Happiness and the Theory of Relativity

“Learn to let go. That is the key to happiness.”

                                                     –   Buddha

The other day, I chanced upon a report on the Happiness Index 2012 based on a global poll. What intrigued me were the results.

 On the top of the heap, as the happiest, are folks from Indonesia,India and Mexico. An Indonesia repeatedly ravaged by earthquakes and tsunami. An India struggling with one of the highest malnourished young population. And a Mexico racked by drug cartels and violence.

And at the bottom of the rung with low happiness levels are countries with some of the highest human development indices viz.Germany, Japan, France and Italy. The results do seem to fly in the face of our belief that happiness is a function of wealth, quality of life, health, education etc. And if this be not so, what really are we looking for when we seek happiness?

I get down to finding out what happiness is all about. Is it that warm fuzzy feeling that we get inside when we feel pleasure? Is it the lightheadedness on achieving that long cherished goal and recognition? Is it the contentment of our current situation, be it our family, work or surroundings? Or could it be the exhilaration offered by our material possessions?

As I reflect, I realise that we carry this hugely relative view regarding happiness. On one end of the scale we see it closely linked to pleasure. And so we aggressively seek it, doing everything in our powers to possess it. On the other end of the scale, we try to achieve happiness through “high thinking simple living” moral posturing which denigrates pleasure as something shallow and non-spiritual.

I drill and probe into this relativity surrounding happiness.

My thoughts veer towards the age old fable of the Buddha and the young woman Kisagotami. The story goes that when Kisagotami’s first born dies, her desperate attempts to seek out medicine.to revive the infant takes her to Buddha. Buddha, hearing her pleadings, tells the woman, “To make the medicine, I would need a handful of mustard seeds from a house where no child, husband, parent or servant has died.” As Kisagotami goes on her quest, she realises that hers is not a unique predicament. She leaves the body of her child  in the forest and returns. Buddha helps Kisagotami to “let go” of her perceived source of happiness- her child, to gain a higher view of happiness.

I see how I, like Kisagotami, instinctively position myself at the centre of my universe and hold on to all I have. So no matter what is happening out there, it comes down to how it will impact me. I notice this every time that inner voice complains, “Even though there is an economic downturn, why should I lose on my investments? Why does my child’s school not provide her the extra support? Why does it always happen to me?’ And so on…. I notice my self centric view and the need to hold on is really at the core of my perennial happiness hunting mission.

Me…. Mine….. Myself…..Acquire……. Protect.

Our instinctive happiness mantra. Words and thoughts close to our core. All contributing to our “me-first” perspective. Do we see the need to shift away and increase awareness of many other perspectives around us? As we make this shift, our “me first” point of reference loses ground. And this is when we enter into the world of relativity. Similar to what Einstein conceived a century back, this is a world where each of our reality is relative and all points of view subjective to the beholder. A world where the sheer act of noticing can change the outcome.

We cannot have happiness without unhappiness, pleasure without frustration. Just as we cannot have well being without catastrophe. All on a continuum, all relative to each other.  As we shine the light of this realisation on our “narcissistic self”, we see the relativity of our self concept and its reactions like anger, anxiety, doubt and grief, conditioned as we are to hold onto them. As we do this, our sense of solidity of the “self” collapses into a realm of relativeness.

So we come back to the question, “What is happiness?”  I believe it is an attitude floating in relativity. An attitude to accept pain and disappointment as part of pleasure. An attitude to move away from self obsession while being obsessed with our core values and commitments. An attitude to retain our faith as we face ridicule and hurt to that “me –first” self. An attitude to welcome the Good without being possessive along with   the Bad without being disappointed. The attitude to “let go” when it no longer serves us.

Could it just be that such an attitude gets fostered in an environment full of uncertainty and challenge? An environment which simply does not allow us to seek refuge in our individualistic cocoons. An environment which allows us to “let go.”

Could it just be why the Happiness Index 2012 has thrown up the kind of results it has?

