The eternal pursuit of happiness: that state that is sought outside, but is found within
It is difficult to define happiness, but perhaps Borges hit the nail on the head when he said: “I have ever suspected that the only thing without mystery is happiness, because it justifies itself.” However, we spend little time trying to be happy. Most believe that this pleasant state is an urban legend in which you do not have to invest even half an hour, and they are dedicated to shopping, frequenting restaurants and uploading photos to Instagram. At the opposite extreme, the dreamers who still believe in it associate it with qualities, states, or possessions that will come in the increasingly distant future.
Fortunately, the ancients took this issue of happiness more seriously and left various philosophical theories that explained its connection with the human being. One of the most interesting is the one provided by Vedānta, a school of knowledge within Hinduism, whose teachings are collected in various books, including the Upanishads (Scriptures composed, approximately, from the 6th century BC) and of which Munindra, yoga teacher, creator of the Crazy Yogi channel on YouTube and expert in Indian culture, speaks to us. The Vedanta imagined the human being as a Russian doll, a matryoshka, with several layers. Specifically, five wraps. If we go from the most external to the most internal, the first is the ‘food body’ or physical body. This is followed by the ‘breath body’ or the energy body. The third is the ‘lower mental body’, which is nourished by the sensations and perceptions that come to us through the senses and memory. In the next, the ‘higher mental body’ resides intelligence, intuition and discernment. It is what you observe of the world, but drawing your own conclusions. Here lives the ‘I’ well understood, which makes us differentiate ourselves from others as individuals. Finally, there would be what the Vedānta calls the ‘happiness body’, the one that is in contact with the essence of being, which is pure bliss; since its qualities are truth, conscience and happiness. This philosophical model tells us that happiness is within us and that it is the different layers (the senses, the ideas) that keep us from it”, says Munindra.
It is probable that at this point many readers begin to develop a certain rash before such esoteric, inconsistent and unscientific theories; But don’t despair, because the most renowned lecturers and the Happiness Institute itself, in Copenhagen, are not that far from this ancient vision of our ability or inability to be happy. Those who have flown by plane will know that at certain altitudes it is always sunny. It is the clouds that cloud our skies and prevent us from seeing sunlight, even though it is always there.
Mario Alonso Puig, surgeon, lecturer and writer decided, at one point in his life, to stop healing bodies to heal minds and well-being, calm, love or joy are now his objects of study. “Our concept of happiness is wrong because we associate this term with having (health, a healthy economy, a house), when happiness is associated with being. It is a state of being that has to do with being comfortable in one’s own skin, it is something that comes from within. There are things that make us happy and that provoke the enjoyment of the senses, but then there is the enjoyment of the heart, which is something deeper”.
This idea that happiness is something more internal and that a happy life does not necessarily equate to many moments of joy, is something endorsed by Alejandro Cencerrado, a physicist from Albacete and chief data analyst at the Institute of Happiness. in Copenhagen, although he now works for this organization from Spain. “Since I became a father (I have a two-year-old son) my life has gotten worse. Parenthood takes you away from friends, makes you sleep little, have less free time, distracts you from your professional projects. However, there is a personal satisfaction, a trace of feeling good about what you do that has a lot to do with that concept of happiness”, points out this physicist.
Although it may seem incredible, happiness can be measured. Bhutan, that small country in the Himalayas with fewer than 800,000 inhabitants, does so with its Gross National Happiness Index. “There are many variables to know if a country is happier than another,” says Cencerrado, “some of them are the redistribution of wealth, the unemployment rate (unemployment generates suffering), trust, justice, the prospects for future, free time. However, the pattern that is most repeated in happy people is the affection of others. On the contrary, those who feel alone die sooner, they stop taking care of themselves, they let themselves go”.
