Happiness and its Pursuit…

Many have tried, and failed, as will I in all likelihood, to explain what this elusive concept of happiness really is? But I won’t fail to try, so here goes. Happiness is like a rainbow, the closer you try and get to it, the further away it tries to run from you. Very few succeed, in the figurative sense of the word, to obtain their pot of gold at the end of this elusive rainbow called happiness.

What does it mean to be truly happy? Really, what does it mean, I ask? Is happiness having all the money in the world? Without any of the worries us plebs have to put up and deal with on a day to day basis. Yes money is important, more so to some than others. For some it is an absolute pre-occupation and the pursuit of happiness turns into the pursuit of acquiring more material wealth, often at the detriment of morals, and in the process, losing touch with their humanity all together. For others it is a pre-occupation because they don’t have enough of it to even provide for the bare necessities of life.

Sufi Embroider from the Kutch region of India. Some of the poorest of the poor, but happy. Source: The Analyst

Happiness has become elusive and an illusion in our industrialised lives where people have to fight for everything they want. For some (the haves), this is not so much of a fight, for others there is no guarantee that they will even have a roof over their heads let alone three meals a day (the have nots). I think the burden of blame really does lie on the cost of living. It is the cost of living that forces people to work long hours and for some it means that they need to work more than one job.

Most people need a meaningful purpose to feel valued. When they are forced to detract from this purpose and meaning and focus on making a living, which might not entirely fit this purpose, they may become disillusioned with life and what it’s all supposed to mean. The cost of living in the developed world is undoubtedly amongst the highest, especially in New Zealand. There is plenty of evidence, anecdotal and otherwise, of the detrimental effects that a high cost of living is having on people’s mental and physical wellbeing, and if I can boldly say, ultimately their quality of life and happiness.

In stark contrast, on my recent travels to the sub-continent I met some people who I might take the liberty to call the have nots; the poorest of the poor as per the United Nations, but much to my surprise, these were also some of the happiest people I have ever met. I observed that many of these people were absolutely joyful despite being of limited means. I asked them why they were so happy, many did not know, some said that for them there was no other way to be.

On a separate occasion, I asked another poor, yet articulate, person this same question again and to my surprise came an answer to the effect, “A lack of greed my friend.” He also added that if he could for some reason not afford to put food on the table for reasons beyond his control; there was enough support from the community that he could easily go 6 months without an income and yet have a place to live and have three meals a day.

There was a real sense of contentment and a strong community feeling with these folks, something which I think is lacking in our communities and societies in the Westernised world. New Zealand of yesteryears may have subscribed to this community feeling and bond, but these days it is very much every man for himself. People are becoming increasingly isolated due to a myriad of reasons and this is evident in our rates of homelessness, which are increasing by the day. Happy and homeless? There is no such thing. I feel ashamed just thinking about the notion of happiness in this context, as it is a misnomer.

Our society has a lot to answer for. Should we continue in our warped idea of what ‘the pursuit of happiness’ means; or should we stop and take stock and ponder what that phrase really means to us all, as a multi-cultural society? Do we have enough? How much is enough? Or what is it that would make not just us happy, but also your friends, family and communities happy too. How do we best align our purpose in this life so that we achieve happiness not just for ourselves but for our families, friends and communities. I think the answer is different for different people. There certainly are many ways of arriving at a state of happiness and joy but those are not immediately apparent to all. I believe I have tried and failed like many others, but I haven’t and will not fail to try …

1. Dalai Lama on Happiness.
2. Buddhist Monk on Happiness.