Sunday, October 10, 2010

In Pursuit of Happiness

Wealth and Happiness Graph
The desire for happiness is widespread amongst humans. A misunderstanding about how that happiness is to be achieved is equally widespread. It appears that humans do not fully understand the mechanism for the production of happiness.

Humans do know that a sensuous spicy meal, a breathtaking sexual experience, a binge drink of good champagne, a sudden appreciation of the look of awe on the faces of friends and acquaintances by a flashy car or a swanky apartment produces a sudden surge of Joy. But they are also aware (or become aware of it sooner rather than later) that this sort of joy does not last very long. It is followed by depression in the very least or pain in severer cases. Therefore some possibly wiser humans seek and cultivate other more durable avenues for happiness such as philanthropic pursuits to add happiness in the life of others that just reflects back on them, learning to commune with nature or finding and spending life in the companionship of a lover. The former are probably more faithful pursuits and longer lasting.

Most humans know that a shortage of essentials such as food or shelter produces unhappiness and these things are procured by money. Therefore, the pursuit of money is as widespread as the pursuit of sex because it is something one might catch whereas happiness is too abstract a thing to catch directly. However, what humans do not realize is that it is only up to a point that money increases happiness. Beyond that the graph takes a dip, and one begins to lose happiness as money increases. The dip point is different for different individuals and primarily depends on how a person views and treats the acquired wealth. In case a human is wise enough to realize that such a dip point exists, human ego makes those in pursuit of wealth believe that they can keep the dip point at bay or shift it at will. The following short story tells more


A Cottage for Linda


Linda's Cottage

Once lived a handsome lad - Harry - in rural Kansas who loved a beautiful rural lass – Linda - in the neighborhood. They had known each other ever since they were old enough to know the difference between boys and girls . After school the lad realized that a rural life is hard and decided to better his prospects by going in for higher education to New York. He had the best grades in high school and therefore he was sure of not just admission but even a scholarship in the best universities. Subsequent to university he became a marketing executive for a Shoe Company,  eventually acquiring ownership of the business. Thus in a period of about ten years Harry became very rich, a bit bald from the stress of business and a bit rotund from slouching in front of the TV every evening with a beer. This last was necessary to get over the stress of the day and get sound sleep in order to be ready for another day to conquer the business world. He had enough money to call up escort services on weekends and was able to have occasional flings with secretaries and other city girls who were impressed with his wealth and his beautiful apartment.

Harry however was a wise man now and realized soon enough that his life in rural Kansas was far happier and that the time he had spent with Linda in the countryside real quality time. Realising that he now had enough money to quit city life and return to his roots, he sold off his assets in the city and called up folks back home to announce that he was returning. He could not get in touch with Linda because he had not called her for the last few years and did not have her most recent number. Apparently, her only relation, her dad, had moved on to the other world and the earlier number belonged to the dad. This story predates the email era otherwise Harry would have darted off an email too.

To be frank, Harry did not try hard enough to contact Linda before returning. First was the guilt of not having done that for years now and he felt that it would be best to surprise her with pretty gifts and make up to her for the lost years. He never doubted the fact that she would be there in the village as always and love him as she had always done, such a consistent and faithful sort of lass she was. An old school mate from the village had confirmed over a hurried phone conversation that she still lived in the same village cottage because her dad had left it to her.

Soon after returning to his home in the village, the first thing Harry did was to check up on Linda. He wanted to tell her that he still loved her. He walked up to her two room cottage. It had been expanded towards the back now and there were many flowers growing in the yard, a few almond trees in blossom and a large chestnut tree that shaded the area behind the cottage. A broad unpaved but pebbled path led up to the front door. He had brought with him a large bunch of the finest silk flowers from Macey’s along with a huge box of the most sensuous and heavenly chocolates available in Manhattan from a well known Swiss Chocolate Shop on fifth avenue. Linda spotted Harry at the gate and ran out to receive him. Harry hugged her and proceeded to kiss her as he used to always but she freed herself from his grasp and backed away,

“ Harry, I am married now,” said Linda showing him the cheap yet pretty paste ring on her finger

“ How come!? ” Harry was taken aback.

