Sridhar Deshmukh

Sridhar Deshmukh is an educationist and consultant in therapeutic yoga and preventive healthcare. He is a visiting faculty at the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore, in addition to being a health consultant at Synergy Specialty Clinic & Diagnostic Centre, Bangalore.

In Persuit of Wellbeing: Re-examining conventions

Sridhar Deshmukh

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“It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”
J. Krishnamurti
Common conventions associate happiness and wellbeing with achievement of tasks or fulfilment of particular desires. Our dominant logic has it that a result can be found at the end of a deed; therefore we need to keep on doing things. Rarely is the question considered that, if there isn’t anything to achieve and fulfil beyond the biological necessities, can man be happy?
All of mankind has to, or at least thinks that it has to, spend much of its time earning a living. While this has its pragmatic implications, often ‘work’ goes far beyond survival and biological necessities. In fact, all of work has been elevated to a virtue. This has further given space to evolution of concepts such as progress, growth and development as communities of individuals begin to share similar belief systems and conventions. Today, entire nations and governments swear by models of economic development and GDP growth, which large sections of humanity have begun to see as a panacea for all social ills. The pursuit of GDP growth ranks among the foremost values that any country aspires to emulate in order to gain legitimacy among the global comity of nations.
Such single-minded pursuit of growth and economic development often fails to take into account the actual health and wellbeing of nations and its citizens, as growth can be a two edged sword served by legitimate and illegitimate business models and interests. If entire industries contribute to GDP, there is very little to differentiate the fact that GDP (often seen as an indicator of national wealth) can arise out of consumption that may actually be working in contradiction to the health and wellbeing of its citizens (including other forms of life). Thus, we have the junk food industry contributing to national wealth, serious health hazards accruing out of this industry is further being addressed by a burgeoning health care industry which also adds to the national wealth, (consuming pizza or sugary carbonated acid based drink and then undergoing cardiac surgery can both contribute to national wealth!!)
To come back to the root of these pursuits, one may need to reconsider the value of the virtues that one is conditioned to pursue in modern society. Is it really necessary for one to continuously perform deeds to be happy? What if one opts out of the doing? What is one left with? Boredom? Interestingly, this becomes a seed for another industry which embraces most other industries within its fold, the entertainment industry.
It is amazing but hardly recognised, that most economic activity on earth is given to addressing the issue of human boredom, as against the small part that is given to producing the basic essentials of living – food, clothes and shelter. Even the latter, in fanciful forms, addresses boredom rather than any biological need. The concept of creature comfort is actually a cover for the fact that human instincts propel one towards happiness and pleasurable avenues (and away from pain) and the entertainment industry profits from it.
So, human endeavour aspires to fulfil a spectrum of objectives, ranging from biological essentials of living through psychological fulfilment, to those pursuits that have the only objective of attaining that ‘good feeling’. The spectrum spans the entire gamut from the essential to the entirely redundant.
Humans are dependent upon biological necessities for living. These are not negotiable. And there are psychological requirements; they may even be dependent on them. Apart from this, there is the pursuit of certain things, non-essential by themselves, which serve to bring about or augment that good-feeling, pleasure or happiness.

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When the processes and mechanisms involved are studied, one can clearly see that most times, the good feeling that is being sought is incidental to the achievement of something else. Pleasure is the response to gratification. Pleasure may be enjoyable, but the corresponding response to non-gratification is pain. Pleasure is desired, but not the pain. That is not possible! As long as there is pursuit of pleasure, pain is an accompaniment. While pursuit of pleasure may be legitimate, if it assumes dominance, episodes of pain become mandatory.
If one were to stand back from all the conventional compulsions, pursuits and societal thought paradigms and simply look at one’s drives, ambitions and motives, one would have to face the question of boredom squarely without rushing into channels of erasing boredom. When one is not involved in executing any deed, then one gets bored. This is simply ‘the human situation’. We seldom entertain the idea that we ‘do’ because we cannot help but do: when you are not doing — something or the other — you are, on the face of it, bored.
Boredom itself is a masquerade for several entities. A mind that regards work as virtue, apart from anticipating reward, is a conditioned mind. A mind that is accustomed to being engaged is bored when it is not engaged. The mind, with energies welling out of unrestrained machinations that find no application, feels bored. The mind needs something to chew on and abhors being left to itself. Boredom is simply a mind that refuses to stop working when it is not needed to work.
It is in itself is a deeper cover for something primordial, the fear of death or extinction. This is a fact that all of mankind seeks to escape from, by constructing modes and mechanisms of actions and deeds tied to rewards and consequences and an attempt to make meaning out of an absence of meaning.

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Death is a fact: fear of death cannot prevent you from dying; it can only prevent you from living!
To reconsider the conventional approach of pursuing happiness and wellbeing, there are three possible scenarios to every deed that is directed towards gaining happiness or fulfilment.
The deed could be successful and the desire is fulfilled. This would result in happiness.
The deed is partially successful, with the result that there is partial satisfaction, part frustration.
The deed is unsuccessful resulting in unhappiness and misery.
What are the underlying psychological mechanisms behind this?
One part of the human mind (the individual’s) desires something that another part endeavours to fulfil. When this happens, the individual mind has undergone fragmentation, the one part which is seeking something and the other which is endeavouring to fulfil it. The desire and the endeavour to fulfil the desire are two fragments of the same individual’s mind.
This fragmentation of an individual’s mind is what is experienced as dissatisfaction or misery. If fulfilment is achieved, one feels happy. If the desire has been extinguished by being fulfilled, the endeavour has found culmination. So, both have no reason to exist and the fragmentation resolves itself. The state of ‘integration of mind’ is experienced as happiness.
However, the fact remains that whenever the locus of control is outside oneself, it can never be an unalloyed good feeling because it is always tainted with a sense of insecurity, conscious or subliminal, a fear of losing it. This is one of the reasons why human pursuits and endeavours are perpetual.
Granting that most feeling-good arises from fulfillment of desires, does it always have to be that way? In other words, does the locus of control for happiness have to be outside an individual, contingent on a certain situation? Is it possible to work, with whatever technology, on the ‘desire-endeavour’ complex of the mind directly and bring about integration, without the need for creating a specific situation outside? Can happiness be independent of outside circumstances? (This, of course, does not mean one should not feel sorrow at, say, bereavement.) The answer is in the affirmative.
“Many people spend a lifetime fishing without realising that it is not fish that they are after……”
To take another perspective, when one feels happy, (pardon the reductionism!) it represents a certain configuration of molecules in the brain. Typically, this configuration arises as a consequence of a certain situation. The order of things is such that this configuration does not endure, not even if the situation does. This is another reason why human pursuits and endeavours are everlasting.
The point that needs consideration is that attaining this configuration can be delinked from dependence on the situation. That is the transformation that the insight philosophies talk about.
Unfortunately, this has been distorted so much by convention that one who does not operate through desire-endeavour mode is envisaged as a vegetable!
More subtly, one cannot be happy, in an absolute sense, as long as the wish for happiness remains. At the end of arduous endeavour, lies the counterpart…………let go!
The body is only interested in living through this present moment, but the mind wants “me” to live forever. How to live, what to do, how to be healthy, how to be happy?
No! It is certainly not possible to be entirely healthy and happy, and to have all that the mind wants.
What then?
Look at what is possible and let that re-define what one wants.
To ‘live’ what one knows is to put no head above ‘oneself’.

 

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In Persuit of Wellbeing: Re-examining conventions
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