As International Day of Happiness approaches,it is time for all of us to think of how we can be happier, even though happiness, like love, cannot be forced. For ten years now, since 2013, on 20 March, the United Nations has celebrated the International Day of Happiness. A more equitable world will possibly be a happier world, and happiness has been recognized to be a fundamental human goal by the United Nations General Assembly.
As governments get their act together, if they ever do, what can we ourselves do to make ourselves happier? Is happiness even a choice? With a million Insta posts stating that ‘happiness is a choice’ we need to ask ourselves what we can do to bring this elusive something into our lives.
A thing of beauty is a joy forever, wrote Keats famously but if you do not possess the eye that can sense and appreciate beauty, how will you ever get to experience that joy? An ability to appreciate beauty in objects, nature and music is important for happiness, as is self-development and having a well-rounded personality.
According to eighty-year-old research carried out by Harvard University rewarding relationships contribute greatly to a happy life. Robert Waldinger, Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School states: ‘The surprising finding is that our relationships and how happy we are in our relationships has a powerful influence on our health.’
The reverse is also true. Toxic relationships can create great unhappiness. There is a joke about a person claiming that he did not know what happiness was till he got married. After that, it was too late!
Interesting articles written by psychologists draw a distinction between happiness and pleasure. You may experience pleasure while going for a swim, playing tennis, golf or getting a massage, but it is clearly not the same as happiness which is not so transient. True enough, but the experiencing of pleasure can also be important to your overall sense of well-being and happiness.
‘Money can’t buy me love,’ sang the Beatles famously, and so is the case with happiness which cannot be purchased. Billionaires have been known to commit suicide so clearly money cannot guarantee happiness. On the other hand, perhaps money cannot buy you happiness, but poverty can’t buy you anything!
Mr Tal Ben-Shahar who taught Positive Psychology at Harvard, has established a Happiness Studies Academy, offering certificate courses in happiness studies. The course discusses issues pertaining to a person’s sense of self-worth, friendship, love, achievement, creativity, spirituality and – being able to laugh from time to time. But can happiness be taught, or is it something we choose?
Mr Abraham Lincoln was a supporter of the ‘choice’ theory of happiness observing once that ‘folks are usually as happy as they make their minds up to be. ’A contrarian point of view is expressed by Ruskin Bond, who writes: ‘Happiness is an elusive state of mind, not to be gained by clumsy pursuit. It is given to those who do not sue for it; to be unconcerned about a desired good is probably the only way to possess it.’
Rajesh Talwar is the prolific author of 36 books across multiple genres.