Thursday, August 18, 2016

A theory of Happiness

(First of all, the usual disclaimer and apologies. I haven't been able to update this blog in a long long time, mainly because I haven't felt the mood to do so. I need to be in a certain mood to write here, a brooding, dark mood, and lately my mood has been pretty happy. Hence, I have stayed away from here, but today I've just discovered the correct, sad mood which makes me write here, and hence I am back. Which, kind of ironically, is about happiness.)

We are all looking for happiness. However, we rarely know what it is. Or where to look for it? And even more scarier, how to look for it? Is it even a thing, some might ask? Or is it a particular mood, which can only stay for a while.

Buddha had a view about it. He believed that happiness was the absence of sorrow. And he came up with a view to end sorrow, about how desire caused sorrow and how the way to end sorrow was to end desire. Because desire made people sad. No, scrap that. Desire does not make people sad, but the inability to get what they desire is what makes people sad. Because people tend to internalize their inability to get what they desire, and start finding fault in themselves for not making their target. And so Buddha tried to get to the root cause of it, telling people about the way to end desire. The eight fold meditation path - which doesn't make much sense, and Buddha didn't really make his mark in the materialistic world. Is it so easy to end desire in the materialistic world? So maybe what Buddha told us was to just be happy with what you have, and not really care about anything else. Which makes sense, but it is not happiness. It is peace he is talking about. Happiness makes you feel alive, peace just makes you feel contented. And hence, once you have peace, you don't care much about happiness or sorrow. Because you are at peace. But if you are at peace, you don't achieve anything much either, and hence you stop evolving. Think Buddha, think the Dude in Big Lebowski. Yes, you will enjoy life, and do the things that you want to do, and your peaceful state would work for you. But it might not work for the world in a whole, because the world wants you to achieve something.

And to achieve something, you need a goal. Or a desire. For we are humans, and goals are what push us. And you make efforts to achieve that goal. Now the Gita says, that "
Karmaṇyēvādhikārastē mā phalēṣu kadācana, mā karmaphalahēturbhūrmā tē saṅgō'stvakarmaṇi" which roughly translated means, do the action, but don't care about the end result. But then, how is this humanly possible, you might ask? What is the point of action if you don;t get the result. Why desire anything then, and if you don;t get your goal despite trying your best, isn't it your fault? How do you aspire yourself for something, and give your best, but how do you save yourself from the sorrow you get from not getting your goal despite giving your best? The Gita offers a solution. It tells you to make your full effort, and if you get your goal, then nothing like it, but if it does not, you take it as God's will, and try for another goal. And so on, till finally, you come to a point where you realize that this entire cycle of desires is useless, and that is the moment you find Moksha. Which is same as the state that Buddha wants you to be in. But this too has a problem, for in today's world, who believes in God? Is there even a God, and even if there is, does he have time to micromanage each part of our life, and to see if and when we achieve our goal? Obviously, maybe in Mahabharat times. when we had less population, it was still possible, but I don't think God has that much time to do it now, that is, if there is a God in the first place. 
So, enter probability. Probability explains everything in nature, and it kind of explains happiness as well. So, when you set a goal, you have an inherent probability to achieve it. This goal can be anything - an entrance exam, your dream college, relationship with someone special or that Olympic gold. All you have is a starting probability (P1)  to achieve it - for example, if you are an intelligent person who loves science, you will have a higher starting probability to crack IIT-JEE. But then you can influence the probability as well, and through your hard work, take your starting probability to a higher point. Let's call it your final probability (or P2). Hence, a hard working, slightly dumber guy might have a higher chance to crack JEE than a brilliant, lazy guy. However, it is interesting to see how probability works. The chance of the outcome depends on the probability, but the actual outcome is independent of the probability. Hence, a brilliant, hardworking guy might have a .99 probability of cracking JEE, but he still not might make it, while a lazy, slightly dumber guy might have a .01 probability of craking it, and might end up in top 100. This is where the outside luck comes in, which is out of anyone's control. However, what you have in your control is probability, and if your luck stays, you will be able to achieve your goal with the correct hard work and starting probability.

What does this have to do with happiness you might say? A lot, I would say. Once you understand that all you have in your control is the probability of the outcome and not the actual outcome, you will automatically act for increasing the probability. However, because the outcome is never in your hand, you don't have to internalize the feeling of not being good enough if you don't achieve something. And with this thought in mind, just the feeling of giving it your best shot is enough to make you happy. And it does. Even if you fail in the ultimate objective of the goal. Because the effort you have made would more or less make you a better person, and that in itself is a byproduct and the way to be happy. And if you do get your goal, well you will be happy nonetheless.

