05 Sep Whither happiness?
5 Sep, 2007, 0048 hrs IST,R D Kewalramani,
Some time back I attended a lecture by the Bhutanese ambassador in New Delhi on ê¢__‘–Window on Bhutan”. “The approach of the government of Bhutan towards development was to balance the creation of material wealth and the spiritual, cultural and social needs of the society,” the ambassador said.
They aimed at maximising happiness. Happiness is a journey, not a destination. To westerners, happiness means “improved quality of life”, as per the Millennium Development Goal set by the UN agencies. But this is a limited view.
In our childhood, our parents advised us not to express too much joy or too much sorrow so as to maintain mental equilibrium. In ancient Greece such persons were called stoics.
Some people complain – A is rich, B is rich; why I cannot be rich? This is a logical fallacy where the axiom is to draw conclusions from the general, and not the particular. Why do they not say X, Y, and Z are poor? Why do they not say, “I am slightly better off.” Dale Carnegie speaks of a person who wept because he had no shoes, till he saw a person who had no feet. Comparison with others can be dangerous. A positive approach gives us strength to overcome unpleasant events.
As I have stated above, Bhutan has identified four major pillars of gross national happiness. These are economic growth and development, preservation and promotion of cultural heritage, sustainable use of the environment, and good governance.
The British define a “gentleman” as one who can pay his bills in time. The saner view seems to be: The secret of happiness may ultimately lie in contentment, a life in harmony with nature and to treat birds and beasts, trees and flowers as our friends and benefactors.
Some writers say contentment tends to stifle productive enterprise and force society to stagnate. This is only partly true. In the ultimate analysis happiness works best as the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow that everyone strives towards but never achieves.
Let me conclude with the sage exhortation of William Makepeace Thackeray (1811-1863).
“Ah! Vanitas Vanitatum! Which of us is happy in this world? Which of us has his desire? Or having it, is satisfied? – Come, children, let us shut up the box and the puppets, for our play is played out.”
Suffering and anger are born out of attachment. The same idea is expressed in the Four Truths of the Buddha, founder of Buddhism in the 4th Century BC.