I spent my teen years in a state of happiness. Not that I had great things happening in my life. My external world was as difficult as any adolescent’s. My internal world though, was in a constant high, keeping me peaceful and healthy.
Harry Potter books were my teenage companions. No matter how many times Ron drank the love potion, I’d find it hilarious every single time. Harry’s life at Hogwarts had given me a magical world of my own to retreat to. It was all in my mind, it was my happy place, and it reflected in all areas of my life.
What is happiness anyway? The absence of sorrow? That’s not practical. The absence of desires? We’re not ascetics. Psychologist Tishya Mahindru Shahani explains, “We can be happy only when we’re content within ourselves. I’d say happiness is the degree to which we judge the overall quality of our life in a positive light. It’s a part of our conscious mind.”
This definition reminds me of Liesel Meminger, the child protagonist of the book The Book Thief. The girl led a happy life for most part of the story despite living in a war-ridden area. Her contentment made her such a positive soul that even Death, the narrator, celebrated her story. She was grateful for all she had and that kept her happy.
Like Liesel, I too was joyous as a teen. But adulthood sapped my knowledge of happiness and its secrets. The more I try to find happiness, the more elusive it seems. Of course, I’ve been looking for it in all the wrong places—higher education, career, financial security and relationships to name a few. I now see that I’ve been chasing after a mirage. Says Shahani, “It might seem like we get our happiness from external objects or experiences. But the truth is that happiness arises from within us, no matter our external circumstances.”
Sure, externalities can bring us joy. A child’s first steps, a hard-earned educational degree, a fat pay check, a pet’s antics, all make us feel elated in the moment. But happiness is purely internal and somewhat disconnected from these joys. Sexagenarian Kailash Advani describes this best. “When I was 15, it was my life’s fantasy to drink from a tin of condensed milk. My family had financial hardships. I had to wait for a 100 rupees gift from my principal, just so I could have the milk,” he says. “That was pure joy. As a boy though, I mistook it for happiness. Today I understand real happiness is entirely internal. It doesn’t matter that I had to shut down a business I had run for 21 years. I’m happy no matter what,” shares Kailash.