In Learning………                                                                         Shakti Ghosal

Author: Shakti Ghosal

* A PCC Credentialed Executive Coach mentor and trainer for leaders & performance. * A qualified engineer and a PGDM (Faculty Gold medalist) from IIM Bangalore. * Four decades of industry experience spanning Engineering, Maintenance, Projects, Consumer durables, Supply Chains, Aviation and Tourism. * Top level management positions to drive business development, strategy, alliances all around the globe. * A visiting faculty at the IIMs. *A passion to envision trends & disseminate Leadership incubation globally. www.empathinko.in , * www.linkedin.com/in/Shaktighosal. shakti.ghosal@gmail.com . +91 - 9051787576

68 thoughts on “Happiness and the Theory of Relativity”

  1. Shakti,

    Deep thoughts and questions. I am glad that you are not afraid of them! I love how you are willing to admit that you do not have all the answers. Most people can not do that. So, I offer my thoughts humbly, yet boldly:
    Happiness has consumed the world. What is happiness? Enjoying the current because of the situation.
    I hear it said ALL the time in pop culture, “I just want you to be happy.”
    And can I propose that that very quote and wish is shallow and unloving?
    To people I love, I want them to be kind when being selfish is what what will make them happy. I want them to chose to eat healthy food when French fries and candy would make them happy. I want them to chose to help others at their own sacrifice.
    I want so much more than happiness for people!
    Being happy is not bad, it is great, but I believe it should never be a goal.
    Love. Joy. Peace. Those are goals. And how can we have them?
    I believe there is only one God that offers forgiveness. Peace.
    There is only one God that says it is not about what you do but about what he has done. Love.
    There is only one God that says in this world you will have trouble, BUT I HAVE OVERCOME THE WORLD. and that is true joy.
    The only God that offers true love, joy, and peace is Jesus Christ.

    Thank you for allowing me to share,

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dear Caroline,

      At the outset, my apologies for responding late. But I seem to be having some challenges with accessing ‘Comments’ on WordPress.

      Your comment is indeed empowering, and at the same time Thought-provoking. You ask ‘What is happiness?’ I suppose it means different things to different people. You have linked aspects of instant gratification with Happiness. But is this really true? Instant gratification ( being selfish in the moment, eating junk food) by its very definition is fleeting. It also signifies an attachment or yearning. But the way I conceptualized and spoke of happiness in my post, it is bereft of all attachment, and thus is lasting.

      Indeed, Love, Joy, Peace are empowering goals. But if one were to ask, ” What is it that Love, Joy, Peace lead to?” For many folks, the answer might just be

      Thank you again for taking the time here.


      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post, thanks! As I understand it, happiness also relates to expectations, and to not absolute or even relative prosperity but prosperity relative specifically to those nearby. More advanced nations’ peoples may have unreachably high expectations, and given more local wealth disparity, more people unhappy even though among the most prosperous on earth, becaseu they’re not keepiing up with the Jones’ next door, sp tp speak.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi,

      Sorry for the delay in replying but I have been facing challenges with the Comment area of Word Press.

      Indeed, what you say about Happiness getting linked differential expectations is a distinct possibility and I did use that as the basis for starting my post. But I suppose on a sustainable basis, Happiness would arise from far more fundamental aspects of our ‘Way of Being’.

      Thank you again for taking the time to visit and comment.


      Liked by 1 person

  3. I believe true happiness comes from Jesus Christ.Through His grace and mercy we are able to be strong and have peace even in the hardest time. I also believe that happiness are moments in time.


    1. Having a belief about one’s happiness is a great pace to start. To me though Happiness transcends time as it is a state of being. How does each one of us shift into this state remains a function of our awareness relating to the life’s journey we have undertaken.

      Thank you for taking the time to comment here.



  4. Wow, you have laid down some wonderful thoughts about happiness. Happiness Index 2012 shows a somewhat unbelievable result, but then, they must know better. I was just thinking, if we let go, does not this very act of letting go brings us sadness instead of happiness? But I am sure this sadness will be short-lived and we will realize we have something better to gain by letting go.


    1. Hello Ramu,

      What is it that makes one ‘let go’? When one is able to loosen , if not, totally remove the attachments. With less or no attachment, how can there be sadness? Sadness after all comes from the perspective of loss. When there is no attachment, there is no loss. I realise this sounds philosophical and idealistic but then Happiness is a climb through our lives with top. It is the journey itself which needs to be kept as a context.

      Thank you for taking the time to think and post this comment. I appreciate.



