The Happiness Quotient – Part 2

Ever since the Richter 9 Earthquake struck, we’ve been haunted by images of Tsunami ravaged Japan. Its hard to describe the tragedy unfolding in that country – A woman searching for her nephew among the rubble; the swollen sea sucking school children in; Stark images of battered bodies torturing us from our TV screens. Many people lost family members, their homes, their life’s savings or their livelihood.

To a greater or lesser degree, our lives are fraught with grief, loss or tragedy. The sadness from these is temporary. We may be scarred for life, but we move on. But what do we make of people who proclaim they’re unhappy for no tangible reason? What do we make of their search for happiness?

Many of those between 30 & 45 – especially from the upper strata of society – are unable to cope with the existential angst of living in a post-modern society. Pursuing a career saps all their energy and time. Many are in responsible jobs, which means dealing with inordinate amounts of stress.

Many live in nuclear families, so the support structures of a joint family are non-existent or scant. Their identities such as caste, race, language, religion and place of origin are becomingly increasingly irrelevant, leading to a feeling of rootlessness. Under the auspices of this altered landscape, people have to forge new identities and deal with Gen-Next and their burgeoning individuality – a new concept for India.

This leads to fatigue – and the question “Why am I constantly struggling? To what purpose?”. This either leads them towards Spirituality (along with the attendant god-men) or in a search for Happiness with a Capital H.

What happens when one is too happy? There’s a word for it – “Euphoria”. It is defined as “an exaggerated feeling of great elation and well-being”. “Euphoria” is Happiness on hyper-drive. Shall we see how euphoria feels like?

I was engulfed by this warm feeling of happiness. I was in a room surrounded by beautiful people. Everything was perfect. I felt a great closeness to all the people in the room as if they were part of something greater, beyond human understanding. I wanted to go around & hug everybody. Time had stopped. There was no a past or future anymore but I existed in a moment within space and time. And a beautiful moment it was. Every aspect of it, the people, the surroundings all seemed to fit perfectly together.

The band was playing drum and bass. I became one with the music. I couldn’t help but dance infectiously to its rhythms. It didn’t matter that no one else was dancing. My ego was gone. I was truly free to dance without worrying what others thought of me. I was charged up. And while I danced I began to feel that I was a soul existing inside a body. My body was not what defined me as a self.

Was that “Happiness”? Or that other, often misused word, “Spirituality”? Neither. It’s a description of an MDMA trip on the drug “Ecstasy”. Ecstasy floods the brain with 3 neurotransmitters – Serotonin, Dopamine and Norepinephrine. This elevates the mood for a short period and depletes the brain of Serotonin. Extended use of Ecstasy affects the neurons in the brain causing lasting damage.

So, we can safely conclude that prolonged periods of “Euphoria” will have the same effect on the brain – with our without ecstasy – Confusion, (interestingly enough) depression, impairment of memory, paranoia and attention deficit.

The school of life needs to dole out occasional hard knocks to us. We need to fail sometimes. Only then will our happy moments seem sweeter. Without unhappiness, there’s no happiness.

Is “Happiness” the same as “Bliss”? Bliss is defined as the “Supreme Happiness. Or Euphoria”. Ouch.

Why is happiness so important? The American Declaration of Independence grants every citizen 3 unalienable rights – “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness”.

I don’t search for happiness. Instead I focus on a few other words. I mentioned 3 of those words in Part-1 – Contentment. Maturity. Family & Friends (Ok, that’s 2 words). Here are a few other words.

  • Stimulation. A happy brain is a stimulated brain. Learn new things – preferably something you’ve never done before. Dancing. Learning a new language. Making a short film. Doing puzzles. Joining a Book Club.
  • Generosity. Be a giving person. If you do not have money, give your time. Be a volunteer. Select causes that you support – Is it Animal Welfare? Gay Rights? Educating Inner City Kids? Mentoring Immigrants? Pick one and start working on it.
  • Expertise. At the risk of sounding rude: Do not waste your time on finding out what your calling is. Very few people have a calling – perhaps 5% of the population, the geniuses. The rest of us have to try things out & pick what appeals to us the most. Then, develop in-depth expertise in that field. This will be a fulfilling experience.
  • Accomplishment. Or Success. When you look back on your life, what are the laurels you have won? Were you a sought out public speaker? Did you win a medal in Math? Were you praised for your singing? Are you so good in baking that you wrote a book? Or even – Were you the best bug fixer in the team?

I find that focusing on these words automatically makes me happy. For happiness is a by-product. You can’t chase it directly, it’s a derivative of what you do with your life.


