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Updated: May 13, 2014 15:57 IST

Problem of plenty

Anuradha Shyam
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Simple moments of joy have been hijacked by a need for bigger, flashier entertainment. Is the art of simply being happy forgotten?

It is a common well-rehearsed urban scenario. At a coffee shop where a group of people are ordering a meal. There is a lot of discussion — brown bread vs multigrain; cappuccino vs latte; penne vs fussilini. The deliberations are endless and an entire time span has been spent on befuddling the waiter further, with various permutations and combinations.

When the meal arrives, the group is too preoccupied with their gadgets and phones to even enjoy the meal. Much time is spent in photographing their choices and uploading it onto the web. The actual time spent on the meal is a harried one. And when they leave; they are already talking about their next universe of multiple choices!

Advertisements often shout from neon hoardings about the freedom of choice. The whole concept of choice is an interesting one. What are the processes going on while we make a choice? How much of choice is a conditioned response? How much freedom is there really in choice? These questions have been argued and discussed in various forums, from science to religion to philosophy. The correlation between happiness and choice is also a tenuous one. Is the correspondence linear or does it create an endless akshyapatra (bottomless vessel) of need?

The happiness quotient

Having taught in diverse educational settings, here are few of my observations about students and their level of happiness. When conducting workshops at a government school where students came from lower-middle-class homes, the energy with which we were greeted was astounding. Not having had access to the books, they held the story books we distributed with utmost care and attention. The eyes held curiosity and for children who did not have a decent meal, the smile in their faces would light a thousand hearts.

In another setting, where children were spoilt for choice (a cafeteria with a range of cuisine, air-conditioned classrooms, and well stocked libraries) the kids greeted us with complete boredom. Their whole body language was indicative of indifference. In a third setting, an alternative school, the environment being a nature-based one, lacked vast choice in terms of facilities. All kids were served standard meals, and the architecture was one that reflected the environment. Here the kids were curious, asked questions and answered with keen interest. They were interested in ideas and debated and discussed with the group. It was an eye-opener to observe how many of our assumptions about happiness are erroneous.

Simpler times

Many years ago, before the proliferation of restaurants, a weekly highlight would be a trip to a Chinese restaurant with a very limited menu. There was something comforting about the ritual of sameness. An order of fried noodles, sweet corn soup and a platter of spring roll followed by a fizzy cola. In the ancestral vacation home, days would be spent playing, chatting with cousins, and sietsas. Choice would be limited in terms of entertainment options, and we have memories of creating our own plays and composing dances. The memories of happiness did not stem from what we were given but the intangibles, the joy of sharing memories.

The art of simply being happy has been forgotten, the thrill of splashing through puddles, barefoot, on a rainy day. A neighbour’s gift of hot tea and samosas on a winter’s evening. The breeze running through one’s hair. A vanilla ice-cream cone melting and trickling down. The first mango season. These simple moments of joy have been hijacked by a need for bigger; brighter and flashier forms of entertainment. We are constantly talking — either justifying or rejecting an experience without actually being in it.

A friend who was a former model says that she enjoyed every part of her stint — the parties and the glamour but she remembers happiness as the times she spent with the creative team discussing and visualising concepts. Today she is a teacher and brings the same spirit of happiness to her work. She loves to enter a classroom and share a child’s journey. All the rest of the externals do not seem to matter. Happiness is a state of mind and heart. It accepts everything that is happening, knowing that there are countless blessings that the universe is constantly bestowing upon us.

Thirty-five varieties of ice-cream or just plain vanilla? Does it really matter to your flavour of happiness — think about it!

Does this article speak to you? What are your views on Choice and happiness? Do send an email to lifeplus590@gmail.com

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