“Communication – the human connection – is the key to personal and career success.” – Paul J. Meyer
After much deliberation, in June of 2012, I finally entered the online social networking scene. The fear of rejection had held me back for so long. My acquaintances from graduate school – now top leaders in the corporate – would they accept a friend request coming from a simple monk?
I was a loner even at the university. Right in the first year I found my passion in spirituality, which kept me from making many close friends; my newly formed outlook to life differed from my peers’. While I struggled to steer clear of pleasures, they considered it an important part of life, and some even overindulged. After all, for most of them, this was their first opportunity to fully experiment with the pleasures the world promised; here at the university, far from home, no conservative Indian tradition watched over them.
All through university study, I lived in my world, and they in theirs. So when I contemplated reconnecting with them a decade later, in 2012, through online social networking, I kept my expectations low.
But life has surprises in store, and some are pleasant ones. When I tried to reconnect, I found my relationships with them much more cordial now than ever before. Had my outlook to life evolved? Or had theirs? On deeper contemplation I concluded that my outlook had evolved, and so had theirs.
What molds our outlook?
Everyone is looking for happiness. To sound more wholesome, we call that happy state of being as satisfaction, fulfillment, contentment, well-being, etc. What we believe will help us reach that wholesome state molds our outlook to life and our persona. For example, if I firmly believed that only money can bring me happiness, I would not bother much about home. But if I believed that family life added significantly to my satisfaction, I would constantly plan to spend more time at home.
Because our beliefs about what will make us happy subconsciously changes over time, life experiences playing a major role in inducing this change, our outlook to life too evolve over time. It is a slow process.
A deeper look into happiness
Since our beliefs about happiness play such a crucial role in moulding our outlook and our persona, it is worth trying to understand happiness in more depth. The good news is that psychologists of the 21st century are taking a closer look at happiness. We have entered an era of positive psychology. Martin Seligman, who is attributed by many to have ushered in this new era, in his book Authentic Happiness reveals his findings. He speaks of three components of happiness:
- Pleasure from the senses.
- Engagement – the depth of involvement with one’s family, work, romance and hobbies.
- Meaning – using personal strengths to serve some larger end.
Of those three roads to a happy and satisfied life, pleasure is the least consequential, he insists: “This is newsworthy because so many Americans build their lives around pursuing pleasure. It turns out that engagement and meaning are much more important.”
It’s interesting that in Vedic living a person was educated to fulfill all components of happiness in a balanced way. Any ancient book concerning the Vedas will talk about dharma, artha, kama and moksha as the four interests of human beings. Artha refers to economic development and kama refers to sensual pleasures, something that Seligman calls the first component of happiness, pleasure. Dharma refers to pursuance of familial, social and occupational responsibilities in a manner that gives you fulfillment. This Seligman calls the second component of happiness, engagement. And moksha refers to search for a higher purpose, or transcendence. This Seligman calls the third component of happiness, meaning. And even the Vedas, like Seligman, point out that happiness derived from pleasure is least important. They go further to urge human beings to try and increasingly focus on the third component, meaning.
The urge for pleasure is prompted by the body. The urge for engagement is prompted by the mind. And the urge for meaning is prompted by the soul. Since our true identity is spiritual, heeding to the urges of the soul can fulfill our deepest selves.
In their immense maturity, the Vedas recognize that people are made of different psychophysical natures. It may be hard, and even dangerous, to ignore the urges of the body and mind all of a sudden. Different people feel these urges to different extents, and the extent to which we feel these urges also varies with age. For example, in youth our bodily urge for pleasure is at its peak.
And so the Vedic civilization provided a scientific master plan for balancing the needs of the body, mind and spirit, according to one’s psychophysical nature and the phase of life one was in. That master plan was called by the name Varnashrama.
Empathy and Connection
This deeper understanding of the science of happiness paves the way for empathy and connection. This person too is seeking what I am seeking – a wholesome life – though externally he or she may be focusing on a different component of happiness. Let us connect and help each other fulfil the missing components in each other’s lives.
While at the university, I expected everyone to be like myself – exclusively focusing on the third component of happiness, i.e. purpose. So lacking maturity I alienated myself. And my peers perhaps recognized only the first component of happiness, i.e. pleasure, and so considered me strange.
But with time, through life experiences, we develop more maturity and understanding – many times subconsciously – of the different ways of happiness. And that’s the reason, I suppose, I am now able to appreciate my friends more, and they are able to appreciate me more. That mutual appreciation is the foundation for better connections.
If I had this deeper understanding of happiness while at the university, I could have developed better connections even then. But of course, it’s never too late, thanks to social networking sites.Google+