One night, on the way home from work ("work" proved to be a rather short-lived experience for me but that's another story), I heard some professor talking about happiness on podcast. It was rather an unlikely topic for a business school professor. He briefly explained what he calls "if then" model: happiness is a state of emotional well-being, so our happiness should not be dependent on external factors like money and success. It is a totally wrong way of going about life to say, "If I get promoted, then I'll be happy," "If I can get that lovely wallet, then I'll be happy," he said.
(For more info on his philosophy, his name is Dr. Srikumar S. Rao, Columbia Business School professor, author of "Are You Ready to Succeed?")
Yes, yes. Happiness is knowing that you're happy. You want to get on in life and stuff, but once you realise you've actually all you need to be happy, the idea of struggling to make something of yourself seems even more of a wild-goose chase. Surely things like making a living and establishing your career cannot be so consequential as they are cracked up to be, when you're surrounded by a loving family that happens to include two dogs and a cat, and two lovely nieces even.
I found that idea very congenial. Let's just be happy. Mother says I'm a good girl. No need to think yourself somehow unqualified just because you don't earn a regular income to support yourself or because you don't have a boyfriend even though most of your friends are married with kids and homes and mortgages. Happiness is all there if you care to look.
These ideas, however, somehow left me uncomfortable and confused. Am I making myself dissatisfied with life because I fail to accept myself and my life? Am I being acquisitive, misled in pursuing objectives such as career, independence and love? Is self-realisation a bogus dream of an overly ambitious, material person overindulged by a modern affluent society?
My "career struggles" may well be complaints of the fortunate when I don't have to toil to keep food on the table. It may well be greediness to want more when I am blessed in so many ways in life. After all, I have my family, health, (comparative) youth, and a roof over my head.
Still, it does take some fortitude not to be affected by the bleak prospects of getting nowhere with career and of life-long loneliness. What makes it even more trying is that trials don't come all at once; it takes iron will not to feel defeated by life's little disappointments. You think you've made a small headway with your career, then you find you're still solidly at the bottom of the ladder. You think you've met that special someone that you hear so much about, but it all comes to nothing.
It's not all that easy to be a thirty-something single woman, though our tribulations may seem so trivial to impartial onlookers. You see it everywhere in those books and films, "Bridget Jones," "The Devil Wears Prada," "Confessions of a Shopaholic" to name a few (though the heroines in the latter two may be twenty-something - hence the relative lack of poignancy in their romantic struggles). They're all true, probably minus the obligatory happy-ending. We may appear comical, at best, always going on about our same old woes (men that never reply and career-breakthroughs that never happen), but underneath it all, there is our genuine, heartfelt desire for happiness.
We want to become happy, and somehow, it seems to hinge on these extraneous things like men and career, probably undeservedly and disproportionately. It's our serious cry for happiness. It is true that we are fortunate; after all, we're not living on the street, and our countries are not in war. So accept it, be content with your lot in life, find your inner peace?
Well, no thank you. I need to be able to make a living, to make something of my career, if only to have even a shred of self-respect. I need to be in a happy, loving relationship. I need these things to be happy.
So, with due respect to Dr. Rao, I beg to differ. Happiness may be a state of being, but I choose to go obstinately after my will-o'-the-wisp.
And, just to be clear, I won't let further adversities life may deign to place in my path foil my plan of happiness. Even if I end up a single forty-something who's still nowhere near being a "respectable citizen," I'll be at least a happy, laughing underdog. I'll amuse myself any way I can, having night-outs with friends, going to concerts or theater or whatever quality entertainment our society has to offer, buying whatever treats - bags, clothes, shoes, all these pretty things - when on sale.
In short, I'm determined to be as flippantly happy as possible, if denied of more profound happiness. That's the answer to the conundrum, I've found. Happiness is neither about being at peace with your life nor about achieving self-realisation; it's about doggedly refusing to be beaten down. It's the stubborn will to be happy, no matter what.