  5. Hiya Shakti, I came by to see what you’re up to – your thoughts & musings which are always worth the read, & see you haven’t posted for a month & so decided to go back in time. And glad I did, as this one – really, like all you pieces – is thought provoking. You see, my son is going with friends to celebrate new year’s eve today, going to a beachside place, and I feel deep joy in knowing he is so well placed amongst his group, has people to celebrate with & so on. Yet even so, I feel a big realisation how I have “let go” so many people & am left with no-one to celebrate with, and will be alone – was alone at Christmas, but then, I have a roof over my head, ample food, health, happy kitty cat… You know, I fully get what you mean by it’s all relative. I’m struggling just a little with knowing how well placed I am here in Australia, sun shining etc & all good, yet a sense of “being with other people would enhance my experience of being human”.

    Ugh! Look, you’ve evoked a ramble!! 🙂 What I really wanted to say was: HAPPY NEW YEAR! 🙂

    You must be travelling or just having an awesome break, so sincere best to you, & to our new year, this life.



    1. Thank you and may I also wish you a great 2014, full of good cheer and empowerment. Have fun and continue to be amazing…..

      Loved your ‘ramble’ and delighted to see that you have “got it” meaning the essence of my post. Indeed, as we ‘let go’, we become the recipient of something immeasurably more valuable which is a heightened sense of awareness of our own core self.

      Cheers and thank you for taking the time to visit and comment. I appreciate.



  6. ****to “let go” of her perceived source of happiness***

    I understand this completely, utterly, fully.

    I believe this is something I can let go of. I can live in shade and light….night and day…mourning and joy….

    but I will never Never ever let go of my sister.

    I LOVED this. lOVE LOVE LOVE. Thank you. Xx


  7. Hi Shakti,

    Brilliant and deep. Yes the Global poll deductions are astounding which makes me wonder what their criteria was based on? I personally believe the pursuit of happiness is an individual thing and so is present across geographies.

    You have brought out clearly that eternal happiness or Parmanand as we say is not dependent on any situation or variable. As such it is only the ‘letting go of our ego and related wants and desires’ that sets us free to be in that Supreme state of permanent bliss. And as we do not have personal experience quotes of our Masters help us and inspire us forward.

    I had written a small piece on Maslow’s ‘self actualization’ which I love to discuss with my friends to gain newer insights. Do have a read when you can http://dilipnaidu.wordpress.com/2010/10/18/is-self-actualization-elusive/ 🙂

    Thanks my friend for sharing your thoughts!



    1. Shaemistha,

      I tend to agree. Each one of us needs to be aware of our heritage for it is this which influences our values to a large extent. As we align ourselves with our values with integrity.we would see the world with positivity. This to me is a precurser to happiness.




  8. happiness is always comes from with in no matter what are your social status, no matter where ever you are or what situation you had, it is always comes for acceptance and your openness for improvement and innovation, this is excellent share Shakti, I love how you tackle and give points on some issues which is timely happened now a days.


    1. You are right, WOH, when you say that happiness ultimately depends on our inner compass and attitude. An attitude to be open about and conscious of polarities in all things. An attitude to ” let go” of our preconceptions and replace this with an openness to allow new thoughts and ideas to come in.

      So happy to know you liked the post. Really love you to come here.



  9. Dear Shakti,
    Your post, thought provoking as usual, touches upon a very fundamental and emotive issue indeed – the subject of happiness. Interestingly, while this word denotes a state of mind which has been the oft-elusive goal of humans possibly ever since our evolution from the Neanderthal man, it still continues to elude quantification or even rigorous definition.

    It is revealing to note that even the dictionary definitions of happiness are delightfully fuzzy and vague. For example, the Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines it as:
    a state of well-being and contentment
    a pleasurable or satisfying experience

    As you have insightfully stated, the way we, as individuals, seek happiness, or for that matter evaluate our index of happiness, is widely variable and is relative to each individual. It is undeniable that the perception of the state of happiness is essentially so subjective, that any objective evaluation would appear to be futile.

    Even so, down the ages, philosophers, scientists, theologists, saints and sinners, and of late, economists, sociologists, and even Doctors, have attempted to study happiness and to determine what are the determinants and main contributory factors.

    Even around 400 BC, Greek philosophers grappled with this question. Aristotle attempted a fairly comprehensive explanation of some essential components contributing to achieving the state of eudaimonia, or happiness. This has been discussed at length in the widely quoted treatise “Nichomachean Ethics”. Briefly, he had concluded that:

    “Happiness is the ultimate end and purpose of human existenceHappiness is not pleasure, nor is it virtue. It is the exercise of virtue.Happiness cannot be achieved until the end of one’s life. Hence it is a goal and not a temporary state.Happiness is the perfection of human nature. Since man is a rational animal, human happiness depends on the exercise of his reason.Happiness depends on acquiring a moral character, where one displays the virtues of courage, generosity, justice, friendship, and citizenship in one’s life. These virtues involve striking a balance or “mean” between an excess and a deficiency.Happiness requires intellectual contemplation, for this is the ultimate realization of our rational capacities.”

