Right to happiness?
Our actions will yield us the happiness we seek in a world increasingly vulnerable to depression
What is the impending greatest threat to humans in the next decade? What is the looming biggest challenge to humanity in the coming years? What is the utmost rivalry humankind will face in the near future and the major war it needs to fight in the far future? The answer is simple — MIND. The human mind is the only thing humans need to train, for them to emerge a winner over self.
If you think Artificial Intelligence (AI) poses the greatest competition and key threat in the next decade, there's a surprise. It's our very own mind that is going to be our greatest peril. Depression is fast becoming the most hazardous villain. WHO reports depression to be the single biggest cause of ill health by 2030.
With World Mental Health Day on October 10 and World Human Rights Day on December 10 just past, it is appropriate to delve into a 'Right to Mental Health' or a 'Right to Happiness' kind of a thing, because Depression and Happiness have both to do with our minds. They are two sides of the same coin — mind. Though some world geographies do recognise a Right-to-Pursuit-of-Happiness, there seems to be no 'Right-to-Happiness' concept.
With much scientific, technological, economic and cultural progress, the basic ingredient — Happiness — is missing from life because happiness is not directly proportional to such advancement. Shocking? Perceiving material gains as success and tangible amassment as valuable possessions, we forget the importance of intangibles like Happiness — a result of emotional, intellectual and spiritual assets or contentment — and not so much about materialistic ones. Depression meaning melancholy, prolonged sadness, unhappiness, misery, low spirits, despair, dejection is an effect, the cause could be anything. To root out this mental state, there is a need to find the causes and address them rather than harp on the effects and try to treat the manifestations. Common symptoms may range from persistent sadness, disinterest in daily activities, fatigue, insomnia, restlessness, irritability, uncontrollable mood swings, lack of focus on work or leisure, social withdrawal, unexplained aches. Many adolescents too experience this health condition. Recent statistics estimate that 264 million people of all ages suffer from depression globally — an increasing mental-health situation affecting all age-groups.
Symptoms being similar, causes of this mental disorder may be different for different people. First and foremost, one needs to identify the root cause of this mental health condition for the particular individual concerned. Further course of action will vary accordingly. There's no one-size-fits-all kind of a treatment or medication. Many a time, the course of action begins on the basis of effects seen while the root cause lies elsewhere and expected positive outcomes may not appear. Oftentimes, depression could be due to lack of intangibles rather than lack of tangibles and that's why it affects the rich, famous and affluent too. Talking of these invisible intangibles which give us fairly visible happiness, a satisfaction of our inner-self comes into play. Preserving our basic inherent values of integrity, ethics and moral purity, our conscience will reflect lightness and happiness will automatically follow. Only then will we remain connected to ourselves. But unfortunately, we are more connected to the virtual world of our mobile, laptop and tablet screens and disconnected with the real world of real relationships.
In this era of modernism, our connection with ourselves is severed and we have broken free of all shackles of conscience, values, ethics that bound our hearts and minds for centuries. This, we think, is advancement and a forward-looking mindset. Following in our footsteps, nature too has broken free of all conventions and the climate has gone for a toss. We have freedom for all — humans, nature, environment, climate and even economy. Nothing at all in this universe is predictable anymore. With this brazenness, we have more challenges facing us than all our advancement can offer solutions for. We face climate challenge and economic slowdown; global warming has melted not only glacial ice but the global economy and emotional warmth as well. We are in a terrible mess of all sorts, grappling with extreme climatic abnormalities, economic meltdown and erosion of values and emotions. What can salvage us is our humanistic behaviour, our basic value system. A global society structure not based on the foundation of ethics, values and discipline — moral, mental and physical — will not be sustainable. To choose between need and greed, happiness and pleasure, spiritualism and materialism is in our hands. Progress and development need to acquire a new dimension in our actions and a new perception in our minds. Humans developed technology as a tool for their advantage but sadly, today, they have become its puppets, which is a major aberration. Prolonged hours of screen-time on mobiles and gadgets and sedentary lifestyles are major contributing factors to the increasing depression rates. We need to look inwards rather than outwards. A transformation of the inner-self is due. Application of Science and engineering to self to evolve a strategy for improving personal quality and hence the quality of life is required.
Plato believed that everyone strived for happiness in some manner. But how does one achieve this? Strange are the ways of the world. Having accomplished such scientific and technological feats and economic growth, humans gradually appreciate the importance of life's simple intangible things like happiness, which though free of charge, still remain elusive and mysterious. All material things earned over the years may be utilitarian at many levels but are unable to give us the simple innocent feeling of genuine, long-lasting happiness.
