Comfortably Numb

Sheila Kumar's Storehouse

Published on: 04/28/24 6:04 AM

Column: Happy is as happy does

In the pursuit of happiness, being kind is key

Could we dwell for a few moments on the concept of happiness, please? Truth to tell, after Pharrell Williams` catchy tune of the same name, we haven’t really paused to think too hard about the state of being happy. Again, truth to tell, we lead uber-hectic lives. We are jogging hard to stay in the same place, we are doing daily horrendous commutes despite following a hybrid office/home model of work, we, as that old song goes, work hard for the money. Who has time to pursue happiness?

But there are two long-term factors to consider here. The  neglected corollary to not seeking happiness is the immense build-up of stress, health problems, medical bills, a less than happy existence. It`s a life forever teetering in an uncertain space, not exactly disgruntled but not content either.

The second factor is that that seeking and gaining some amount of joy in our lives is an activity that is totally in our control.  We can go about it in a businesslike way. We can adopt best practices, stick to it, and reap the benefits. Like all adopted practices, we need to put in some initial effort and commit to sustaining that effort. Before too long, the activity turns into habit, and becomes easier by the day.

Broken down into its basic component, the activity involves giving props, doing small acts of kindness. Cheering on kith/friends and kin/relations. Every time one of them informs you that they are starting  a new venture, been lauded for something they did, delivered a baby, climbed a career rung, lost six kgs of weight, cleared their health exam, just take time to send them a cheer via  a message or a phone call. It`s just a minute`s worth of work,  if you can call it work,  for you,  but it could well make their day.

After which, you expand on these acts of kindness. You give up your place in the queue to an elder. You visit a friend not keeping well. You gift people small objects like flowers, candles, a plant in a pot.  You leave larger tips.

A research initiative called the BIG JOY Project by the Greater Good Science Center (yes, there really is such a place!) at the University of California, Berkeley,  found that people who do small acts of kindness every day experienced  about a 25% increase in emotional well-being over the course of a week.

This accrues gently, subtly but infuses the doer with steady  doses of happiness. What`s more, the benefits are direct, and include a greater sense of well-being, better coping strategies, less stress, more satisfaction with relationships. It boosts happiness, refines one`s social tendencies, cuts stress.

Side benefits

These small acts also lead to increased feelings of hope, optimism, as well as moments of pure enjoyment. Of course, there are sceptics who question the efficacy of such acts in the larger background of climate change, war, social media pressures, political polarisation. But studies have proved that we have more control over our happiness than we know, that we still sing the songs even in dark times.

So much of what is happening around us now is out of our control. We would then do well to upskill the art of kindness, something that is in our control. Spreading kindness should become  a conscious act, honed through practice, calling for some amount of planning.

But the results are totally worth it. Because we are totally worth it.

This ran in the Sunday Express Magazine of 28 April 2024.

Related Links:

Guest column: The kindness of strangers

Guest column: In the end, who will we be?

Guest column: Time to create a personal beyul

Guest column: In praise of gratitude

Column: Let`s reset for the journey rather than the destination

Column: All who wander are lost but happily so



columnguest columnhappinesshappy is as happy doeskindnessThe New Sunday Express MagazineTNIE

Sheila Kumar • April 28, 2024

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