Is ‘happiness’ overrated?

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Is happiness overrated? Of course it is!

Reading the most popular writing or browsing the internet you will always find clichéd articles on How to be happy, What makes you happy, How to stay happy, 10 ways to happiness, and so on. We are programmed with fairy tales with the ‘happily ever after’ endings right from a very early age, creating the delusion this is how things are supposed to pan out.

One starts to feel terribly inadequate if one is anything but deliriously happy all the time. But honestly, what is happiness?

• The feeling of excitement when you make holiday plans?

• The outpouring of love when your pet or kid throws himself at you?

• The satisfaction of meeting a deadline?

• All of the above?

These are all isolated incidences. Call me a cynic if you like, but I think the word happiness is highly overrated, abused and forced upon people. Making us believe that we must be happy at every turn of life. Of course that’s not possible. Happiness and joy are emotions that are felt simply due to certain chemical reactions in the brain. The brain is the only organ that can feel any emotion.

Certain hormones and neurotransmitters like endorphins, oxytocin, serotonin or dopamine are released and circulate within the brain stimulating certain parts of the brain that are responsible for the feeling that we call happiness. These hormones and neurotransmitters are released for various reasons.

Our objective is to seek a continuous supply of these neurotransmitters bathing our brain cells and causing us to feel joy.

Did you know some of these chemicals are released while exercising? So basically just moving your body, working up a sweat can release these hormones and neurotransmitters. Similar results are obtained from receiving a diamond ring, getting a raise, buying a house and a run around the lake!

Well, maybe not quite but you get my drift. And yet, there will be profuse writings from agony aunts in the most popular magazines and advice from famous TV personalities on how to procure that diamond ring, how to nail the man of your dreams, how to land the perfect job, how to make your next million bucks, as though those are the only achievements worth aspiring for.

What I am trying to say is that happiness as is seen in the most common light is a fleeting feeling which cannot be sustained indefinitely simply because the neurotransmitters/ hormones creating that feeling cannot be released indefinitely. If they are produced indefinitely, they can cause more harm than good. When they run out, the situation leading to their release comes to an end.

So is our objective to seek a continuous supply of these neurotransmitters bathing our brain cells and causing us to feel joy? Seems a bit simplistic.

Interspersed with that reality will be life events such as marriage, falling in love (in whichever order you like), having children, adopting pets, getting a raise, buying a house, nailing the job you aspired to, driving down a beautiful coastline, becoming the chief of the department, having an affair, climbing the Himalayas, buying that beautiful pair of shoes you coveted, and so on…. All of which produce a spurt of chemicals, which create joy, thrill, excitement and happiness.

What we need is purpose. A feeling of necessity. We can feel satisfied doing other things which don’t necessarily produce a severe rush of such chemicals, but which create the hum that resonates with just one thing … Life.

Simple things like reading a book, completing a task or even the act of giving, can produce the feeling of happiness.

Simple things like reading a book or getting to work or completing a task or even the act of giving produce similar feelings of joy. In such situations we can feel functional, engaged and relevant. That I think is what keeps us moving forward and constitute the Relevance of our existence. The happy moments come and go. Many life events create such moments, but that’s what they are — moments or extended moments. The fillers are ‘real life’ circumstances, which change and evolve but don’t necessarily create delirious happiness. Live through them we must, knowing that they are precious, that life is precious irrespective of whether it produces happiness relayed hormones or not.

What matters most is also our attitude to our existence on this earth.

• Our connections and engagement with our context and environment, people, our work, family and friends.

• Our interest in others, in causes, in events.

• Our passions.

• Our approach not just to the ‘happy’ moments but also to life in general.

Life cannot be controlled. These moments cannot be orchestrated.

Perhaps this is one of the reasons I exercise. That is somehow within my control. And by doing so, I am actually able to release some ‘feel good’ hormones at will. It takes me through daily life in a positive frame of mind, (not deliriously ‘happy,’ but definitely positive) to be able to enjoy those special moments when they do arrive.

(The writer is a fitness and lifestyle consultant and has published two books: Get Size Wise; Gain to Lose. E-mail: Sheela.nambiar@gmail.com)

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RI Director Bharat Pandya is Treasurer for Rotary International for 2020-21, when Holgar Knaack will be RI President, JohritaSolari will be the Vice President and Stephanie Urchick, the Executive Committee Chair.