  1. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said March 22, 2011, 9:21 am:

    Another insightful post Priya. Happiness does seem to be the type of thing that you can’t obtain directly much like money. It may also be a disposition. Not entirely sure. I seem to be on the slightly happy side perhaps due to my being an optimist? Many people observe that i seem to be happy. Reading your post, i am not sure this disposition is a good thing because it doesn’t seem to be a by product of what i do?

    you make an interesting point about the breakdown of traditional identities like caste. Does that explain why nationalism is on the rise?

  2. Quote

    Sukumar – Thanks for your comment & kind words.

    Yes, happiness can also be one’s disposition – which is derived from the organics of the brain – the neurotransmitter levels, the wiring & the standing wave patterns. Its difficult to alter these directly.

    For people who don’t have a happy disposition, they can become happier – not by following mumbo jumbo cults, but by simply focusing on a few of the words given in the post.

    Interesting take on rise in nationalism. I do believe you’re right.

  3. Quote

    nice post esp these words ” happiness is a by-product. You can’t chase it directly, it’s a derivative of what you do with your life.” kindly continue yur good work on this topic. bye .thanks

  4. Quote

    Dr Rajmohan – Thanks for your comment & kinds words. Glad you liked the post.

  5. Quote
    Joe Korah said March 22, 2011, 9:57 am:

    Wonderful and insightful post Priya. Your take on the “feeling of rootlessness” is very true. Having yourself rooted to a culture, place of origin etc uplifts your emotional well being and in turn provides a better platform for your pursuit of Happiness.

    How is finding inner peace related to Happiness ? – case in point is “a true yogi/guru” – Does it mean that mere mortals like us cannot deal with extended periods of supreme happiness or bliss without causing lasting damage to our brain and a true yogi who was mastered the art of inner peace can be in bliss ?

  6. Quote

    Joe – Thanks for your comment.

    I think being peaceful – is being calm, accepting yourself & the world. Such acceptance will reduce unhappiness, but may not directly lead us to happiness like say, accomplishments can. Just my take.

    Peace is like contentment, only harder. A lot harder.

    Extended bliss isn’t good for anyone, I think. It will come at a great price – severely reduced left hemisphere function or extended depression due to depletion of serotonin.

  7. Quote
    Nimmy (subscribed) said March 22, 2011, 10:21 am:

    Nice sequel to the previous post on Happiness. I did laugh while reading the paragraph on Euphoria. 🙂 Sounds almost like madness and insanity. But I am of the opinion that being a little insane (sometimes) throws one out of the stress zone and puts one back in the ‘balanced’ mode after a while! 😉

    I must confess that I am a person who stays away from negative and depressing news as far as possible but that does not mean I do not help when I come across an opportunity. To my mind, there is no point filling up our minds with negative news all the time. There will be something wrong somewhere in the world every single minute of our lives. I’d rather choose an area where I have the clarity, talent, skills, resources and wherewithal to help and focus on making a difference if I can. Like you say, if we can’t find such a social purpose for ourselves for some reason, all we have to do is be a good human being and share as much joy and hope as we can.

    Coming back to the topic, I agree with your conclusions. My own thoughts revolve around “Love, Learn, Laugh”. Love = Family and Friends. Learn = Stimulation, Expertise. Laugh = Enjoy the good things in life and discover the humor around (and in) you.

    PS: After-thought: Where would you put ‘Enthusiasm’ in the happiness matrix?

  8. Quote

    Nimmy – Thanks for your comment.

    A little insanity is good for you, just like a little occasional euphoria is good 😉

    I find that accepting negative, depressing news is good & it leads to balance. As I said, a touch of unhappiness makes us appreciate happy moments better.

    Making a difference to oneself & others is the key to happiness. I didn’t add Enthusiasm since its a disposition. I wanted to make “happiness” actionable, by providing a list of parameters that people can work on. Enthusiasm can be kindled though stimulation though.

  9. Quote

    Excellent post!! 🙂

    I agree about ‘Giving back’ Generosity and Expertise… Two areas where i do some work today and hope to do more in coming year.. 🙂 Expertise will lead me to Accomplishment.

    Again excellent post. Keep writing.. because that is where your expertise is 🙂

  10. Quote

    Senthil – Thanks for your comment & kind words.

    Yes, expertise can lead to accomplishment.

    My next post will be published on Friday – a short-story this time. Thanks for your encouragement.

  11. Quote

    Good one Priya.

    After seeing the words (Stimulation, Generosity, Expertise, Accomplishment), I am thinking there could be some more that will give us happiness. Not getting them though 🙁

    Can ‘Fulfillment’ be added to the list? – Taking my daughter to the shop that she wanted to go, giving her a surprise by taking her to an Ice Cream parlour. I feel happy by seeing her happiness.

    Another perspective for those words for happiness would be they are time-bound unlike what you had mentioned in Part-1. Do you agree?

