By Roli S
If I begin to rummage through book shops and libraries, I am likely to find more books analysing the subject of ‘happiness’ than probably any other sentiment. ‘Happiness’ has been explored in the scientific world as well outside of it by many brilliant minds. Outside of the scientific world, happiness is defined as a mixture of positive emotional experiences and a deeper sense of meaning and purpose in life. Happiness is not only a state where we experience personal positive emotions like contentment, ease, or joy; it is also an experience of pro-social positive emotions that give us a greater sense of meaning—emotions like connectedness, gratitude, and compassion.
Attaining happiness is a global pursuit. Researchers find that people from every corner of the world rate happiness more important than other desirable personal outcomes, such as obtaining wealth, acquiring material goods, attaining ‘Nirvana’, etc.
When the pandemic started last year and gripped the whole world, the “International Happiness Day” that is celebrated on 20th March every year, came as a bit of an eye opener. How could one even think of being happy when the whole world was falling apart under the onslaught of the Corona Virus? What good was an “International Happiness Day” anyway? Why should anyone be happy?
More than a year has passed since the start of the Pandemic and here we are celebrating “International Happiness Day” on 20th March again. So, has the idea of happiness changed all over the world in the last one year? Has this pandemic given us reasons to be happy in any way?
I think this past year has been a learning trajectory for most of the people of this world. There is the realisation that happiness is not just bouncing from one joy to the next, but achieving happiness typically involves times of considerable discomfort. People have realised that happiness incorporates curiosity, and the ability to tolerate risk and anxiety to discover new passions and facets of identity. It also involves a balance between momentary pleasure and being patient to strive for longer-term goals. People have also appreciated the fact that friends and family are needed not so much in times of celebration but more during hardships and adversities. Happiness actually means the ability to acknowledge and embrace every emotion, even the unpleasant ones. It involves seeing the big picture, rather than getting stuck in the details. Overall happiness means to live with mindfulness, meaning, and purpose.
Happiness does not mean quick fixes like tasty treats or luxury purchases. It also does not mean pinning all hopes on milestones like getting married, gaining fame, or becoming wealthy, etc. Lasting happiness will only occur when we invest in meaningful goals, relationships, and values, and develop skills to overcome distress.
So, now the question is how could we really find happiness in hardship? How is it possible? I think that reigniting the flame of humanity and goodwill inside people all over the world has definitely made them happier in the past year. The images and stories of generosity, caring and helping others have never been so important. Ordinary people everywhere have risen to the challenge, and the response has been heartwarming. Volunteers working tirelessly day-and-night to help vulnerable people like migrant workers, housewives making masks and distributing them for free, volunteers making low cost meals for the homeless and people stranded on roads, or simply bringing joy into the lives of others by posting entertaining videos; fundraising efforts by organisations; generous philanthropists donating money, and health workers risking their lives to save others. These gestures and efforts have warmed many hearts with hope and happiness.
Besides, this last year has also made us realise that happiness can be achieved if we keep our spirits high. Because of the adaptability and resilience shown by people in all walks of life during the pandemic, many clubs or events that would have been closed otherwise kept operating online; international conferences have been held online. People are learning new skills; many industries, from TV to sport, have adjusted and found ways of working under social distancing rules. The resilience demonstrated in the coronavirus response shows us we are capable of anything and will always find ways to be happy. This will be necessary for our survival, because according to Charles Darwin, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent; it is the one most adaptable to change.”
Nowadays, our fast-paced world rarely stops, and a chance to reflect can be invaluable. Peace is an often sought after commodity and, during the pandemic people, have realised that happiness can be found in tranquility and calm, as lockdown days rolled on. I personally feel that I can call the year 2020 the “sunshine through my window” and “bird song” year. A reminder of the life force of our planet, and the importance of stopping to feel, look and listen. This has made me very happy.
Although meetings in person have been a near-impossibility due to virus spreading, there is a newfound sense of togetherness which has infected people across the world. It is amazing to see the power of technology that unites us – video calls/ conferences, live broadcasts and many more have allowed new friendships to form over the internet, new organisations and ways of working have sprung up. People everywhere have learnt new skills – corona virus and technology have united us so we can learn, laugh, and help others and be happy, even in difficult times. After all, happiness is not found always in quick fixes and easy deals.
The “International Happiness Day” this year is important in many ways than one, because this will be celebrated by people appreciating the real meaning of happiness. People in our country and around the world have acknowledged that the answer to finding happiness lies in looking around us and accepting what we cannot control, finding joy in simple things, adapting to the situation and making change where we can. With happiness and hope we are stronger; we can have fun, help others and ourselves and champion for a better world.
(Roli S is an Educator, Teacher Trainer, Author and School Reviewer based in Thane.)