Well, being well.
Have you ever wondered when you are being well and when you are experiencing well-being?
Sense of well-being is often synonymously considered as the sign of being happy. Being well and being happy are in actuality not the same. Happiness is the total enjoyment of the moment’s elation at success and synchronicity with existence, whereas well-being is more a comfort level. Is comfort happiness?
Comfort is indeed a component of happiness, but mere comfort does not create happiness. An independent house, servants at beck and call, economic freedom to buy whatever the moment’s desire dictates, luxury vehicle to travel, gadgets to play with, internet to chose to interact with others, music and movies at one’s own home theatre, books, unobtrusive visitors to while away time, choice to work since earning is no more the basic need to survive- all these can indicate a high level of comfortable living. But, do they really make life happy? Is contentment the criteria for happiness?
To take a bus in the sweltering summer heat to the public library and browse the books which generally would not be arranged even in their vaguely designated shelves, make notes, come back and find that some links are missing in the scrawls on the pages, go back the next day and search for the misplaced reference book and finally produce the article before the dead line was something most of those who have been writing for the last thirty years would have experienced before the net made writing and researching easy. That arduous task was much enjoyable and the result more gratifying than this ease of browsing with multiple windows open with the facility to cut and paste. Not that writing with the search results a click away has become less enjoyable. It is just that when the efforts to get results were more, the sense of gratification was also more. Comfort is always welcome, but the ease of toil certainly takes the shine off the success too.
The smile, though more easily appearing on our faces, does not linger as much as it used to do earlier. True the world is moving at a faster pace, and in the speed of social travel, images of enjoyable moments fleet past too. Perhaps nowadays we have lesser time to worry. But this is not a state of happiness. What then is true happiness?
Pursuit of happiness generally begins with a working definition of what happiness is, and this had always been the primal query of all the thinkers of the world. Upanishadic seekers as well as Greek philosophers have all pondered on the question of happiness. Humans have invariably come up with answers to the questions they keep on asking whether the inquiry was on the arrangement of stars or the laws of physics. Happiness, though the subject matter of thousands of years of pondering, has not been easy to define and therefore to attain.
Should you be stoic so that nothing ruffles you, or should you be epicurean so that nothing matters to you? Should you totally detach so that no harm disrupts your existence, or should you be sufficiently attached to make you enjoy the moment? Is the Zen , the only way? Since Tao philosophy gave birth to Zen ( as claimed by many), is Tao ( translated generally as ` the way/path’, the only way? Of what use is the way or path if there is no destination, and of what use is the destination if it were not to provide happiness? Though appearing as a simple lyrical line, ”don’t worry, be happy” is a profound statement. It gives an elementary yet essential dictum. One should stop worrying to be happy. It is possible only that way. Just as how one cannot frown and smile at the same time, one cannot be happy when one is worried. This would lead to the logical and difficult question- how does one stop worrying?
No one wants to get worried.Yet, everyone worries since everyone seeks what is currently beyond. To stop striving and seeking, to be detached a la Gita, though highly recommended as the commendable way to conduct life, is more utopian ideal than practical. We all strive to be happy.
Just as how no one wants to be worried, everyone wishes to be happy. Yet, happiness happens to be so difficult to achieve and sustain because the concept of happiness is not clearly defined in our minds. We often mistake momentary pleasures as happiness. In a given period of life, if the majority of the moments produce pleasurable feelings, then that phase of life can be described as being well. Happiness can be claimed to have been attained when one continues to be feeling well over a lengthy period of time.
If we look carefully at the accompanying or prevalent emotive states when one feels that life is indeed well, the most common feeling is that one has won. To be victorious, being the primal need from the early history of hunting humans, is a strange and subjective matter. What may be felt as a victory can sometimes be scoffed at by others. Though a victory according to personal motifs is pleasurable experience, it becomes joy only when there is social acclaim for the victory. This social acceptance of an individual’s victory leads to a plethora of pleasant feelings based on pride and satisfaction. Winning thus is closely associated with pride. A proud victory does induce a state of well-being. Its self-glowing warmth and social pats on the back make one feel comfortable. The comfort of well-being can become just momentary if one is not cautiously monitoring one’s won thoughts and actions. Can one be cautious and yet happy?
Comfort is the key word that propels human existence. From infancy we have all been instinctively or deliberately striving for maximum comfort at any given moment. After the initial protected phase of human development is over by adolescence, we begin the search for a more lasting comfort of economy, relationships and social status. The coziness of future becomes our prerogative. We plan, and work towards it. The moment we achieve a state of satisfactory guarantee that our comfort level cannot be disrupted anymore, we tend to take things easy. The quest for comfort is replaced by the desire for luxury. Since luxury is not an essential psychological drive, many of us would tend to stop short of reaching out far enough to achieve it. Luxury is an exaggerated comfort, and like all exaggerations it has a strong yet short-term attraction. There would come a time for many who have braved the fortunes of life to reach a comfort zone, to become cautious. At this point in life, many would prefer to play safe and safe-guard whatever has been accumulated and achieved. This is the state which many mistake as contentment.
Contentment is a state of absolute comfort and security in which there are no regrets or fears. Calmness pervades life. Clarity and composure become natural traits. When one is content, it is not inaction but measured and pleasurable action every moment; when one is content one is feeling and being really well. Contentment is comfort without complacence. It is not closing all the doors and bolting oneself inside; it is opening all the windows and constantly creating newer openings on one’s walls. Being content is not an excuse for not attempting anything further; it is a state of readiness which can face any challenge without anxiety. It is not failure’s mask ; it is the halo of ultimate success. It is the beginning of evolving into a better human being. Contentment, the real state of being well is not about sleeping in solitude but experiencing, expanding and enjoying relationships with others, with nature and above all with oneself.
this was written in january 2007 for Ritz magazine,chennai