Happiness is a choice and its pursuit is a quest for the courageous

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Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.

~ Mahatma Gandhi

I was reading Pitirim Sorokin’s Ways and Power of Love and came across the concept of the conscious and the unconscious. As he explains it, the first level is the biological unconscious. This is the level of existence that all animals possess like breathing, survival, etc. These instincts exist for the sole reason of keeping us alive and do not usually intrude upon the conscious. The next level is the biological conscious. When the unconscious instinct cause us to take some action, they cross over into the biological conscious. For e.g., eating to satisfy hunger, sleeping to rest etc. The next level is the socio-cultural conscious, which supersedes the previous levels. This is the level of consciousness that helps us live as a part of the human society. Pitirim says that there are as many socio-cultural identities of each individual as there are socio-cultural groups the individual interacts with. For e.g., at home the role might that be of a parent and at work that of a manager. There are other groups the person may be a part of like religious gatherings, political associations, hobby clubs etc. Each role has its own sets of values and duties required of the individual. As long as all these roles push the person in the same direction, the person is integrated and at peace, but when the different roles have conflicting value systems, the conflict is transferred to the person’s personality and existence.

This got me thinking that perhaps this is a possible explanation of the reason why so people are unhappy with their lives, and particularly their work. Perhaps, the way our work role needs us to act and behave is at odds with our other roles. Considering that work takes up such a large part of our everyday life, and aided by the advances in technology, intrudes even into our personal lives, we start to live according the value system as demanded by our work role. Of course, the value system is different in our other roles, but, if we behave in a way we do in our work value system, the results are not going to be good.

The other important role is that of the one in our family. No matter what role you have in the family, there is one thing that all families requires of its members. Quality time to spend with each other. The family is the most close knit social structure in our society, but it still needs to be nourished and cared for by conscious effort of caring for each other. Time spent with family (and to a lesser extent with friends) can act as a restorative to the wear and tear of daily life. However, with the way our current work roles are, we are often required to spend 10 to 12 hours everyday at the workplace, all in the name of being able to provide and contribute towards the survival of the self and family. Now, when  one returns home after such a hectic workday, the needs for food and rest (which cross over from the biological subconscious to the conscious) take priority. The family is taken care of in terms of basic needs of survival being met, but its members aren’t able to benefit from the therapeutic and healing qualities of living in a family. Conversely, if we give more time to our family (and friends) at the expense of the time given to our work, we are prone to suffer from the indignity of being labelled as a bad performer or an irresponsible person. It is especially true in today’s work culture where people stay in work places for much longer than the stipulated time. Any such scenario immediately pits the work and family value systems against each other – safety of the substantial income and a feeling of achievement by working vs time to spend with the family to revel in each others’ love. How can a person not be torn apart by indecision and conflict when faced with such a conundrum?

And the more social groups we are part of, more are the chances of this inner conflict. It is not necessarily true, but sadly, for the vast majority of us, it is. The most obvious solution then is to align our different roles so that they become congruent. However, as it is mentioned later in the book, this change is a three fold process. If all three aspects of a person’s life do not change, then the efforts to be congruent will most likely fail.

Change in social groups

This is perhaps the easiest change that a person can make. A person may change the soccer team they support if they no longer feel that it is playing with the same philosophy they used to play. One may change a job because he no longer like the boss or feels that he could get paid more. He may move to a new house and become part of a new neighborhood. A change in social groups usually leads to some adjustments in the social role that we play – new dress code to support the new team, change in work content, participation in community activity etc. These changes occur in almost every person’s life at some time or another and the reason for that can be manifold.

Change in value system

This step is harder than changing social affiliations, but the reasons are usually stronger. The value system of a person changes only under severe circumstances because it is not easy to break the rules that one has been conditioned to follow throughout life. One can stop believing in the virtues of hard work after being passed over for promotion repeatedly. A bad breakup might lead to being distrustful of the opposite gender. It takes constant reconditioning and consistency for a new value system to take root.

Change in ego

To acknowledge flaws and then change one’s own personality or behavior is the hardest change of all. The reason for such a change is usually pain or fear, of a debilitating magnitude. A fun loving and adventurous mother may become overprotective and possessive of her child after a mishap with the child. A financier may reveal his shady deals when the pain of living a life of deceit becomes too much. A rebellious teenager may turn over a new leaf after realizing how much the parents are suffering due to the misbehavior. Whatever the reason, a change at this level is usually life changing.

To make an effort to be congruent and pursue happiness can take place only through conscious action to make a change at all three levels. The motivation for this change must be deep rooted in the personality for the results to be lasting. Changing jobs for higher pay is very unlikely to bring about a change in the value system or ego. However, changing jobs to work for an employer whose vision and purpose you believe in means your value system has changed and hence, your social association will change as well. Changes in the ego are often the most powerful forces of change. For e.g., if you believe that your company’s work is harming people and you become disillusioned with your employers, it will automatically lead to a change in the value system about work, and extend to changing the social affiliations too. An effort made to understand one’s own beliefs about the self and society can become a guiding light on the path to discover one’s true purpose. A change motivated by aligning actions and behavior to this purpose will diminish the inner conflict and bring happiness. I’m sure everyone can do with a little more happiness in their lives. What will you do to get your share of it?

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