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TM Speech 7: Happiness Hypothesis

March 12, 2013

The objective of this speech is to focus on body language (and vocal variety – that I have to improve).

The happiness hypothesis

Happiness, happiness, happiness…Oh! the elusive princess where are you? Suffering, suffering suffering…Oh! the reclusive seductress, why are you?…” 

Toastmaster of the day, fellow toastmasters, and dear guests…”happiness” … an idea that eluded the grasp of the finest seekers and laymen alike since time immemorial is strange isn’t it?. The more you seek, the more it eludes you. 

What is happiness?  The best definition I found is from a Chinese proverb that defines it as “Happiness is someone to love, something to do and something to hope for”…

In modern times, this has become a big topic for research and debate. There is a lot of confusion on this matter. Many times during my discussions on economic development I get this question back: “Yeah…but you know poor people are happier than the rich…economic development is not happiness, so on and so forth”. I recall from a documentary on happiness that I saw a few days ago in which they show how an extremely poor man in Kolkata, Bengal in India seems a lot happier than an average American who is reasonably well-off. Misunderstood comparisons like these lead to wrong conclusions as if the focus should be on happiness and not economics. I usually ask the questioners one question back, “Would they like to swap their positions with the happier but extremely poor man?” and the debate ends!

Happiness is so subjective that it differs not only from person to person but relative to itself also. Unless I can compare myself to someone, I can’t rate my happiness. Unless I have suffered, I don’t know what happiness is. They are both sides of the same coin. The existence of happiness is conditional on existence of suffering. 

Matthieu Ricard’s TED talk illustrates this perfectly.  Pleasure and happiness cannot be confused with each other. Pleasure is subject to change, it is time bound, and has this inherent quality of being impermanent. On the other hand, happiness is well-being. Not just a cessation of suffering, not just pleasure. It is a state of deep serenity and fulfillment.

So, where should we look for happiness?…It is here (in the mind). It is the mind that translates all emotions into what we perceive as happiness or suffering. A mind that is aware is like a mirror. It is not altered by the images. Pleasure and pain are like the images. If we put an ugly face, you see an ugly face, if you put a smiling face, you see a smiling face in return. But, the mirror is not changing your facial appearance nor mirror itself changing. Right? So, the answer to being happy lies in the awareness of the mind, being aware of the emotions perceived by the mind. One cannot hold two conflicting emotions at the same time. For eg, either you are angry or calm. Either you are rude or compassionate but can’t be both. It is your choice which one to choose and focus on nurturing the one that leads to your well-being. 

So, how do we apply this in our daily life to be happy? After observing and hanging out with some wise and happy people, I found the following five traits that they have. 

1. They live minimally, content, and are usually concerned about immediate necessities – like what is for food now, what do I have to do now

2. They are very giving and well connected. Giving advise, to cooking food for their friends or loved ones, to just being there when someone needs them. 

3. They usually do something that means a lot to them. Although some of them do what they like, most of them like what they do. 

4. They have a healthy curiosity and always keep learning something new. They also have a reasonable understanding how the world works, how everything fits together. 

5. Last but not the least, they know how and when to let it go. They are not too flustered by setbacks. 

So, dear friends, if you want to be happy, just follow these tips tonight, then again and then all the time…

Thank you. 



1.  TED talk by Matthieu Ricard.

2. TED Talk by Nick Marks. Hat tip: Martin Jugmans

3. Chinese proverb: Hat tip my buddy Bobby Ninan

4. My discussions with my mentor Atanu Dey

PS:- For the curious followers of my blog and speech progress. I gave my sixth speech (almost) impromptu for about 15 minutes to a group of PhD students in KU Leuven. I spoke about “Why Toastmasters”. The whole idea was to convey how one gets trained to effectively communicate by the Toastmaster experience.



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