Satjadeep Bal – 2nd Year, Mining Engineering
Generalizations about life are almost always misleading for the simple reason that life means different things to different people, and every man’s response to its call is determined by his own experience and temperament. According to one writer, human life everywhere is in a state in which much is to be endured and little enjoyed. Another writer finds life an exhilarating experience, a thrilling adventure, a source of infinite joy. A man who has suffered few mishaps in life, whose upbringing has been in health surroundings, who is fortunate in love and friendship, who has identified himself with some public cause or who cultivates a wide range of interests is invariably happy.
On the other hand, bitter experience of life, deaths in the family and among friends, economic insecurity, and frustration in love, failure to achieve anything substantial in life or excessive and morbid absorption in self-induced pessimism. Philosophers disgusted with the state of public affairs or with the ways of Providence or Nature are always undergoing acute mental anguish which drives them at times to insanity or suicide. Others, despite the spectacle of human folly or Divine indifference towards human affairs, can find varied activities with real zest. Some people are driven into despair by a minor disturbance in their daily routine, by petty vexations, by slight unpleasantness. Some can face even dire calamities with equanimity, never allowing the smile on their face to disappear even for a moment. Happiness or unhappiness is, therefore, not a feature of life in any absolute sense.
With some people, a melancholic attitude is merely a pose. They luxuriate in unhappiness. Melancholy is viewed by some people as a sign of intellectual sophistication, and happiness is regarded as a sign of mental immature persons are haunted by the fear of death, sickness and old age, and they bemoan the transient nature of beauty, youth, and joy, while others are gracefully reconciled to whatever life brings them. Such variations are inevitable. We can neither create conditions of permanent bliss nor make everyone happy. We can only closely study them causes which lead to misery or mental anguish and, so far as it lies within our power, remove them. The modern age is often spoken of as the age of anxiety. There is no warrant for the assumption that contemporary social conditions make for greater unhappiness. Most of us have a nostalgic feeling for the past. Life in rural surroundings is often regarded as much healthier and happier than in towns. Those who hold this view forget the absence of civic amenities in villages, the painful toil of the tillers of the soil, their drab and monotonous existence and the natural calamities to which they are subject.
Life can be cheerful or boring anywhere. The primary condition of a happy life is that there should be universal peace and freedom and that everyone should at least be assured of the basic conditions of civilized life. Material insecurity is most demoralizing. Unemployment destroys individual dignity impairs a man’s self-confidence, creates a feeling of profound frustration and disillusionment in him, makes him an enemy of society wrecks his home or prospects of happy married life and gives him the feeling that he is a failure, a misfit, an unwanted thing. It drives him at times into crime, insanity or suicide. Society must devise an economic system which ensures full employment, fair wages and decent conditions of living and work. It must mitigate the sufferings caused by natural calamities. It must provide equality of opportunity so that none harbors any sense of injustice. Even the richest man who can keep himself busy with a kind of attractions and excitements feels thoroughly bored if he cannot have a settled occupation of an agreeable nature.
Nobody can be happy if his country is riven by factions and threatened with political instability, if his life is insecure because of prevailing violence or if the international situation is generally explosive. There have always been wars in the history of the human race and men have always grievously suffered in consequence of human brutalities, but never before was the threat to the survival of mankind involved a war so grave. Human happiness is bound up with universal peace and freedom.
Nothing causes so much discontent as the feeling that a man is not the architect of his own fate, that he cannot make own decisions and that he is driven about against his will to preserve and promote the interests of a dominant party. We invite unhappiness by our bad habits and wrong ethical standards. Some people are suspicious by nature. They suffer from persecution mania. They attribute their failures and disappointments not to their own limitations but to the machinations of their enemies, if their work does not receive adequate recognition, they suspect that there is a conspiracy somewhere to deprive them of their legitimate rights. Their grievances, however, slight, turn them into cynics and atheists. Apprehensive of dangers which are either highly exaggerated or purely imaginary they lose their sense of proportion and become mental wrecks. Men of envious disposition are always miserable. Envy, hatred, and malice are common to most people, both men, and women, and to groups of people. Men are more easily stirred by feelings of hatred than by feelings of love.
Fanatics, demagogues and dictators can easily secure a following by exploiting the passions of the masses against some nation, race or religion. A happy man always loves his fellow-beings, rejoices in their good fortune and always wishes them well. Timid persons are forced to do many things which they dislike simply because they are afraid of antagonizing public opinion. It is, of course, a source of happiness if our actions meet with social approval, but one should always be prepared to stand by one’s convictions rather than tamely acquiesce in what others believe. Bold spirits do not needlessly flout public opinion, but they never spend sleepless nights worrying over what others are saying about them. Many people give themselves needless pain out of respect for a religious injunction which is irrational and based on superstition. Most of us unquestioningly subscribe to a moral code which is so ascetic that nobody can live up to it with the result that we feel ourselves morally guilty and sinful whenever we seek pleasures of the senses.