“A sad generation with happy photos”
Oxytocin, also known as the happiness hormone, gets bored alone and needs company. “It is a substance very closely related to the affective bond, with the encounter, and it is secreted when you feel connected; either with another, with life or with nature”, says Mario Alonso. Feeling part of something, of the community, of a family, of a group, makes us happier; For this reason, according to this expert, “studies from the University of Pennsylvania, which likes to deal with these issues, recognize that we have gained in well-being but not so much in happiness. I am afraid that we are not happier than our parents or grandparents, despite the fact that we have many more things.
“We are a sad generation with happy photos”, is a phrase that appears from time to time on social networks, and we have less resistance to suffering and the troubles of life. In fact, and as Cencerrado acknowledges in his book In defense of unhappiness (Destiny), “unhappiness exists to not settle, to encourage us to be happy, to change. It is an evolutionary mechanism to progress.”
But also, the absence of well-directed happiness is an inexhaustible source of creativity. The Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgård already said it in a 2014 interview with the magazine Esquire: “One only writes if something has broken, if it lacks harmony. If you are happy you do not need to write. “It’s funny,” says Cencerrado, who scores his days based on his happiness level, from 0 to 10, “how my writing is so much better on days when my happiness score is lower. We have more vocabulary to describe the bad than the good; in part, because when we feel bad we are more introspective, we need to tell it, to be precise. While in happy moments we limit ourselves to enjoying, without more”.
In Man’s Search for Meaning, the psychiatrist Viktor Frankl revealed what he learned after studying the survivors of the Nazi death camps. One of them recounted that he survived because he was not there. Every morning he (mentally) he would get ready, go out, sit on a Parisian terrace and order a pastis. Happiness may come from within, but it also needs a certain ecosystem to grow; thus the slogan of the World Economic Forum, “You will have nothing and you will be happy”, did not have much appeal and was quickly dropped.
“There are three human dimensions”, points out Alonso Puig, “the material, the mental and the spiritual, very intertwined. The spirit is filled in the connection with others, with oneself and with life; but the material dimension is also essential. It is logical that the person cannot experience that feeling of happiness if he lacks the basics to live ”. In fact, as Cencerrado points out, “in the ranking Of the happiest nations, the first are the Scandinavians and the last positions are monopolized by the poorest countries, most of them African. Spain occupies position 28 out of 150 countries. It’s not bad, but we’ve dropped positions since the 2008 crisis and we haven’t recovered”.
Do the policies of countries influence the happiness of their citizens? Without a doubt, since the social organization can facilitate or complicate their lives to unsuspected limits. It is then when the search for happiness is the most revolutionary act that can be imagined. “When I lived in Denmark, half of what I earned was paid in taxes,” says Cencerrado, “but I saw that my money was well spent. Since I have been in Spain I have the impression of being deceived. That feeling of injustice, of lack of confidence in the institutions is something that we also take into account when assessing the happiness indexes of the countries”.
For Mario Alonso, there are qualities that predispose us to be happier, such as generosity. “However,” he states, “we have been told that it is better to receive than to give, and it is totally false. Gratitude is another, but we are more aware of what we lack than what we have. And there is also compassion and forgiveness. Resentment does more damage to the one who projects it than to the one who receives it, while forgiveness is the best of medicines, with an extraordinary impact on physical and mental health, and then there is stillness. We can’t function properly with our tongues out.”
Patricia Ramírez Loeffler is a psychologist, writer, and a star on Instagram, where she is known as patri_psicologa. In her last book, Live with serenity. 365 tips (Grijalbo), advocates more for emotional well-being than for happiness. “Setting ourselves the goal of being happy can be tyranny, but we can aspire to have a serene life, because serenity can be trained,” he points out. “I would not educate children in happiness, I would educate them in stillness and in values, in knowing how to appreciate the here and now.”
The philosopher and writer Juan Arnau, an expert in Buddhism, sends his opinion from India, where he is researching in the Ajanta and Ellora caves. “The search for happiness, so desperate and current, does nothing but bring misfortune to the world. Happiness, as the wise know, is something that happens, sporadically, while one is doing something else. It is an indirect effect of other activities. Looking for it directly is fruitless, an error of vision or strategy”.