Sunday, 12 November 2017

Happiness Part 2: Happiness in larger scheme: T2 (Telegraph India) article dated 12 Nov' 2017

Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof
Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth
Clap along if you know what happiness is to you
Clap along if you feel like that's what you wanna do...

Pharrell Williams has got it spot on in those four lines of his Happy song. We are genuinely happy when we know what we want to do, when we find our place in the greater picture and feel like a room without a roof. So how do we get there and what are the detours that we usually take? 
We try many different ways to ensure our place in the larger scheme of things. For example, when we chase money, often we are not chasing money per se. If we look closely, we may find that in the garb of chasing money, we are chasing our idea of happiness because somewhere we have decided, quite arbitrarily, that money would give us something more than comfort and luxury (which money anyway provides). It could be power, social status, recognition or fame that we feel money can get us and make us happy.
Why do we want power or social status? The answer we may get within us could be, because we need adulation, validation and respect. What will that give us? Well, perhaps, people will listen to us, see us, value us, and as a result, we will feel connected, we will feel we belong. So though we may start chasing money strategically to feel validated, deeper inside it is actually the need to connect, to belong, to find our place that drives us. And we are usually unaware of these unconscious motives.


Freud and other later psychoanalysts have talked about the two contradictory drives that humans have in them ---- one is Eros, the life force which makes us go out there and connect with others; the other is the ‘death drive’, the desire to withdraw and be isolated. It is now widely accepted that the isolation part helps us as much as the connecting part. 
The key to happiness lies in striking a balance between these two seemingly opposite forces: reaching out to others and then coming back to our own self. This balance can be achieved by practising centredness. How? To start with, when we engage with the world, we need to let go of our hidden agenda to establish our value by dominance, control, or being proud. We need to go out there as a self-assured person; we don’t depend on others to make us happy. And when we withdraw within, we need to drop our judgements -- neither should we judge ourselves through other people's eyes, nor should we judge others by our standards and understanding of a context. When we are focused within, it’s important that we don’t become so self-absorbed that we forget about others. We need to assume a balanced stance where we are not dependent on others to define us and our happiness and yet we feel a sense of belonging and feel happy. 


The self-help industry today is big on the ‘think positive’ mantra, which is most often interpreted as getting whatever one wishes for. ‘You think positive and it will happen.’ Well, it doesn’t always happen that way. And the very demand that ‘things should go the way I want them' is actually the cause of much of our unhappiness and worry.  
Sometimes things are going to happen that will not be in our control. The positivity is in how we approach the situation. It’s when we ask ourselves, ‘how can I make the best out of this situation?’ 'What else does this situation or experience mean to me?', 'What do I learn here, and can I develop any strength from it?', 'What are the opportunities it presents?' When we take the lows in our stride and do not discard the experiences, that is when we are being positive. 
It is important to accept that not everything is in our control and life pans out the way it does. We often tend to think that being a realist or seeing the whole picture means being negative. Well, the fact that one can see the negative in any situation means that one has the ability to recognise, anticipate, discern and analyse and may be, even take action to avoid such a situation! It is a laudable quality to have. Otherwise, if we cocoon ourselves in our comfort zone and completely shut ourselves to anything that is a little difficult, we will forever stay in our illusional bubble without picking up any life skills.


The discontent that we feel can give us much scope for growth. Realising that something is not working for us, we find ways to get around it. Not being in a great state can, also, at times be very creative. Some of the most brilliant art, music and literature have been produced when people were not in a happy frame of mind. Even when a situation is not according to our liking, there is still peace in it. We can do something about it without being hyper or desperate about it. We need to be aligned to the idea that something may not work out the way we wanted it to despite our best efforts.
It may sound counter-intuitive at first but we don’t always have to be all right to be happy. The cyclical ups and downs are part of life. There will always be things that we will like and things we will not like, and therefore there will always be things that will make us happy and things that will make us unhappy, for the moment.
The idea is to look at things wholesomely, being grateful for what we have and rise above what we don't, to learn from negatives and to gather strength and be resilient. It’s about cultivating the subtle ‘enoughness’ within, irrespective of the situation, yet being ready for the next moment wholeheartedly to test our skills and put our best foot forward without being complacent. 
It’s again about a fine balance between staying fully engaged with the process itself and not getting too obsessed with the outcome. It is like being in the ‘flow’ with life itself. And for that very reason, we may need to stop chasing happiness like a distant mirage, and instead engage with life, playfully. It might also be necessary to drop our ideas of how it ‘should be', how things ‘must be’ and we may also have to stop trying to manipulate life and instead look at it friendlily.

Happiness is an experience of being engaged and yet being at peace in the situation we are in. If you are there already, clap along!

