Measuring Happiness

By Ashwini Mokashi ©

Today is the International Day of Happiness, celebrated each year on March 20th. In the current circumstances of the fear of coronavirus, curfews and social distancing, working or schooling from home – being happy seems like a far-stretch. But perhaps it will help, if we know the idea of Happiness, as seen in the Gita and the Stoicism, how we can still try to keep ourselves balanced, equanimous and therefore happy in these circumstances. The answer lies in how we measure happiness.

So how do we measure happiness? We frequently talk about how we are feeling, whether we are feeling good or not so good, happy or unhappy. So, if we were to chart a criteria of Happiness, that will meet the conditions set by the Bhagavad-Gita or the Stoics, they would look like this, with 1 being least happy and 5 being most happy:

  1. Seriously Unhappy
  2. Somewhat Unhappy
  3. Balanced
  4. Somewhat Happy
  5. Super Happy

The first state of being ‘seriously unhappy’ would refer to being grief-stricken, suffering a major loss like losing a loved one or losing one’s financial support, resulting into not being able to function and be close to inaction as a result of too much emotional burden.

The second state of being ‘somewhat unhappy’ would refer to the state of being irritated, annoyed, not being happy with someone or something. Some examples would be like the phone is not working, or some software is malfunctioning, or getting a bad feedback at work, or feeling criticized.

The third state of being ‘balanced’ would refer to our day-to-day state of focusing on our duties, on our work without being perturbed by any distractions.

The fourth state of being ‘Somewhat Happy’ would refer to being excited about some event, looking forward to seeing someone, expecting a news of a benefit, just feeling chipper.

The fifth state of being ‘Super Happy’ would refer to the kind of joy that one feels only once in a blue moon, like the birth of a baby, getting the first job, falling in love and being reciprocated, winning a million dollar lottery while being unemployed.

Definition of being Happy

When we say we do not feel so happy today, we are basically saying to ourselves that I have a definition of what it means to be happy and that definition is not being matched by my current circumstances or by my current state of mind. Hence, I am not happy. The conclusion makes one even more unhappy.

So, what is our definition of being happy? Maybe we are expecting some good news and that is not coming soon enough. Maybe we are expecting some bad situation to go away, and that is not happening soon enough. Maybe we are irritated, and the irritation is not magically disappearing. There can be several reasons, why there is a mismatch between our current mental state and our definition of happiness.

So, the logical solution would be to bring our mental state and our situation to align themselves, or to change our definition of where we want to be now. For example, we can change our definition of what level of happiness we want, or we can look at our current mental state as fine. The Bhagavad-Gita aims at the state of happiness, which is known as a stable state of mind, equanimous to gains and losses, pleasure and pain.

Now the Gita, like the Stoics aims at # 3 for their definition of a happy person. If we are at # 1 or # 5, then we are not stable. Whether we are grief-stricken due to some loss, or whether we are excited about having won some lottery. These events happen once in a blue moon in our lives. Sometimes they can happen in a shorter period of time, but the point is if you measure life of a hundred years and you look at your major losses or major gains in one’s life, statistically they do not happen every day, every month, or every year. Like for example, we lose our parents only twice in our lives. Or we have kids on average only twice in our lives. So the major gains or losses, if we see them as the birth of one’s kids or loss of both our parents would only happen two times over a hundred year period. Not to mention, losses are inevitable, so they do not come as surprises.

In the current times of staying home or working from home due to social distancing, if we could muster our courage to keep our daily life going, be equanimous to the bad news and be grateful for being safe, it is still a sign of being balanced and being happy. That thought will help us stay content with our lives.

Keep Well and Stay Balanced!

Published by ashwinimokashi

Ashwini Mokashi's book 'Sapiens and Sthitaprajna' is on Comparative Philosophy on the concept of the wise person in Stoic Seneca and the Gita. The book talks about how wisdom leads to happiness. This book is now also recognized by the American Philosophical Practitioners Association from New York. Her next book, a work in progress, is an account of a meditational community in India. Her broad interest is in synthesizing wisdom from various ancient traditions in the context of modern challenges.

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