A good part of our efforts, individual as well as collective, is aimed at maximising happiness.
We all have finite time to live this one and only chance of life. We all live and die. So, what is that differentiates each one of us from others? If you analyse the people around you, you will easily find that the only differentiating factor in our lives is each person’s ability to affect the happiness, either positively or negatively.
Look at those people who are dead and gone but are still remembered. Those people fall into two groups. The first group consist of those, who positively contributed to the happiness of the human kind; through social or political improvements, artworks, writings, inventions- to name a few. The other group consist of people who are remembered for their actions that affected happiness adversely. The common thread in both groups is the impact they made on the happiness around.
Now look at the living individuals. Again what differentiates persons from others is the happiness they manage to achieve in their respective lives. We often mistake this fact and consider various other factors as measures of achievement- like money, success, power, position etc. We often forget the basic truth that none of these factors per se make life a happy experience. They might add to the happiness but cannot be the sole reason for happiness.
I remember having read a story that goes somewhat like this (with due apologies and gratitude to the original author):
A high profile ‘Investment Banker’, who went on a holiday to one of the islands, as celebration for closing a very remunerative financial deal, was appalled to see the way people were ‘wasting’ their productive time by doing almost nothing. His ‘bill by minute philosophy’ was in complete contrast with the laidback lifestyle of the islanders. While he was relaxing in a beachside bar, he saw a small boat returning from the sea, with day’s catch. He went near and saw the fish being offloaded from the boat and then being sold to the merchants.
The fisherman finished his job and headed straight to the bar. When he returned with his drinks, our banker decided to strike a conversation with him. Banker asked the fisherman as to how much he makes in a trip and Fisherman replied that on an average he makes about 500 bucks per trip that takes about 4 hours. On being asked how many trips he makes to the sea in a day, fisherman replied that he makes only one trip a day.
The banker decided to do some pro bono strategy counselling to the fisherman. He then started advising to undertake at least 3 trips a day. Then he advised the fisherman to purchase a refrigerated truck (with debt financing, of course) to take the catch from all the trips of the day to the nearby city, so that he can sell it at a much higher price, eliminating the middlemen.
He went on with his strategy. He said with all the additional money that he makes he can get more boats and employ more people to help him. Similarly, he can buy more trucks and take his catch to various cities, slowly expanding the network. Once the operations achieve a critical mass, then he can sell the business to some big company or investor and retire. That will eventually make the poor fisherman into a very rich man.
When the Banker finished his talk with all the enthusiasm for having devised a great foolproof strategy, the fisherman asked him, “What is the use making all that money? And what will I do after I retire?”
Banker: “You can buy a posh beachfront house and enjoy rest of your life”
Fisherman: “But I would still have nothing to do. In that large house, I will only feel bored”
Banker: “Oh, no. You can fasten a hammock on the beachfront. Relax in that hammock, with a mug of beer in your hand. You will be under no pressure at all, with enough money in your bank and all the time in the world”.
Fisherman: “But that is what I do even now. My house is not posh but it is enough for me and my wife and is on the beachfront. I have nothing much to do once I am done with my fishing trip in the morning. Every day, I relax in this hammock with my beer, as I am doing now! Even after doing all that you say, I would still be doing exactly the same.”
The moral of the story is simple. One should know what makes one happy. The Fisherman in our story is happy. But the Banker is struggling hard in order to reach a stage where he thinks he will eventually be happy. Can he ever get as happy as the Fisherman? We do not know. Is the Banker deriving happiness from the present struggle itself? Will he be happier when he retires to the dream beachfront house, doing nothing? We do not have answers to all these questions. Neither are they important to us.
That brings us the more fundamental question; how can we be happy? Often we find happiness getting confused with pleasure and people spoiling their life in that confusion. Happiness is enduring and different from the momentary pleasures (more about it in another post).
There is obviously no definite answer to the question as to how can we remain happy. It depends on person to person. The success is in finding out as to what is the thing that will make one happy. For example, we have seen highly successful actors ending up as complete wrecks, chasing happiness, irrespective all their huge success in career. We have also seen not so successful actors being very happy and contented in life, as they are doing what gives them happiness, i.e., acting, irrespective of their financial ‘failure’.
Often I have heard people wondering how human beings, surviving in urban slums or rural poverty, can be happy. If you look at them, you realise that happiness is not connected with wealth or poverty either.
In my understanding, happiness is a state of mind that can be cultivated, irrespective of your surroundings or status. Like one of my favourite quotes goes: “Two men looked out of prison bars; One saw mud, other saw stars”, it is not the prison cell that decides our happiness but what we choose to see!
I have also heard people saying that the best way to be happy is to be satisfied with what we have. But, is that really so? No is the answer, according to me.
If one is completely satisfied with what one has, there is no desire or motivation to continue with the struggles of life. Life without its struggles becomes truly boring and de-motivating. Therefore, while complete satisfaction in whatever one has may bring momentary happiness, in the case of normal human beings, that happiness is not likely to survive for long. After all, we are looking at maximising the happiness of our own and of others in our surroundings and not merely being satisfied with whatever little happiness we already have!
So, is the opposite true? Would being not satisfied bring happiness? We all know the answer is again in the negative. The state of not being satisfied would make us chase our dreams all the while, never allowing us to be happy about our present realities.
What is the solution? In my opinion, it is simple. To maximise our happiness we need to be satisfied with what we do not have and not be satisfied with what we have.
We should not be satisfied with what we have; instead, we must constantly strive to make things better. We must be realistic about what we have in terms of our abilities, assets, strengths and weaknesses. We, instead of being satisfied with what we have, must strive to improve them at all times.
At the same time, we must learn to be satisfied with what we do not have. Otherwise, we end up merely being jealous about those who have them and thereby waste our own positive energy in a useless frame of mind. Let others have whatever they may have; it need not affect our happiness.
Do not set benchmarks for your achievements against what you do not have or others may have. Instead, begin from what you already have and slowly and constantly raise the bar, at your own comfortable pace, so that soon you are functioning just short of your own level of incompetence and employing your resources to the optimum level.
By following the above process, we will not only maximise our own happiness but also be in a position to increase the happiness quotient in our surroundings.
Our happiness is in our minds and it has nothing to do with others. But our struggle for maximising happiness might very well increase the happiness of others; be it in our family, society, nation or even entire humanity!