Happiness guru Jaswinder Singh, aka Just Win Singh, makes it a point to attend every phone call — even in the middle of having his lunch. The ringtone on his phone is an old Bollywood song, Jeevan mein tu darna nahin, from the 1974 film Khote Sikkay. The song motivates listeners to never give up on life.
On a March afternoon, Singh told Happiest Health over phone that he was having his food and would get back in 10 minutes.
The founder of Institute of Happiness in Gujarat’s Vadodara called back exactly in 10 minutes. Singh started his conversation with the subject closest to his heart, insisting that one must “never give up on happiness”.
“If we want, we can manufacture happiness,” said Singh, who is considered a legend in the business of happiness in India. Since he started his Vadodara-based organization in 2000, Singh claimed to have counselled at least 17,000 people.
His books and videos have one common thread. “You are responsible for your own happiness,” Singh said. However, the amount of sadness and dissatisfaction around us tells a different story.
Apart from being as old as human civilization, the pursuit of happinessis ever-present in our daily lives. March also saw the release of the 2022 World Happiness Report that once again ranked 150 countries on a happiness index based on elements like gross domestic product, social support, personal freedom and levels of corruption in each nation.
The report, marking its tenth anniversary this year, is a publication of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Solutions Network along with Gallup World Poll data.
For the fifth consecutive year, Finland bagged the top position — no doubt adding to the happiness quotient of the already “happy” Nordic country.
But in India, ranked 136, the report triggered a lot of heartburn. Despite climbing three spots higher since last year, the country remained behind neighbours such as Nepal (84), Bangladesh (94), Pakistan (121) and Sri Lanka (127).
Can happiness be measured?
Critics of the report questioned its accuracy over several factors. The sample size for the survey in each country was 1,000 to 3,000 people — too small for India’s estimated 1.38 billion population. Experts like psychologists, psychiatrists and happiness gurus said that “happiness is a subjective matter and can’t be quantified”.
Disagreeing with the UN report, Shradha Shejekar, consultant psychiatrist, Aster RV Hospital, Bengaluru, told Happiest Health that she did not think India was an unhappy nation. “First of all, it is difficult to measure happiness,” she said. “It’s an individual perspective. For some, a new car brings happiness; but for others, being at home is happiness.”
Experts said that attempts to define and measure happiness could never completely capture the inner world of the people of a country as vast as India.
“I have seen several families living such wonderfully content and fulfilling lives despite severe impoverishments and shortcomings,” said Dr Raghavendra Kumar K, consultant, child and adolescent psychiatry, Aster CMI Hospital, Bengaluru. “It is unfair to draw a sweeping conclusion about 1.38 billion people of India based on one study. Moreover, we don’t know the sample size, study methodology, validity of the questionnaire and other technical details.”
But Dr Kumar, who has worked with the department of child and adolescent psychiatry at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences, Bengaluru, said the incidence of depression was increasing due to social disconnect and isolation, and uncontrolled urbanization.
Health and happiness
The close connection between health and happiness is evident. Both are dependent on each other. “If you are happy, your serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine chemicals are boosted to be normal, the cortisol [stress hormone] remains in control and the body can be healthy and heal quickly,” said Dr Shejekar.
Experts stressed that the key to health and happiness was being self-content. “Happiness leads to lesser stress and thus there are lesser chances of lifestyle-related illnesses,” said Dr Kumar, who works in both pharmacological and psychological therapies. “However, one should always note that mere absence of illnesses is not directly related to wellness.”
Mantras of happiness
While the idea of happiness differs from person to person, happiness expert Singh shared three mantras for a happy life.
“It’s the three Gs: gratitude, goodness and giving,” he said. “Be thankful for what you have, be good to yourself and others, and give away your material and spiritual wealth as much as possible. Remember, we are here in the world to give and not to take.”
Psychologists and psychiatrists said there was no single prescription or pill for happiness. “However, any one or a combination of the following could help,” said Dr Kumar. “Stop comparing yourself with others, limit social-media use, seek ‘real’ social contact, stay connected, exercise regularly, develop spirituality, and go back to your roots.”
Dr Shejekar advised all to develop a positive attitude and gratitude. “Stay away from negative talks, stop complaining, avoid gossiping about others, try to listen to happy, peppy music, do vent out your frustrations at intervals, take a walk, do some exercise and pick up a hobby to boost the happiness chemicals in the body,” she said.
Tussle over happiness
The UN report aims to create a discussion on happiness among governments of various countries for the betterment of social and economic conditions of people.
Just days later, another report on happiness was released which gave India a much higher rank, 25th in the world. The findings were from the Mumbai-based HappyPlus Consulting, an artificial-intelligence- and machine-learning-enabled HR firm that measures the happiness index for Indian companies.
‘The State of Happiness Report 2022’ said, “India might be among the top 25 happiest countries in the world.” HappyPlus Consulting said the report was based on a poll of 20,073 people — a number much higher than the UN’s report — from across India.
What happens when you are unhappy?
With unhappiness comes anxiety, insomnia, depression, temper tantrums and addictions. Medical practitioners say unhappy perspectives can shape a person’s whole life, relationships, profession and even appearance.
Being unhappy makes a person dissatisfied and frustrated, leading to emotional dysregulation, anxiety and depression. The constant feeling of unhappiness could develop into psychological and psychiatric issues.
Experts say people with a history of trauma, personality disorders and other mental-health issues tend to focus too much on being happy and forget to live in the moment. The spin-offs of unhappiness — such as sadness, frustration and depression -– are both psychological as well as psychiatric issues.
People who seek help from mental-health experts feel life is unfair to them. Experts say these people always want more from life — and while some have everything (and know it), they still get dejected after minor setbacks.
“People come to a psychiatrist to share their emotional states and seek help for the same,” said Dr Kumar. “Lack of happiness (unhappiness) and sadness is one part of it.”
Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Gustav Jung had famously commented on the inevitable link between happiness and sadness —on how they are two sides of the same coin. “Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word happy would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness,” the founder of analytical psychology said. “It is far better to take things as they come along with patience and equanimity.”
Jung wanted us to understand the meaning of acceptance: that life is a mixed bag where every emotion, good and bad, exists.