We live in a less violent, more fearful, and more powerful world. We are doing much better in terms of health, life expectancy, and child mortality. Human power has been growing since the dawn of civilisation. Does that mean we are happier than our forefathers were? Happiness is important for us as it was for our ancestors. Do we live in a happier world than our previous generations were? We live in the more individual world. By becoming more individual, are we becoming happier? Does our collective power improve our individual happiness? Can happiness be designed and manipulated; keeping in view the consumerist society we live in, where our want is always more than our need? Those who can afford, should not they check their consumption to be happy?
We all want to be happy, but all are not happy. We have our own reasons to be happy and unhappy. The reasons for unhappiness seem easier to find, than the reasons for happiness. What does the history of happiness say? Are modern people happier than medieval people, and were medieval people happier than Stone Age people, asks Yuval Noah Harari, author of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. One view is that the “agricultural revolution was the worst mistake in the history of the human race." Harari puts forth another view; according to the “romantic view of history”, power makes the world more mechanistic. In this world, one becomes more ill-suited for the real world.
Comfortable living makes one happy. We are willingly paying the price for our ‘more comfortable’ life, but are we willing to be the toy of the digital world? In future, should we not have time for fun and merriment? Should we not have time to spend with nature? Should we not make use of smart choices that are available to us more smartly? Can one buy happiness? Should happiness be designed using chemical and biological means? If evolutionary biologists are to be believed, happiness is not really determined by political, social or cultural factors, but by our biochemical system. Things like getting a promotion, or winning a lottery make one temporarily happy. “Happiness is thus a homeostatic system. Just as our biochemical system maintains our body temperature and sugar levels within narrow boundaries, it also prevents our happiness levels from rising beyond certain thresholds”, writes Harari.
One of my friends tells me that he is encased in a personal computer or PC. He says the day he finally pushes off, he would want all the data pertaining to him to be deleted from the PC, as he wouldn’t want to live in a machine after his death. Another friend of mine imagines a situation where he receives New Year wishes engraved in the sky. The message would come from Mars from one of his departed friends.
We do not wish to be slaves of mechanisation. We do not wish to be spiritually hollow. We can imagine the world we wish to live in. It is a world “where the war against the earth is over; where we’ve stopped treating soil like dirt, forests are expanding, farms emulate natural ecosystems, rivers run clean, oceans are starting to recover, fish and wildlife are returning, and a stabilising, radically resource-efficient human population needs ever less of the world’s land and metabolism, leaving more for all the relatives who give us life.” Such a world will never exist physically, but there is no harm in visualising such a world. So come new year — the year of light — let me wish you be in the world that you wish to be in.
(The writer is a biotechnologist and ED, Birla Institute of
Scientific Research, Jaipur)
Purnendu Ghosh