Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Mysterious Happiness.

This is what we strive for. It is the reason we do what we do. We write tips about it, we write blogs about it and yet we never really pay too much attention to it. A day without any glitches is a good day.  When all goes as planned, we feel accomplished. At the end of the day, we look at the picture and smile. When asked, "why are you smiling?" We answer; because I am happy. 

Where is all this coming from? It all began with me starting to read the book Engineering Happiness, By Rakesh Sarin and Manel Baucells) 

What is happiness? I am not talking about what happiness means to you. I am asking, what is happiness? Can we define it? Can we design it? Better still, can we create it out of thin air?   

Think about it for a minute, If you had to define happiness in a scientific way, what would that definition be? 

Any guesses? I decided to give it a try of my own: 

Happiness is a state of mind. 

Happiness is doing what we love to do

and so forth... 

But none of the above work for all. They are too subjective. We need objectivity. Trust the enginees to be objective :) 

Happiness = Reality - Expectations (Engineering Happiness, By Rakesh Sarin and Manel Baucells) 

So simple and so true.  It's one those definitions that I read and said, "now why didn't I think of that." :) 

It's simple, but it's not static.  Happiness will increase every time reality is higher than the expectations. This explains why we humans prepare for the worst. We expect the worst, and reality is so much better.. so our happiness is high :) Sadly, the reverse is true too. Every time we expect more, we are setting ourselves up for disappointment.  And as I type this  I now realize the brilliance of the age old advise, "don't expect too much, just go with the flow." :) 

Happiness is dynamic. 

Our expectations change at every stage in life and so does our reality. Let us go back to our teenage years. The reality was what our parents said;  "the more you share, the more freedom you get." Our expectation was total freedom with minimal sharing, so the happiness sometimes entered negative territory. As soon as we crossover from the famously infamous puberty into the young adult territory, the happiness graph moves back up and reality takes an upper hand.  At this point the expectations don't really go down, it's just that as young adults, we too learnt to evaluate all scenarios and prepare for the worst, and so the path to happiness began. 
So is the key to happiness keeping our expectations low? Not at all.  When expectations arise from within they become the motivation to do better than ourselves. On the contrary when expectations arise from comparison with our peer group, we see an upside down smiley face. This is the start of one's journey towards unhappiness. Comparisons with anyone but oneself, can only lead to unhappiness.  The engineers gave us the equation above, how we change the variables depends on us. As long as we maintain the balance between the two variables, we can assure ourselves of continued happiness.

The truth is, the glass will always be half empty, and you have to make a choice, either you fill it up or leave it half empty.

In a nutshell, happiness can be designed, it can be created via the choices we make. This got me thinking, if happiness is a choice, then how is it that we the intellectually advanced human race never make it a priority. We focus on our to do lists, and make a 5 year plan for life only to end up feeling exhausted at the end of the day. We spend hours dong a job that we are not passionate about and that one hobby that makes us happy, we have no time for. We fear taking the plunge because we have bills to pay. We dream of expanding it all even though we know that it will only lead to more stress and yet we fear scaling it down simply because we fear the expectations the world has from us.  Is the world our reality? If not, then having worldly expectations is a perfect recipe for unhappiness.  

Times are changing. This century is the era of paradigm shifts. Some brave souls are choosing to challenge the conventional expectations and some curious minds are finally putting more thought into the science of being happy. From curious minds creating the Happiness Quotient to the Happiness Scale, there is enough intrigue for the elusive happiness. Philosophers, psychologists and educators continue to wonder about the "why" of happiness.  

The corporate world is changing too. Companies are realizing that the secret to success and increased productivity are happy employees. Enter Chief Happiness Officer . Professionals who are finding ways of bringing positivity back into the otherwise robotic world. 

Take a look at this World Happiness Report, it ranks Denmark, Norway and Switzerland as the happiest top 3 countries in the world. Their criteria; real GDP per capita, healthy life expectancy, having someone to count on, perceived freedom, freedom from corruption and generosity. 

At a country level, the above criteria works. However at the individual level they don't work for me. GDP, perceived freedom etc etc is all about world expectations. Individual happiness is about individual expectations and individual realities.  Its interesting to note that what the developed world is still trying to measure and understand, Bhutan: a tiny country nestled in the Himalayas and bordered by  success frenzied India and China, has  Happiness measured to the very last detail. Bhutan has a holistic approach that factors in spirituality amongst other soft emotions and can be applied to individuals, families, communities and businesses alike.  

Now if only we could get the gurus to go to Bhutan and see what they do differently, for they not only have a Gross National Happiness, but they are also able to identify in sub categories like extensively happy, narrowly happy :) and plain unhappy :( .

The waves are changing, Google the word "happiness" and you will find everything from blogs to "to do" lists to stay happy.  In my recent trip to India, I was introduced to Happiness Studio by a friend. It's a novel concept for a country that breathes and chants the mantra's to stay calm and peaceful. It is impressive to see the paradigm change coming. 

Going back to our equation, remember they are your realities and expectations. Choose them wisely and keep the happiness flowing. 

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