I can understand when philosopher Slavoj Zizek sees happiness as unethical. For many of us happiness seekers, his assertion may sound rather surprising. However, I think Zizek is right with his claim, if our appetite for maximizing our happiness now impacts ecological collapse, puts the existence of future generations on this planet at a greater risk and also compromises the ability of the future generations to meet their needs without strife and needless sufferings. Besides, in an age of hyperconsumerism, we have placed our habits of happiness on a shallow myth that we can’t be happy without having. And, we have mindlessly decided to overlook the bitter truth that many of our happiness choices are detrimental to the ecology and sustainability. Similarly, our search for happiness can be unethical if we stifle and undermine the happiness of others for our selfish fulfillments. We see this in our family life, where most parents add needless sorrows in the lives of their children for not keeping up with their choices, expectations and preferences.
My own search for happiness reminds me that the road I am traveling on is full of potholes. And, by traveling on this bumpy road, I have realized that happiness always appears in our life in unusual shapes, sounds and sizes. Hence, there are little puddles of humor, fun, playfulness and joys everywhere. Moreover, in my search for happiness, I have unearthed some essential ingredients for a happy life.
To live a happy life, firstly, we need to respect and admire others for their unique ways of being in the world. Some like to make noise, others crave silence, and some like to be in front and others like to shout from the back. Hence, rather than comparing people, we need to admire people for who they are, what they have been through and how they like to engage with other people. With this respect we can both increase and improve our human relationships, the way we relate to each other, which is essential for a happy life.
The next ingredient for a happy life is that we need to have enough courage so that we can avoid becoming a chasing shadow of other people’s expectations, projections and desires. Without courage, our life would be nothing more than a tedious circle of compulsions and compromises. And, it also takes enormous courage to be satisfied with who we are and what we have right now.
Finally, so much of our happiness depends on our ability to let go of our sense of control. In a world of imperfections, how our life unfolds and how people decide to act and react with us are beyond our absolute control. Hence, rather than holding onto the ropes of our expectations tightly, we need to let go and enjoy what remains of it, the experience of life, with all its random surprises - and that’s what happiness is.
Sources of Happiness
The most important source of happiness in our life is not what we have with us or what we want to have sooner or later, rather, streams of happiness begin to sprout in our life abundantly when we begin to realize that our human life is indeed little and we can’t go on postponing our happiness by attaching it to some event, situation or to an achievement that we may never encounter in our short life. None of us have a written script of our life with us and as we strive toward our dreams and possibilities, often the drama of life turns out the way we never suspected.
And, to find happiness in those messy and confusing moments of our life we need to recognize that patterns of human life are unwritten, uncalled for and unpredictable. Even with our utmost preparedness none of us can systematically dictate the course of our life with our own will. Therefore, in order to live a happy life we need to replace the concept of happiness as a destination with the concept of happiness as a process. After all, so much of the happiness we experience in our life depends on how we react to what is happening in and around us.
Most of us are unhappy because we think of happiness in terms of when or how we are going to be happy. Whereas we can create happiness even in difficult situations of our life by remaining resolute in our inner conviction that with whatever we have we can always recreate our life once again. Besides, when we have nothing else to do, even counting what we already have also makes us happy. Despite having many things, many of us are miserable with a single thought of why we don’t have with us what the rest of the world already has.
Having is not enough; happiness happens when we do something that makes us feel worthwhile, energetic, focused, connected, purposeful and engaged. For example, we can learn new stuff, develop new habits, cultivate new friends, make life easy for ourselves, let go of expectations that pull us down and sometimes take a step back to see things anew. Moreover, life is not fair and all of us don’t need equal things to be equally happy. Our struggles also give us a sense of happiness when we realize that we are maturing as a human being climbing new heights.
Finally, I feel that the most precious source of happiness is always cheap, ordinary, plentiful, spontaneous and free. Just the other day, I was witnessing clouds in the sky, which seemed like building tiny steps into eternity, and these clouds floating in the sky made me feel relaxed and fulfilled for a while. I know there is nothing special about clouds playing in the sky. However, all we get in life are the moments to become happy and it depends on how we add these moments to our experiences and make our life a satisfying journey.
Happiness: A Journey
Whenever I ponder over my quest for a flourishing life, I take the words of poet T.S. Elliot rather seriously as he has written somewhere in one of his poems that, we shall not cease from exploration/and the end of all our exploring/we will arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. In essence, our search for happiness begins with oneself and culminates within oneself. However, in a world of constant distractions, denials, self-deceptions and delusions, for most of us it is rather discomforting to be at ease, comfort or at peace with oneself.
After witnessing and experiencing various ups and downs in our life and facing up to all the troubles and sorrows that life throws at us from time to time, our search for happiness turns full circle when we realize that the ultimate joy in our life begins to overflow profoundly when we become true to ourselves standing before the mirror of our life, embracing its true reflections and finding freedom within our self. But, the paradox here is that only those who know how to spread out their self find happiness within them. Hence, in our search for happiness we also realize that happiness is not something we experience in isolation and that we derive most of our happiness by connecting with people around us.
Moreover, the journey of life takes its own turn and we also need to adopt, adjust and add a sense of growth and maturity with our age as various phases of our life have their own peculiar sources of joy for us to rediscover. Here, for many people their search for happiness becomes delusional, self-destructive and indulgent, when they fail to comprehend this reality of human life. Hence, to experience happiness at different junctures, we need to rephrase and reshape our dreams, hopes, wishes, relationships and expectations, adopting the emerging realities of our life. Besides, as long as we are pursuing happiness, our search becomes like running about from one circle to another trying to find something that exists like a mirage appearing in the dry wilderness; it appears at once and escapes in another moment. And, while journeying on rough and tough roads of our life in search of happiness, often we need to take a pause and shift our mind from the loops of desiring and expecting to life itself where everything is alive and happening.
Lastly, rather than finding, happiness is just about letting go and losing oneself in the moment with whatever ordinary we have, a piece of music, art, dance, reflection, love, friendship, conversation, meditation , sex, fun or poetry. After all, happiness is always with us, it simply needs a bit of inner tuning and with our sense of ease, acceptance and comfort within oneself, we can catch its vibrations all around us echoing.
(Gaurav Ojha is a faculty of communication, critical thinking and business research at different educational institutions. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)