My Pursuit of Happiness

A friend complained, I don't know how to be happy. Point taken: If happiness is about being content, I surely show symptoms of being unhappy. To be fair, she wanted to make the point that I possibly had everything that one could reasonably want, and therefore, I should drop the anchor and try to achieve steady state. I tried to counter and justify myself, which is quite usual in such friendly arguments.

In the end, it became almost a religious argument, without invoking God. I should be happy with what I was given, and make the best of it, she contended. On the defencive as if I am accused of being too greedy or ambitious (growing up in suburban India before the liberalisation, I am not used to treating those emotions as virtuous), I was laying out an argument that I saw life as an one-off opportunity to change the world, and since I have not achieved this yet, I couldn't rest.

Though it may sound a bit crazy and overtly quixotic, it is exactly what I believe. In the end, she told me I was too much of a dreamer, something which lots of people told me before. I used to treat this as a compliment, but I am now getting older and started regarding it a problem. If I am granted a wish today, I would want to be more practical. But, it is one of those things - if I am practical, I should not expect wishes to be granted; Instead, I am trying to team up, in business ventures and other projects, with people who are my polar opposites, just to keep my optimism in check. In the end, however, I don't still want to give up my dreams to change the world, at least till I get so old that I can't do anything anymore.

However, reflecting back on the discussion, I know I was making the wrong point. The question was happiness, not what I do in life. While I can't rest till I feel I am doing something meaningful, it does not necessarily imply that I am not happy. It is just that my happy state does not preclude hard work or risk - just think of those who feel happy with dinghy sailing - and it certainly does not look like resting. Yes, I seem to want to go back to past, and be able to enjoy a winter morning sitting on the terrace of my home in Calcutta and would regard that as a perfect moment, but only if this is a moment in life and not the permanent state of my life. I shall consider that as perfect laziness, rather than perfect happiness. Instead, I have things to be done, miles to go before I sleep.

And, finally, I feel perfectly happy now. This is the answer I should have given to my interlocutor. She may have thought I am unhappy because I said I am at a point of departure now, and started to think seriously what I do next. But my point was missed: I may not continue to work for the same employer for too long, but I have made my choice - to build a global higher education organisation - and feel perfectly happy with that. It may not be possible to achieve what I want to do in the current workplace, and I must look beyond, but this does not mean any conflict or lack of happiness: It just means that I must move on at some point of time.

I have done this before. In a way, my resume may look non-linear, I moved from job to job in every two to three years (the longest I did in one job is three and half years in my twenty year working life), but I can easily show all of those to be a part of one narrative. My ambition remained consistent: I wanted to see the world, I wanted to live a life full of intelligent conversations and exploration of ideas, and I wanted to do something which makes life better for people I served. This blog, written over six years now, has that same story written over and over again, as I moved through three different jobs: People who knew me from my school or college days would tell the same story. I shall claim that I have always been a perfectly steady state - a consistent pursuit of a singular goal - though this meant I had to do different things, learn different subjects and live in different countries.

In the end, then, here is my definition of happiness: Having a meaningful goal to live for, and being able to work towards it all my life. I can't complain - I have been able to do so for twenty years now without much disruption. And, above all, being able to define life with what I aspire to do, rather than where I work or what I own, is a blessing in itself. This is my pursuit of happiness: Being steadfast in the pursuit of a dream. Dreaming is an act of happy state of mind, I should have known.


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