The Financial Express

Quest for happiness in an adverse world

| Updated: November 11, 2017 12:40:43

Lankabangla and Fianancial Express Lankabangla and Fianancial Express
Quest for happiness in an adverse world

People in search of true happiness may find in a recently discovered quotation by Einstein a clue to attaining it. The state of happiness has been defined in myriad ways in different times. Apart from its spiritual and philosophical interpretations, psychologists have also delved into the meaning of happiness in their own ways. The words of Albert Einstein on happiness are no well-thought-out observation. They apparently came to him like a flash of lightning as he wrote a few complimentary words for a messenger at a famous hotel in Japan's Tokyo. The celebrated scientist had been on a lecture tour of that country. It was 1922, when his fame as a physicist had already spread globally as he received that year the Nobel Prize. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for physics the previous year. In a short time he would become a great celebrity.

In the complimentary note written for the hotel messenger, Einstein said, "A quiet and modest life brings more joy than a pursuit of success bound with constant unrest."

The observation of the German scientist corroborates that of many noted philosophers and sages. All of them have viewed wealth and the excessive public exposure that accompanies fame and success as inevitable bottlenecks to happiness. A humble life in a tranquil ambience has been considered one of the keys to blissful life. Although happiness is generally viewed as elusive, a lot of people boast their happy and satisfied life. There is a common notion that affluent people fail to taste happiness to the fullest. Many rich persons or couples have disproved it by leaving examples of a fulfilled and content life. However, riches and material ambitions more often than not spawn tensions. Constantly nagging worries and apprehensions make the lives of many such people veritably unbearable. These people are dogged by fears of getting shorn of their earthly possessions.

Befitting human nature, the feeling of happiness remains normally confined to one's private life. In general view, it's a personal experience. But from sociological point of view, a community's true happiness is hinged on its collective experience. Isolated cases of the feelings of well-being, mental peace and contentment do not define collective happiness. In the modern analyses of euphoric or satisfying feelings, an individual's happiness is gauged by keeping the overall scenario in view. According to them, banking on the tiny units of happy persons leads to misinterpretation of the prevalence of happiness in a broader range. This may be a society, a community, and even a nation.

When it comes to the global index of individual and community happiness, the developed nations generally top the list. As a universal rule, happiness and economic well-being are intertwined. However, this pattern at times proves erroneous. Upon taking in-depth looks at the inner recesses of the social façade, many experts identify different types of malaises. These distressing ills remain buried as part of urban syndromes in the highly advanced countries. They include angst, alienation, etc. Generally, they have the tendency to go unnoticed. But these sources of chronic unease do exist. People's becoming social dropouts and pariahs and turning to irrational violence are also found in many cases. All of these seeds of unhappiness are more or less prevalent in most of the rich nations. As a corollary, the quest for true happiness emerges as a special mental exercise for lots of people in these countries. There is an irony. In spite of these hurdles to becoming happy, the materially strong nations are routinely found at the top position of the happiness indices.

The poorer nations are invariably identified with all the scourges that make life unhappy. Owing to widespread poverty and series of socio-political unrest, the backward countries have their own definition of happiness. They find themselves fulfilled and content by meeting of some of their basic needs. To them 'small is beautiful'; and plain living provides the key to happiness. Thus one of the measures adopted by Bhutan to measure its national attainments is its GNH (gross national happiness). The landlocked South Asian nation has for ages been impervious to alien influences they considered a threat to the purity of life. With a Buddhist-majority population, Bhutan has learnt how to remain peaceful and happy within its idyllic land by leading a simple life. The country's people had their first experience of television-watching only 11 years ago, in 2006.

The people acquainted with a life without regrets since childhood do not require theorising or philosophising happiness. They begin being accustomed to a unique serenity free of complaints as they grow up. Moreover, as they go on tasting life's bitter aspects, they remain blissfully ignorant of the truth that man has to pursue happiness. A lot of mundane people feel there are more urgent things in man's ever struggling life than the pursuit of happiness. But, ironically, the peaceful state found in pure happiness never stops beckoning them. As is natural, people in many economically afflicted and trouble-torn societies become filled with joy and satisfaction at the mere hints of happiness. This blissful state in many cases is transitory, and may leave them after some time. But they nurture it in their memories for long. This is how happiness works its magic on life. It has been a universal experience since man began to identify happiness as a mental state not blemished by sorrow.

Many would like to call the feeling of happiness relative. Its experience varies from man to man. Some would prefer to share happiness with others. Many nurse it within themselves. They are happy while enjoying beauty in undisturbed solitude. Happiness comprises not seeing and hearing only, it is also derived from pleasant reflections. In the ancient and medieval times, it was the secluded lives that used to find themselves elevated to ethereal happiness. In today's complicated times, a section of people search for happiness in the petty things and events around them. Watching a group of street children romp along a footpath or a pair of birds making a nest in the midst of foliage close to the window fills one with enormous joy. Free of the affluent people's worries about their wealth, a lowly person is happy with his or her small income, the humble social status and a nondescript living standard. Maybe, they travel by bus or go to their workplace on foot; or they have not had the opportunity to enter a 5-star hotel or go abroad. These people derive their joy as best as they can from a simple family get-together or a trip to a nearby park. Despite being owners of multistoried apartment complexes or a global network of assignments, or using deluxe cars, the rich may not be happy. Even in the growing societies in many low-income countries affluent people are plenty --- with their lives made unbearable by conjugal and familial maladjustments. However, these disharmonies are universal. They affect people irrespective of their socio-economic positions. Discords lead to a lot of break-ups in the lower strata. They, too, are not immune to conjugal disquiet and poverty-related falling-out. The moot point is the attainment of happiness, which is said to be found in wisdom and humility.      

That humbleness coupled with fraternity and fellow feeling is one of the secrets of happiness has been propounded by great men through the ages. The 20th century's Einstein and Bertrand Russell are two of them. As has been observed by Russell, "The secret of happiness is this: let your interests be as wide as possible, and let your reactions to the things and persons that interest you be as far as possible friendly rather than hostile." The message is clear. We should not shut ourselves within, but rather stretch out our arms.   

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