The identity of happiness

I often wonder how much harm we do to ourselves by trying to measure happiness according to society’s prescribed standards. We already have social pressure around what age we should complete our education, at what age we should get married, when we should have children, by when we should own a house and so on. Add to this the anxiety caused by social media. Somebody had a honeymoon at an exotic location, someone else is off on a world tour, somebody had their book published, and someone else celebrated an occasion with a big dazzling party. We measure our own success and failure against all these prescribed milestones and then decide on most occasions, that we are failures. Or, even worse, that we are not as happy as we should be. How many people are simply joyous about who they are in life and what they are doing for themselves? I guarantee that nobody, save a few ascetics and monks, are really happy in life. In the Bhagavd-Gita, Krishna talks about happiness, removing desires, and finding lasting peace.

Chapter 2 verse 14

मात्रास्पर्शास्तु कौन्तेय शीतोष्णसुखदु: खदा: |
आगमापायिनोऽनित्यास्तांस्तितिक्षस्व भारत || 14||

O son of Kunti, the contact between the senses and the sense objects gives rise to fleeting perceptions of happiness and distress. These are non-permanent, and come and go like the winter and summer seasons. O descendent of Bharat, one must learn to tolerate them without being disturbed.

Chapter 2 verse 15

यं हि व्यथयन्त्येते पुरुषं पुरुषर्षभ |
समदु:खसुखं धीरं सोऽमृतत्वाय कल्पते || 15||

O Arjun, noblest amongst men, that person who is not affected by happiness and distress, and remains steady in both, becomes eligible for liberation.

Chapter 2 verse 16

नासतो विद्यते भावो नाभावो विद्यते सत: |
उभयोरपि दृष्टोऽन्तस्त्वनयोस्तत्त्वदर्शिभि: || 16||

Of the transient there is no endurance, and of the eternal there is no cessation. This has verily been observed by the seers of the truth, after studying the nature of both.

I began penning this article because I keep questioning who I am? What is my identity? Does the world see me as a sum of my occupation, relationships and assets? Am I anything beyond all of these. Can I find happiness as an individual, and not as a result of my perceived relationship success, or my perceived financial and academic wins? The answer is that I am trying, very consistently. The answer is also that I haven’t been very successful thus far. I quit my job and started teaching yoga. I do not fuss over how many clients I have or how much money I am making. I am trying really hard to enjoy the simple things, and be happy with who I am.

How ensnared we are in our minds- what actually transpired

October onwards is usually a riot of festivals and celebrations for us. There is dusshera, Diwali, my husband’s birthday, my son’s birthday, Karthikeya Deepam and then there are Christmas holidays and New Year. We usually manage to squeeze in a vacation or short trip in between all of this as well. This year we were planning to combine the trip with my husband’s 40th. A milestone of sorts, right, getting to 40. So the plans had been underway for over a week with us trying to find the right resort and make our bookings. All of a sudden my husband announced that he wanted to be alone on his birthday and didn’t want to go on this trip. I broke down into tears. I accused him of not finding our family important. I said that he was making a hasty decision. I emotionally blackmailed him that the child was looking forward to the outing. Until, he said that he should be the most important person to himself and that he would like to spend the day alone, it would make him happy.

In that flash of 5 minutes, I thought about all the questions family and friends would ask about how we celebrated the husband’s 40th birthday. I thought about how I was a failure as a wife if my husband didn’t want to spend time with me on his birthday. I though about how little our son and pups mean to him that he chose to spend time alone. And then, suddenly it struck me. This wasn’t about me at all. This wasn’t about me having to answer to my family, or about my worth as a wife, or my happiness either. This was all about him. If he decided to have a non-conformist birthday, and it was going to make him happy, why was I creating such a furore over it? It was because I am society too. I have prescribed standards in my mind about a birthday, about a family vacation, about happiness, and about what my husband should do on his birthday for him to be happy. Such a sham, I realised. I sat down and asked myself why I felt bad.

I needed to internalize this. The answer was that people will think our marriage is on the rocks and that I must not be a good wife if he wants to be alone on his birthday. I asked myself if that was the truth or a perception? I also asked myself a so what if he wasn’t happy? Both, it turns out had the same answer. Whatever my husband is going through is not a reflection on me. I should not cause unhappiness to myself over something that wasn’t my truth. His journey of  self-discovery should, in no way, be belittling to me. That acceptance was cathartic. I felt a wave of relief. I then asked my son if he would feel bad if daddy spent his birthday alone. The child in all his innocence squealed that we could go to grandma’s house and have fun if daddy wanted to be alone. I then asked him if he would feel bad if we didn’t take a trip somewhere. He simply said no, he didn’t care.

The child’s words made me feel even more stupid about what a shitstorm I was about to raise over nothing.

In the end, I want to say that I have regained my peace. I only wish that we could apply this to every situation in our life. If we stopped determining out worth basis the people and property around us, our minds and hearts would be lighter. If we stopped giving the key to our happiness in others hands, we would realize that one doesn’t need a reason to be happy. One only needs to find a reason to stop be happy. On that note, I am going to try harder than before, to not allow my environment to control my joy and I will take a stand on it, just like my husband chose to. I will work harder on what Lord Krishna said and try to bring in an equanimity to my thoughts and emotions.

Published by Nitya Neelakantan

Yoga teacher, writer, dog mom!

5 thoughts on “The identity of happiness

  1. How beautiful and mirror showing post of a family. You know i have kind of passed the ‘right’ marriageable age, but the time is coming fast and society has been catching with me up big time. Hearing all the saga like this, well, it does make you think about all the prescribed medications like steps of what and when, but i imagine it should be up and right, the right to be that self, as our sages have time and again made us memorise about the four ages a man goes through.

    I guess these are only filters and make peace within each one who starts questioning.

    My wishes
    Narayan

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I guess at the end of the day it boils down to what real happiness is about. If you are happy without being married then that shouldn’t have to be explained to anyone. We need to leave behind social pressure to conform. Simply enjoy all stages of life as they come. 🙏🏽

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Well true, but at the end of the day India is not completely about one’s happiness. It is shared and in seeing the other in joy too. Yes, hope to embrace all stages in awareness. Thank you for writing Nitya. Narayan

        Liked by 1 person

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