Tag Archives: unhappiness

Secret of Happiness

My friend grows a ‘money plant’ on her desk in our office (Money plant is a beautiful creeper with green leaves laced with yellow stripes that is believed to bring ‘money’). She takes good care of it : watering, charting out a course for it to creep (it’s grown quite big now), regularly checking the cellophane tapes that hold it to the cubicle walls and often telling us about how good it looks.

Today she was attending to her plant and I was talking to her while she was at it. She normally asks me several doubts – for e.g why do the leaves become bigger as they go higher- and I generously give her my views.

She suddenly saw that one leaf (out of 47 leaves -she told me) was slightly damaged and was concerned about it. When she pointed it to me and asked me how that would have happened, I said smiling ” It’s because you have just one plant, these trivial things matters to you so much”. I have several plants at home and I would never have paid attention to a damage of a leaf -that was insignificant in the whole scheme of things.

Of late I have been doing some thinking on happiness (unhappiness to be precise) .Our identity (what we call ‘me’) essentially consists of few components (such as job, family,friends etc) which are given different weightages based on their relative importance.  For us to be happy, they all need to be as close as to the desired levels as possible. But if some of them are not as expected, they exert a proportionate downward pull on the overall ‘level of happiness’.

That would be to say the ‘overall level of happiness’ is the result of a pull between things going good vs things going bad. If the weight of bad things is more, we would be largely be unhappy.

When I had made the comment to my colleague that such trivial things matter because it was the only plant she had, I was suddenly struck by a revelation. The same truth holds good for life too. When we have few things that make up our life, each of them becomes so important that we cannot afford to have even one of them going against the expectation. A single component of our life (the identity to be precise) going wrong would be sufficient to make us completely unhappy.

The key to happiness may be then, to have several things that makes up your life so that the relative weightage of each of them would be small and even if one goes wrong, you wouldn’t become unhappy / depressed. This is quiet contrary to what experts in the field tell us – they ask us to pursue that single passion in our lives and that would make us happier. 

May be some future studies will show that people whose life is made up of several components are less unhappy (even if not more happy) than the  rest of the population!

But then what if  ‘being happy’ is the only thing that matters to us? I think that’s where the road to enlightenment leads to.

Self-help mantras leave you unhappier than before

Many newspapers today carried this study of self help mantras (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1197430/Revealed-Self-help-mantras-leave-unhappier-before.html) The study by some psychologists found that those with low self-esteem who repeated self-affirming statements (like I can win) actually ended up feeling worse about themselves. They suggests that unreasonably positive ‘self-statements’, such as ‘I accept myself completely’, simply remind individuals with low self-esteem how much they believe the opposite to be true.

I think this is not surprising, if you have read some of those best selling self help books. Each of them claim that you need to look no further to become the next Bill Gates or Barack Obama. You read them and spend the next few days ‘transfoming your life’, soon to find you back at sqare one. This ideal goal really widens the difference between what you are and what you should be. This process leaves you with a bad self-esteem and you are now more convinced that you cannot change.

I am not blindly accusing, could be there are books that are really valuable. But in general, I find some issues:

  1. Some of these books create those false definitions of success for you. In reality you are searching for happiness and freedom. And they tell you about success, and there is the assumption that success leads to happiness. It might seem appealing to our mind, but soon the self (sub concious or whatever you call it) realises that you are on a false trail.
  2. Many such books are written by people who do not have first hand experience. How many of them have been miserable, depressed and failed in life before they understand the truth? I think very rare. Instead they lay out those ideal life for for you, missing some very important points such as fear, ego etc.
  3. Most them talk to your concious mind. And any change you need to do in life with your concious mind needs lot of discipline. Anyone who is not accumsted to discipline can never sustain such a change. I think the real change need to happen deep within and it can only be the result of a true search.
  4. As a practice, we look for precriptive solutions. But every one is unique; your mind, thinking, attitude, response to a problem – everything is unique and personal. Very few prescriptive stuff will work for you, unless you are going to be disciplined. The change doesn’t happen at the mind level. But the mind makes us believe that it is supporting us in the change. (That’s why when we begin to practice Mindfulness, we end up giving a self commentory of what we do – I am now walking, I should not get angry now…)

These days, there is a huge market for self help books (OK, atleast they are successful), because everyone wants to change. We are 100% certain that we need to change in order to be happy and successful i n life. Let’s start with questioning that belief.

I liked a quote from Father De Mello You don’t have to do anything to acquire happiness. The great Meister Eckhart said very beautifully, “God is not attained by a process of addition to anything in the soul, but by a process of subtraction.” You don’t do anything to be free, you drop something. Then you’re free”.

How many self help gurus teach us the art of dropping?

Related Posts: Being true to yourself