Happiness, what is it good for?

In one of the NPR podcasts, I heard an African musician Seun Kuti (son of legendary Nigerian musician Fela Kuti) saying that happiness is a western concept and rejects it. It really gets you wondering.

To an extent I agree with him, at least as far as your professional life is concerned. The previous generations did not know anything about  do what you love. Farmers just farmed, cooks just cooked, etc. Hell, we had an entire complex society based on your profession and to a certain point of time it was considered a rather forward and evolved practice.

So, why do we need to love what we do? My feeling is it has to do with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and secondly, I think we have a lot more time that our predecessors to think of happiness and suchlike.

I explored a lot of this when I was in between jobs. When I quit I was told that this is was the best time to start something in the area that would make me happy/ that I loved. The problem was a) I loved a lot of things b) I was not necessarily good at these things c) I don’t want to work in those fields for various reasons (e.g., music, cricket). A lot of introspection and googling (a solution to most problems nowadays) led me to this very good article by Penolope Trunk.

One of the worst pieces of career advice that I bet each of you has not only gotten but given is to “do what you love…

We are each multifaceted, multilayered, complicated people, and if you are reading this blog, you probably devote a large part of your life to learning about yourself and you know it’s a process. None us loves just one thing.


So is “happiness” a western concept? I don’t think so. The Gita talks about happiness through Bhakti, which I completely agree with, just that the Gita and me differ on our views about god.

All this trashing happiness is lovely in hindsight. I remember struggling with these questions when I was going through tougher times? What should I do? What would make me happy?

Did I answer these questions? No.

I have just come to realise that the statement “doing what you love” makes me look very one dimensional and that only what I do as a profession and “career” will bring me happiness. At the same time, I also realise that happiness, like love, success, etc are never ending quests. I think you need true bhakti – dedication and devotion over a long period of time to really understand and love what you do (a 10,000 hours kind of scenario).



Filed under self

6 responses to “Happiness, what is it good for?

  1. Atul Vishwanathan

    For what it’s worth, I think happiness is just temporal. The answer to “Are you happy?” or “What makes you happy?” will depend on when the question is asked. And again, is happiness really a permanent never-ending state of joy? Or maybe “To a large extent, satisfactory”? Or is it the momentary pleasure/relief we sometimes feel?

  2. Nomita

    I completely agree with the 10000 hours concept. Am trying to live it here as much as i can and find it rewarding and frustrating and confusing in equal measure. I only knew that it meant something to me when i choose to come back, knowing how incredibly hard it had been the first time around. And i m happy. That , for me, right Now is happiness.

  3. Ah. And I thought I was the only one pondering over such questions 😛

    I do agree that ‘do what you love’ is not the best advice for a professional career. I feel that one should rather get into something which they at least like and then, slowly, start loving what they do. It is like arranged marriage 🙂
    These days with the peer and family pressure, it is hard for an average person to follow the ‘do what you love’ rule, unless one has won a million dollar lottery or one is so passionate about something that he doesn’t care about *anything* else.

    Anyways, Nice blog dude. Keep writing 🙂

  4. Walking Wicket

    +1 to Atul’s comment.
    I not sure I understand how “doing what you love” makes you one-dimensional or prevents you from deriving happiness from whatever else (non-work) it is that pleases you?

    • Agree with Atul’s comments too.

      I didn’t mean “doing what you love” makes you one-dimensional. What I meant is I think “doing what you love” is not the only thing that will bring you happiness and to think that if I do the job that I “love” I will be happy is probably a wrong notion. This may come out corny, but happiness is like a state of being and needs to be pervasive in all parts of your life.

      Also, I think that we put unnecessary pressure on the “what do you do?” question and that has almost come to define us, which I think is wrong.

  5. great article bali..
    i believe we are too multi-talented, multi-interested n multi-this-n-that to derive happiness from just one thing…
    I believe though we can do everything that we love to do…at our own time….just that we usually tend to restrict ourselves, after all, we are our own enemy..

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