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“The many faces of happiness- Part 3”- 7 January 2018.

Written by Rita Aggarwal
Wednesday, 10 January 2018 18:54

Happiness is the most needed virtue today as we realise that so many good aspects of life are on the decline- such as mental health, physical health, ethical values, moral behaviour, social decency, honesty in relationships, community engagement etc. Hence we witness an increase in rates of depression, suicide rates among the teens and youth, criminality, and rise in evil in general. At present more than ever we need to answer these two complex questions- what is happiness? How do we get there?

Most governments of countries world over in the last several decades have had economic growth as their main objective in their central policy. The rationale has been that by increasing national and individual incomes, people have more purchasing power and more choice and control over their lives that will make them happy. Frey, and Stutzer 2002, in their study say that- ‘the relationship between growing economic prosperity and both individual happiness and social well-being that may have existed in ‘developed countries’ appears to have broken down’. Shah and Marks 2004, comment, ‘whilst economic output has almost doubled in the UK in the last 30 years, life satisfaction has remained resolutely flat... Meanwhile depression has risen significantly over the last 50 years in developed countries’. They go on to argue that many people are ‘languishing’ rather than ‘flourishing’ in their lives. Estimates from the US suggest that less than 20 per cent of the population are flourishing and over 25 per cent are languishing, with the rest being somewhere in between.

The educational policy makers and school system too focuses on attainment of degrees and vocational skills for better economics rather than character building and happiness. Formal school system follows the government philosophy and supports it. This is now proving to be lop-sided and needs radical reforms. “On the basis of a review of 90 American studies,” Witter, Okun, Stock and Haring (1984) concluded that educational attainment accounts for between 1% and 3% of the variance in adult subjective well-being.” In their broad overviews of things that contribute to happiness or wellbeing, Myers and Diener (1995) and Diener and Seligman (2004) did not even mention education. Layard (2005) wrote that “education has only a small direct effect on happiness, though of course it raises happiness by raising a person’s income.” No wonder then modern and aware parents, frustrated and disgusted, are opting out of formal school systems and looking for healthier alternatives to education, such as “Homeschooling”, and other “Alternative education”, for their children’s well being and balanced growth that would foster creativity and personality development.

The search and study for happiness has been a major preoccupation for centuries in India as well as the Asian countries. Philosophers and sages have written about it in different ways. We have mentioned in our last columns what our ancient text, specifically the ‘Advaita Vedanta’ and the ‘Bhagavad Gita’ define the concept of ‘happiness’. We also briefly mentioned the western movement on ‘positive psychology’ that started two decades ago and its definition of ‘happiness’.

However the major breakthrough in the ‘Happiness’ debate came in July 2011, when it claimed centre stage globally, when the UN General Assembly passed a resolution on “Happiness: Towards a Holistic Definition of Development” thereby inviting member countries to measure the happiness of their people and to use the data to help guide public policy. The first World Happiness Report was released on April 1, 2012 as a foundational text for the UN High Level Meeting: Well-being and Happiness: Defining a New Economic Paradigm, drawing international attention. This was chaired by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Prime Minister Jigme Thinley of Bhutan, a nation that adopted ‘gross national happiness’ instead of ‘gross domestic product’ as their main development indicator. This sounds familiar and closer home!

The report outlined the state of world happiness, causes of happiness and misery, and policy implications highlighted by case studies. The experts include thinkers from the field of economics and psychology. Each report is organized by chapters that delve deeper into issues relating to happiness, including mental illness, the objective benefits of happiness, the importance of ethics and policy implications.

World Happiness Reports are issued yearly from 2012, with the exception of 2014. The data used to rank countries in each report is drawn from the Gallup World Poll. The Gallup World Poll questionnaire measures 14 areas within its core questions: (1) business & economic, (2) citizen engagement, (3)communications & technology, (4) diversity (social issues), (5) education & families, (6) emotions (well-being), (7) environment & energy, (8) food & shelter, (9) government and politics, (10) law & order (safely), (11) health, (12) religion and ethics, (13) transportation, and (14) work.

India unfortunately, the land of the Bhagvada Gita and Vedas, ranked 122 out of the 155 countries in 2017 measured in the ‘World Happiness Report’ and has gone down 4 notches from 118 in 2016. It is sadly behind its neighbours Pakistan and China. It could have learnt lessons from Bhutan but obviously we are chasing different and wrong role models.

Six variables have been highlighted as key differentiators between happy and unhappy countries. They are- income, healthy life expectancy, having someone to count in troubles, generosity, freedom and trust, with the latter measured by the absence of corruption in business and government. Norway has taken 1st place this year, followed by Denmark, Iceland and Switzerland. All of the top four countries rank highly on all the main factors found to support happiness: high levels of mutual trust, shared purpose, caring, freedom, generosity, honesty, health, income and good governance.

The Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama asked Magsaysay award winner humanist Baba Amte, a simple question- “Baba, are you happy with your achievements in service to humanity?” Baba Amte, who left his flourishing law practice, to found a multi-utility colony called ANANDVAN, (forest of joy) where he created the potential of honorable living for the leprosy affected persons, visually impaired and the physically challenged and the socially challenged persons. In the process he created an unimaginably large network of social good-will that became a fuel of public good. To Dalai Lama’s question Baba smiled politely and responded –“your holiness I am happy but not contented. Because the last man on the final frontiers of human existence is yet to be liberated and happy.”Though he looked askance the Dalai Lama replied, “then Baba you are becoming ONE with the Universal GOD”.

Both the great men were following the tenets of Vedanta, the principle of DHARMA, translated into action, which is the ultimate form of happiness. We hope the New Year will bring new thoughts, new hopes and new resolutions for a happy society.



“The many faces of Happiness”- Part 2- 17 December 2017.

Written by Rita Aggarwal
Sunday, 31 December 2017 18:22

Martin Seligman, the founder of the Positive Psychology movement in the USA, mentions an experiment in his famous book, ‘Authentic Happiness’, on school children who were asked to rank their happiness on two events experienced a few months ago, and the children rated better their experience where they helped poor children in contrast to watching a fun movie. Seligman was making a point by stating that ‘meaningful and purposeful’ experiences brought more long term happiness than mere ‘pleasurable’ ones, which were short lived. We need to give our children meaningful and purposeful experiences in their lives which will add value to their personality development and help in character building. This takes us to the state of mind which goes higher than just sensory pleasure and finds happiness in ‘meaning and purpose’ in life. At this stage the levels of consciousness of the human beings goes beyond ‘Kama and Artha’, to the concept of ‘Dharma’ in a loose way.

We discussed in the last part of this series, the two, out of the four, primary goals stated by the Bhagvad Gita, as ‘Kama and Artha’, meaning pleasures and material achievement. According to the Bhagvad Gita, basic to both the goals is the concept of ‘Dharma’ which is the foundation of all behaviour of humans, whether they pursue pleasures or material wealth through economic activity. Dharma is a concept which is complex with multiple meanings and ramifications. It means many things ranging from principles, morality, rules of living, righteousness, charity, service to others, duty and essence of life and many more. If we believe in the concept that ‘man is divine’, then dharma means to fulfil your true nature of divinity and be like that. If the true nature of water is to flow, then its dharma would be to flow. If the true nature of fire is to burn, then its dharma is to burn. If we believe that man is superior and sublime and God-like, then he must endeavour to fulfil that essence. To fulfil the essence of your life is dharma. To do your duty well is dharma and so on and so forth. Dharma teaches us ‘to go beyond the self and selfishness’, and to do- good- to- others. This leads to raising the awareness levels of the mind and consciousness and subsequently to the expansion of the self.

It is the basic virtue on which everything rests and should be taught first and foremost and also throughout life. Dharma is the fulcrum on which all good human thought is based and on which all human activity and behaviour is supposed to be done. It is so important and significant to the good life and virtuous life which leads us ultimately to spirituality. A pure truthful honest and purposeful life gives more lasting happiness than short term sense pleasures and material gains, which are important too but short-lived in terms of happiness.

In India, schools have done away with ‘moral science’ as a subject some decades ago, I guess, and some schools have replaced it with the subject of ‘sex education’. Sex education at times propagates the concept of ‘safe sex’ and also mildly says ‘no sex’. This is certainly a trend in western societies where physical intimacy starts from the teens and parents in their anxiety teach their children to be safe even if they decide to indulge in adult luxuries. I know this first-hand from my cousins who grew up abroad. But this is only about physical safety while the emotional and psychological trauma and other effects, that ensues with premature intimacy is a far major concern. How and when this transition of thought took place in Indian education system is a matter of history but it is shocking to say the least that schools felt the need to do so. We have forgotten the basic principles of living, morality, and ethics, that is Dharma, completely, it seems, by throwing out moral science and bringing in sex education. No wonder then, psychologists cry about the decline in moral values and call this ‘the age of ethical-crisis’.