In this country, a man’s moral character is judged by what he eats and drinks rather than by what he professes and practices. We must evolve standard which most people can follow, not a standard which only saints and mystics can live up to, but a standard which is a ratio based on maximum freedom for self-realization for all.
The happiness which we seek should be of a lasting character, not the happiness of intoxication induced by excessive drink and use of drugs. Nothing is more foolish than the idea that perpetual holiday is a source of endless joy. Perpetual leisure is the most boring. Boredom can be relieved only if one is engaged in purposeful activity, not by the feverish pursuit of exciting but exhausting experiences.
A man who seeks relief from boredom in drink and sex ends by becoming an incurable drunkard and sensualist. A great deal can be done to relieve misery and mitigate suffering and unhappiness if children are brought up in a congenial atmosphere at home, in schools, and in society. Our aim should be to produce citizens who can join with their fellow-men to create a happy race, to make this planet a decent place to live in and to establish homes where wedded love and parental affection, combined with judicious care, discipline and training in cooperation give children the right start in life.
Those who cannot co-operate with others for the common benefit, who isolate themselves from their fellowmen and cut themselves off from the mainstream of life, who is a self-centered bed in themselves, interested more in taking from society than in giving it are always wretched. “All failures-neurotics, psychotics, criminals, drunkards, the problem of children, suicides, perverts, and prostitutes-are failures because they are lacking in fellow-feeling and social interest. They approach the problems of occupation, friendship, and sex without the confidence that they can be solved by co-operation”. (Alfred Adler)
In happy homes where the father and the mother regard marriage not as a means of sexual gratification is a means of shelter, security, and comfort but as a partnership for mutual happiness, the welfare of their children and the well-being of society, and are fully conscious of their responsibilities, children will gain their first experience in co-operation-an experience which stand them in good stead throughout their lives. Pampered and neglected children tend to develop all kinds of complexes which stand in the way of healthy and balanced development of personality. If teachers are intelligent and well-versed in individual psychology, they can do a great deal to break their isolation and develop their cooperative impulses.
If we study the problem of crime and analyze the causes which promote criminal propensities, we shall find that criminals are the products of an unhappy environment. Criminals are the most wretched of creatures. They are cowards at heart who have not had the courage to fight for their livelihood or their ambitions but have taken what they believe to be an easy path, the path of escape. Society often fails to help criminals rehabilitate themselves and regain the affection and esteem of their fellow-beings by maintaining the traditional attitude towards them with the result that they never learn to cultivate social interest and be happy once. Life is what we make of it.
When Jacques in Shakespeare’s play mocks at innocent childhood, romantic love, courage and old age, he is not a philosopher or a wise man, but a cheap cynic who has made a mess of his own life and is merely generalizing from his own limited experience.
Macbeth described life as a tale told by an idiot, all sound and fury, signifying nothing because, having lost everything, he was in deep despair. Life holds out infinite possibilities of happiness. Only this happiness has to be worked for. How can we be happy? First and foremost, we must take up work which is congenial to us, which brings about the best within us, which adds in some way to the enrichment of life.
There is only one happiness in this life, to love and to be loved
Income, of course, is an important consideration in the choice of a career but it should not be the only consideration because work is also a means of self-realization. Next in importance to occupation is marriage. Married life would be a success if both partners take a deep interest in each other and if there is perfect equality between them. Where one partner is dominant and the other subservient, perfect happiness is out of the question.
There must be full co-operation between them for their own benefit, for the benefit of their offspring’s and for the benefit of society at large. Another factor contributing to human happiness is the ability to use leisure. Some people are bored to death when they have no professional work to keep them busy. This is a symptom of deficiency somewhere, of want of zest in life. Those who have multifarious interests, who make lots of friends and earnestly strive to make them happy, who believe in living at least as much for others as for themselves are always happy. Cultivation of hobbies is one way of relieving boredom. To the extent to which we can develop taste in sports, cultural activities and other matters of absorbing interest, we can take ourselves out of ourselves into the wider life of the community and forget our personal problems, our little worries vexations and disappointments. Drink and drugs are no substitutes for healthy recreations which, apart from enabling us to utilize our labor well, add to our moral sense by stressing the lesson of cooperation.