    I also like Sukumar’s comment about nationalism is on the rise.

  12. Quote

    Excellent one, i think following are important for happiness also.

    1. Nothing is constant. Be prepared for changes. One day driving Benz car may not be same next day, we may have to drive bi cycle. Life is full of changes.

    2. Don’t try to change others unless they are willing to go through transforms which is very rare.

    3. Don’t say what ever we think through our mind. There is always some polish needed for good personal relationship.

    4. Plan it, invest it, make money work for you, not that you work for money

    5. Daily read some spiritual books or tell mantra.Keep your brain clean from negative thoughts.

    6. Be honest with everyone, if can’t, if we have to tell lies then that’s sign of withdraw from that entity.

    7. Don’t afraid of destroying some. I mean liquidate somethings.

    8. Tell good things about others, may some extra also fine.

    9. Keep time, bond with it, time will give you health and wealth.

    10. Last but not the least, always smile even when we are in dire situation.

  13. Quote
    Prejitha said March 22, 2011, 10:51 pm:

    Good post Priya.I would like to add my views also.

    Try to find happiness in all the small things you do.It may be a new discovery,trying out a new dish etc.

    You can make people around you happy .This inturns comes under ‘Giving back’.Spending some of your valuable time with the unprivileged makes them happy and you are inturn gaining a lot of positive energy which keeps you motivated all the time.

    You can help out your teammates in fixing the code which makes the workplace a happier place.

    As Sukumar said being optimistic keeps you motivated.He’s one among the most optimistic person i have seen in my career life.

  14. Quote

    Excellent post Priya!
    I read both the posts on the Happiness quotient, and I just loved both of them!

    All around us, there is some insane feeling of having lesser than the others, being one rung lower than the other, or the reverse, and amidst all this, ‘living a life’ itself is forgotten.
    I agree with all your points, and loved the way, you focused on them one by one!

  15. Quote

    Murr – Thanks for your comment.

    “Fulfillment” is a good one. I think that would fall into “Giving”, as well as being with “Family/Friends”.

    Regarding the point about these words being time-bounf – I don’t understand, could you please elaborate?

    And yes, Nationalism is indeed on the rise.

  16. Quote

    Subba – Thanks for your comment.

    You’ve made some very good points. I think 1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 8 fall into “Maturity” (or Wisdom). I’m not sure 5 is universal. Spirituality is not needed by everyone. 4 & 9 seem to be pragmatism, which is an essential pre-condition for anyone who wants to live in this planet – not a condition for happiness alone.

  17. Quote

    Prejitha – Thanks for your comment.

    Yes, indeed. Happiness comes in small packets. A dish you tried, a new restaurant you patronized, a new song you heard – discovery comes under stimulating the brain.

    Nothing beats the joy of “Giving”.

    Being slightly more optimistic than pessimistic helps us ward off the blues. And yes, Sukumar is always happy 🙂 With a wife like me, how can he be otherwise 😀

  18. Quote

    Aishwarya – Thanks for your comment & kind words.

    What an insightful point you make. Perennially comparing our lot with the lot of others – will make us forget the small joys life has to offer. And that’s all there is to life – small joys.

  19. Quote
    senthil (subscribed) said March 30, 2011, 9:12 pm:

    But priya… would you be able to agree, that caste is a major factor of one’s happiness? Living along with one’s own jaathi people, gives a people the confidence, the community support, and a cultural bondage..

  20. Quote

    Senthil – Thanks for your comment.

    You’re entitled to derive pleasure from being with members of your caste. Its not a universal phenomena.

  21. Quote
    senthil (subscribed) said March 31, 2011, 2:27 pm:

    Priya.. whether i am entitled or not doesnt matter.. i am asking in broader sense.. You yourself had mentioned in this post that deviating from caste, makes one feel insecure and gives a sense of rootlessness.. my question is why not allow and facilitate the people to live along with their caste as a community? Why is caste always dealt in negative way or ignored as is the case in this post?

    Secondly, may i know on what basis did you conclude happiness from one’s caste is NOT universal phenomena? Is there any study done or is there any other references?

    In my study, i found that all caste people, including dalits feel comfortable living along with their caste people..

  22. Quote

    Senthil – This is not a discussion on caste. Please – no more comments on that in this post. I do not want this thread also to be hijacked by discussions on your pet topics.

    You don’t have any studies done that living with people of your own caste will make you happier in this day & stage, do you? My comment is based on how caste is purely irrelevant to me & many people I know.

    End of discussion on caste & how wonderful it really is, according to you.

  23. Quote
    senthil (subscribed) said March 31, 2011, 8:21 pm:

    Priya.. this post is about happiness quotient, and i was debating about happiness through caste.. and you are refusing even to look at this possibility.. why this closed mindset?

