Project Happiness

Our “big” annual vacation typically happens around May-June. But at least six months of preparation precedes it, and my levels of preparation (which D has now been almost coerced into) might be considered way too orchestrated for practical purposes. My defense is that in all probability, this would be the only time we visit the place, so I’d like to make it as hassle-free as possible. Also, the fear of missing out.

As a species, we are uniquely capable of projecting our future in our own minds. My plan is supposed to make us happy. The expectations are already set. And that means that things can go wrong in many ways. For instance, things might not go as planned because of events outside of my control. Or we see other possibilities once we’re in a place but we’ve already committed to our plans in terms of time/money/emotions! More

Prisons of happiness

I read a few articles recently debating whether the purpose of life is happiness or usefulness/leading a worthwhile life. The Aztecs as well as contemporary thinkers favour the latter. I am not convinced though. For starters, I think ‘purpose’s is something our consciousness insists on. The world will go on without us, it is for us to derive a sense of meaning for ourselves. And since it is subjective, I’d optimise for happiness/avoiding discomfort (I’m bunching it together for now) simply because my usefulness/being worthwhile to others around increases when I am happy.

This is a topic I have been circling for a while now – There is no middle path? was a take on happiness vs avoiding discomfort, for instance. A favorite line of thought from “And the Mountains Echoed” has been coming back to me in various forms from various people in the last fortnight. “..but most people have it backward. They think they live by what they want. But really what guides them is what they’re afraid of. What they don’t want.” That is essentially avoiding discomfort. More

Building Slack

(no, not the product!)

Towards the end of Life Menus, I had mentioned how I have quite a ‘scarcity mindset’ when it comes to money and time. I don’t think there will be enough, and many of my thoughts and actions are influenced by this. As explained very well in Scarcity, (highly recommended book, and thanks @shefaly) this is related to tunnelling, and my ‘inability’ at a certain point in time to see the larger picture and the broader consequences of my immediate actions.

One of the ways I have tried to beat it (and the book also has a term for it) is to create what’s called slack. [Remember the space between stimulus and response quote I keep using?] The reason I’m very interested in slack is because it can not just help me maintain equilibrium within myself, but also enable some sort of control in my relationship with others.  More

There is no middle path?

Will Durant is a pleasure to read, and it has largely to do with the succinct way in which he expresses complex thoughts, be it in history or philosophy. In The Lessons of History (by him and Ariel Durant) I found this idea particularly thought provoking –


Very intuitively, I have always thought the ideas of freedom and equality as ends which are allied. But a bit more thought, and helped by the Durants’ arguments, and it is quite evident that they aren’t. This reminded me of something I’d written about five years ago on happiness vs peace of mind. (read the very interesting comments by Surekha on it) More

Adaptability & Actualisation

“It is not the strongest species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change“, Darwin had said, in a more long-winded form. I have been in awe of evolution as a concept for a while now, and have rather prided myself on being adaptive, specially in my work context. In terms of hard skills, I still believe that’s the way to go. However, when dealing with people, both in personal and professional settings, I have realised that it is possible to go overboard on being adaptive.

A meta prequel before I get to that. On hindsight, I am seeing an evolution in my thinking on this subject. Back in April of last year, I figured out that I am happier when I don’t judge myself.  Later, in October, I realised that there is a correlation, and probably even a causation, between my happiness and the way I treat others. I decided to fix my happiness as my compass. But when I read this post from a couple of months ago, it seems as though I had wandered off the track I had decided on.  More

Happy Tradeoffs

It’s in the nature of thought that it never ceases to exist. In Happiness: The End, it would seem as though I’d found the track I wanted to follow. But it isn’t ever so simple, is it? The books I read somehow seem to have words that phrase my thoughts just right


The first roadblock I have found in the ‘happiness plan’ is sensitivity. It works in at least a couple of ways. On one hand, when I act with my own happiness as the key filter, I find it difficult to ignore the effect it has on other people. Do my actions make them unhappy? On the other hand, I am also in situations when others’ behaviour makes me unhappy but one or more constraints prevent me from doing anything about it. In both cases, I have to compromise.


Happiness: The End

A while ago, in Happiness and Compassion, I had written about what Fahadh Fasil described as the biggest lesson he learnt from failure – he said it made him decide that he would only do things that made him happy. The more I read, the more I think, and the more I live, the more I start relating to what Fahadh is doing, and what Aristotle said, “Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.” Everything else – fame, power, money, compassion, detachment etc – is probably just the means we create.

The thing though is, even if happiness were indeed the purpose, I can see at least a couple of challenges. In this excellent read “10 truths you will learn before you find happiness“, the first point is “It is impossible for anyone else to define YOU”. This echoed my first challenge – a difficulty in defining what happiness is to me. At the next level, I felt that the paths to happiness are confusing and have many things going against them. For instance, fame – “..other people’s heads are a wretched place to be the home of a man’s true happiness.” (Schopenhauer) Or compassion/pity (not kindness, which I regard as a more active expression, though the following might apply to it as well) – “There is a certain indelicacy and intrusiveness in pity; ‘visiting the sick’ is an orgasm of superiority in the contemplation of our neighbour’s helplessness” (Nietzsche) As you can see, it isn’t difficult to bring each down.


