The pursuit of happiness and pleasure is a common topic of discussion. But, as we search for these things in material items, we find ourselves wanting more and more. It’s often said that our best chance at happiness is to focus on gratitude and what we do have, rather than what we don’t. Material goods can give us some level of satisfaction, but it never lasts. Happiness comes from within. What will you do to stop looking for happiness and pleasure in material things?
Need to be self-absorbed in your passions and other meaningful activities
Life is undoubtedly full of struggle, conflicts, and problems of varied nature. Despite scientific and technological advancements, though life as a whole has become highly comfortable and pleasurable for most of us, yet this has not led to more happiness among us. In fact, the world is increasingly witnessing intolerance, anger, mental problems, social and religious conflicts. Most people are not happy and satisfied with their lives even if they have all the basic needs fulfilled for leading a decent life. Every year when we see the World Happiness Index, we find our country among the most unhappy nations. Even as a whole, the happiness index is deteriorating among the vast majority of the world population.
We all desire to be happy and happiness is the prime goal of life. But ironically, our intention doesn’t match our goal. We pursue those things which don’t make us happy. In fact, many of those which we keep on chasing, thinking that those very things would make us happy and contended lead us to greater unhappiness. These misconceptions about happiness are widely prevalent in the modern age. We feel that if we have more wealth and material goods, we will be happier and more satisfied with life. That’s the reason, in modern society, there is too much emphasis is given to wealth, status, power, and material goods. We keep on accumulating wealth and material things beyond our basic requirements with the false and ‘illusionary’ hope of becoming happy and contended.
Around 2000 years back, during the Roman Imperial period, a major philosophical figure and one of the richest people, Seneca wrote, “True happiness is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future, not to amuse ourselves with either hopes or fears but to rest satisfied with what we have.’ He further said that ‘It is not the man who has too little that is poor, but the one who hankers after more.’ What a great assessment on the subject of happiness during those earlier days? It looks as if the misconceptions about happiness have not arisen in the modern age.
Seneca also explained beautifully that ‘some things are within our control and some are not, and that much of our unhappiness is caused by thinking that we can control things that, in fact, we can’t’. Though we have hardly any control over others and the external world around us, yet at the same time, we have potentially complete control over our happiness. If we remove the misbeliefs about happiness, then we realize that the essential ingredients of happiness lie within us. Without looking outwardly, we can become happy and contended. We need very few things to live happily. We can find people living in slums happier compared to rich people. Many rich and wealthy people are more stressed, discontented, and unhappy with their living conditions.
Happiness is widely believed to be a feeling of contentment. It comes when we feel satisfied, safe, grateful, and eager to experience more of life. Happiness is of two kinds. First, we may feel conditionally happy on a day-to-day basis, and secondly, there is long-term contentment that runs deeper. We feel good, elevated, joyful, and generous when we are happy. Happiness can also be defined as the life’s conditions arising in the absence of unhappiness, boredom, and suffering. Broadly speaking, happiness is a very fine mix of well-being, positivity, and overall satisfaction with life.
Alert people tend to notice that regardless of what they may experience, they generally return to their usual level of happiness. Each one of us occupies a particular place on a scale of, let’s say, 1 to 10 (1 being most unhappy and 10 the happiest). We more or less hover around that emotional baseline, which remains relatively stable through all our days. This is known as the hedonic treadmill gradient. This is a common phenomenon in which people repeatedly return to their baseline level of happiness, regardless of what happens to them. Since so much of our happiness is determined by our thoughts and actions, which tend to be habitual and unchallenged, our happiness level remains generally static, with only slight fluctuations.
The 19th-century philosopher John Stuart Mill wrote very correctly on happiness that,
“Those only are happy who have their minds fixed on some object other than their own happiness; on the happiness of others, on the improvement of mankind, even on some art or pursuit, followed not as a means, but as itself an ideal end.
Aiming thus at something else, they find happiness by the way.” Happiness can never be a goal or a destination. The journey to the destination is happiness. When we solve day-to-day problems, overcome struggles in our life, face adversities bravely, succeed in a career or pass any competitive examination, etc will surely give us the feeling of contentment and happiness. Therefore, happiness comes when we earn it with our own efforts.
One thing is certain that wealth and other material things, as well as pleasure, are not going to make us happy. But physical and mental health, love our working environment, nurture true and meaningful relationships, and pursue passions will all add to our satisfaction level. We will give a resultant feeling of contentment and happiness in life. Our healthy lifestyle and positive aging will keep on adding happy moments to our satisfaction level. All these things will contribute to our life that is peaceful, comfortable, stress-free, and with plenty of enjoyable moments.
In order to ensure that we maintain a fair and smooth level of a contented and happy life, it’s very necessary that we reduce our dependence on other people and external circumstances. We should be self-sufficient. We shouldn’t look for the outer world to be happy. We find many such people around us, who have complete control over themselves. Those people are self-absorbed in their passions and interests. For example, those people are engrossed in physical exercises, art, music, writing and reading, cooking, and so on. When we spend time on our interests, we get totally engrossed and lose the sense of time, time flies on those occasions.
Whether we are students, businessmen, housewives, athletes, sportsperson, artists, authors, etc we can enjoy such moments from time to time. These moments are called ‘flow state’ experiences. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a Hungarian-American psychologist, named the concept of flow, a highly focused mental state, called these people with an autotelic personality, ‘autotelic’ means having an end or purpose to itself. According to him, we all have amazing capabilities to control our level of enjoyment in everything we do. “Only direct control of the experience, the ability to derive moment-by-moment enjoyment from everything we do, can overcome the obstacles to fulfillment”, he explains further.
People with this kind of personality have the ability to achieve the ‘flow state’ experience more often than any average person. The more of these moments we have, the greater enjoyment we can experience in life. These people can’t be bored or feel lonely because they can be busy with their passion when they have nothing else to do. Boredom and loneliness are among the biggest challenges currently the society is facing in the modern age. These social illnesses are increasingly becoming prevalent across the world. Especially in older age, when we are more likely to feel lonely. We should therefore learn to stay in solitude. This very habit is very rewarding to escape loneliness and boredom in the contemporary age.
We are currently passing through the social media age, which is transforming our lives in different ways. The way we interact, communicate and behave socially is getting changed rapidly. Our attention span is decreasing because of increased time on digital screens. An unimaginable amount of entertaining and informative material like videos, images, articles, and messages are getting uploaded on the internet every hour of the day. Increasingly, people especially the younger generation is getting addicted to social media. We are becoming more and more distracted. The ability to remain focused for a longer time on any task or activity is diminishing. When we are more distracted and not present in the moments at hand, we become unhappy and distressed. Reversely, the more we are focused and in present moments, the happier are we.
It’s therefore clear that we must learn to stay mindfully as far as possible. Daniel Kahneman, one of the world’s most influential psychologists has defined happiness as “what I experience here and now”. People spend a huge amount of money every year looking for happiness. People look for others to make them happy. They chase after wealth, material possessions, more fame, and higher status. They are however oblivious of the simple fact that this race would lead to greater dissatisfaction and discontentment. They also forget that happiness lies within themselves. How true was Seneca when he remarked, “No person has the power to have everything they want, but it is in their power not to want what they don’t have, and to cheerfully put to good use what they do have.”
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