    In essence, the conclusions drawn by Aristotle can be encapsulated as follows:

    Happiness is the ultimate end and purpose of human existence
    Happiness is not pleasure, nor is it virtue. It is the exercise of virtue.
    Happiness cannot be achieved until the end of one’s life. Hence it is a goal and not a temporary state.
    Happiness is the perfection of human nature. Since man is a rational animal, human happiness depends on the exercise of his reason.
    Happiness depends on acquiring a moral character, where one displays the virtues of courage, generosity, justice, friendship, and citizenship in one’s life.
    These virtues involve striking a balance or “mean” between an excess and a deficiency.
    Happiness requires intellectual contemplation, for this is the ultimate realization of our rational capacities.

    You have alluded to the principle of duality in the context of happiness. This has also been a tenet since Vedic times. In fact, Hindu philosophy defines many types of happiness starting from the lowest rung of Vishayānanda, or sensual happiness, followed by Shamānanda, or the happiness of self-control, and progressing through the stage of Bhajanānanda, which is happiness through spiritual pursuit, and culminating in the state of Brahmānanda or attainment of the Ultimate Truth, which is synonymous with supreme bliss.

    Economists, understandably, have been probing linkages between happiness and economic well-being, while sociologists examine and research the individual’s relationships within the family and surrounding social structure.

    Interestingly, in recent years, Doctors have been attempting to find physiological or biochemical linkages with happiness. So far, it has been a vain attempt to connect increased activity in certain parts of the brain with pleasurable stimuli, through functional MRI and PET scan imaging. In another tack, attempts have been made to find a connection between levels of neurotransmitters like dopamine and neuropeptides with happiness. The latter approach has yielded some positive benefits in the pharmacological treatment of conditions like clinical depression which are antithetical to happiness. However, given the complexity of human emotions, I personally harbour doubts about the likelihood of success of any mechanistic or purely scientific approach to understanding happiness.

    Theologists and die hard religionists, on the other hand, for the most part advocate distancing oneself from materialism, moh, and maya, and project spirituality and seeking God as the holy Grail.

    Unfortunately, as the modern world and the society that we live in has progressively seduced us with the siren call of an increasingly materialistic and hedonistic culture, we allow ourselves to be caught in the relentless rat race of keeping up with the Joneses, and equating “success” with wealth and the pursuit of instant gratification as our goal. This effectively ensnares us in the trap of constantly seeking the next level of stimulation through a never-ending cycle of acquisition of the bigger or better or newer or fancier. The ever-quickening whirl of the hamster’s wheel on which we find ourselves perched, leaves us with no time to savour what we do have.

    As a consequence, we tend to blur the distinction between pleasure – which is fleeting and transitory – and happiness, which is a more enduring mental state. With a relentless barrage of blandishments and delusionary inducements, we become so obsessed with the pursuit of pleasure that ironically, we often sacrifice the larger goal of happiness.

    Approaching my sunset years, I have reached the inescapable conclusion that the more I try to comprehend happiness on an intellectual plane, the less I really understand, I elect to take a multipronged approach. To me, enjoying an ice-cold beer on a sunny winter afternoon, listening to the sounds of nature near a babbling brook, enjoying a musical concert or a play, reading a good book, basking in the warm glow of good company, doing some good to someone, savouring solitude when one can, turning one’s thoughts towards the Maker, et al, all form components of the good life, and for the nonce, I am happy to accept that as a happy state. At least relative to me!


    Viney Sahgal ( from the Lounge Session group)

    Sent from my iPad


    1. Dear Sir,

      Your comments on my post allow the aspect to be viewed from many new perspectives including that of first principles. It is so much more comprehensive than my post in which I had only attempted to explore the duality inherent in Happiness.I can thus do no better than to take your comments to my blog-site for the benefit of more eyeballs residing in distant lands.

      Thank you, Sir, for your kind acknowledgements.



  10. Hi Shakti,

    Another beautifully crafted article! And your conclusion is certainly worth consideration–if we live in an environment which forces us to let go, how does that affect our level of happiness.