C. Mihaly, a famous researcher in Positive Psychology, in his book ‘Psychology for the third millennium –The evolving self’ gives a good definition of happiness. He says –‘it is important to know that it is not sufficient for a person to enjoy merely any kind of life but a life that increases order and harmony in oneself and the world, instead of disorder or entropy’. According to him every action of ours is going to impact us and the world and we must learn to evaluate it whether we are moving towards harmony or entropy.  We should be able to judge and discriminate between the two and sometimes it is very difficult. C. Mihaly emphasises that “Moral codes have become necessary because evolution in liberating mankind from complete dependence on instincts has also made it possible for us to act with malice that no organism ruled by instincts alone could possess. Therefore every social system must develop moral codes to keep the intergroup harmony that genes no longer can provide. With every passing decade our actions are becoming increasingly more influential in determining whether harmony or chaos will prevail”

Psychologists in the west, especially the pioneers of the positive psychology movement show utmost concern about the falling and failing morality in the western countries and are ringing the alarm bells for the world to wake up. They feel in the absence of the emphasis on morality we are creating psychopaths and psychotics in mankind and the increase in mental illness, juvenile delinquency, and crime are proof enough of it. Only when we create harmony in our minds and in the world can we be happy individually or collectively as a race on this earth. The cycle of time completes full circle as we come back to the ancient wisdom of ‘Dharma’ to be happy.


To be continued.........

“The many faces of Happiness”- 3 December 2017.

Written by Rita Aggarwal
Sunday, 31 December 2017 18:20

When there is hunger in the stomach, intake of food gives a great sense of relief and happiness. When a poor beggar finds money on the road, he feels lucky and happy. When you are tired and sleepy after a gruelling twenty four hours of hard work, hitting the bed could be the best sense of joy and happiness. The problem begins when the stomach is full, the wallet is padded and you enjoy the luxury of working reasonable hours and having good sleep. After the satisfaction of basic needs, humans run after the ‘pleasures of the senses’ which is called in Sanskrit ‘Kama’ (pleasures, desires). The pleasures could be anything from enjoying gourmet food, listening to fine music, watching an engrossing film, enjoying the movements of dance or having satisfying physical intimacy with a partner and so on and so forth. According to the Bhagvada Gita, ‘kama’ is one of the key goals of human life and all human beings have a right to enjoy physical pleasures. It is a natural goal and hence a natural right. But, also says the Bhagvada Gita, an individual will soon stop enjoying all these pleasures at some point of their time in life. It will follow the ‘law of diminishing returns’ as you soon tire of them as they become mundane in nature and loses its sheen.

Besides pleasures and desires, humans also need material facilities for good living. For having a ‘good quality life’, man will indulge in economic pursuits to generate wealth to possess the ability of buying a good house to make a home for his family, to provide the best education to his children and to buy gold and diamonds for decorating his/her bodies. Man would also desire to enjoy the varied luxuries which wealth can buy. He works very hard to make his name and identity in the community and gain recognition and fame. According to the ‘Bhagvada Gita’ this is called ‘Artha’ (economic and material pursuits), which again is an imperative goal in everyone’s life. The economic activity is a necessity as it brings with it the comforts as well as the social and psychological recognition that comes in a natural way. Hence people must educate and train themselves according to their abilities and talents and excel in them. They must systematically develop and build their personalities and feel happy with their achievements at that level. A good footballer feels happiness and pride in excelling in his sport and winning laurels for himself and his team. A good musician feels a great sense of happiness when he is able to create music, a poet when he expresses his emotions in penning down a poem.

One does not necessarily have to be a Padma awardee to feel happiness or to be a Nobel Laureate to feel joy. Happiness lies in simple things which we do well with full attention and concentration and take pride in. A butcher who excels in his art of butchering well his meat without faltering and who at the same time keeps his mind in a serene and joyous state is a happy mind. An athlete who tones up his body regularly and keeps his mind prepared for the performance at all times is a happy mind. A soldier who keeps himself mentally-physically fit and alert for an attack by an enemy is a happy mind. A teacher of Mathematics who loves to teach well her every student and takes her profession in all earnest is a happy mind. This is precisely what we need to teach our children at school- the value of attention, concentration, doing tasks with diligence and a sense of duty towards daily tasks to be done with a serene mind. This can be achieved only in a loving, respectful and a non-threatening atmosphere in school. Excellence and perfection cannot be in multiple tasks but by its very nature is restricted and limited to a few abilities. We cannot expect a child to be perfect in science, maths, social studies, languages and even sports and the music and dance!! With a lop-sided focus on curriculum teaching, coaching and cramming to nauseating levels, and running after toppers in examinations, the school machinery is sick and lame in creating happy minds.

The wisdom of ‘Bhagavad Gita’ puts a limit to happiness achieved through the goal of ‘artha’ too and says all economic and material attainment will also not provide humans the ultimate happiness that they are seeking for there is a limit to this aspect too. A man may have a dozen Rolls-Royce and a dozen homes in a dozen countries and still be unhappy. He may have earned it through his own sheer hard work and intelligence but still feel ‘unsatisfied’ in his heart. We have heard stories of millionaires and billionaires who have committed suicide, or have donated all their riches for a cause or have suddenly started professing profuse wisdom after becoming terminally ill, when death stares them in their eye.

