This holiday season, let’s talk happiness.

Has it ever happened to you that you had to suddenly stop for a second and ask yourself “Am I happy?”. In my case, it was more than a second. This happened while I was watching the third episode of ‘Making a murderer’, Season 2 (Please do not ask me why I made this choice!) .

This got me curious. Why was I thinking of it in the middle of watching a show, and also, why couldn’t I stop thinking about it thereafter. Probably, because the second season is not as gripping as the first. I suppose all of us can agree, that it’s all about the lawyer. I’m leaving this (me ranting on about how much I disliked season 2) for another time. Although, on second thought, it could have been the show that triggered this thought. Possibly while watching Brendan Dassey (who’s most likely wrongfully convicted of a crime) and his family, go through a roller coaster of emotions including happiness when he’s almost about to get out.

My first thought was, happiness is definitely relative, how happy I am today might depend on how sad I was yesterday. What other factors affect my state of happiness? Can someone always be happy?

I was definitely intrigued and started asking my husband questions on what happiness meant to him, his response at first, a curious squint (“why is she asking me all this, am I making her sad?”), but then he quickly obliged with a set of very articulate answers.

This encouraged me to interview some of my friends and family what happiness means to them. But before I get into the questions I asked and some very entrancing and thought-provoking responses for them, let me introduce you to the ever so gracious who enlightened me with their perspective on what happiness means to them.

Nani — My 65+ (this is how she answers to the ‘how old are you question’) year old granny. She is fierce but kind, compassionate but speaks her mind, always forms an informed opinion. She travels the world alone, making friends along the way. She’s not afraid of failure and is always ready to accept a new challenge. She’s sassy and strong, one of the coolest and the most influential person in my life.

Miss Lady (Miss L) — This is my ride or die human, a person whose warmth you can feel from miles apart. It doesn’t matter how often or how long we talk but each time we do, it resembles the comfort you get from a cozy quilt and a cup of hot chocolate on a chilly winter night. She’s the one I can discuss my life decisions with and be assured that the response will be an honest one (no matter how brutal it is). She’s that one friend everyone needs (absolutely must have) in their lives.

Miss Affable (Miss A) — She’s the kindest and one of the most generous of souls I know. Her loyalty, compassion and affection is like none other. Owing to her humble exterior, you will be pleasantly surprised once you get acquainted by her intelligence and just like that you’ll realize that she’s the one you can trust and rely on as well as confide in her your deepest, darkest secrets.

Mr. Rising Sun (Mr. RS) — He’s young but not naive, quite mature for his age, strong willed enough to not even let the tempest steer his mast down even for a fleeting second. I am in awe of his strength and respect his ability to not lose focus of what really matters in life.

Miss Croissant (Missie) — I named her Miss Croissant because she reminds me of the term ‘Parisian Chic’, exuding true class and elegance while being a free spirited hippie that takes things in stride, she’s unapologetic and lives life like there’s tomorrow, she might seem carefree or a pollyanna on the outside but is absolutely calm and balanced on the inside.

Miss Superwoman (Miss. S) — Although, she has come into my life recently, I have learnt a lot from her way of life. An idealist at heart, she views the world through a kaleidoscope, mostly looking at the brighter side of circumstances and the positive in people. Her ability to connect with people is probably something no class can teach. Her creativity is a force to be reckoned with, which feels like a breath of fresh air, leading all her endeavors to nothing short of brilliance. It’s appropriate to call her superwoman not just because of the things she has been through but for the way she has managed to conquer them all.

Mr. Balanced (Mr. B) — If you are meeting him for the first time you might either love him or hate him, but what you will not be is indifferent. He will definitely incite some kind of feeling inside you based on which side of him ‘he’ wants to show you. He might come off as arrogant and reserved or as an intellectual with a generous, kind and funny disposition. He is always in control of his emotions and does not let most things affect his decisions. He will never judge you for your actions, but try to understand the rationale behind it. In my head he is the “Guruji” (the expert) of our house, he will always have some very profound yet practical advice for you, no matter what sh*t you are in.

After that very long but in my opinion necessary introduction, these are the questions I asked and my take on their responses.

Are you happy?

What does one answer when posed with such a generic question? Well leaving aside few, everyone else’s response was a firm yesss!! Which leads me to believe more often than not when asked if they’re happy, people’s response is usually a yes. This made me feel good or should I say optimistic because people either think they are or want to be or most definitely are “happy”.

So unlike the rest for Miss L happiness is not black or white but It’s always grey. Miss A says she’s mostly happy which makes me wonder, is happiness ever an absolute state? Do many of us have a similar take on it? Does it have a connection to anything but our present state of mind? Is it necessary to have felt extremely sad at some point to then feel happy?

Luckily, Mr. RS inadvertently answered my last question saying “Well to tell you if I am happy I would need a reference point to compare with the present scenario”. Having overcome the pressures of trying do well in his career, to finally not having to worry about it anymore, he feels it’s a happier time in his life.

Basically his response echoed my thoughts to a T, that “happiness is relative”. You might be extremely sad on a given day, but on another day you might just be a little sad, but the day you are sad, you are happier than the day you were extremely sad. It seems so obvious but do we always connect the dots.

What does happiness mean to you?