    On the other hand, and I say this with a chuckle, do those of us in developed countries tend to over think happiness? Is it the thinking that gets in the way?

    As for your powertools, send it on! I’m always happy to look over your work and send you my thoughts.

    With great light to you,

    Leon Vanderpol


    1. Hi Leon,

      As always, what a brilliant conjecture! “….do those of us in developed countries tend to over think happiness? Is it the thinking that gets in the way? ” Wow!

      While I had reflected on the concept from various angles, I had not thought of it this way. Clearly this allows a re-framing of perspective….

      With your permission, could I take your comment onto my blog site for the benefit of more eyeballs?

      Cheers and God Bless!



  11. I’ve always seen happiness as a choice we make to find those moments joy even in down times. It is an inside job. While materiel things can make our lives comfortable, and give us the opportunity to help others, they doesn’t guarantee happiness. It has to come from within. Great post and thank you for stopping by my blog. I enjoyed reading this post… 🙂


    1. Hi,

      Happiness indeed is a choice, as are so many other aspects of our lives. It is a choice which largely emanates from an attitude of gratitude.Gratitude…. Generosity…. Giving…. “Let go”….It is a state of our minds. All of which move us towards that elusive relativeness called Happiness. My post of course attempted to explore the aspect of polarity in happiness.

      Thank you for your kind acknowledgement and for visiting here.



  12. Oh Shaktida,I checked ur blog and was horrified to note that my response was lost somewhere it seems..it didnot get published..I had given it thought and shared some imp thoughts 😦 sorry abt that and thanks for informing us here because I also read few other blogs of wonderful bloggers connected with you,I could relate with so many of them..made my evening bright 🙂 thank you.I shall write reply once i am in that ‘flow’..it may take a while perhaps.

    Babita Narang Kochar, South City Residents Facebook forum


    1. ‎Madhumita Iyengar, you make a great point here. I too look forward to catch up with you during my future visit to S. City. Tilak Ghoshal-> Your comment alongwith my reply is very much there on the blog-site so no worries. As of now, it is the 3rd comment from top but this order sometimes changes due to some unfathomable logic. Babita Narang Kochar Unfortunately your comment really seems to have got lost somewhere in cyberspace. Ladies and Gentleman, I am taking the liberty of taking your comments to the blog-site for the benefit of more eyeballs. Do visit again!

      Shakti Ghosal


  13. Ohhh , what a write up ? In fact my toastmaster speech in this year is about happiness titled “Don’t worry be happy”. Are you associated with toastmaster club in Oman ? With your due permission can I circulate your article to me friend circle mentioning you as the author ?

    Keep on posting such nice articles

    Sukdeb Chatterjee Saturday at 12:32pm ·. South City forum on Facebook


    1. It would remain my pleasure and honour if you were to circulate my post to your friends circle, Sukdeb Chatterjee. It is acknowledgement like yours that remain my core motivation to post. I would also like to take your permission to move your comments to my blogsite for the sake of more eyeballs. Cheers. Shakti Ghosal


  14. Shakti,
    Very profound and insightful.

    But since you quote me, let me clarify Just in jest, my friend.

    Just wanted to say, happiness is not a counter to sadness. Sadness is primal, not intellectual. You cannot ‘let go’ of primal feelings. You wake up disturbed in the middle of the night because of these primal feelings which lurks in your subconscious.

    Buddha lived on a higher plane and he may have achieved his equanimity or moksha through intellectual or spiritual means. Common folk spend decades with the dull pain of loss that you learn to tolerate, a shadow that only the perceptive can see beneath the ‘happiness’.

    Also was wondering, how did this outcome come about? Maybe these were phone interviews and the interview was probably in English. That automatically segmented the Indonesian and Indian population and created a sample size of predominantly the city folk, affluent and having adequate amenities. On the other hand when they called a typical US respondent or a British respondent, they heard a polarized and fractious populace complaining about Obama, Santorum or Cameron. Woe on the ‘other’ party, the ‘other’ folk who are causing us all these problems.

    So maybe it was a referendum on who complained the most versus who did not complain. My suspicion is if they held the same poll when the British ruled India, the results would have been the same.


    PS – Great discussion and I will forward to a few others.


    1. Hi Tathagata,

      Thanks for your equally profound comments.

      If sadness is primal, so is happiness. And I agree they are not counter to each other, contrary to what literature has made it out to be. Each of these aspects, in my view , lie on a continuum and there is no judgement here of which end of the continuum is better. It all depends on what we, our values and beliefs, are comfortable and aligned with.

