good in the classwork on Geography. But that subject remained as a topic that made the most sense to me. It still remains. As Mark Twain said, "you learn things not because of school but in spite of school". School is a devil's parade ground where parents send their kids in a masochistic fervor to numb their feelings. I am lucky that I survived the ordeal and most of my feelings are still intact. While my health is good and my brain is functioning, I will take a round the world trip for an year or more without bothering about the continuity of my employment.

That, in essence, is where my happiness lie.


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At 12:44 PM, Blogger Gaurav said...

Are you serious? Are you planning a RTW trip or just saying that that is what will make you happy.


While I agree that your happiness as it relates to money, lies somewhere in between "more money more happiness" and "money doesn't bring more happiness", there is always more to happiness than how you can get it with respect to money.

There is also the feeling of how much you have achieved, whether other people respect you for what you are, whether your children/family members respect you and whether your existence in this world has meant something for you and others, and how much.

Then there are pleasures related to your senses.

Then there is knowledge about various things in this world.

You see where I am going?


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