During the early years of our marriage (we are celebrating our 30th anniversary this month!), I used to bristle anytime my wife Kimberly wanted to know if I was happy. Or, if whatever-happened-to-be-the-subject-of-conversation would make me happy?
My typical response used to be, “Why is it important to be happy? What does it mean to be happy any ways?”
I would relate to her the story, probably umpteenth time, how I learned in my Pre-Engineering College days from my Physics teacher, Professor Sood, what became my golden rule, “Always be content, but never be satisfied.”
I have spent much time pondering over that advice and have been living my life with that as my motto.
After a while she changed her tactics and gave up trying to make me “happy”. So she would instead ask me, “So are you content?” “Does whatever-happened-to-be-the-subject-of-conversation make you content?
In response, initially I used to launch into my pontification that she was missing the point. But over time I learned to hold my tongue. She was, after all, making the effort with my best interest at heart.
I always did and still do appreciate the fact that it is important for her to see me happy. As much as it is important for me to always be content yet not satisfied.
Later on, from Tony Robbins’ training, I learned that happiness is just a state of mind that can be triggered by a combination of three things: how we use our physiology, what we focus on, and the biochemistry of our bodies.
If I stand or sit like I am happy, look up, put a grin on my face, breathe deeply as I breathe when I am happy, I do feel happy.
If I focus on thoughts that make me happy, ask questions such as ‘what am I most grateful for?’, ‘who loves me and who do I love?’, and ‘what am I most proud of?’ I do feel happy. If I meditate, set aside thoughts of anxiety I feel happy.
If my blood sugar is even, I am well hydrated, my tummy is sated, and I am well rested again, I feel happy.
This simple yet profound lesson from Tony Robbins further reinforced for me that achieving happiness or being content is well within the reach of everyone at all times.
Pursuit of Happiness, seemingly a lofty goal, enshrined in the Constitution of the United States of America, which could be called not just a fundamental right but more like a duty or obligation to oneself is so easily achievable.
As I have learned from Tony Robbins and in turn, taught to some of my friends and family, with just a little bit of practice we can all change our state of mind from any state of mind to Being Happy or Content in really a heartbeat.
So then, what does Pursuit of Happiness really mean?
May be what it really means is the Right to be Dissatisfied.
Like my Physics professor told me forty five years ago, “Always be content but never be satisfied.” If someone takes away my right to be dissatisfied, all my personal progress will probably come to a screeching halt.
What, after all, drives me to be more? In what area would I like to be more or better? What will cause me to evolve, if I feel that I am perfect as I am and everything in my circumstance sis perfect as it is?
Extrapolating this thought to a group of people, if we take the right to be dissatisfied away from a society, then progress of the society will come to a screeching halt. What new frontiers will a society choose to tackle next, if it is already satisfied on all fronts?
The way I see it, contentment is our birthright, our fundamental duty or obligation to ourselves, and the most natural state of our being.
On the other hand, being dissatisfied or pursuit of happiness, the fundamental right our constitution endows us with is our raison d’être, the very reason and justification of our existence.
What is your view of happiness?
How do you define and achieve happiness?
I would love to hear. Please feel free to leave your comments or questions to this post, so others can participate, share and learn.
Kimberly Thareja said:
Happy (soon) 30th.
Are YOU content ?
Yes. I am very content (and happy!).
Bruce Buchanan said:
Thanks so much for your very thoughtful and thought provoking blog post, Ashok. As usual, I enjoyed it immensely!
Was it really 45 years ago that your physic’s teaching made the comment that has stuck with you through the following decades? I think of physics as a college class, although I think I did take it in high school (as well as college), come to think of it.
My first reaction to the “be content, but don’t be satisfied” statement was that I prefer “complacent” to “satisfied” in that sentence. This is mainly because contentment and dissatisfaction seem to be mutually exclusive, i.e., how can you be content, if you are dissatisfied. However, reading your entire blog, I understand better the use of dissatisfaction in this context, and agree that dissatisfaction (or avoiding complacency, despite contentment) is an important, perhaps essential element, of individual and societal progress!
I think that the word happiness it is overused and often is seemed to be used in a superficial context. I prefer “contentment” or even “blessedness”. For example, I dislike the paraphrase version of the beatitudes in Matthew that say “happy are”, rather than “blessed are” the poor in spirit, those who hunger after righteousness, etc.
The most concise statement I can make on my personal view of happiness/contentment/a joyful existence is:
“Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” (That is the answer to the first question in the Shorter Catechism, a summary of the doctrines of the Westminster Confession of Faith, used by certain reformed protestant denominations.)
I believe that there is a personal Creator, who made to live in a reconciled relationship with Him, others and self.
Heavy stuff, while the Super Bowl drones on in the background.
Looking forward to the Vistage meeting this month at your office!
Thanks for your comments Bruce.
Yes, I was in college at age 15. Pre-engineering in college in those days in India used to be equivalent of senior year of high school and a pre-requisite for entrance into four-year engineering colleges.