      When you speak of the dull pain of loss, you are right since it syncs with our ” ME- SELF” centricity. And that is one of the aspects I have tried to explore in the post.A person who faces a loss tends to focus on the loss aspect and forgets everything good that happened during the peior period surrounding it. While it is natural reflex for folks , going through tragic moments, wanting to put the whole thing behind, do we realise that this action itself retains only the loss memories?

      Reagarding the outcome of the study, your guess is as good as mine. But being an international study, I would believe they would have used parameters suitably equalised specific to regional singularities.

      Great to have you here and I would like to acknowledge you for forwarding the post to others.



  15. Hi Shakti!!

    ITs very beautiful n resonates with my thoughts a lot!!
    Sometimes what we think belongs to us, is just a mere illusion & breaking this n seeing life with a new perspective definitely helps to really experience TOTAL FREEDOM!!
    Wow!! Very beautiful n indeed powerful!!
    I loved your creativity and use of pictures to instantly connect 🙂
    Thanks for writing this blog.. Keep writing cuz now im following you 🙂



  16. Shakti,
    Wonderfully captured essence of life and living, which – as the Bhagvad Gita says – is complete acceptance of the ‘duality’ of it all…………And, if one can ‘let go’ (for an easier begining, starting with some material object that one doesn’t really need, yet finds it hard to part with) just once – the sense of ‘liberation’ and the joy of having overcome the demon within is so exhilarating, it is sure to make one ‘crave’ for more…..and it probably will become a way of life!

    A bit rushed and on the move…….More later……


    1. Dada,

      Spot on. You sure have captured the essence of what I set out to say. ” Let go”, in my view, has more to do with some of our inner beliefs and judgements, acquired during our life journey, that no longer serve us. These also form the underlying reasons why we continue to latch on to certain material objects, as you have pointed out.

      From yet another perspective, ” let go” also symbolises Moksha…

      It always remains such a pleasure to have you visit and write your comments.




      1. Shakti, like Babita’s, mine too appears to have got lost in the cyber space….not that I had much too add to the brilliant observations in equally brilliant prose…….Just wanted to embellish your thoughts with what the Bhagvad Gita says as ‘managing the opposites’……. If for matter there is anti-matter, the ‘opposites’ must surely extend to all aspects of the universe, should it not?…….Keep such gems coming our way… Tilak Ghosal


  17. Really great thoughts my friend. I have been thinking recently about how much is enough in this materialistic world of consumetism. Its something else that speaks to the matter of our happiness.


    1. Hi Erich,

      Delighted to have you visit here. You are so right. Our socialisation in today’s world has made aspects of materialism and competitiveness very important to us. So when you ask, how much is enough, we have become conditioned not to accept any level as enough. Through life, we are only looking up and wishing we could reach the level of the guy above…. and so on. The cycle never ends. How can we let go of this belief?

      God bless.



  18. I have a deep belief that your message of inner happiness can be found by an understanding of the relative experiences of the opposites of emotions. I think you put that very eloquently. However, I do not like the Budda story – and I usually do like those stories. Because it hits so close to home for me. My only child is alive and well but I cannot imagine that in learning that losing a child is not a sole predicament that would lessen my pain. What do you think this says about me? I do not believe I’m self centered or narcissitc but I deeply love my child.

    In my mind, happiness can be shallow or deep, based upon material things or deep emotional connection. Is laughing at a joke the same happiness as watching your baby’s first steps? Of course not. Is winning the lottery the same sort of happiness as being told you’re cured of cancer? No. So, yes while opposites of pain and pleasure, happy and sad, teach us to value each emotion, each emotion within itself has a depth of value which I believes can cause comparison within itself.

    So there. You’ve made me think quite deeply (for me). Thanks. 🙂


    1. Hi,
      Thank you for your deep observations. I can well empathise when you say you did not like the Buddha story. I have heard this reaction from others too. Somehow, the very thought of leaving one’s own child in the forest is abhorrent to most. But if one were to go beyond the literal aspects of the tale, what it is really implying is that once certain aspects in our lives no longer serve us, we need to have the wisdom to “let go”, whatever be our emotional or psychological attachments there.

      And you are so right when you are able to notice the different intensity of happiness in different aspects of our life. Happiness is on a continuum and my post essentially speaks of this.




