When I think of happiness, I mostly remember my mother’s happiness at my father’s return home late in the night, after working two jobs every day to support the five of us. My father similarly expressed his happiness in the simple things: like the days when he encountered less-than-usual traffic on his commute home, or when his ginger chai seemed particularly tasty on some evenings. The everyday little things, that had no real monetary value, were priceless in their eyes for their worth in mental and emotional well-being.
In 2019, Yale Psychology professor Laurie Santos launched a pilot course titled “Psychology and the Good Life.” Initially planned for 30-40 students, it was found to be so popular that 1,200 students—about one-fourth university’s undergraduate population—enrolled. Now rebranded as “The Science of Well-Being” on the platform Coursera, the online class features lectures by Santos on things people think will make them happy but don’t, along with things that actually bring long-lasting life satisfaction. It is Yale’s most popular course ever.
The idea of well-being may be thought of in two ways – the little moments of happiness in everyone’s lives, and the deeper state of being that is associated with being joyful. And I struggled for a while in reconciling the two. Was happiness in the little things the same as the inner state of being joyful? Was the happiness I found in having a nice home-cooked meal, or my favorite doppio (double espresso) in the morning, the same as the satisfaction I felt when making a successful business deal, or that joyful state I achieve after meditation, or in seeing others around you thrive?
Is our purpose in life as human beings, the Pursuit of Happiness? Is the state of happiness same as being joyful?
I’ve learned and come to believe differently over time. Joy, in my view, is a more consistent state and comes from within. It is achieved when you make peace with who you are, why you exist and in how you lead your life. Whereas happiness I believe, comes from things, people, and events around you. It’s ephemeral, like in the petting of a cat or dog; in the smile of someone special, and in the small interactions that make up life.
And happiness is not joy because joy is not external, it can’t be bought, and it is not conditional on someone else’s behavior. In fact, joy is not contingent on anything in order to exist.
One does not have to be a Dalai Lama to lead a joyful life. The moments of joy, of simple times and small things, be it my mom’s cup of chai, or my son’s plant in his dorm room, they are important just the same. In the rush of the rat race and the fear of the uncertain future, it’s possible to forget that, but the little moments add up to real joy as we go about our journey with purpose. We experience joy when we achieve selflessness to the point of personal sacrifice. We feel joy when we are internally connected to that higher purpose.
I’ve found that by living my life with a sense of purpose, I can be the positive change I expect to see, and that has made all the difference to my outlook on my journey.
“SENSE OF PURPOSE” is the motivation that should drive you for building a joyful future.