Sunday, July 23, 2006

Isn’t happiness a little overrated?

Every time there is a survey of unquantifiable traits like happiness and courtesy, we react as if someone has pricked a needle in our inflated ego of self-imagined humility or cast a stone at our glasshouse of laugh riots.

31 out of 34 in courtesy? 132 in Happiness Planet Index, the worst in the region? Could the rankings get anymore dismal?

The happiness rankings tell us that Singapore is a melancholy state and its black mood is shared by millions of its citizens.

In reaction, some sigh with despondency. Some froth with rage. Others try to debate and indulge in some introspection. Why are we what we are?

The question is: Is perception more real than reality? Do these rankings really mean anything? How does one ensure that a few citizen’s bad mood don’t take down a country’s ranking by several points?

Let us go beyond Singapore and look at a particular example.

As per the courtesy survey, Mumbai was ranked as the rudest city on earth. Mumbaikers were obviously not mighty pleased with their ranking but they grinned and bore it. And when the opportunity arose, recently during the July 11 train bomb blasts, they showed their true mettle. They went beyond courtesy. They demonstrated that humanity was alive and kicking even in the rudest city on earth.

I think, of all things, humanity matters most. It is the kernel of our civilization.

Singaporeans have also demonstrated their humane side during the tsunami two years ago. They broke all previous donation records in a short period of time. Every year they donate millions of charity dollars. That is quite commendable.

Coming back to the main issue, I frankly feel that happiness is overrated. All this song and dance about happiness is overblown.

Happiness is so mercurial. We don’t really know much about this animal.

A child beggar cries and begs at a Mumbai traffic light. He succeeds in creating enough pathos in you. You give him a coin and move on. You feel happy because you think you helped someone. You don’t look back. If you did you would know you’d been conned. The crying kid would be smiling on your back.

But, is his smile genuine? Is he genuinely happy? Who knows? And if you knew that he’d conned you with his theatrics, wouldn’t your happiness evaporate then and there?

Happiness is like God. If you went out in search of happiness, you won’t find it anywhere. Like God, it lives within your heart and you will have to find it there.

I will give you another example. When I was coming to Singapore, I was warned. Singaporeans don’t smile. They don’t laugh.

When I came here, I saw something else. One has to be simply blind not to see Singaporeans smile and laugh. Some Singaporeans prefer to maintain a reserved attitude though. In no city you will find all the citizens smiling and laughing all of the time. Singapore is no different.

But why are Singaporeans perceived to be so unhappy? I think there is a reason.
In just four decades, Singapore has leapfrogged from bullock carts to A380. It is no laughing achievement. This country’s success is a testimony of its people’s determination because it is people who make countries.

More precisely, it is hardworking citizens with aims, ambitions and goals who make successful countries.

Singapore is not built on tradition but on drive. Singaporeans display a sense of purpose in their day-to-day lives and so they seem to be humourless in public.

But the truth as we know is this: Happiness is a state of mind. Most often, we don’t know if we are happy but we sure know if were happy at some point of time. Right now is the time to act, to move on, and to live and let live. Happiness will follow.

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