Happiness is a quiet responsibility

As life moves on, our idea of happiness evolves too – but does the core belief of what brings happiness really change? The columnist examines her own case

Around 20 years ago, I defined what happiness means to me in a column I wrote then in The Times of India, called Mars & Venus. Stumbling on it today, I was inspired to wonder how much my definition of this “ever-elusive angel” (as I called it back then) has changed over a period of two decades. Back then I wrote I like to be on a constant high, shifting from one excitement to another. Today, that idea seems kind of alien.

I reproduce here what I wrote about happiness then.

“I taste it in the raindrop I catch on the tip of my tongue; I feel it in the touch of a calloused hand on my cheek; I see it in the depths of a gaze that suddenly darkens with passion; I smell it in the heady fragrance of a rose; I hear it in the uninhibited laugh of a child.

“Happiness – that elusive angel who evades me when I chase her, and settles on me like a mantle when least expected. I find it in the littlest things – the drone of a bee on a summer day, the inflexion in a voice as it says my name; the memory of Mother’s creamy soft tum; a baby’s dimpled bum; a sudden, unexpected smile, and the curve of my man’s jawline.

“Happiness for me is very internalised. It’s a gift that I can give myself. And, it’s in the Here and Now. It’s not the sparrow’s chirp that makes me happy, but I that make it sweet.

“The twitter of birds; the softness of down; juicy, sun-kissed grass; the cool crispness of white sheets – the magic is all mine. It's just a matter of keeping my senses fully attuned to the notion… My problem is that I like to be on a constant high – to shift from one excitement to another…”

Poetic and romantic, moving at a giddy pace. That was what happiness meant then. Twenty years on, happiness has mellowed and matured. It is no longer the brook that hurtles and changes course; chortles with laughter and then takes dizzying jumps. Today, my idea of happiness is more a placid lake with meaningful, contented depths. Though all the same things still make me happy, my way of experiencing the emotion is different today. It manifests itself more within. Rather than a loud laugh or grin, it is more a smile that begins in the soul and then invades the eyes.

I guess time and passing years do that to you. By the time you have had your share of all emotions — good and bad — and learnt to take them in your stride, you realise that come what may, life carries on. Like water, life finds its level and somehow, gains balance again. Happiness no longer takes you to heaven; grief does not permanently ground you. All you seek is a good steady balance. And remember, the person who laughs too much, may not actually be the happiest.

And yet, the core thought hasn’t really changed for me at all in 20 years. I still believe that we are responsible for our own state of happiness. Happiness comes from within. You can choose to be happy most of the time, or not. A happy person is not one who is without problems; but just one who has learnt to deal with them better.

I find that comparing ourselves to others is the biggest mistake we make. The only way ahead is to get ahead of yourself – become better with each step. To me guilt and regret are the toughest enemies of happiness. And the only way to avoid these traps is to be true to your own self. If you stick to your principles and beliefs, you will never have reason to feel regret or guilt.

One is happiest when deeply connected to oneself and to the environment one dwells in; when one loves and is loved back. When one respects, and is respected back. When one believes, and is trusted as well.

Going back to my 20 year-old column, “Since life is not so kind as to keep us all in a constant state of bliss, I guess it’s left to each individual to invent and look for his or her own moments of elation.”

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