“ After dad left I was lonely and John next door proposed. I know he is a bit bow legged but he is such a gentle fellow and so handsome in a rough country sort of way! and we have been so happy together. Our farms have been merged now so we are better of and happier. We moved into my cottage because it was better than his shack. We have converted it into a barn for the cows now. His mother came in with him too but she left this world last year. I miss her. She was a sweet lady, although mind you she talked too much, too often, even to herself."

Linda continued as Harry stood in silence,

"You know money is so important to be happy. I have heard that you have piles and piles of it. Good for you. Perhaps I should have married you instead but you never proposed, it is too late now and John is really a wonderful and loving husband. We even have two little kids. They are getting to be a bit too cheerful and boisterous now for visitors. Presently they are off to playschool. They should be here anytime now, in the meantime I shall brew a nice cup of coffee for you, just the way you used to like it”

“No thanks, not in the mood for coffee today,” said Harry as he left the flowers and chocolates on the front porch and turned to leave.

As harry walked with heavy steps towards the rickety wooden gate he was left wondering, "why is that Linda had all the happiness when he had all the money?"



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I chose America as the background to the story because although there are readers to this blog from all parts of the world most are from America. This story is fiction. Real life may be different. I was wondering if Harry did anything wrong to deserve his fate. However, the pursuit of things that matter for human success does often leads humans to do things that compromise peace and happiness. It has been so since the beginning.

18 comments:

keiko amano said...

Ashok,

In fiction, anything can be possible. But we'd like to be convinced of the reason that the successful marketing executive didn't do enough homework, research, a few phone calls and visits to Linda and actually talk and show his love to her and so on before he quit his work and go ask her to marry(?) him. It's crazy, but I guess good fiction writers can write it as a believable story. Many adults act like kids sometimes.

But this is not your point, I think. I don't have anything to say about your religion, but I have on the story of Harry and Linda, so I wrote my comment. I hope it's okay.

Also, John didn't say "No thanks.." for coffee. But Harry said that. Right? Otherwise, John will be fighting with Harry. That part didn't make sense to me.

keiko amano said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ashok said...

Welcome back to the blog Keiko. I shall correct that mix up about John and Harry. Harry did not make any serious attempts to call up Linda in advance because he was a bit embarrased about neglecting to do that earlier and felt that a surprise would be best.

Keiko I do not have any religion now but take what appeals to me at any given time from any religion. I think I have grown beyong being loyal to any one religion. Those are man made things whereas true spirituality whatever it is, must be same all over the universe not just our world. Different religions contain parts of that true and universal spirituality therefore I refer to them all and take whatever portion appeals to me.

Rebb said...

Ashok, I like what you show through your story and I tend to agree on your points about happiness. It’s interesting too that in nature there are not many animals that are monogamous. The only one I can think of—and I’m sure there are others—is the Canadian Geese. I understand they do tend to stick with one mate for life.

I give my love to the Universe—and I’m glad to learn of Goddess Kushmanda for today.

Hayden said...

DNA research has put the lie to many animals and birds thought to be monogamous as humans think of it. We know now that they mate for life and within that bond raise young together, but the young are not inevitably the offspring of the male in the arrangement.

Does it matter?

We write the rules of "reality" that decides why monogamy matters (survival of genes is a human concept, a story that helps us make sense of the world, not an absolute truth)

For myself, I enjoy THIS world, with the pleasures it offers for the senses as well as the intellect and emotion. I see no reason to discard some portion of this world as less suitable because I am not successful in creating happiness from it.

Perhaps the experience of joy and ecstasy is enough. Perhaps its not important that it remain, only that it be experienced with these human forms that we've been given for this life.

ashok said...

Welcome back Rebb

Looks like you have been very busy with your writing classes too.

Hayden, I too to go for the joys of the world as one of the nicer things to do when life is getting too mundane while realising as in this post that it is not any sustainable happiness - yet such experiences too have great value in that they provide an opportunity to reset matters, get out of prevalent frames of mind that can be obsessive on occassions, and humans need that too time and again through their lives.

The purpose of this post is not to say that such moments of joy have no value but to remove the confusion that they are happiness in themselves.

Vincent said...

I don't disagree with your set of life values, Ashok. I think we have the same general outlook. But I did find myself strongly opposed to the idea of judging what's good for other people, and what's not.

To me it's ten times more important to respect others and trust their choices, than to "seek and cultivate other more durable avenues for happiness".

