What is the deal with happiness?

The concept of happiness is a relatively recent development. The word, which originated during the Age of Enlightenment in the eighteenth century, has today become a buzzword which everyone wants to attain.

In the pre-Enlightenment world, human beings were seen more as belonging to some or the other collective. Examples of “collective” could be anything between tribes, religions, castes, villages and communities. By no means has such identification completely gone away. But, the spirit of collective identification has reduced as modernity has progressed. Individuality has become more prevalent.

Today,  one of the most important goals for everyone is to attain happiness. It has been described in various ways. But most of the descriptions converge towards a subjective sense of fulfillment which is different for everyone. The post-modern, fragmented sense of self tends towards solipsism.

As pop singer Sheryl Crowe crooned:

If it makes you happy 
It can’t be that bad 
If it makes you happy 
Then why the hell are you so sad?

On the other hand, it is interesting to see how our previous generations viewed happiness. One place to look for such evidence could be the ancient scriptures of the world.

The word for happiness in Sanskrit is Ananda. In the entire Bhagavad Gita, it is difficult to find a verse in which Krishna advises his discipline, Arjuna, to pursue his own Ananda or happiness.

In fact, the substance of this scripture is that Krishna tries and succeeds in convincing Arjuna to pursue his Dharma (or duty). In this case, his dharma is to prosecute the war against his cousins who had wrongfully taken away his kingdom. He teaches Arjuna that to fight the war is the honorable and courageous thing to do.

In the pre-modern era, a sense of duty, honor and courage were seen as more worthwhile than mere “happiness”. This kind of questioning and examination of some of today’s buzzwords and concepts should give us pause. It should make us think before accepting any status quo.