I recently read a news item on the World happiness report, which ranks countries based on their happiness index. Denmark and other Scandinavian countries rank right on top while Singapore is at a decent number 30 and India is way below at number 111 on the happiness index. I skimmed through the report (I would like to read the report at length some day), but the news item set me thinking. What is happiness? We will all agree it is a very elusive emotion, ephemeral at best, but still something we all strive for. When you are asked to define happiness, you are at a loss- it is different things to different people: for me sitting in peace in my garden in the morning with my glass of freshly squeezed juice and solving the morning’s difficult Sudoku is happiness; seeing my children in good physical and mental health going about their daily business to the best of their abilities is happiness; playing with my silly, goofy dog is happiness; seeing a lovely piece of art is happiness; seeing a writhing mass of vegetable waste turn into lovely smelling compost is happiness; driving through the mountainous regions of Bali admiring the landscape is happiness; being able to do a particularly difficult Bakasana (crane pose) posture in Yoga is happiness; watching a beautiful Bharatanatyam performance is happiness and if that performance is by my daughter, it is even more happiness!
Harvard psychology professor Daniel Gilbert who has explored the nature of happiness in his book, “Stumbling on Happiness” says, “For me, happiness is substantially just an emotional experience. It’s a feeling. It’s a feeling that’s common to lots of different experiences. When we taste chocolate. When we see our granddaughter smile for the first time. When we solve a crossword puzzle. These are all very different experiences. But they have something in common. I think that thing they have in common is that feeling we call happiness.” Psychologist Ed Diener, author of “Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth”, describes what psychologists call “subjective well-being” as a combination of life satisfaction and having more positive emotions than negative emotions. Martin Seligman, one of the leading researchers in positive psychology and author of “Authentic Happiness”, describes happiness as having three parts: pleasure, engagement, and meaning. Pleasure is the “feel good” part of happiness. Engagement refers to living a “good life” of work, family, friends, and hobbies. Meaning refers to using our strengths to contribute to a larger purpose.