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.

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