The Point of Happiness

Do we live to pursue Happiness?

Well, before you say that it is self-evident, here is the logic of the question: If happiness is inside us, why would have to live to pursue it?

Jeffersonian happiness, it seems to me, is an external object, that one has to get. Even if it was not originally meant to be, it is easy to imagine happiness as an object, therefore. Something outside, something to work for. Something like the bank balance, perhaps: definitely that sounds persuasive!

Besides, is there an end to happiness? Can one be happy enough and not pursue any more? Like that feeling of being home, when you wish the moment could last forever! If the pursuit of happiness is a self-evident truth, one must reassess those moments: While happiness is all around, its pursuit may not be self-evident anymore.

I used to feel like that, sitting outside our home in Calcutta in the winter mornings! I wanted the moment to last forever and didn't want to go anywhere else. I knew that the moment wouldn't last, and the world will change: That feeling of happiness was a momentary illusion! But was it? In any case, though, it doesn't help me answer the question: If happiness was ephemeral, can it be the point of an enlightened life?

But, stay with me, for a moment, the moment of happiness. It was a little sliver of time, warm sun touching my body while the chill of the northerly breeze sought to win the day. There was no urgency to go and do something. No hint of ephemerality as well: The knowledge that the tenuous Indian winter will soon be over did not count. Puzzlingly, I did not see my life to be one of sitting there: I wanted to go see the world. Yet, I felt happy, and I was happy to let it go.

That's my anti-Jeffersonian creed then. I didn't live to pursue happiness, but it came to me. It met me, just like the people I loved, in its own time and choosing, like a friend dropping in for tea. Both the ephemerality and suddenness helped make it memorable - something that I can write about 'years and years hence'!

Living in Britain makes me reflect about this ever so often. I see an entire society around me pursuing happiness. What appears to be self-evident to me is that this requires the manufacturing of unhappiness as a national creed: One must find deficiencies - may be we are not so good-looking, maybe I don't have the perfect partner, maybe my house could be bigger, etc - on a daily basis, to be able to pursue happiness continuously. Indeed, this is what keeps the economy going!

This is a world far removed from Jefferson's rural republic, and that makes me think further whether this is about City life. Is the City the manufactory of unhappiness, and of a continuous, futile pursuit that we have come to know? Or, is it a corollary of western civilisation, if there is a thing like that (Gandhi thought it would be a good idea), that one must accept as a price of modernity? As I end my 'Poor Susan' reverie and get ready for my 7:56 train to the city, it seems that the pursuit and the possibility of happiness are irreconcilably opposed.

 

 


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