10 Feb 2018 18:12 IST

In pursuit of happiness

Trace the triggers of unhappiness to figure out what could make you happy

The pursuit of happiness is big business. If you don’t believe me, do an online search for courses on happiness. You’ll be surprised by the number of options thrown up. Even premier institutes like Harvard and Yale offer courses on happiness! Needless to say, this is a massive human need that is increasingly unfulfilled.

The ways that are usually suggested in order to find happiness include things like being healthy, reducing or at least managing stress, building up one’s self esteem, and the like. Since enough has been written about these things, let me address a far more basic aspect of the secret to being happy.

Let us first agree on what is happiness or being happy. The stated definition of being happy is “a good feeling or showing pleasure or contentment”. By extension, happiness is defined as the state of being happy. At a very basic level, we can say that happiness is having a positive frame of mind or mood. So it could also mean that a negative frame of mind or mood is absent. A contrarian approach to the pursuit of happiness might be to follow a path that would help avoid a negative frame of mind or mood. The underlying logic is that a person who is not unhappy should be happy.

So what is the main cause for a negative state of mind? It can usually be traced back to two basic emotional states: worry and/or dissatisfaction. Worry is always linked to a future event while dissatisfaction is always about an outcome of an event.

Now, let us trace these two triggers of unhappiness to the root cause.

A person is worried about an outcome because there is an expected result, and a concern that the outcome might not be in line with that expectation. The worry could also be due to the unknown, where the person is concerned about what might happen and what it could mean. In both cases, there is an important perspective that acts as a catalyst to trigger worry. This catalyst is expectation. The underlying expectation about a future outcome is what makes a person anxious and/or worried and creates a negative state of mind.

This very sense of ‘expectation’ is also the cause of dissatisfaction or frustration. When an outcome is not in line with what was expected, a person becomes upset and gets into a negative frame of mind; in other words, becomes unhappy.

So, expectations — especially unrealistic ones — are the start of negative emotions and ultimately lead to unhappiness.

Therefore a logical starting point for any person in the pursuit of happiness is to avoid expectations. However, this is easier said than done. The practical approach would be to minimise expectations and also ensure that they are realistic. This would go a long way in helping a person to be happy.

Of course, there are many other aspects that need to be worked on but managing and minimising expectations is a good place to start.