A good number of people when asked what their aim in life is, will say “I want to be happy”. The pursuit of happiness leads us through different paths; religion, meditation, yoga, social work, helping others, cultivating relationships, and so on. There are thousands of self-help books that claim to show you how to attain a state of happiness; clearly they don’t work because every year, more and more books on the subject still keep getting published.
There is a World Happiness Report, which is tabulated based on 7 criteria ranging from the GDP per capita to social support to freedom to make choices and so on. Finland headed the list of happy countries in 2021 followed by Denmark, while India ranked 139. This does not obviously mean that every individual in Finland or Denmark is always happy, nor does it mean that every Indian is always unhappy, but it does mean that if you live in Finland or Denmark, the chance that you will lead a happy life is more than if you live in India.
Bhutan even has a Gross National Happiness index, similar to the GDP that measures and compares the happiness levels among its citizens and then uses the data to initiate measures to improve their happiness levels. Clearly the methods used in Bhutan to determine happiness levels are very different from those used by the World Happiness Report, because in 2019, Bhutan ranked 95th in their world rankings.
Our individual pursuit of happiness is linked to our surroundings. As I had mentioned in “Interdependence” when it comes to health, “I” is a ripple in a network of networks. No individual is an island and our happiness like our health is also dependent on the people around us, our environment, the place we live in and the times we live in. Money matters too; a base level of wealth or income that takes away our need to bother about basic issues such as food, clothing, shelter and healthcare, makes a big difference to our levels of happiness.
Recently, Arthur C. Brooks in The Atlantic, published an article titled “The Seven Habits that Lead to Happiness in Old Age”, which resonates with our atmasvasth quest of “healthful ageing”. Mr. Brooks references the Harvard Grant study that has followed individuals from 1939 every few years, evaluating them on multiple parameters. Broadly, the individuals in their old age fell into two broad groups - “the happy-well” and the “sad-sick”. Seven habits cultivated through life determined in which group they were.
1. Smoking - do not smoke and if you have started, stop.
2. Alcohol - minimal to no drinking.
4. Physical activity - movement in any form being the best pill available to stay healthy.
5. Practicing and developing coping mechanisms - learning how to manage the pushes and pulls of life, whether through meditation or other methods.
6. Continuous learning - there is no short-cut. Whether it is continuous learning in the field you are in, or developing new skills, learning engages the mind and body both.
7. Cultivating stable, long-term relationships - spouse, friends and family.
The first four are important for a long healthspan and being physically healthy as if we have already seen multiple times over. The next three are important for our mental health, which in turn is tied to our physical health. “A healthy mind in a healthy body” is an oft-repeated quote, which is so true. One does not occur without the other and both, physical health and mental health are needed to be happy.
So many of us spend so much time, energy, effort and money in our pursuit of happiness when the solution perhaps may not be all that complex. We need to follow the basic principles of staying healthy while keeping our mind engaged and sharing our lives with our spouse, friends and family. The earlier you start, like with any investment, the bigger will be the payout as you grow old.
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