I read this very interesting article in the newspaper a couple of days back that refuses to leave my mind. United Arab Emirates has decided to include two new ministers of state as part of sweeping government reorganisation– one of happiness and the other of tolerance. Probably, the sheikhs have realized that merely having massive superstructures and malls was perhaps not bringing in enough happiness. Something was, perhaps, missing. And so, they got to the answer. Of course, we need to wait to watch the outcome.
I am not really thinking so much about the UAE as the happiness part of the whole decision. Can we make people happy by having a ministry for it? Are we not already happy? We should be, isn’t it? And why not? We are financially way better than our parents and grandparents. We can get everything done at the click of a button. Women today are more empowered—they work and are part of the decision-making process, whether at home or outside. We move around in cars and work in A.C offices. We don’t need to cook to have food; we can order it anytime, from anywhere! What more do we want? Shouldn’t we be rolling in happiness? But no. In fact, it looks like we aren’t. Even 2,000 years after Aristotle introduced the idea of a ‘science of happiness’, we are still far from achieving it.
We appear to be better off than our parents but we are more stressed than them. We fall sick more often and our productivity decreases as we age. At 70 my grandfather is more active than I am today and I don’t want to imagine how I will be when I reach his age. My grandmother turned 100 this year and super active. She has 8 children and I am tired with just one. When I tell her this, she laughs. She can’t imagine a house with just one child. The house will be so empty, so quiet, she says. I actually want to tell her that for us it is noise, and we would rather go out and work rather than taking care of a house full of children! She would tell me that this is even more difficult, fulfilling and will give more happiness than office work and maybe she is right too. But our definition of happiness has changed. Somewhere down the line, we have lost our simplicity. We would panic if our mobiles stopped working even for a single day, but would not mind so much if our spouse was out of station on an official visit even for 10 days. We think – ”wow! 10 days of quiet! I can sit and read my favourite book. Order food online and relax.” I am not saying this is right or wrong, but this is how things are.
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When rains lashed Chennai last December, my husband and I were more worried that our mobiles were not working for 10 days. But we did not make use of those 10 days to spend quality time with each other which we hardly get otherwise. We kept looking at our phones and switching on the TV and were getting upset that it was still out of signal range. Well, this is what technology has done to us – made us slaves. We are gradually moving out of shared spaces to a more single one where there is no room for the other – husband, wife, child, parents, friends, no one. ‘Go solo’ says Hotstar tagline and indeed it reflects our present state. I want to do what I want, when I want it—that’s the current mantra. And incidentally as I was reflecting upon all this, my eyes fell upon another article in the newspaper yesterday – “Anti-Valentine’s day celebrations in Chennai”. Why should people with boyfriends/girlfriends only celebrate valentine’s day? Even single people have a life; they also want to have fun, party. Why not let them celebrate? Truly speaking, I loved the concept. I think it is quite relevant in the present time. Actually, I must also admit that I secretly am envious of people who are single! No responsibilities, no strings, living for yourself—how cool! Not that there is discord in my marital life – no way! We are a very happy couple. But when I look back at my ‘single’ days I realize that I can’t do most of the things I did then. Even if friends do decide to meet up, our conversations now revolve around children, schools, husbands, in-laws – ugh, boring! But I also realise that while I was single, my friends were single too, and now that I am married, they are married as well. If I was single and not them, could we meet up and have fun like before? No way! So, every phase comes and goes, and has to be enjoyed when it is there. And yes! Get ready for the next phase too, for change is the only thing permanent!
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So all this brings me back to the main point – being happy. India is at the 117th position in the recent survey (2015) conducted among 158 countries, much below Pakistan, its neighbour which is at 81. The report said that happiness is one of the indicators of a nation’s economic and social development. So, even officially our country is not the happiest. What then, should we do to make ourselves happy? Sending positive thoughts to each other every morning? Is there any formula anyway? Obviously, we know there isn’t. And no, I am not saying that we should go back to our good old ‘no technology, more happiness’ days. After all, we should be moving ahead, and not behind. And let’s remind ourselves that technology has made life easy, if not simpler (in every sense). And because happiness is relative, there can be no one way to achieve it. There was one Website that had a ‘happiness quiz’ and out of curiosity I took it to see how happy I am? It said, 73 percent and I need to work on my skills. It referred me to read ‘The 7 Habits of Happy People” to improve upon my score. Alas, cyberspace has so much for us and yet we don’t have what we want. Rather than sending ‘be happy’, ‘have a good day’ messages to each other, we need to think and work out our own way to happiness and maybe learn from children. When my toddler son sees me upset or angry he always asks me, “Amma are you not happy? Why? See, I am happy.” Such a profound thing from a 4-year old amazes me sometimes. And indeed it’s true, happiness is everywhere, we just need to experience it.