If I think my happiness in life comes from money, power, sex and drugs, I could be right. For I may find fulfilment in these things; and through these things I may best pay my dues to the world. I may be good at earning money, exercising power, spreading my seed far and wide. And I may use alcohol and drugs for recreation and respite from my busy lifestyle.

I might argue that when you say "this sort of joy does not last very long" you are just envious of my flashy car and swanky apartment. You are waiting for me to be miserable. That is not charitable of you!

Seriously though, I take the view that a "spiritual path" is pursued by those who find that it suits them. That doesn't mean it will suit everyone. It also doesn't mean that the spiritual person is in any way superior to anyone else.

And I'm convinced that one person's idea of happiness is as good as anyone else's.

Vincent said...
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ashok said...

"But I did find myself strongly opposed to the idea of judging what's good for other people, and what's not."

Did I judge someone Vincent? My entire article is a general one for all of humanity especially myself, and does not judge any individual.

" To me it's ten times more important to respect others and trust their choices"

Since the article is from my experience directed mostly at muself kindly permit me to respect my own choices. Certainly if anyone else wishes to benifit from that experience that is great. That is why it is written in the blog, otherwise I could have kept the knowledge to myself.

I think, perhaps it is because of some of your earlier Christian influences I suspect dear Vincent that you have a great fear that you are being told something to do. It is not so here. It is upto everyone to do as they like. That is their individual freedom granted by the universe and who am I to interefere with that. I object to your presumption to the contrary.

On the other hand It is my freedom, to tell about a nice flavor of icecream when I find it ( e.g.butterscotch) or about a nice place (e.g. Nainital) or about a nice way to find happiness (e.g. this post). It certainly does not mean that they must like that flavor, place or method or have to follow it.
contd --next comment

ashok said...

"If I think my happiness in life comes from money, power, sex and drugs, I could be right"

In my opinion and experience you would be dead wrong there. Those thinngs can give temporary joy no long lasting happiness. Once again it upto you to continue with your belief, I am just voicing mine.

"I might argue that when you say "this sort of joy does not last very long" you are just envious of my flashy car and swanky apartment. You are waiting for me to be miserable. That is not charitable of you!"

Once again the reference to the swanky car, apartment etc. is directed more to myself than anyone else ( those are things I have pursued and enjoyed) so question of being envious of myself does not arrive. May I say that envy and jealousy are some of human weaknesses that I have been fortunately and delightfully free of all my life so far with the Grace of the Universe.


Since such things do not produce happiness in my view there is no question of waiting for someone to be miserable. That is a very uncharitable reamrk or suggestion on your part dear Vincent.

"Seriously though, I take the view that a "spiritual path" is pursued by those who find that it suits them. That doesn't mean it will suit everyone."

There I have found something to fully agree with you there. The spiritual path must vary from individual to individual just as the best food varies from individual to individual. Every soul is unique.

There is some common ground though in different foods such as cyanide is poison for all humans ( none has been discoverd as immune to it) and there are common areas in spiritual development such as lying, stealing and violence is bad in all such paths ( though how bad does vary with individual and situation such as stealing of food by a hungry man is not that bad)

Therefore, Your responses could be viewed as misleading others from the path towards evolution and happiness as a faithful agent of the devil :-)

contd---- next comment

ashok said...

"It also doesn't mean that the spiritual person is in any way superior to anyone else."

Since all life, even plant life is spiritual, I presume what you imly is :

"It also doesn't mean that the (more )spiritual (a)person is (the more superior) ---- "

I diagree with the suggestion of any person being superior to anyone else. All life from the bacteria to snails, humans, angels are equal in the eyes of the Universe. All are its offsprings.

If you meant, that a person who is more spiritually evolved is happier, more knowledgeable, with greate abilities and greater freeedoms, that is something that might be true but with many exceptions and qualifications to it.

"And I'm convinced that one person's idea of happiness is as good as anyone else's."

That is utterly false dear Vincent. Some have a far superior knowledge of it than others.

ashok said...

Seriously,Vincent, this is my opinion, you seem to be mislead to think that a flashy car or swanky apartment produces happiness and the reverse misery. I do realise that a lot of people think that way in todays materialistic world though, but a lot of people are not that happy either.