It’s no surprise that happiness means different things to different people, for some it’s all about how well they are doing at achieving their short term goals, for some it’s about their state of mind and how content everyone is including themselves, it could even mean being in a state of self actualization or it could mean good health or wealth.

Does this mean all it takes is simply being able to fulfill our immediate needs? Or is there something more it?

Miss S’s response makes me think it might just be a bit of both. She is juggling her life between providing the best upbringing possible for her kids and working towards achieving her career goals. I am sure there are days when she is not able to succeed at either yet she says, “Being optimistic and staying positive comes naturally to me, so, everything seems happy!” Someone looking at her life from a distance might feel it’s such a struggle, she must be feeling exhausted or frustrated, which I’m sure she does at times but what is it that keeps her going? Is it her optimism or is it the realization that the small details don’t always matter? So even though she might not be succeeding at some of her short term goals at times, she is happy which makes me believe there is definitely something more to happiness than immediate success.

What makes you feel the happiest?

Most of us know what makes us happy, but when asked what makes us the happiest we all look back at our lives and wonder, what does make me the happiest. Many of us come back with a very similar list to what makes us happy, like having a great work life balance, spending time with our pets, etc. but I wonder if these count as being the happiest.

Nani says, “I’ve not been the happiest yet”. I was taken aback for a second after getting that response and then thought, wow, this is such a powerful statement. By saying she has never been the happiest maybe she is implying that she’s looking forward to a lot more happy days ahead and her happiest is yet come.

Alas, I was wrong. Her explanation burst my bubble of trying to find some hidden meaning. All she was trying to say is, she never felt that extreme happiness which would make her feel like she is on top of the world or that she has achieved nirvana, her happiness has always been basic.

My takeaway from this, not everything needs to have a profound meaning. Also, after having lived for this long and seeing the world like she has, and yet not feeling that extreme happiness, finding “it” should not be our main goal in life yet “it” can be what motivates us to keep going.

Share an instance when you were very happy but a little sad as well.

I was pleasantly surprised by how unanimous the response to this question was. There was a common theme here which invariably involved either goodbye’s or being a sad because someone else was. This is such a testimonial to human nature. Our happiness is often dependent on how people around us are feeling. Also, being separated from someone no matter what the reason, is always sad.

Mr. RS shared something we all have experienced. Achieving something when others around us have not. For him it was having a full time job offer before graduation while his friends did not. We have all been through circumstances where we can’t be all happy and cheerful when the person next to us is not. This sadness can even be a result of absence of the people we want to share our happiness with, which is exactly what Miss A felt when her parents could not make it to her graduation. I suppose this is humanity, this sensitivity or bonding is what makes us feel and comprehend things not many species can.

What advice would you give your 16 year old self to stay happy?

Contradictory to the previous question, where the response was unanimous, the response here varied. Mr. RS thinks he was already happier when he was younger, living in his comfort zone with less to worry about. Isn’t this true for most of us? Isn’t this the reason why we always want to go back in time (high school or college), when life was simpler.

Maybe not for all, for instance Mr. B thinks he was a bit too uptight and focussed on his career thereby missing out on a lot of experiences that are typical to a youngsters life and wishes he could have just let go a bit more. Miss A felt exactly the same, wishing she knew back then how it’s best to let go. She wonders if her life would have shaped differently, as she now realizes that perspectives change with experiences. On similar lines, Miss L wishes she had not treated life like an examination. Missie believes it is best to make the most of this phase in our life, its short lived and most things we do, don’t really matter.

On the contrary, Nani thinks she should have tried harder to fulfill her dream of becoming an environmentalist. Although, she does understand she was limited by economical conditions, yet she believes she could have figured out a way. She thinks of this as her one regret in life, but I think otherwise. As someone who has witnessed her conviction to rise up and achieve brilliance whenever circumstances demanded, feel that she is being too hard on herself.

What advice would you give your 50–75 year old future self to stay happy?

It’s in our nature to look back at our past and think of things we could do differently but what about the future. Do we ever make a mental note of what we should do way ahead in the future to be happy. Also, what is the deciding factor of choosing that one action that might keep us feeling happy? Does it have to do with bitter experiences we’ve had in the past or do we derive it from others around us who are older or can it be circumstantial?

Mr. RS thinks his older self will definitely be more experienced, so all he wants is to set a reminder for himself to pause and cherish his accomplishments with his family and friends. This is exactly what Miss. Shopes to do as well, to practice what she has learnt over the years. It might seem palpable but do we ever remember it when the time comes?

Missie wants to “drop it like it’s hot”, but on a serious note, all she wants is to have the ability and resource to keep exploring and learning new things. Mr. B even though felt like his younger self should have been more chilled, is still giving his future self career advice (SMH).

Nani’s mantra for happiness in her future is simply, live and let live. She thinks that the older she gets she might lose insight into what’s right or wrong when it comes to other people’s lives. So she wants to develop restraint to not advice the youngsters around her. This is her way of self-preservation, to not get hurt when people disregard her opinion or consider it as interference in their own growth.

Finally, the big question to all of us, do our life experiences empower us with the ability to comprehend what happiness really is? Do we ever become self-aware enough to recognize and seize every opportunity that will make us happy?

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