Tracking happiness no laughing matter
By Shampa Dhar-Kamath | Published: 03rd February 2018 10:00 PM |
Morning breaks with WhatsApp greetings, seeking to spread love, wellness, and cheer. I’m allergic to mass messages, especially the preachy ones, but like the ones that spark laughter. Like the cartoon that says: ‘Some cause happiness wherever they go; others, whenever they go.’ Old as the line is, I crack up every time I read it.
I guess you could say reading funny lines makes me happy. Not that I’m qualified to comment on the subject; acquiring knowledge on happiness seems to require much expertise and big money. (I’m only doing it because it also takes considerable knowledge to realise the extent of your own ignorance.)
But seriously, tracking happiness is no laughing matter. Parents, teachers, employers, authors, psychologists, et al, spend years—and millions—on its study and pursuit, both for themselves and their dependants.
Because of them, we know that children must no longer be content with a loving family and friends, warm meals, and schools with large playgrounds; they must, instead, be showered with adulation, acquisitions and experiences, driven wherever they want to go, and never-ever be acquainted with the word ‘No’. At work, employees must be lavished with more TLC than an orchid in a greenhouse—because while it may be difficult to put a price on their happiness, their unhappiness could cost you big.
Those who don’t have expert help at hand needn’t worry. Scientists around the world are hard at work on the subject, and, happily (there’s the word again), the internet is there to spread the word. Last week, a US study informed us that teenagers who get more ‘on-screen’ time with their gadgets are, on average, less happy than those who spend more time with real people. But complete screen abstinence doesn’t correlate with joy either. Bliss Point is apparently reached at one hour a day of digital media.
From South Korea comes word that happiness can belong only to those who do not fear losing it while the gurus from the UK tell us that short commutes to work give people more pleasure than sex (sorry, you Gurgaon-Delhi commuters).
But the best learning comes from Yale University, which offered a course on happiness, for the first time in its history, last month. The course invited Yale’s habitually-stressed students to learn about positive psychology, the characteristics that allow humans to flourish, and behavioural change, or how to live by those lessons in real life. Some 1,200 students, or nearly one-fourth of Yale undergrads, signed up for it. The university hadn’t expected such large numbers to join so it was taken by surprise and had to scramble to hire extra staff and assemble special halls to accommodate the students.
But something else comes as a bigger surprise: the popularity of the happiness course has triggered so much unhappiness in the other teachers, whose classes have seen decreased student enrolment, that Yale has said it won’t offer the new course any more. Obviously you can’t teach people how to journey to joy through a sea of discontent.