Happiness, Inspired from ‘Sapiens A Brief History of Mankind, by Yuval Noah Harari’

According to the ancient discoveries and researches, biologists hold that our mental and emotional world is governed by biochemical mechanisms shaped by millions of years of evolution. Like all other mental states like anger etc. , our subjective well-being is not determined by external parameters like salary, social relations or political rights. Instead, it is determined by complex systems of nerves and neurons and various biochemical substances like serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin.

Nobody is never made happy by winning the lottery, getting a promotion or even finding true love. People are made happy by only one thing, that is, pleasant sensations in their bodies. A person who just won the lottery or found the new love and jumps from joy is not really reacting to money or lover. That person is reacting to various hormones coursing through his bloodstream, and to the randomness of electric signals flashing between different parts of the brain.

Human happiness conditioning systems differ from person to person. On a scale of one to ten, some people are born with cheerful biochemical system that allows their mood to swing from six to ten, stabilizing with time at eight. Such a person remains happy even if he loses all his money in stock exchange crash or lives in a big alienated city.

Think of your family and friends, you know some people in your life among them who remains joyful no matter what befalls them. We tend to believe that if we buy a new car, get married or finish writing that novel, we would be on the top of the world. Yet when we get what we desire, we don’t seem to be any happier. We never gets satisfy with whatever we achieve and we tend to get bore after sometime. Buying cars, get married or writing novels do not get to change our biochemistry. They can only startle us for a fleeting moment.

Since our biochemistry limits the volume and duration of these sensations, the only way to make people experience a high level of happiness over an extended period of time is to manipulate their biochemical system.

Happiness is not the surplus of pleasant over unpleasant moments. Rather, happiness consists in seeing one’s life in its entirety as meaningful and worthwhile. As Nietzsche put it, if you have why to live, you can bear almost any how.

A meaningful life can be extremely satisfying even in the midst of hardship, whereas a meaningless life is a terrible ordeal no matter how comfortable it is.

Our medieval ancestors were happy because they found the meaning to life in collective delusions about the afterlife? As far as we can say, from pure scientific viewpoint, human life has absolutely no meaning. Humans are the outcome of blind evolutionary process that operate without goal or purpose. Our actions are not part of some divine cosmic plan, and if planet Earth were to blow up tomorrow, universe would probably keep going about its business as usual. Hence any meaning that people ascribe to their lives is just delusional.

The scientist who says his life is meaningful because he increases store of human knowledge, the soldier who declares that his life is meaningful because he fights to defend his motherland are no less delusional than medieval counterparts who found the meaningful life in reading scriptures or building new cathedral.

So we can convince ourselves that our life is meaningful and find happiness in conviction.

Both the above views says that happiness is some sort of subjective feeling, and in order to judge people’s happiness, all we need to ask them how they feel.

Buddhism shares the basic insights of biological approach to happiness, namely that happiness results from processes occurring within one’s body.

According to Buddhism, most people identify happiness with pleasant feelings, while identifying suffering with unpleasant ones. People consequently ascribe immense importance to what they feel, craving to experience more and more pleasures, while avoiding pain.

Problem, according to Buddhism, is that our feelings are no more than fleeting vibrations, changing every moment, like the ocean waves. If 5 minutes ago I felt joyful and purposeful, now those feelings are gone, and I might feel sad and dejected. So if I want to experience pleasant feelings, I have to constantly chase them, while driving away the unpleasant feelings. Even if I succeed, I immediately have to start all over again, without ever getting any lasting reward for my troubles.

According to Buddhism, the root of suffering is neither the feeling of pain nor of sadness nor even of meaninglessness. Rather, the real root of suffering is this never-ending and pointless pursuit of ephemeral feelings, which causes us to be in constant state of tension, restlessness and dissatisfaction. Due to this pursuit, the mind is never satisfied. Even when experiencing pleasures, it is not content, because it fears this feeling might soon disappear and craves that this feeling should stay and intensify.

According to Buddhism, 
the key to happiness is know the truth about yourself — to understand who, or what, you really are. Most people wrongly identify themselves with their feelings, thoughts, dislikes and likes. When they feel anger, they think, ‘I am angry. This is my anger.’ They consequently spend their life avoiding some kinds of feelings and pursuing others. They never realize that they are not their feelings, and that the relentless pursuit of particular feelings just traps them in misery.

Hence, the happiness is independent of external conditions. Yet Buddha’s more important and far more profound insight was that true happiness is also independent of our inner feelings. Indeed, the more significance we give our feelings, the more we crave them, and the more we suffer. Buddha’s recommendation was to stop not only the pursuit of external achievements, but also the pursuit of inner feelings.