Have you ever wondered how human beings make decisions? What is it that drives us towards our actions? With the assumption that decisions are made sans duress and coercion, many of us believe that individuals are utility maximizers and every single human action or result is an outcome of a trade-off we make to maximize our utility. However, there is a deeper driving force underlying the utility maximizing action and that is the pursuit of happiness. At a very basic level, human beings crave happiness and while happiness may be a complex subject comprising subjective connotations and evolving levels, what binds human beings together is the need to be happy as a phenomenon that guides their choices. It is important to clarify here that while human beings may chase happiness, their choices may not be happy ones, for example: Think of someone who chases happiness in long term well- being as far as physical health is concerned and decides to follow a strict diet or a workout routine or decides to quit a bad habit like smoking. While these choices may provide uneasiness or unhappiness in the short run, they have been seen to deliver on the targeted “wellbeing” aspect.
As it turns out different human beings have different priorities and may believe in traversing different paths to achieving their happiness and as they achieve even little success, they grow in confidence which further feeds into their pursuit thereby completing what I call the cycle of happiness. Going back to our earlier example, as your workout and diet regime begins to show health benefits, you feel even more committed to the regime. Similarly, a count of the number of days since you last smoked motivates you to not give in. This cycle is infectious, and its pace increases rapidly, so much so that a lot of people conflate the pursuit of happiness with happiness. Ever met someone who not only loves their work but the very idea of working? Even before going to work, they seem to be happy and excited about it.
There is evidence that suggests that sometimes individuals achieve the anticipated results from their actions but fail to achieve a happy state. In this situation, their cycle of happiness breaks not because of a tryst with failure but due to a change of heart concerning the action itself. In these cases, individuals may look for course correction and begin a fresh pursuit. For example: Let us consider the case of a 1st year engineering student who may have enrolled for the course believing his happiness lies in becoming an engineer but despite getting decent grades doesn’t feel happy with his choice anymore and decides to drop out and pursue a different career option. However, the principle underlying his fresh choices is also the pursuit of happiness.
I am sure you are wondering “What about those who are clinically depressed or people who claim they’ve lost the will to live and can never see happiness?” “Aren’t they exceptions to this magical concept that binds us together?”
Well, as it turns out they are no exceptions to it, and which is why it is essential to understand the difference between the pursuit of happiness and achieving happiness. While the pursuit of happiness may be a common underlying cause for your decision making, the result from the choices may or may not lead to eventual happiness. There could be multiple reasons for our choices leading us to a state of non-happiness. A few of them are errors in judgment, trading off long term harm for short term gratification, being simply unlucky. Just as success in achieving the results you hoped your choices would lead to gives you happiness, failing to achieve these results repeatedly across different actions or fields could break your morale and dampen your spirit. However, there are several instances where after facing failure a few times, people eventually succeed in achieving their goal and complete their happiness cycle. The ubiquitous lesson from such instances is “Failure is only a stepping stone to success” or treating failure as a learning curve. There is a lot of talk around failure, but have you ever wondered that the greatest lectures on failure only come from the successful? Let us spare a thought now for the individual who repeatedly fails to complete this cycle of happiness. In addition to their disappointment, judgment from “peers” and “society” contribute to breaking this individual to such an extent that he/she loses the very pursuit of happiness. You now have an individual that believes chasing a dream and making choices towards achieving it will only result in sadness and further depression. This cycle is infectious too and may lead individuals to a state of indecision or decision-making sans adequate thought or without the right mindset (often termed as “irrational decision making” by society)
The first step towards recovering from the depressed state one may find themselves in is to be self aware and acknowledge that they belong to a broken cycle of happiness. This may sound straightforward but achieving mindfulness and self-awareness are challenging tasks. The next step recommended by several psychologists is to interact with other members of society and engage in volunteer work. This can be very daunting because a common feature among those who find themselves in a depressed state is being a recluse and wallowing in self-pity. While many understand the importance of sharing and socializing to some extent, recommended volunteer work for someone in a broken happiness cycle may sound absurd to a few people but there is scientific evidence that suggests that the very act of giving and helping others uplifts one’s spirits and can prove to be cathartic.
A few key questions that I would like you to ask yourself along with this food for thought:
-Is your decision making truly independent?
-Have you experienced the cycle of happiness that has led you to conflate happiness and its pursuit? If not, what do you think are the first steps in that direction?
-The next time you face failure or meet someone who does, what are you going to do differently to dig deeper into its causes without any deprecating judgment?
-Avigat Bawa (One of the Prize Winners of Article Writing Competition 2020 in the 13-24 Years Age Group)
Picture Credits: writmirage.com