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Happiness- that very elusive emotion

With the happy, goofy dog

With the happy, goofy dog

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.


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Renuka Vaidyanathan, an erstwhile finance professional, opted out of the corporate rat race and now likes to think that she wears many interesting hats. She is an events’ organiser in the cultural space and also writes every now and then about people, places and events. She is an avid advocate of 'green living' and dabbles in some sitar-playing as well, albeit as an amateur.

3 thoughts on “Happiness- that very elusive emotion

  1. Sukanya Badri

    From my various interactions with Danes, I believe they are less complicated and more simple and direct in nature. When dealing with them, expectations are clearly set, and all you have to do is meet them and you are on! No need to go beyond your brief all the time, no need to throw in a superlative performance – just the basic commitment will do on the average, but on time and well done for sure. I believe this approach to life makes them easily satisfied and therefore happy and content. Living in a society that is well-supported by the Government is a contributory factor – but we cannot forget the insanely high taxation rate and the cost of living that also accompany this degree of comfort. Besides, the living conditions there are tough e.g. the weather that is, at best, cool for a few weeks in a year and horridly chilly and cold for most parts. Danes like to enjoy life whenever the chance arises – take frequent vacations, enjoy family time (many have 3-4 children:-)); are fitness freaks – this is one country where a good chunk of the population ‘runs’. Its a lovely sight to see in Copenhagen scores of cyclists pedalling away to work..The country is small (population equivalent to maybe one large metro in India) but their business reach is far and quite successful and many top global companies are Danish (Lego toys for one) – amazing for such a small nation.

    Denmark maybe an example of developed country where the system is well-functioning and people’s expectations are different, but the example they set is worth admiring and maybe emulating in some parts!


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