Concepts like happiness and freedom pose problems when it comes to defining them. Abstract words like these are open to interpretation. For some, happiness is based solely on being part of a loving family that is safe and contented. For others, happiness is rooted in material possessions or acquisition of power. Although we may have quite different interpretations of concepts like these, in our everyday conversations, we seem to be content with a general understanding of the meaning.
To put it briefly, though, there are two types of happiness: temporary and permanent. But, really, happiness is something that is transient. There is nothing called permanent or absolute happiness. Happiness is the accumulation of many good activities with which one feels sufficiently gratified.
Why are we not happy? As we grow, different aspects of live shape us – religion, culture, tradition and societal norms, among others. We almost cease to be human and begin acting like a machine. Religion is the first obstruction towards achieving happiness. Some will agree, I am sure, that deeper understanding of spiritual world brings greater unhappiness. In its entire entirety, more or less, religion talks about sufferings, sins and sorrows. It has a special power to corrupt our mind by creating fear. It doesn’t allow a person to live fully, so to speak, because it seeks conformity.
Society, which is largely shaped by religion, plays a big role is shaping one’s happiness. We feel compelled to live our lives according to the control of others, rely on others opinions, conform to their ideas and wishes, and subscribe to their beliefs. One is made to feel too small, and there is hardly any space for individualism. When a person cannot do what he or she wishes to do, when he or she cannot pursue their dreams and aspirations, there can be no happiness.
True happiness can come only when a person can listen to the wishes and inner voice of the self.
Also, true happiness can exist only where there is little or no material development. Material development is the other form of greed. Where greed rules, nothing will be enough, and that is the very source of unhappiness. If happiness must be had, we should have no desire whatsoever. But who has ever been able to banish desire altogether? So long as there is life, there will be desire in men. Religious philosophies can sound grand but they are often not practical. Development and technology make people reclusive, which lead to depression. Already in our society, depression is becoming a major health concern. Number of people taking their own lives is growing by the year.
Happiness comes from good relationship. Living alone in the compartments of tall buildings does not bring happiness. How well you know your neighbours and how often you meet with your friends and family is important so.
So, what is Gross National Happiness, really?
Happiness is the state of being that can come only from being kind and loving to others and being true to oneself. But how could we be kind, long, and true to oneself and all when so many factors come in the way? There ought be an environment within which all these virtues can flourish. Until this happens, there can be no happiness. We have GNH pillars and indicators so that we can create an enabling environment within which citizens strive for happiness. It sound well and good in theory, but how are we actually doing with the creation of the so-called enabling environment? In the urban centres, elderly people are left to eke out living by begging even as their children live in posh houses and drive expensive cars. In the rural pockets of the country, family and societal structures are fast breaking down.
But then, surveys continue to show us that our people are happy. There is certainly something curious that is going on in our society as we endeavour to define happiness and create an environment within which people can strive to attain happiness.
In the words of Bertrand Russell: “A man who has once perceived, however temporarily and however briefly, what makes greatness of soul, can no longer be happy if he allows himself to be petty, self-seeking, troubled by trivial misfortunes, dreading what fate may have in store for him. The man capable of greatness of soul will open wide the windows of his mind, letting the winds blow freely upon it from every portion of the universe.”