This brings us to the one important dimension of ‘being alive’ which we forget in our daily hum-drum. The vital force of human existence is your ‘breath’. When you take a deep breath in and release it, you realise the joy of being alive. My eighty-six year old dear Mother lies in the hospital in severe distress since a week as I write this piece, and it gives me a sense of relief when I see her ‘breathing’ in her sleep- she is alive! My Father is 90 years of age today and at this moment of time my biggest happiness is when I see both of them alive, moving around, going about doing their work and being on their feet. They have been simple, hard working, duty bound parents, fully devoted to their families, following high ethical values and morals and achievers as well. What they have taught me is the art of being disciplined, dutiful and peaceful in the face of all adversities of life and the science to lead it skilfully and cheerfully.


To be continued...........................................

“The Benefit Finder”- 19 November 2017

Written by Rita Aggarwal
Sunday, 31 December 2017 17:31

I remember the quote by Henry David Thoreau, (the philosopher and author of Walden), that “the fault-finder will find faults even in Paradise!”

We all know and have experienced the ‘fault finders’. They find fault in everything ordinary or sublime. The woman had a good family, a home, riches and two good kids. She was still an unhappy person as she continued to complain of what was ‘lacking’ in her life. She would rarely see the good side of her life as she focused on ‘what others had and what she did not’.  Money is never enough for anybody I thought - everyone seems to want more and more of it without enjoying whatever is already there. I also realised that there is no definition of ‘enough’ as far as money is concerned. It is always less for most people who are fault finders.

I was enjoying the hospitality of the host as she was a warm and friendly person. She had done her best by spending the entire day in trying to prepare a good meal for her friends and lo! Two women were fussing over the food and how it could be better and how she would have done a better job of the same dish! Instead of savouring the dishes made with love and sweat and instead of thanking her for her sincere efforts they were on their own ego trip. It was a self-congratulatory criticism of the other and it delighted them obviously. It was their deep-rooted habit of finding fault with others work and their supreme confidence in doing things right if done by them.

The lady could not adjust to her new surroundings after her marriage and would find fault with each system. That she could not adjust to the changed environment was due to her own inherent nature and weaknesses but she would do was to express her inability by criticising the system and finding number of faults with it. She could solve the problem by addressing her own strengths and weaknesses and working on it but that seemed out of her sense of perception and realisation.

The intelligent boy did not work hard for his entrance examinations and hence was admitted to an ordinary college with not-so-good quality standards. He kept cursing the college, the professors and the ‘dumb’ students as he called them. He found nothing good about the institute or the campus or the teaching- he could appreciate nothing. His mental block refused to allow him to see the ‘reality’ in a different way that would allow him to make the best possible use of his situation that was created by his own negligence.

All this speaks of a great deal of negativity in the process of thinking and a ‘blind spot’ in the perceptions of the truth. It is a strange case when people cannot ‘see’ the truth even when it is so stark. Reality is ‘half seen’ only from one side and that too the negative side.

A positive mind would go the opposite way. They would look for the positive side of things. The brighter side of life is more appealing and energising to such people. They are quick to see the ‘benefits’ that the situation offers. When I was thrown out of my job for no fault of mine except that I was doing exceptionally well, I was shaken up with the suddenness of it all. My father was calm as always and said, ‘now you are free to do what you like’! He was envisaging a benefit which was eluding me completely. I could only cry and criticise and wonder what happened. My mother was equally assuring as she is a deeply religious and pious lady as she stated repeatedly, ‘something good will come out of it’. ‘Don’t worry and be patient’.

The ‘benefit finder’ in contrast to the ‘fault finder’ has the capacity to perceive life in a broader perspective and to be calm even during adverse situations. They have a sense of resilience, a capacity to bounce back from unfavourable happenings and get back to normalcy with a positive energy. During my initial days of starting my private practice in psychology, which was unheard of in India then, there would be ‘empty’ days with no clients walking in and seeing my dismal face at the end of the day, my father would just say, ‘read your books’. Truly that was a great advice for now I miss reading books and research journals when time is scarce. The benefit finder would find a positive side to a negative situation and keep scanning for the goodness of the situation. Positive psychologists are researching on the ‘benefit finder’, an attitude of the mind that seems to come naturally to some and eludes many.

We remember what Henry David Thoreau said in a simple yet powerful way- “Love your life, poor as it is. You may perhaps have some pleasant, thrilling, glorious hours, even in a poor-house. The setting sun is reflected from the windows of the alms-house as brightly as from the rich man's abode; the snow melts before its door as early in the spring. I do not see but a quiet mind may live as contentedly there, and have as cheering thoughts, as in a palace.”


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