The happiness paradox

Life is an interesting experience. Given how different people’s lives are, I find it worth appreciating that they are still so many commonalities amongst us. The one that’s on my mind today is our desire to be happy.

We all want to be happy. May be not right now and may be not all the time, but sooner or later we all seek a time when we will be happy. We seek it in the work that we do, in the connections that we build and in the experiences of our daily lives.

I did not grow up with this philosophy of ‘seeking’ happiness. People around me then operated differently. Like the philosophy of karma that I gained from those around me, I also learnt that happiness is never worth deliberately pursuing.

The status quo of living in India was that one must work and happiness will follow. It is something we experience as a result of the things we do. It is something we derive from making an effort towards something greater.

I am not sure that it is my status quo anymore. Coming to the UK and experiencing a different culture has changed my views in many ways. Fighting the ridiculous concept of karma was a difficult but fruitful experience for me. At some level, probably unconsciously, I felt that I also needed to fight this idea of not seeking happiness. I thought that, just like before, I will experience a whole new way of looking at the world.

I was mistaken. The happiness paradox is real and my Indian teachings were right.

Viktor Frankl puts it beautifully: Happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself

Of course, at some level, I’ve experienced the pleasure of both pursuing a greater cause and surrendering to another person. These are such satisfying experiences that one cannot forget them easily. But I feel I’ve gone too far on the other side this time; I need to remind myself of those experiences and return to my earlier status quo.