 Dr Sangbarta Chattopadhyay and Dr Namita Bhuta 
are medical practitioners and practising psychotherapists.
They are trained Family and Structural Constellation Facilitators.

Happiness Part 1: What Happiness Is: Are you happy? T2 (Telegraph India) article dated 3rd September 2017


One thing most people will agree on is that we all want to be happy. The problem is, we often don't know how to be happy or what makes us happy. What is happiness, after all? Sometimes, we are happy when we feel pleasure. Sometimes, a restless mind is happy when it experiences a certain feeling of 'rest', or peace, or solace. We also feel happy when we are grateful, or in awe of something, or simply humbled by an experience, or when we laugh over something, especially with friends and family. The emotions are so diverse that each one of us has our own definition of happiness.

What is important to understand is that happiness does not mean never experiencing negative emotions — pain, sadness and even anger are also important feelings. When we suffer an irrevocable loss like the death of a loved one, being sad is natural. We all need to know what sadness is, but having that experience doesn't take away our ability to be happy, neither does it make us unhappy as a person. In fact, it is quite the opposite. In order to have sustainable happiness, we perhaps need space to engage with other kinds of emotions as well.
June Gruber, a psychologist at Yale University, has shown in her research that having excessive positive emotions, or fervently seeking positive emotions all the time, or even expressing positive emotions in the wrong context is associated with being at risk for mania: a psychiatric disorder.
And at University of California, Berkeley, psychologist Dacher Keltner has discovered that pride — one of our often sought- after positive emotions — is easily confused with being in an excessively happy state, which can actually make us unhappy in the long run.
Pride can give us all the euphoric certainty that we perhaps long for in ourselves with a desired sense of confidence and well- being.
Dacher has shown that when one has too much pride or is seeking
pride too frequently, he or she is actually suffering socially, in the long run, creating a really unhappy state. Too much pride makes one come across as conceited or somehow inaccessible.

We often think we can be happy... .. only when our needs and desires are met .. when we are satisfied every moment with how things are going .. when we feel pleasure all the time Well, we can't function that way. The constant euphoric state is not normal, neither is it normal to expect that things will or should always go as we want. These, ' only when', ' every moment', ' all the time' are not practical contexts for happiness. We need to look at happiness from a broader perspective and as a realistic, wholesome experience.


According to positive psychology thinkers, we can divide happiness into three categories. First is the pursuit of pleasure, which is short- lived. It is what we get when we buy a new car or have a bar of chocolate. It's a hedonistic sense of quenching the desire. The problem is, often the same object which is made accessible loses its ability to give us the same pleasure time and again. Next is a more subtle form of happiness — the happiness of flow. Flow is when we are content and fully engaged in doing something, like when we are painting or dancing, when, perhaps, we even tend to lose track of time.  In the happiness of flow, contentment comes from being fully engaged in doing something, such as a Sufi dancer whirling in a trance. Here, one is not focused on the outcome, one is not trying to create a great piece of work; one is just enjoying the process, fully engaged. The happiness of flow is more sustainable and fulfilling than the happiness derived from the pursuit of pleasure.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi of Claremont Graduate University has extensively contributed to the understanding and use of this phenomenon of 'flow' in creating a more resilient state of happiness.
According to him, we can train ourselves to experience flow often and, as a result, be happy.
The third kind is the happiness of meaning. We experience this when we feel we have a meaningful life or a purpose in life. We all want to be a part of or be connected to something bigger than us; be relevant in the bigger scheme of life. We want to contribute to a larger cause. This is a way of affirming ' I am', beyond mortality. Doing something meaningful, according to our own ideas of ' meaning', can make us feel connected to society at large or humanity itself and create a sense of belonging. Being a parent, being a part of a community, attending Sunday meetings or group prayers, participating in festivals, supporting our favourite soccer club, joining a cause.... All these are perhaps ways of being a part of the collective.
We also have a sense of touching something larger than life and hence connected to something bigger when we experience awe, for example, when we are awed by nature or see a great piece of art. We also feel this, humbling feeling, though more subtly but more intimately, while actively contributing and adding value to something beyond our own selves. This feeling is altruistic in nature and also humbling at the same time. This is the most fulfilling and long-lasting form of happiness.
Loving-kindness meditation or 'act of kindness practice' has been clinically proven to be of help in cases like depression, bipolar, borderline personality disorder and anxiety — perhaps because these tools and practices help us nurture the feeling of meaningfulness by contributing to a larger identity.
Ultimately, we are all trying to be at peace with ourselves, so that we can feel good. In a way, we all are seeking assurance that we matter in the larger scheme of things.

Dr Sangbarta Chattopadhyay and Dr Namita Bhuta 

are medical practitioners and practising psychotherapists.
They are trained Family and Structural Constellation Facilitator