In one too many of my reflective phases, looking at the passers-by on Hobson Street, I have tried to think about why we are perennially after ‘happiness’. As mystic and yogi Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, a new-age monk who rides motorbikes and a person whom I respect as a philosopher, said, and I agree with, I think ours is a generation of over-enthusiasm and over-achievement, and arguably that lies at the heart of the problem. This one’s not going to be a long article. Just a few of my thoughts.
I think the whole discussion should begin by highlighting the subtle nuances related to the meanings of ‘perfection’ and ‘excellence’, for often times that is what makes a person live life in a certain way. The pursuit to be as close to perfection as possible. But as I see it, ‘perfection’ is perfect just because it can never quite be acquired. Just as, in quantum physics, where certain non-commuting observables form an exclusive set, besides the impossibility of having perfect precision in measuring multiple properties of a system (for instance, position and momentum), in life, ‘perfection’ can only be a definition that is not only ever-changing in society but also ever-changing in an individual. Perfection is probably what one ascribes to ‘God’, the Cosmic Force. As I was telling one of my close friends the other day, there actually is no set standard (something required to define ‘perfection’) if one looks at the higher scheme of things. We are minuscule beings in one corner of a minuscule solar system in a minuscule galaxy in this Universe. Our definitions of ‘achievement’ are restricted and constrained, not only by the limited scope of our vision, but often times by the lack of modesty of understanding our apparent insignificance in the grand scheme of things. Hence, according to me, what one should strive for is ‘excellence’ and not ‘perfection’.
One other point of interest that I felt was worth discussing is the fact that quite a few people in present day society can be such big-time failures (no offence intended). After all, one starts by seeking happiness at the age of 5 and keeps on seeking upto the age of 70, and yet most often fails to obtain ‘happiness’. Much like the advertisement of Coke, the primary mistake one probably does is to find happiness in exterior, artificial things. In today’s world, happiness is defined in the number of PSPs one has, the number of Armanis one wore in the past month or the number of degrees one has attained over the period of x, y, z years. What one does not realize is about how one poor one really is, even after all those PSPs, and how uneducated one remains, even after all those degrees and certificates. The irony of this age is that, if one were to go by the current definitions of ‘credentials’, a great mind like Tagore may not have even found a decent job to sustain himself! Being in the sciences, one can find the number of projects and papers one publishes is definitely a sign of capability but when in a certain (best unnamed; not Delhi) university, one finds self-citations, one questions whether the pursuit was for self-aggrandizement alone or actually for attaining a certain level of inner satisfaction and knowledge. It has reached such a level that those who are ‘late-bloomers’ or who may have better ideas are at times crushed under the system (I personally have come across various such cases).
One is often led to think that in a world where teenagers have had as many ‘relationships’ and break-ups as the number of freebies politicians pass around in election-season, and as many ‘life-experiences’, what is one left to live for? If everything is to be done within a period of 25 years, why live longer? That is a pertinent question, and one which I have discussed with people who seemed to be on the verge of absolute break-down or those who argue for the legitimate need for suicides. It is saddening to see healthy, confident and smart youngsters even think about ending their lives in the prime of their youth, and the harsh reality is that today we have more suicide-deaths than deaths caused by crime or even war in places! And just as Sadhguru did not seem surprised at this, one should not be surprised to find this number increasing over time. In a world where everyone seems to be ‘the best’ in his/her field, ‘the happiest’ in a relationship or ‘the most influential’, oftentimes in the same circle as another ‘most influential’, one is often driven to laugh at this humongous farce that our society is becoming. ‘Love’ is another concept that seems so wrongly used. Dating (with all its confounding nuances) is the need of the hour, and defines how one finds ‘happiness’ with another, often in a couple of meetings. Ha ha! If I were to tell someone that I do not believe in this idea at all, and would much rather connect with someone over time, and over small boat-rides and in a park reading Wordsworth or Keats, I will most probably be looked at in mock-amusement. Just as marks have lost their meaning when everyone gets 97% and above, even in a subjective topic like English, the value of concepts of life is dipping by the hour. A new iPhone is so necessary these days for happiness, that one is led to inquire whether the good old days when a cup of tea and a novel to go with it on a rainy day is really not enough (or shouldn’t be enough) for ‘happiness’. Though there are those who are mature and intelligent enough to realize this is not the case, the rest who are driven by the contemporary media and social fads are left to bite the dust, since all that is exterior can only give you so much happiness.
There was one last aspect that I felt was of primary importance here, and I would like to discuss that. In today’s world, and with the power of science, lately there has been a need to ‘quantify’, a need to analyze things through the prism of science, which, being a student of science myself, I find as commendable. However, one needs to realize the importance of spontaneity and certain ways in which science may not always be equipped to explain things as it stands today. Everything from emotions to sensory stimulus have been researched and studied over recent times in sufficient detail to allow for it to be often-times cited in popular discourses. Given certain close ones’ views, I am led to question whether one is only allowed to, say, feel when that feeling can be analyzed? So, if one thinks about it, even colors are beyond explanation, in a manner of speaking. If one were to define ‘blue’, one would say that the color that best represents the Tories is ‘blue’ or that turquoise is ‘blue’ or that which activates certain cones in the eye is ‘blue’. But that surely is not what ‘blue’ actually is. Those are just ways of basing one’s explanation on elements that have that color or elements that respond to the color. But what is the color? Should this direct us to remove the significance of ‘blue’ from one’s lives? What we are probably losing today is the need to just ‘feel’, ‘realize’ and act spontaneously. Ours is becoming a highly structured and constrained existence, and sadly so.
To conclude, I would say that let’s not saturate the capacity to be happy, because believe me, however much you may try to negate my statement, there is only so much happiness that you really want and require. Too much, and it is just like a cup of excessively sweet Earl Grey!