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     Volume 11 |Issue 51| December 28, 2012 |


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What Makes Us Happy?

Shah Husain Imam

A middle-aged decently wealthy, properly educated and successful but modest entrepreneur in Britain of Bangladeshi origin shared a rare insight into his professional lifestyle with me. Rare, because I had not heard it before from anyone, even though pundits say that nothing remains original over the last 10,000 years of mankind.

His business exploits involve frequent travelling to China, India, Hong Kong, Singapore, and occasionally, USA. This is what he startled me with: "Everywhere I go, I stay in same five star hotels, eat delicacies served up to me many times over, move about in luxury cars, do a fixed number of laps in the swimming pool and sleep into cushy comfort at the end of the day." Hectic and high life yes, but that's what doesn't bother him at all, what really does is the experience of repeat living through same conduits over and over again. When the degree of good and luxurious living strays into surfeit, any imaginative, conscientious and thinking person will come to revile it at some point in time or other.


To add to his point I said, "Do you realise when we travel we live in second, third or fourth hand comforts, so to speak. For you have used the same customised rooms in hotels that other travellers have been to, the same linens, the same sinks and the whole lot of so-called hospitality gear?

There you see, we concluded, 'such home away from home' is just hogwash. Fatigue is bound to get to you eventually. This happens even with recreational trips, if you do not change locations and scenes.

Material possession or comfort is evidently not the same thing as contentment. Contentment has an element of feel good factor about it coming from the spirit rather than the matter. Material acquisitions can give happiness in the short-term but a contented state of mind comes from within. The sages have said this time and again but the frenzied appetite for money and property is a stark reality.

What makes people happy? The question is making the rounds in the international community today. It has become a topic of renewed interest in many countries around the world. According to BBC The Forum Programme, broadcast over a week ago, 'more countries around the world are starting to measure not only their Gross National Product, but also their citizens' happiness.' American positive psychologist Todd Kashdan maintains, "Being curious is the key to happiness." Belgian environmental scientist Eric Lambin says, "Our lives can be enriched by a more intimate relationship with nature." 'And novelist Eva Hoffman's recipe for happiness is ‘about learning to use our time meaningfully, not hoarding it too preciously but sharing it generously with others.'

Nothing like a combination of all three to bring you happiness; yet one can do the job.

The thing to note, however, is the common thread weaving through the tapestry of ideas presented by three eminent experts. Being curious means a whole lot of traits like interest in things around us; a questioning and observant mind; and a lively quest for discovery. If you live close to nature you have got the trigger for curiosity with a keen mind residing in a healthy body. And sharing time with others is a brilliant idea by itself (never mind, traffic being a time guzzler). Apart from geriatric-friendliness it opens a whole string of windows for cooperation, sharing and caring.

Let me pick the emphasis on nature; it has been Savannas, Prairies, mountains, water falls, Amazon forest, the Sundarbans, seas, banks of mighty rivers, fountains, big and small, are all inexhaustible sources of awe, peace and happiness.

Why is Bhutan so happy a country? Believe it or not, its 20 percent of land area consists of all parks and 60 percent is forest.

It is not for nothing that top educationists in England think that education in cities is incomplete. It has to be linked to nature and out of school learning processes. 'Camp in the Wild' is a rage in Britain now with students, teachers and guardians alike. Little wonder.

The writer is Associate Editor, The Daily Star.

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