A word of caution  here though: Your desires are often overrated. Most people tend to overemphasize things they have failed in, and try to think of possible scenarios in which their life would be "set". Life is never set though, life is always a bitch, and you will need new goals once you have found your old goals. But once you believe in probability, you will start seeing light. Basically, from where I am, the theory of happiness is simple. Make yourself a better person, increase your probability to achieve anything, and don't worry about the result - because life is never set. You will get an alternate plan soon to be happy, and find happiness.

Getting your goal would give you the best happiness you can get, but if you believe in probability, you will find your peace even when you fail. And I should know, for I fail a lot. And today, I probably failed the most majestically, without even a slight whimper. After the kind of effort which a lazy person like me has never made. And right now I should be really sad, and a part of me is, but mostly I am at peace. For I am a better person today than I was eight months back. And that in itself gives me cause to smile, even though I have kind of a feeling of being the biggest loser somewhere in the back of my mind. And I think that's what happiness is all about. That's my happiness theory anyway. And may the force be with you as well.


Paresh Goyal said...

Interesting perspective. If I understand correct, what you are saying is that one needs to first have a goal - if one succeeds, then it leads to happiness and if one fails, then one should accept it as such and move on instead of questioning one's abilities etc. and that will help prevent sorrow, thereby leading to happiness. Isn't that just saying that one who can easily move on from a failure to achieve a goal will be happy?

The way to do so is to try and increase the probability (controlled aspect) of achieving it and if one does not succeed, blame the failure on luck (uncontrolled aspect) and then look for another goal. What if the reason for failure is not the luck portion of it but rather that one did not increase the probability to the extent one could have and actually, it may have worked. e.g. if one could have put in more hours, they may have been able to increase the probability from P2 to P3 and that actually may have led to success.

Have a differing perspective that I thought I would share and get your thoughts on, as you seem to have put in a lot of thought into it. Happiness for different people comes from different things - you may say different goals or desires for lack of better words. Even though this is a very individualistic concept, most people use what is commonly accepted as source of happiness to define their own. Hence, leads to sorrow. If one is able to define what drives one's happiness (no easy task), then it becomes a problem about what is controllable to achieve versus not. if one only bothers about what is controllable and stops worrying about what is not, it simplifies things and makes it easier to try and achieve those key goals/desires and if one is unable to, then again is is easier to figure out whether it was because of the controllable or uncontrollable.

This has turned out to be a longer comment than I initially intended it to be :)

Interesting post and definitely food for thought!


zubin said...

@Paresh: Thanks for the comment. I am not saying one needs to have a goal, I am saying goals are needed for doing something. You might decide goals are not for you, and just exist in the present, and if you can do that, nothing like it. But if everyone was to do that, we will all be like the Dude in Big Lebowski, and the modern, capitalistic, materialistic world would not allow that to happen, for it fosters on competition. But if you want to survive in this competitive world, maybe the way to do it is to know the controllable and uncontrollable. And then give it your all, while knowing even then that you all might not be enough. And you are right, if you did not put in your best effort, you have plenty of concern for regret. But if you give it your best shot, you just accept the result and move on. To a new goal.

Anonymous said...

I like how you talked about something we are familiar with and then making it into something we could relate. Well what I have concluded from my experience in life is this:
It's all relative. One with respect to the other.
Just think about it. Would there have been any good in the absence of bad? Similarly, happiness without sorrow leaves us with nothingness, a place where our mind is able to wonder anywhere, not a state of peace if you ask me, catastrophic is the term. Because no matter how hard we try we can't control our thoughts, not yet.
Have you realised how thoughtless we are when we are truly happy or in deep sorrow? That is peace if you ask me. Peace of mind. So emotion is very important for survival. And happiness and sorrow are emotions. One without another is impossible. So when you are sad, yell ! Cry! But don't let it crawl at the back of your head for the rest of your life. Get it out of your system. Everyone is a failure. It's just that what is failure for one, might be an achievement for others. Again something relative. I know it sounds like a cliché, but happiness and sorrow just like anything else per se are two sides of the same coin.

zubin said...

@Anon: Thanks. And true, it's all relative. And I also agree - we cannot realize we can be happy unless we are sad. And also the fact about everyone is a failure. It's all relative as you say. But that nothingness is what Buddha was after. For that nothingness makes you unflinching, and like Kipling says, makes you treat those two impostors just the same. And while it;s an interesting food for thought, there might not be much difference between a state of ecstasy and state of despair. Which makes you wonder - why do anything? :D

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