The age old question – ‘what makes me happy’ comes back time and time again both in our lives as well as in what goes on around us. Might be a bit trite to say this but happiness does mean different things to different people and it’s pretty difficult to ensure the happiness of everyone. Sometimes, as selfish as it may seem, we might just have to make do with keeping ourselves as happy as we can. The great thing about it is that if every of us can indeed keep ourselves fairly happy, then we won’t really need to worry about others too much won’t we? This needs to be predicated on some basic needs being met and would require huge amounts of work to ensure that everyone gets the chance to make themselves happy but we can definitely give this a go.
It sometimes pays to put things into perspective:
To a child, happiness could be finding a nice little place to play in and spending a sunny afternoon there.
To a student, happiness could be finding the answer to a difficult problem without help from teachers or other students.
To an adolescent, happiness could be the emotions that are triggered when spending time with friends.
To a teacher, happiness could be having a good class where students learn well.
To a soldier, happiness could be the lack of war or conflict.
To a farmer, happiness could be the timely onset of the rains.
I’m asked pretty often if I’m happy here in India and my reply is an unreserved yes. The answer’s pretty easy to come by but I’d say that the explanation might be a little more involved. I’d say that one might be able to tell from the previous posts (here and here) that I’m feeling more fulfilled as an educator than I’ve been in a while and although this could just be the initial feelings of excitement when one teaches in a new environment, the fulfilment is there nonetheless. So then, would it be permissible to equate fulfilment with happiness? I’d say it’s possible but it’s still fairly tenuous – happiness that is predicated on some form of fulfilment might not be lasting as one would cease to be happy when one is not fulfilled. So what then?
Philosophers have been going on about happiness or the universal human good for ages and haven’t quite reached a conclusion. It figures given how argumentative they tend to be and how little differences in definition or semantics can lead one astray. But I digress. Aristotle spoke of the idea of eudaimonia (sometimes translated as happiness but the more acceptable rendering is human flourishing that I also agree with) as the ultimate end that we as humans aim towards. The earthly virtues can only bring one that far and following them would create an automaton. Aristotle adds that one has to lead a life where all the individual virtues are aimed at making the person flourish. The virtues are deep seated character traits that cause one to act in a particular way – to flourish, a person would be able to act according to the, well, virtues of these virtues. Sounds like a fairly tall order but it just seems to point to a person who has recognised a particular end in life and is living it.
Which brings one to a Yoda-ish aphorism for happiness – one is happy when we want to be not but actually start to be. Bad grammar aside, this seems a fairly accurate description of what happiness could be. In line with Aristotle’s idea of human flourishing, the happy person does not need to aim for much anymore – he or she knows what is required and actually starts doing that. Worries about what one is to others, how one should behave, what one should do fade away as one starts to live a life that one knows will be a good one. That would make one happy. After all, when one stops wanting to be something that one may not be and actually starts being the person he or she is supposed to be, one is bound to be happy