  19. Very true and I absolutely agree with your friend.

    Another thing though which he needed to add was that while we might ‘let go’ of something because it is no longer of use to us – just like say, a child letting go of a toy for a bicycle as he grows older and then letting go of that beloved bicycle for a motor bike as a teenager and later on letting go of that too for a car and so on, the trick to ultimate happiness is perhaps realising as when we are holding on to things that we will be letting go of them too as soon as we “have found something new to take our fancy or we have moved on and therefore not “cling on” too much to that even now when we are in full thrall of that particular thing or person or idea.

    Therefore I think true happiness lies in the freedom from our possessions (which does not mean we live without possessions or attachments) but being able to live independently with or without them. For that to happen, you have to have “had” them, otherwise it could be a sour grapes syndrome or like one “giving up the millions he doesn’t have! It is readiness and the preparedness to be without them even as you have them that is important. It is said of Maharaja Janaka that a person was laughing when Janaka was called a renunciate. The person asked how could he be a renunciate when he has everything and still not given up his kingdom or any of the privileges associated with it, whereas I am a kowpeena vasthan and I am a renunciate. But when the class was going on there was a shout of fire! and every one in the class ran to protect their 2nd kowpeenam drying on the rock, whereas Janaka did not move because he did not think of the kingdom as his!! That is true happiness.


    From: Sridhar Ramakrishnan
    Date: 15 March 2012 7:15:23 PM AEDT
    Subject: Happiness & The theory of Relativity

    Hi Chit,
    Forwarding u the musings of one of IIM classmates Shakti Ghoshal who was the batch topper and who blogs his thoughts every month.



    1. Dear Sridhar, Chitra,

      Lovely reflections.The way I see Happiness, and many other similar concepts like Trust, Respect etc.are as polariies on a single continuum.Our life would not be complete without our appreciation of such polarities and possible experiencing of both ends. Only when we do this can we truly appreciate the concept and what it stands for.

      I guess it boils down to being anchored to our core values while moving away from our
      “Me- Self” perspective if we would wish to avoid the ” sour grapes” syndrome of looking out and comparing.

      I particularly liked the tale of Janaka.

      God Bless.



  20. Very thoughtful, enjoyed reading the piece. In fact, the very old definition of “MOKSHA” is to self- realise beyond “l” and ‘mine’ – Madhumita Iyengar , South City Residents Forum


    1. Thank you for your kind acknowledgement, Madhumita Iyengar. You have brought in a great concept with Moksha. Indeed, Moksha symbolises ” Let go”. Could it be that ancient civilisations like ours who have imbibed these cooncepts through millennia are happier because of this? Shakti Ghosal


      1. I agree with you to a great extent, Mr Ghosal. I believe that a civilisation embodies not only rituals, it also depicts society’s way of life and positive life concepts like happiness/ satisfactions/ respects/ success emerge largely from all these societal practices. For example, ‘Atithi Narayana Bhaba” is a very common old saying in our Indian culture as well as a simple practice of not calling elders by name, but by some relations. This means Indian social practices teach us to find happiness from making others feel happy/ respected, which is so different from western culture with a focus on distinct individualisation. In fact, I could write more on this, but would prefer to have a live discussion face-to-face next time in SC, if you are around. Btw, I am quite familiar with the economic concept of ‘happiness index’ which is making a round in economic model of wellbeing nowadays. Madhumita Iyengar, South City forum


  21. Amazing write-up Shakti Ghosal- So true, loved it whr you wrote, “We cannot have happiness without unhappiness, pleasure without frustration. Just as we cannot have well being without catastrophe. All on a continuum, all relative to each other. ” One q tho – Whr you wrote in the end “The attitude to let go when it no longer serves our purpose” I am assuming its not related to the “Learn to let go, that is the key to happiness” Buddha quote ? What to let go and when we do it or rather should do it that’s very debatable, don’t you think? Happiness is definitely v relative, no debate abt that !!! I am sharing this on my wall, hope that’s ok

    20 hours ago · Madhuparna Sen, South City Residents rorum


    1. Madhuparna,

      Great thoughts. As we go through life ,we pick up baggage of beliefs and perceptions. These may have served us in the past but may not be doing so now. These are what create uncertainities and doubts and when our ego walks in here, you can imagine the kind of destructive powder keg we are sitting on.We need to develop the conscious attitude of ” let go” of this “narcissistic self” perspective if we truly need to embrace happiness.