For the lover of books the sources of happiness an infinite. He can explore the mysteries of the mind, wander into the interstellar space for a clue to the understanding of the origin of the universe, delve deep into the past to get a picture of how men and civilizations have grown, go with a clever detective in search of the murderer or identify himself with the fortunes of the hero and the heroine in a romantic novel. Lonely persons are the most miserable. So are social outcasts. The best way of ending loneliness is to make an earnest attempt to identify ourselves with a public cause. Martyrs for a public cause are never disheartened by the prospect of failure or the fear of persecution. They are animated by the consciousness that a worthy cause will, whatever the temporary rebuffs and setbacks, ultimately triumph. Vain, pompous, egoistic men and women can never achieve the peace of mind so essential for happiness. Too often the world is indifferent to what they have done. They are hurt because people do not sufficiently recognize their achievements.
But public-spirited men who have dedicated themselves to the service of humanity in some form-through membership of political party participation in a social reform movement, identification with a humanitarian cause like eradication of disease and ignorance-are always sustained by the conviction that their work has a positive value which nothing can impair or destroy. When a scientist discovers an effective remedy for a disease which has taken a heavy toll of human life, he experiences a joy which monetary rewards cannot give him. It has been said that a long-range view of history is always comforting. Every long-range view is a source of comfort. When we witness the rise of an unscrupulous demagogue to absolute power, or nations plunged in war, we tend to lose faith in man’s rationality. When we see people in the grip of violent religious, racial or national passions and are appalled by the atrocities they commit on innocent men, women, and children, we wonder whether the civilization and culture of which we are so proud are only a thin veneer that conceals our barbarism.
But a student of history who surveys the achievements of mankind from the dawn of civilization to the present day will not only be struck with man’s recurring follies but also by the spectacular advance that men have made through the centuries in knowledge, in religion and morality, in control over the environment. In our own life, we should not allow temporary rebuffs and disappointments to obscure our achievements over a long period. A happy life is not necessarily the life which brings material fortune or an exalted position but life well-spent, put to good use, made agreeable to others, devoted to excellent causes. A happy man is always full of zest for life. No man can retain this zest if he does not know the art of conserving energies. It is often said in extenuation of young men’s wild orgies that they are bound to show their wild oats before they achieve sobriety.
Young men will no doubt be young men, but they need to be reminded that if they drew too heavily upon their little store of energy by their senseless dissipation and their craze for sensation and excitement, they will soon exhaust themselves and become physical wrecks. Zest for life should express itself in healthy channels-in making new friends in participating in games, in travel or in mountaineering, in organizing social gatherings, in celebrating festivals, in performing acts of social service. Intelligent and farsighted men in the West are increasingly recognizing the importance of restraint in sex and drink indulgence in which has assumed alarming proportions in Europe and the United States. Asceticism is a false ideal. Puritanic ethics only breed hypocrisy and neurosis. We must avoid both extremes-asceticism and sensuality-and practice moderation. Modern psychological theories which advocate full and free expression of subconscious desires so that their suppression may not make a man neurotic are plainly one-sided. A man who wants to be truly happy should always regulate his conduct to ensure a balanced approach to life. A sensualist is not a free man but an abject slave to his passions. Men must take delight in doing things, not in excessive brooding over past mistakes and disappointments or in mental tortures and feeling of remorse and repentance. The past should not be allowed to spoil the present.
The Hamlets in all ages are failures because they have a too highly speculative mind or a very sensitive nature which is so shocked by sensuality and wickedness that it sends them back to themselves and makes them prisoners of their indecisions and irresolution. Introverts are generally miserable because they cannot experience the thrill of living in co-operation with their fellowmen and in frankly enjoying life without any kind of inhibitions and fears. The Indian ethical system provides the real basis on which a life of lasting happiness can be built-the ethics of the disinterested performance of duty. There is no failure in a life of detachment, no disappointment over nonrecognition of merit. The life of detachment is not the life of a recluse meditating over the mysteries of the universe but of a man active in the affairs of the world, doing his duty, serene in his mind, in full control of his senses, conscious of the fact that he owes allegiance to humanity whose welfare is his religious duty. It is immaterial to him if the world is ungrateful to him if he is not rewarded according to his merits if he is misunderstood. He is happy in that he has not failed in the performance of his duties. Death holds no terror for him. He is not a prey to any fears.
Nobody is born melancholy and nobody inherits a cheerful disposition. Happiness depends upon our social system and upon ourselves. Some are, of course, more fortunate than others in the sense that the circumstances of their lives are less exacting and involve less tension or conflict, but affluence and power are not essential to happiness. In the case of some people, it appears as if a malignant fate is a bent upon blasting their lives. Only an incorrigible pessimist can say that such men constitute a majority. Such unfortunate men represent isolated or exceptional cases. For a great majority of people, happiness is well within their reach. What is needed is the determination to achieve it.