“Am I happy with my life?”
Many of us ask ourselves this question to bring back to mind our goals and aspirations. A majority of the distinguished, lucrative personalities, when interviewed seeking their formula for success, admitted rather proudly to have asked themselves this very question. Having answered quietly in their mind, they went out and they did what was needed to attain a state of happiness. At least that is as it is recounted in their memoirs.
Were these people able to reach a rewarding situation because they chased after their idea of happiness? Or did they just stumble upon a causeway by their wayside which led them to their current standing?
If your idea of happiness coincides (on some level) with registering some achievement(s) that is remarkable to you/people around you, finding people to exchange care with, living with some comfort and dying with peace and content with loved ones by side, you should read on.
Is happiness something that is accessible to everyone? Equally?
The origins of word itself speak against our conventional beliefs. It is a striking fact that in every Indo-European language, without exception, going all the way back to ancient Greek, the word for happiness is a cognate with the word for luck. Hap is the Old Norse and Old English root of happiness, and it just means luck or chance, as did the Old French heur, giving us bonheur, good fortune or happiness. German gives us the word Gluck, which to this day means both happiness and chance.
Even so, in the modern day and age, why shall we bother ourselves with the evolution in meaning of happiness and not dismiss the knowledge of how the ancients viewed it? Perhaps, because the disregard of the unknown laws that bestow rewards on some and obstacles on others is exacting a price of the residents in today’s competitive world. If the wheel of fortune (whether you approach it theologically or mathematically) is obscured and remains unaccounted for, the total responsibility of failure rests with the doer. In such a situation, those rewarded with success become admirable idols whereas those failing in their quest get the title of ‘failure’. Due to all the glamour of success and crafted representation of the pursuit of happiness on display, the resident of today’s society have formed idealized world-view of what awaits them in the course of their lives. Young people are not familiar with the concept of setbacks and tend to ascribe incompetence to self on the first disappointing incident. When the promises are huge, disappointments are guaranteed to be as big.
False optimism is a contagious malady. It drowns one in hopeless abyss when he or she slips on the road to their ambitions. When the gist of every bigwig’s interview is: Dare against all odds, it becomes imperative to uncover the shrouded nature of fortune or chance (whichever you prefer) and how it limits and governs our claim to happiness. If the society continues on to disregard the existence of the ‘wheel of fortune’ (again, without dictating any school of thought whether scientific or religious), it is likely we will end up convicting ourselves for our unfavourable position.
How did we come to this end? We very well didn’t start here – far from it. The commoners in the old world suffered endlessly without reason, believed gods were punishing them for crimes of past lives. They thought they were doomed to their bleak existence and that their end would be no better. There are lessons to be learnt from such stark pessimism. And from the historical notions that brought about our present circumstance.
In the ancient centuries, It was vastly more accepted that happiness was a result of moral conduct or divine intervention. Misfortune or cruelty to a ‘kind soul’ was termed as ‘God’s will’. Enter the Classical philosophy which elicited ‘Happiness was something that could be earned’, a perspective that anticipates our modern one. But there is one critical difference: these classical schools of thought understood happiness as more about living a life of virtue than about infusions of pleasure, more about being good rather than feeling good. It could be argued very comfortably, that French Revolution brought about more than just change in governance of a portion of land. It brought about a complete change in the attitude; it set an example of overthrowing old ideals which gained much fellowship with time. It was the time when Thomas Jefferson declared the right to pursue happiness to be a self-evident truth, while his colleague George Mason, in the Virginia Declaration of Rights, speaks of pursuing and obtaining happiness as a natural endowment and right.
At the end of 17th Century English philosopher John Locke declared, “business of man is to be happy,”. To be sure, he only intended that the people of his time mustn’t assume that suffering is the common man’s natural lot. He meant for people to get up and make a job of their lives and try to make it worthwhile. That is what happiness does. It make people move and experience meaningful in existence. The statement came at a time when pursuit of pleasures was sinful, enjoyment of riches was a malice, bodily joys were absolutely scorned at, even considered condemnable. John Locke meant to tell this mass that it wasn’t gluttony and greed to pursue better standards of living.
Shall we denounce those words that taught us to be brave, to appreciate logic, equality, and to work toward a better world? Absolutely not. I don’t say we stop our acts to correct what we find wrong, to build what has been left unfinished, to stop believing in the ideals of democracy, equality, logic and justice in the wake of supremacy and overpowering authority of Chance.
Through such long historical reminiscing, the conclusion is that we need a reform in our approach towards happiness. The speeches that said that anybody can hope to attain their goals is inspiring and calls people to action. However, it’s proposed that acceptance of failure should be the preamble to any pursuit. In my view, the ultimate achievement of life is self-worth and each dealing with failure should lead to its surge rather than decline.