Happiness and compassion

Though I’d explored the idea of inculcating a sense of compassion in others in this post a fortnight back, I still think our own compassion needs to serve as a solid base. Not being judgmental is one way, but it’s not easy to practice. So I took a step back and wondered if compassion was a result and not a behaviour. The first behavioural direction I could think of was happiness. In myself, I have seen a correlation if not a causation. I am more compassionate when I’m happier. So I decided to explore this a bit. More

A different kind of prosperity

A couple of months back, there was a very heated debate (mild term) based on an article that was titled “Why Generation Y Yuppies Are Unhappy” and (also) dealt with something that has occupied my thoughts for a while now – the sense of entitlement. It had a very simplistic formula on happiness : Happiness = Reality – Expectations, and the author’s take was that a sense of entitlement/being special heightened expectations and when that collided with reality, Gen Y’s happiness suffered. Another key factor in this was they are also regularly ‘taunted’ by people who are doing better – simply because the latter share their successes much more.

I must say that my observations on the sense of entitlement have led me to believe that it’s not totally an age thing. I do agree that societal and lifestyle changes have led to parents becoming more indulgent, but I think the larger culprit is mass publishing platforms –  the ability to broadcast one’s thoughts to large number of people. It is enhanced when the publisher realises he/she has an audience. It does seem higher in younger groups but that’s only because they have been exposed to these platforms much earlier in their life than an earlier generation and therefore do not have the alternate perspectives and experiences of the latter. But the entitlement discussion is for another day.

An interesting point made in the article was that Gen Y wanted fulfilling careers. What does not come out though is what defines ‘fulfilling’. Is it the emotional satisfaction of working towards a shared purpose, or is it the perks that come with a high-flying career? I suspect that fulfilling at this point swings more towards the material success that the latter provides. Umair Haque has an interesting take called ‘Growthism‘, a devolved form of capitalism, whose dogma is to achieve growth at all costs and according to the author prevents us from developing a sophisticated conception of what prosperity is. It does seem fluffy but that’s probably because we have been conditioned by various institutions for a long while now.

But I sense a change is on its way. For instance, thanks to this post, I came to know of The Prosperity Index, which goes beyond the GDP and economic success based models of measuring prosperity of nations. While this is indeed a positive step, I think true change will happen when constituents like the Gen Y mentioned earlier begin to look at currencies beyond money for a sense of fulfillment, and happiness. In this must-read article titled “Who Will Prosper in the New World“, the author mentions “People who don’t need money” – people who have the incomes of the lower middle class and the cultural habits of the wealthy or upper middle class.

I think we’re at the beginning of a new cycle – a generation will start ignoring the paradigms of success and fulfillment set by its predecessors and their institutions, and use the fabulous technologies that are evolving to craft its new narrative of happiness. I also think that my generation might be the casualty of two large concepts at war with each other, but maybe that’s what it takes for a civilisation to be entitled to its prosperity….


until next time, changelings

P.S. On a related note, do read ‘On Lifestyle Rigidity

Plan C

This post has been pending for a while, the date of publishing of the article that inspired the post is evidence enough. It is about people who leave their jobs to follow their passion, but instead of the success stories we are used to, it focuses on the difficulties on that path. Even if you’ve not taken that path already, it’s quite possible that you have contemplated it. It’s romantic – the freedom, being your own boss and doing the thing you like – Plan B. But it’s not easy, and it begins as early as even identifying one’s passion. (must read)

Interestingly, NYT themselves had an article almost a year later that asked “What Work is Really For” and answered that with an Aristotle quote “we work to have leisure, on which happiness depends.” Though I didn’t know about this quote until recently, this is a perspective that I have often used to debate with people who say those who do not like their jobs should quit. There are many reasons why people don’t, and one of them is consciously making a choice to work (possibly on things they don’t enjoy) for the 2 days (and vacations) when they are able to spend their resources – money, effort and time – on things they enjoy.

The reasons people don’t scale up those 2 days could be many, including the difficulties involved in the early stages of setting up, and then maintaining a positive balance – of money and life. Money is after all an essential resource. It buys things, it opens doors. But when your passion becomes your work and your principal source of money, does it feel the same? Or does it become a job?

I liked the second NYT article also for its last 3 paragraphs. It addresses the money conundrum. It talks about how right from when we are born, we are taught to be consumers, thanks to capitalism, which though calls itself an open market where we have the freedom to buy is actually a system unto itself.  The choices are not really independent. It points out that education should be meant to make us self determining agents. True freedom requires that we take part in the market as fully formed agents, with life goals determined not by advertising campaigns but by our own experience of and reflection on the various possibilities of human fulfillment. But that’s not an easy path either. It calls for independent thinking and a subjective view of fulfillment and happiness. And that brings us to the familiar “to each his own”

until next time, work it out :)

Bonus Read: Six Rules to guide your career