The other day, I was listening to a spiritual talk on happiness and the speaker asked: “What is the most selfish word in the world?” A few minutes later he answered, “It is ‘I’. We keep chanting – I want, I desire, I need and I like. The word ‘I’ makes us egoistic and selfish. This drives us to only receive and take from the world and is the reason for our misery.” Don’t most of us know this truth?
He proceeded to the solution, “If you want to be happy, start giving. The only way to be happy is to be loving, compassionate and giving.” Most people accept the truth of these noble instructions but are still unhappy. Why?
Whose happiness was he talking about? ‘MY’ happiness, wasn’t it? Giving, loving and being compassionate to make ‘ME’ happy, right? It is still about ‘I’ and my happiness, isn’t it? The same word ‘I’ exists just as strongly as before and drives me to become selfish. When I am selfish, can I be genuinely loving? It’s impossible! At best it can be a pretense of love. I realized that I was only pretending to be charitable, loving and compassionate. I had only become more sophisticated because I could hide my selfishness better, by acting selflessly. I became a better actor.
When I’m not genuine to me and in my social interactions, can I ever be authentic? My relationships will be based on insincerity and manipulations, and will eventually be conflict-ridden or apathetic. My career will falter because I will have only complaints about any job that I get. I will not search for deeper purpose in the job which will make it more meaningful. I will not explore higher possibilities and purpose in my life. I will accept mediocrity as the norm and will never aspire towards the greater potential in me. I will finally live an unfulfilled life.
Studies like the ‘Hedonic treadmill’ show that man has the tendency to stable levels of happiness. In other words, events or actions do not have any impact on a person’s long-term happiness. A salary hike can make the person temporarily happy, but the person will return to the earlier levels of happiness pretty soon. A death in the family can create a temporary distress, but the person will come back to his earlier levels of happiness. The first vacation would be happier than the second or the third. There is diminishing returns of happiness in each succeeding experience. It seems as if destiny has decided that each man has been allocated his quota of happiness and pursuing it further does not enhance it.
But, will pursuing happiness further decrease it? We hear from people around us, “Are you happy with your life? You should be happy! If you are not happy there is something wrong!” This continuous message from outside leads us to believe that the goal of life is happiness.
If asked to name one and only one goal in life, most people say “I want to be happy!’. This elusive, ephemeral goal of happiness becomes a pursuit because there are ‘experts’ who insist that it can be enhanced. The selfish obsession becomes ‘I could be happier and I have got to do something about it.’ When everyone around us insists that we need be happy and that we ought to selfishly pursue happiness, we fall into a trap and start struggling to be happy. Happiness becomes the benchmark for major decisions like career, relationships (marry or divorce) and not finding increased levels of happiness pushes us further in the ‘happiness pursuit cycle’. This struggle to create greater happiness takes away even our allocated levels of happiness because we are never in the present to experience it. We are always looking to the future and planning how to create a happier day.
When we SAY NO TO HAPPINESS, we become less selfish and we become authentic. But it is not as easy as it seems because this will become just another new technique until we really start to recognize the hype around ‘happiness’. Even though happiness is elusive, at least it existed as an illusory goal. The paradigm shift of removing happiness as our goal creates a sense of purposelessness. This purpose vacuum has to be filled with an alternate goal because it is impossible for us to live without a goal. Otherwise, we will switch back to our goal of ‘happiness’. This alternate goal is elaborated in the book SAY NO TO HAPPINESS.
This approach of ‘SAY NO TO HAPPINESS’ is about authentic leadership, relationships, parenting, spirituality – in short, every aspect of our life. It is a counterintuitive approach to living a far more fulfilling life and is founded on my personal experience of jumping out of the happiness paradigm.