    It seems, even the word Caste seems to evoke such strong hatred from you.. I remind you, i am not talking about caste in general, but how caste plays an important role in the happiness quotient.. By accusing me, you are deviating the case..

  24. Quote

    Senthil – Ok. Here’s what I think. Being with people who belong to the same caste may make some people happy. With burgeoning individuality, especially for people in cities, caste may no longer play a part.

    Caste, at one point of time, may have provided the “Us” vs “Them” – in defining who belongs to your “in” group. I believe caste still forms a major part of one’s in-group in villages. But these days, in cities, there are other factors also at play.

    Profession – Doctors may feel more at ease with other doctors
    Belief – Atheists may feel comfortable with agnostics and other atheists – or at least, those who question their belief
    Interests – Someone who likes football may feel at ease with other football fans
    Causes – Animal lovers may like to be with other animal lovers etc

    Its a long list. Hope I’ve answered your question: It really depends on the person, its not universal.

  25. Quote
    senthil (subscribed) said March 31, 2011, 8:51 pm:

    Priya.. thanks.. i agree with you.. if your post is aimed at for city people, then it may be ok.. i thought it deals with happiness quotient in general..

  26. Quote

    Interesting post! Happiness according to me is a state of mind. It cannot be quantified. By performing all our actions according to our inner nature and offering them to a higher noble cause and being content with what we get in life we can be happy:-)

  27. Quote

    Sajeev – Thanks for your comment.

    There are 2 parts to defining anything – qualifying it (specify the parameters that impact/cause it) and quantifying it (specify measurement criteria & weightage of the parameters). I think anything can be qualified – and with some effort, even quantified.

    You have already qualified happiness – as doing what we are good at (inner nature), noble cause (some form of giving involved) and contentment. Which is pretty much in line with what I say. Instead of wondering what our inner nature is, I think people should instead focus on accomplishment & gaining expertise.

  28. Quote
    Ruchi (subscribed) said April 3, 2011, 11:57 pm:

    I would like to share something which is related to your blogpost and I read it somewhere …

    If happiness was national currency, what sort of work will make you rich ?

    There is no right or wrong answer, of course. 🙂

  29. Quote
    archana raghuram said April 4, 2011, 3:31 pm:

    Very interesting and well thought out post.i agree with all the four points. I also want to add desposition, a point which Sukumar already made. I too am a happy person, that is my default state of being. I also feel, you need to work towards happiness. You sld have the motivation to be happy. When you are feeling low, you should try to overcome. I think some people like to wallow, not politically correct thing to say, but this has been my observation.

    The biggest source of happiness for me are my hobbies. Finding things that you enjoy doing and making time for them is my recipie for happiness

  30. Quote

    Archana – Thanks for your comment.

    Yes, some people are naturally happier, thanks to their brain chemistry. But there are other ways to find happiness too – the ways I could think of. I’m at my happiest when I learn & do new things, for e.g.

    I fully agree with you on the wallowing. I have little patience with people who won’t get a grip & move on.

    Yes – hobbies. They stimulate your brain. A nice way to be happy.

  31. Quote

    Ruchi – Thanks for your comment.

    What sort of work will make you rich, if happiness was the currency? Hmm, that will vary from person to person, I think. Interesting question.

  32. Quote
    Ruchi (subscribed) said May 6, 2011, 2:22 am:

    Priya, here is an article from Wharton . It talks about Happiness , research on happiness and related points touched upon in your blog. I am sure, you will absolutely love to read it …

    Do feel free to share as one of the links in FTOTW , look forward to what rating you ascribe to it !

  33. Quote

    Hack – thought you would suggest a drug to set off those happiness hormone – disappointed that you gave a long and natural way of triggering it:):(.

    I have been having these ups and lows, and did some analysis about it. I thought it could be a biological thing which we had no control like BIPOLAR DISORDER, but I find interesting coincidence in the tipping and triggering points. Its all to do with the hope! Hope is a function of accomplishments of the past, practices of the present and the ambitions for the future. This is highly influenced by an environmental factor “People”. When hope is depleted the happiness curve dips and vice versa. I got a perfect sine wave for me:)

    If being happy is alone the goal, it can be achieved very easily. I guess generally most of us do it in our teens that way. But as we grow we increase our ambitions and that may be increase or decrease your ‘hope’ based on your accomplishments.

    But do we need to drop in troughs of sadness to experience happiness?? Is it not possible to be just normal D.C machine instead of a A.C?

    I agree with your prescription/hack which answers it!. It looks to me that we should seek happiness rather than being happy. Happiness lies in the pain you endure to acquire it rather than those few minutes of insanity you experience while achieving it.The more the pain , greater the insanity.

    Loved the post! Because reading it made me happy:)

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