Decoding happiness

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Decoding happiness

Sunday, 24 July 2016 | Pramod Pathak

Decoding happiness

The pursuit of happiness has been an eternal search for mankind. All human actions are directed towards achievement of the state of happiness. But before we dwell further on the subject, two questions need to be answered. One, what is happiness and second, what gives happinessIJ Maybe, the two questions are intricately linked, but without answering these talking about happiness would be futile.

Coming to the first question ‘what is happiness’, we first need to understand that the very construct is an enigma. For an infant, satisfaction of basic needs leads to a pleasurable experience. For a mother, seeing the infant pleased may give happiness.With growth and maturity, the concept of happiness undergoes a change. It is no longer about satisfaction of one, two or three needs. It is about a series of needs that keep arising one after another. And this fact answers the second question ‘what gives happiness’.

But there is another very intriguing aspect. Happiness is not an innate drive. Rather, it is a conditioned response that is learnt through the reinforcement principle. Thus, there can be individual, cultural and societal differences in both definition as well as perception of happiness. Psychologists too have given many interpretations of the term happiness but one general agreement is there about the hedonistic experience or the pleasure principle.

Western values have different connotation of happiness, while Indian interpretation is entirely different. So it is pleasure that is a determinant of happiness in Western view, whereas the Indian view talks about ananda or bliss, which is a spiritual mental state.

Naturally, happiness will be determined more by physical and material experiences in the Western viewpoint, while contentment or inner feeling will determine it in the Indian ethos. Happiness is a derived state where many factors play a role, the most important being the attitudinal disposition. The crux of happiness thus lies in the way an individual interprets experiences, both sensory as well as mental.

The important thing to understand is that happiness is both a relative as well as an absolute construct. And it is this intriguing aspect of happiness that makes it complex. Nevertheless, the quest for happiness is a continuous pursuit of human beings. The search for an elusive formula of happiness is a persistent aspect of human psychology. Thus, even though there is no definite answer as to what is happiness and what gives happiness, trial and error processes go on.

So one view suggests that it is money that gives happiness as per the World Happiness Report 2016. But there is another and equally vehement school of thought that suggests that money cannot buy happiness. Whatever may be the truth, the fact remains that happiness is the sought-after state. How to achieve that may have myriad of answers, ranging from one extreme where it is satisfaction of endless desires that keep arising one after another to the other extreme where it is the end of desire.

Either way, it is the individual whose mindset will determine what is happiness and what gives it. However, the all-important conclusion is that happiness is a transient experience and looking for eternal happiness may be an ephemeral wish. The best course is to stop looking for a formula and try to tame the mind that is the root cause of all happiness and sorrow. Researches won’t help. One only has to search within.

The writer is a professor of management and public speaker. He can be reached at

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