I am fascinated by the subject of happiness. In reality, my “curious pursuit’ is the quest to find a way to help myself, spouse and children find a deeper and more frequent flavor of happiness in our lives. We do alright at this pursuit, but it sometimes feels like the world is opposed to our goal. Or, if not opposed, at least championing a version that never quite tastes right or lasts long enough.
I was interested, then to read this essay from Outlook India on national happiness. The author offers a quick history and his view of happiness from an Indian perspective (thus the title … my homage to Bollywood which I love). One of his fundamental assertions is that what used to to be a real lack of comfort and happiness inducing goods in the poor has been replaced by a greedy want that reduces both happiness and contentment.
It’s inarguable that the general level of prosperity has increased in India with the wave of outsourcing and foreign money that has poured in. What is also interesting is that despair has also surged and is seen most clearly in those that should be benefiting from the “blessings” of prosperity. He writes …
Let’s try and think of the ’80s as the decade during which a Trojan horse called ‘Happy’ entered our consciousness. What it released inside us were the advance troops of deep and constant dissatisfaction and, once the full blast of GLIP hit, we were in bad psychic trouble. It’s not that things were better before—they clearly weren’t—but what we’ve actually done as a society is exchange the misery of a protectionist provincialism for the despair of a barren, capitalist-internationalism. Instead of increasing, our scope for real happiness is actually shrinking. Because, following the initial Trojan, when we began the all-out McDonalding of our society, we inadvertently downloaded a huge Lack/Want worm into our operating system, a worm that takes over and taints everything we do, all that we think. Rapidly, so much has become about ‘being competitive’, ‘taking out the opposition’, ‘winning’, ‘being awesome’. That middle class, perhaps briefly, genuinely happy in the ’80s, is now geared towards generating more and more desire for unattainable objects and lifestyles.
It really is such a strange thing, this situation we put ourselves in where have to always be in a “fight for our life”. In the U.S. we call it the “rat race” and participation so often really does result in making so many of us “rats” in the worst sense. Both feeding out of the gutter of human experience as well as inhabiting unseemly lives.
Advocating a return to times where economics were both more shaky (unbelievably) and less generous is a ridiculous idea. What isn’t, however, is a return to timeless values that offered earlier generations more wisdom and patience in their approach to life. Again, from the author …
We Sub-Continentals, on the other hand, have been taught over millennia not to run after happiness. We’ve been warned about illusory rainbows plotting in tandem with non-existent pots of gold. We’ve been advised not to fetishise satisfaction. To switch metaphors, we’ve been coached, again and again, not to fish outside life’s off-stump and to let the ball come to us. This has been true from the time the Mahabharata was written to the time our Constitution was constructed.
I would add, that we, Americans have plenty to offer as well. How about resiliency, optimism in the face of sure defeat and a healthy respect for the naked lessons of life. Just as no country has a monopoly on frustration, none has it on the capability of finding the answers.