      In Learning…



  22. Ahhhhh, Shakti, I believe you’ve got it!

    And this, I too have discovered:
    “We cannot have happiness without unhappiness, pleasure without frustration. Just as we cannot have well being without catastrophe. All on a continuum, all relative to each other. As we shine the light of this realisation on our “narcissistic self”, we see the relativity of our self concept and its reactions like anger, anxiety, doubt and grief, conditioned as we are to hold onto them. As we do this, our sense of solidity of the “self” collapses into a realm of relativeness.”

    This might be why ‘less developed’ countries possess more happiness, on the whole. Cultural values, for one. Living amidst poverty and death keeps it real. Where civilized means sterile, I think it’s an indicator that people tend to be more narcissistic and perfectionist-driven. They forget how to live. Forget relativity. Forge their way in fantasy – which is bound to disappoint, again and again.

    Great post, thanks for pondering it for us! Blessings to you.


    1. Hi Bela,

      As usual you are spot on! What you say resonates. Cultural values and also an ancient societal heritage that many of these today’s less developed countries possess. We need to be conscious that prior to the industrilal revolution, it was many of these countries that were in fact more developed. Food for some more ponderings?




      1. Absolutely. I have never lost sight of this. Since very young I’ve believed there to be something inherently skewed about Western ‘progress’ and its ethnocentricsm. We are, indeed, all One. The sooner people get on board with that, the more we can share the richness that lies in what we so callowly call “The Third World.”


  23. Love it Shakti ! I know from sitting here in America where we supposedly have it all happiness is so far from reach. I think happiness is connected as well with being allowed to be ourselves and being able to feel the deep meaning of that beingness. We are lost in work and earning the almighty dollar and running frantically in the gerbil wheel, we are desperate to be connected with ourselves and our experience of life. In countries with less luxury family seems to hold greater meaning and there is connection and love in that environment. There is less distraction. I think the chaos in the world is bringing us all back together again in search of true meaning which will ultimately activate the happiness factor…Seems to me in the end it is money which so many seek that is the prison that captures us all and takes our happiness hostage. Thanks for your thoughts Shakti. Always a treat. Blessings to you….VK


    1. HI VK,

      I so appreciate your comments, as always. You might just be right in what you say. Money and the quest of it, does lead us to get cocooned in our own ” Comfort zone”. This becomes like a drug and over time, shifts us out of reality and connectivity, both prerquisites for new challenges, uncertainity…. and eventually happiness.

      The other thoght that comes to my mind as I read you is to do with a societal consciousness. Could it be that this develops better during trying times? Could this be the source of greater happiness?

      God Bless.



  24. I don’t know if this is relevant, but I have rarely (less than 5% of the time, to put a number on it) felt unhappy in the last few years- close to a decade. Don’t ask me for the how and why of it…it just is!


    1. Hi Rajendra,

      I can only conclude that you are amongst the blessed few.

      I also believe that as we get older, our yearnings for the future diminsh, we tend to play the reel of our past more often. And as we play this reel, we get psychologically attuned to see the successes in technicolour while fast forwarding through the failures. I guess this is a coping mechanism programmed to sustain life and our well being… Is this the attainment of wisdom?


      Shakti Ghosal


    1. Hi Sunita,

      Delighted to know you liked it. My inspiration for this post came from the power tools. As we look around us, we notice that almost all aspects in our lives are relative; any solidity that we see in them is really due to our perceptual lenses. It is our “Me- self” belief set that really creates tha attitude of Good- Bad, Black- White etc in us and our responses thereof.

      In Learning…. Shakti


  25. Oh my, Shakti! You have served a glorious, nutritious, complex meal that, now eaten, I must digest. The statistics certainly are fascinating. The most happy countries are ones where, in my perceptions, people remember the thirst for personal inner peace – a state of happiness. Pursuits of wealth and materialism distract us from that nagging thirst until we neglect ourselves into shallowness and reactivity. And relativity?

    Yes, we must know down to know up, etc. etc. When we have inner resources to ride the highs and lows, we are happier. When we think life ought to be smooth, we live with perpetual bombardment and disappointment.

    Now…do I accept the character defects as well as the virtues of my fellow man? Hmmm…that really does become relative!

    I’ll “wear” this for a while, Shakti. Many thanks.


    1. Hi Amy,
      I feel so humbled. You have become such a support structure for me!
      Once you have reflected, I would love to have you back with your thoughts for some lively debate, either here or on Blogosphere.

      God Bless!



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