Economics of Happiness

Inspiration for this post came from pondering about the look of contentment & satisfaction on the face of the watchman of a plush villa.

While running endlessly in the pursuit of our own happiness we rarely get time to look around and think about the happiness of others. At this point, I feel it is important to first dwell upon what ‘Happiness’ really means.

To attain ‘Happiness’ is the primary & driving intent behind all our action & thoughts. None of us, I believe, seeks something other than Happiness from our actions and that of others.

The materialistic understanding or rather misunderstanding of Happiness treats and aspires for material accomplishments in form of more possessions or power or prestige as source of Happiness. It somehow confuses gross bodily or intellectual pleasure with Happiness.

On the other hand, a spiritual understanding (Vedic School of thought) sees this body as a constant source of pain and any efforts towards gratifying the senses, to satisfy the cravings of gross body & subtle body(mind, intelligence and false ego) are considered as futile in the search of Happiness.

In contrast to the materialistic approach of gaining or possessing the Vedic school of thought emphasizes on renunciation, detachment and on controlling the senses rather than serving them endlessly.

India is slowly but definitely transitioning to a more consumerist, materialist society with not just the happiness quotient but the very identity for most of us now being defined, governed and reflected by his/her possessions. Media and Corporations are busy selling this identity & happiness day & night on television, newspaper and internet. We are all willing to go that extra mile or even two for the latest cell phone, tablet or car that completes us or defines us.

While there is an increasingly blatant promotion and display of such happiness, have we ever wondered about the cost of this model of happiness for individuals and for society at large?

For individuals, we are already seeing the effect of this mad rush to conquer happiness in form of disruption of work-life balance which is affecting the family lives. Relationships are becoming more fragile with both partners in relationship getting lesser time to spend with each other while the kids are busy creating stronger bonds with their prized possessions, provided as a replacement for the time of parents, rather than people around them.

This ‘super-fast’ and ‘dynamic’ lifestyle is pushing more & more people to look for an escape route while still being present in the race course leading to increasing intoxication among youth and now even female segment of the population who constitute a growing part of the organized sector workforce. More and more people are falling prone to diseases originating from stress and anxiety at an earlier age. Unable to fulfil the aspirations and to bear the burden of expectations, more people are committing or attempting suicide. We can calculate the detrimental impact to the things that really matter – relationships & health.

For society at large, as a country of more than a billion people with significant portion of population living in poverty, if the aspirations are directed uni-dimensionally towards acquiring better material resources then the country is bound to push more and more people to adopt unethical and criminal approach to these acquisitions.

We will be creating a society that is more frustrated as it is impossible to give all billion plus people the lifestyle that guarantees happiness in the calm away from city rush in that plush villa or summer holiday to Antarctic or the new luxury car that insulates you from all the madness on roads around you.

The inequitable distribution of wealth will definitely lead to an unstable civic society that is more prone to unrest and with a demographic distribution like that of India things can go awfully bad. We need to be careful of not creating a culture and situation that can lead to systemic failure.

So while we can generally equate ‘Happiness’ with feeling of contentment & satisfaction, this consumerist approach seems to be failing miserably with more & more people becoming anxious and discontent. I believe this model of ‘Happiness’ can prove to be very costly to our nation & society.

I am trying to figure out answers to some question that this model poses to us –

At what cost and for how long can we sustain this kind of consumerism?

Why are the more materialist societies not becoming happier or are rather getting more dissatisfied year on year?

Who will be the role models for our next generation? Definitely Simple living & High thinking is not a motto they will swear by.

How can we justify plundering of natural resources at an unprecedented rate to satisfy consumerist cravings while basic issues of food and shelter stand taller for many more than ever before?