Viewed broadly, happiness is just an automatic response to something that makes you feel elevated mentally and emotionally. It is a reaction. But, as a pursuit or target, it seems unattainable. Since it is a re'action', it becomes more realisable as an action, doing things that elevate your emotional, mental and spiritual contentment. Surprisingly, you can't simply sit and wait to catch happiness. Instead, you have to work hard to generate it. For that, you have to train your mind, discipline it for actions which will result in happiness and shun behaviour that will deplete it. The emotion of happiness is an intangible resulting from intangibles.
No amount of wealth, richness or tangible assets can give you happiness while someone's appropriately timed simple gesture may give you tonnes. You cannot qualify, quantify or define happiness or predetermine how you can be happy. Happiness simply "happens" and creeps into your heart, mind and soul from unexpected channels without your realisation. It's the combination of a mental, emotional and spiritual high that makes life worth living. A positive union of the heart, mind and soul that uplifts, lightens and enlightens you is true "Happiness".
I would characterise Happiness as that naughty squirrel jumping around you which makes sure you constantly see it but is never within reach. You find it staring at you cutely but the moment you are within reasonable reach, it teases you, runs up the tree and vanishes. Happiness, as a pursuit, appears painful and unattainable. It is useless running after something you'll never grab. Some great person said: "happiness is like the tip of a cat's tail, as long as it tries to catch it, it eludes it but the moment it lets it be, it follows right behind". Thus, happiness cannot be the primary aim in life but at best be a by-product arising from the pursuit of other goals. It is a condition of well-being of the heart, mind and soul, an outcome of emotional, mental and spiritual health, the sum total of mental, emotional and spiritual contentment. If your mind is happy, it will send a 'happiness signal' to your whole body. If your heart is happy, it will circulate happiness in your blood to your entire being. If your soul (inner-self) is contented, it will spread peace and happiness to your complete persona. So, as an alternative to focusing on happiness as an article of desire, as a "noun", you should focus on the "verb" happiness. Concentrate on "actions" which give you internal fulfilment. You feel happier after any exercise or sport. You feel content after doing something for others, especially your loved ones. Being with family, spending time with friends too uplifts your mood. The more you focus on the "do", the easier it becomes to generate and experience happiness.
Aristotle described it as "the highest good" and I propose it as "the highest 'good' that you can do" which will pay rich dividends of higher happiness for yourself and society. What Aristotle meant was "good" as a noun, a commodity with value whereas in this concept, "good" is a "verb" an "action", a "doing" word which may result in happiness for the doer as well as the receiver.
Identify activities that make you happy because happiness means different things to different people. Adventure, sports, gym-workout or intellectual pursuits like ideating, innovating or creative pursuits such as painting, sculpture, writing, designing or social work, what works for you? To each individual his own happiness! You need to discover your own calling and strictly discipline your mind to carry out this activity daily. Create a 'happiness routine'. Like knowledge, happiness also multiplies on sharing. The more you do for others instead of yourself, the happier you will be. Depression is associated with low levels of brain neurotransmitters like Serotonin and this chemical is produced and released when you pursue regular exercise, especially jogging and cycling, spend time with your family and friends as well as do good to others. Therefore, Happiness lies more in performing duties than seeking rights. It lies more in carrying out responsibilities than striving for privileges.
True happiness lies in the oft-ignored, insignificant things in life, in the long term emotional investments, in placing family before self and then progressing to serving your larger responsibilities towards society, nature and environment. Eternal happiness is about overcoming alluring temptations or distractions and fleeting pleasures because they are just that — tempting and ephemeral. They don't last long.
Happiness eludes if we try to grasp or clutch at it as a "Right" but is showered heavily if we sincerely perform our "Duty" towards our various relationships — family, society, country, planet or environment. The more good you do for others, the more Serotonin your brain releases and the less depressive you will be. If you desire a "Right" to Happiness then all you have to do is perform your "Duty" of Happiness. Keep your mind creatively and fruitfully occupied, socially active and engaged in your subset of the real world because "an empty mind is a devil's workshop". Train and tame your mind for a strict 'happiness routine' and an active 'happiness discipline' to keep depression at bay.
After all, "it's all in the mind" as George Harrison of The Beatles put it so long ago!
Manisha is an International Award Winning Screenwriter & Filmmaker and Founder-MD of LOGIHQ, a HAPPINESS start-up. Views expressed are strictly personal