Saturday, June 13, 2009

Happiness: My "Q&A"

"Happy" is a fuzzy and hazy word and yet we use it as if we understand the meaning well.

From a very young age, the word came to me frequently at my childhood birthday parties. We would be prompted to sing 'Happy Birthday" and taught to greet "Happy Birthday". This would go on into adulthood.

We learnt to greet "Happy New Year" at least once a year on the first day of the year. Depending on your cultural background and faith, you may also be greeting "Happy Deepavali", "Happy Easter Day" or "Happy Vesak Day". Though we say "Merry Christmas", I suppose "Merry" is just as "Happy".

Later in life, we went on with it on more occasions: "Happy Anniversary" (of any kind), "Happy Mothers' Day" and "Happy Retirement", as if we have understood the meaning even more.

Let's be honest. Many of us are struggling with the meaning of 'Happiness". At least for me, I do have some questions which I would also attempt to answer. I am sure you would have your own set of Q&A too.

Q: What is "Happiness"?

Just what exactly is the meaning of "Happy" in those greetings?

I did a quick check in the dictionary and it said "delighted, pleased, or glad, as over a particular thing." Perhaps that will earn me the deserving full mark in an English test but it does not really say much to me. Each of those words in the definition in turn prompts more questions as to what they actually mean.

Wiki says "Happiness is a state of mind or feeling such as contentment, satisfaction, pleasure, or Joy."

A: Well said but none of the above answers my question.

Q: Who is happier? Man or Woman?

I belong to the womankind and naturally this question means much to me. It is widely believed and accepted that between the gender, women are generally less happy than men. Surprised? I am not.

You do not have to read widely to know that historically, women are expected to walk a step behind men and accept, gracefully or otherwise, the inequality between the genders. Many of us have also personally witnessed the patriarchy-oppressed and apron-wearing days either in our own lives or in those of our parents or grandparents.

It was only until the beginning of the 20th Century that feminist movement started to push for equality.

For decades, waves of movement sought to achieve the 1:1 equality between men and women. Campaigns on domestic violence, maternity leave, access to education, employment opportunity and equal pay were not uncommon. We still see them today.

A: For a long time, women were the less happy ones.


Q: Are women happier now?

I would say that we have not really reached 1:1. In some regions such as the Middle East, Africa and some parts of Asia, the ratio still looks pathetic. But I would say that we have gone a long way to come closer to 1:1.

So, should I expect women to be generally happier than before? Yes, I should but a recent study has suggested otherwise.

We would have all thought that after decades of egalitarian feminism movements, we should be happier. Why not? At least in the developed countries, we have been enjoying (almost) equal opportunities for education and employment. Surely we ought to be happier than before, no?

A new study conducted by Wharton academics Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers, finds that the happiness of Western women has been steadily declining. It sets everyone wondering what happens to the goodness that was supposed to be brought along by the fairly long span of feminism movement?

Not only we are less happy than before, we continue to be less happy than men. (According to the study, the men have also become less happy than before but to a lesser extent)

A: That's it, we are not happier now.

Q: Why are women less happy today?

Now we have as many, if not more, girls in the universities. We also have seen women in the top echelon in the political and commercial arena. We are given more and we are achieving more but we are less happy. Why is that so?

One possible explanation: We now expect more from ourselves and we are achieving less than desired. The new found equality has made our lives more complex and more pressurised. Yes, we seem to have achieved more in our education and career. But I guess, we have reached where we are today by trading some of the happiness we once had.


A: May be gender equality is not the way to go, after all? (I know this is a question rather than an answer)

Q: How to be 'Happy'?

This is probably the most important question of all.

I have come to accept that there is no universal definition of this word. It means different things to different people. Here are some examples how some wise people have explained "Happiness"....
"Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier."-- Mother Teresa
"Success is getting what you want. Happiness is wanting what you get."-- Dale Carnegie
"In our daily lives, we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but the gratefulness that makes us happy."-- Albert Clarke
"If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion."-- The Dalai Lama
"Action may not always be happiness, but there is no happiness without action."-- Sir Benjamin Disraeli
"The summit of happiness is reached when a person is ready to be what he is."-- Erasmus
Wise words indeed.

Everyone wants to be happy and has the right to be so. We often feel envious or even jealous of others who seem to have the ability to feel great and see the good side of life. We often wonder what is it they have that we don't. We often blame others except ourselves for our failure to find happiness.

If I were to say that happiness is not beyond reach, you may disagree. But it is true.

- Happiness is a choice, your choice.
- Happiness is from within you and no one else can give it to you.
- Happiness is now, not yesterday's good memory nor tomorrow's hope.

The art of happiness is quite simple.

It is a cycle and it may begin with just a simple smile. Each time you smile, some of the depression and negative emotions evaporate. Without you knowing, you would be slightly happier and feeling better.

When you feel better, any hurt and pain become more tolerable and you begin to notice some of the little good things around you: The people who care about you; the garden you have forgotten; the passion you once had and your dog that always loves you no matter what.

These good things put positive experiences in you. They make you think and behave in a positive way and positive thoughts and actions are great seeds for happiness. The longer you keep these positive seeds in you, the richer your positive emotion will grow and the HAPPIER you will become.

It goes in a cycle. You will come a full round feeling better and you will go one more round and one more round and before long, you would be wondering why you would want to move in the opposite direction ever.

A: Give it a try. A simple smile is all you need to start.

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1 comment:

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