‘How are you doing?’
I am asked that so many times a day that I have recently given up on coming up with answers that give a correct projection of my state of being. So, once and for all, here goes: I am addicted. Yes, I am addicted to the state of happiness that I have learned to be on the lookout for as long as I can remember. And, like any self-respecting addict, I will tell you too: I don’t get enough! What is worse is that whatever little I get ‘I don’t get no satisfaction’. Still I just can’t stop myself looking for it in all the wrong places. This airy taste of not having enough ‘joy’ in life, this quest for constant well-being is almost an acquired taste! While I am at it, why just me, happiness it seems is a global obsession now. No, not an obsession; it is an addiction. What is worse, it’s been perfected into a science!
For starters, what is this with Bangladesh being ranked as the 41st happiest nation in the world? As if that was a troubling fact to digest, the Brits are 108th, while them damn Yankees came out way back at 150 among the 178 nations surveyed by the New Economics Foundation. I just do not buy into all of this. I’ll come to that later. But first things first, how can we be so happy? With such talk of eternal love, absolute honesty, or pure knowledge, how can anyone climb the high mantles of perfectionist ideals, and say, ‘Yes, I am happy!’
If you ask me, here is what I think: we are taught happiness, and that is the problem. For an average bloke, it’s already been prescribed: a respectable degree, a well-paying job, a good-looking wife, an apartment, a car, the kid’s college fund (no longer an American expression, mind you), etcetera, etcetera. You have all of these, and bam: you are happy! And yet the countless and clueless graduates, the high-paid clerical jobs of business executives devoid of personal imagination, the three-bedroom 64-apartment blocks in the concrete jungle of this mad city, the reconditioned paradise on four wheels guzzling millions of barrels of subsidised petrol are things I don’t get. Excuse me, but that is not happiness in my books.
So maybe it’s not happiness per se, rather the aura of a happy live is what we are taught to strive for. I am tired of this attempt of giving an impression of a happy life. Maybe, we are not meant to be happy if things are not so. At least not all the time. Utilitarianism doesn’t work. Period. Quantitative maximisation of happiness has its limits. So, is it going to be spiritual? Will it be the utilisation of the 72,000 nadis (energy cycles) that the Indian spiritual chakra-system stipulates? Or, maybe we are bound by the shackles of complex reasoning that the Zhuangzi philosophy of the Chinese blames for our eternal dilemma as the ‘thinking’ animal. For all that I know: I need to find a way out of this happy-holic syndrome. I want to be free of this addiction to the quest for happiness.
So, now back to the question of why Bangladeshis are so happy. Yes, friends have come up with various reasoning other than the ones the New Economic Foundation came up with: life satisfaction, life expectancy and ecological footprint. The more frivolous ones came up with the ‘Bangladeshis don’t know what happiness really is’ observation, and the ones waxing philosophical went as far as to comment on the ‘closer to the soil, and simple living’ argument.
Here is my take, and thank our lucky stars if I am right: we are yet to learn the ‘prescribed’ definition of happiness. Probably our lives are yet to be on track, so to speak. We Bangladeshis are still happy with whatever comes along. The ‘promised’ highway to happiness is still not in sight for us. And that is all the more reason why we are not yet restless when we don’t find things that were never supposed to be there. A Danish photographer on assignment in Dhaka went berserk on his first day out. But the next day, he had a big smile as he met me. ‘It works!’ were his first words. The inches between two rickshaws in Thataribazar, or the even the lack of it, and the following arguments had made sense to him, eventually. ‘Rather than concealing, or blocking, all of the grudges and complaints, you just let it out into the open’, came his reasoning. So, isn’t that good. It works!
In fact, that is what I am doing from now on. Next time I am dumped (well, provided that I am ‘picked’ in the first place), it’ll show. And when the CNG driver tries to pull my leg tomorrow, be sure he will get a piece of my mind. Above all, I defiantly renounce all those paths to happiness that ‘they’ tell me to take. While I am renouncing things, I also declare the survey that says Bangladeshis are 41st as bogus, and give my full support to the World Happiness Survey done by the Americans, which has been ranking Bangladesh as the happiest nation in the world, every year.
So, go ahead and ask me how I am?