I have a very rich neighbor who got that swanky- flashy car and apartment and got into trouble because of it. He said that the only pleasure from it was a very brief one of impressing others but it got him in trouble with robbers, tax persons, envy of some, rage on the road from scratches etc. etc.. He now has a simple sturdy car and is far happier because of it and he is exploring the possibility of an apartment that is simple but comfortable with lots of sunshine, fresh air and greenery around it. With experience he has discovered where greater happiness lies.

Vincent said...

Well, thanks for the lengthy responses Ashok. I ought to feel guilty for prompting them and putting you to so much trouble. I don't actually think that the nice car etc bring happiness, but if they were detrimental to happiness in themselves I hardly see how their production could be a commercial proposition. Certainly if you have a very expensive car, it puts you to the trouble of protecting it from various types of attack and not everyone can afford that!

I guess I was just lazy, using your fine post to try and tag on my own viewpoint. If I were less lazy, I might try and justify my viewpoint as a separate piece. Please accept my shamed apology, dear Ashok. I hope you have not taken offence too much.

ashok said...

Absolutely no offence Vincent. It is contentions like yours that make the blog come alive but I felt the lenghty responses were necessary for others who might read the blog. I have a group of dedicated readers who read it with interest but do not comment

Humans though would continue to be enamored by many material pleasures that the world can offer and therefore the production of beautiful cars will continue , yet there will be some who will move on to other pleaures that this universe has to offer and hopefully derive greater happiness as a result.

Hayden said...

I wonder about the presumption that all humans seek happiness. What puzzles me about this is that it is a very language-based assumption, and it's not clear to me that our limited range of expression hasn't led us to believing it.

As I recollect, happiness in ancient Athens was thought to be connected to being part of the political hub - to be part of the (often contentious) group of citizens who decided the actions of the City.

Happiness in the ancient Norse world was to be in battle and die there, where one could quickly move on to Valhalla. There was no worse fortune than to die peacefully at home of age or sickness with ones' family around them.

My point being that culture defines happiness far more than we give it credit.

For myself, were I wealthy enough to never lift my hand again, but condemned to a standard routine of peaceful activities, I would explode with rage at my boredom, no matter how 'charming' those activities were. For me there is no happiness without learning/exploring, and the inconveniences/pain of adventure are no barrier to happiness.

I also know that this is NOT the standard recipe for happiness here in the US.

It seems to me that there is a great range of behaviors and activities that can potentially lead to happiness, and while many of them are culturally driven others are due to temperament.

ashok said...

Absolutely agree with you Hayden that activities are temprament driven (some of that temprament influenced by culture). What makes a person most happy varies from individual to individual although there is much common ground too, such as physical pain making most unhappy and a nice cool drink when thirsty making most happy etc. just to cite a few examples.

I think in highly consumer driven economies such as the US and now also increasingly other parts of world the industry tries to control the act. The sole motive of most industry is to make profit and not to increase happiness of the consumer or even themselves( the share holders, board, ceo etc.). To make this profit they have to sell a product or service and that needs demand. Some of that demand of goods and services by humans is to increase happiness so the industry tries to promise that through its goods or create addiction/ illusion of this happiness.

When machines were created such as washing machines, cars automated factories, computers to do mundane tasks etc. it was that at one time that it would free humans from much work and free them for more leisure or other pursuits. That has not happened because I think the industry therefore current models of economy survives on consumerism and they have managed to keep up more and more demand with help of goverments. That needs more and more work on the part of most. Most work that the modern economy offers is very mundane and many cry every monday morning when a new week of that begins.

There is a move in the US it seems from the news on people beginning to check their spending or in some cases being compelled to because of loosing jobs. That will cause the industry to shut down and more jobs will be lost leading to a prolonged depression ---contd

ashok said...

A prolonged depression could lead to a new model of economy that is conducive to greater happiness perhaps.

On the other hand consumer demand might pick up as goverments and industry hopes and we shall return to much of the same sort of economy and unhappiness.

Yet there are people like me and you Hayden who have moved away from common modes of survival and habits. I am certain that although I may have less money because of that, it keeps me happier. I could not imagine the boredom of continuing with the same type of work that I have done most of my working life, all through my working life. Therefore since the age of 45 or so I have been taking time off for independant pursuits whenever I can and still continue to do that.

ashok said...

Yesterday I edited this post because of renewed interest in it and also updated the story a bit especially to address the concern expressed in the very first comment by a dear friend and author in her own right - Keiko Amano