By Prasasti Pandit
Most of us don’t care about any formal definition of happiness and inner peace. Rather I doubt if there is any such formal definition available! Since happiness is a subjective psychological feeling, we can realize the moment we feel happy. We can describe it as a whole gamut of positive emotional, mental states including joy, bliss, enjoyment, pleasure, peace. Among them, peace is the most complex and arguably the highest positive balanced sublime state of mind from which other positive feelings spring up.
Let’s take a quick glance at the history of philosophy in this context. Many philosophers have articulated their views on happiness over the decades. Philosophers who talk about happiness are known as Hedonists since they accept happiness as the one and only thing to pursue. According to hedonist Jeremy Bentham, human beings by nature seek pleasure and avoid pain. Bentham tries to measure the quantitative valuation of happiness by formatting a hedonistic calculus. However, Epicurus, John Stuart Mill, Henry Sidgwick, and their followers don’t believe in such quantitative measurement of happiness but accept the qualitative hierarchy and consider intellectual and emotional happiness are more desirable than mere physical pleasure, whereas Aristisppus emphasizes the quantitative intensity of pleasure. Again, Joseph Butler relates happiness with conscience. Furthermore, these philosophers can be divided into two groups. On one hand, Aristisppus and Epicurus are concerned about furthering one’s own happiness, and on the other hand, Bentham, and Mill emphasize collective happiness. However, Butler finds no confrontation between individual happiness and collective happiness since for him self-love and associated individual happiness are derived from the rational part of human conscience and such a rationally guided self-love is different from mere passion and always acts in accordance with social love and leads to collective happiness. Nevertheless, they are all entitled to hedonistic philosophers since they believe the pursuit of happiness is the most desirable thing. I believe happiness and inner peace are both abstract entities and intrinsically connected.
Peace refers to the mental states of serenity, harmony, happiness, and well-being. Happiness and peace are intrinsically related to a positive state of mind. To achieve the sublime state of happiness where peace prevails, we first need to distract ourselves from such pleasures that ultimately disrupt inner peace and indulge one’s uncontrolled desires such as uncontrollable greed for food, uncontrollable erotic desires, cravings for fame, lust for uninterrupted power that ultimately evoke stress and restlessness. What we need is to practice a harmonious balanced state that directs us to well-being while avoiding the potential stresses that ooze from our daily lives.
Currently, mental peace and happiness both become extinct entities. In addition to the regular competitive race of survival, we are now struggling for our survival of existence due to the novel pandemic, COVID-19. The usual way of living has been changed due to this worldwide pandemic situation. Furthermore, social distancing and travel restrictions have hugely affected our mental and social lives.
In this short article, I will propose Five easy ‘Stops’ which we need to adopt to preserve peace and happiness.
- Stop Thinking about happiness: Yes, you read it right. The famous philosopher Sidgwick’s trailblazing conception is the paradox of happiness. In his own words,
“Here comes into view what we may call the fundamental paradox of Hedonism, that the impulse towards pleasure, if too predominant, defeats its own aim.”
-Henry Sidgwick, Chapter 4, Pleasure & Desire, The Method of Ethics
In a nutshell, the paradox is proposing that the more you are concerned about happiness, the more you are going far from it. Happiness is entirely an abstract entity that cannot be measured. So, the first step is to stop striving for happiness or thinking about happiness.
- Stop Expecting: According to Buddhist philosophy, the root cause of unhappiness comes from our uncontrollable expectations and desires. The more you expect something, the more you get attached to it. The unnecessary attachments with material things eventually disturb the balance of mental harmony when you confront failures.
“When this exists, that comes to be. With the arising of this, that arises.”
- Samyutta Nikaya 12.61
Now you may wonder that if you don’t expect anything, how can you motivate yourself? Let me clear you that misconception here. Expecting something and aiming for something are completely different from each other. When you are expecting something, your sole focus will be on the result. However, when you are aiming for something, you are actually concentrating on the means to achieve that goal. The doctrine of Karmavada of Indian philosophy also cautions against the endless desire and expectations from the effects of one’s action.
“To action alone hast thou a right and never at all to its fruits; let not the fruits of action be thy motive; neither let there be in thee any attachment to inaction.”
– Verse 47, Chapter 2, Samkhya theory and Yoga practice, The Bhagavad-Gita
We can witness almost the equal opinion in Western philosophy shared by philosopher Immanuel Kant. He excludes any kind of expectation or inclination from his notion of duty. According to this doctrine, only those actions have moral worth which are performed only for the sake of duty and not from any expectation for its end result.
“An action which is performed purely from the sense of duty apart from any inclination possesses the genuine moral worth.”
-Kant, Groundwork For The Metaphysics of Morals
Following these philosophical notions, I prescribe that we should focus on work or duty, rather than thinking of the result.
- Stop Comparing: I believe this is the most crucial step to preserve our inner peace and happiness. Stop comparing yourself with other people. Everyone is struggling their own battle of survival. If you don’t have the comprehensive idea regarding other peoples’ lives and their struggles, just stop judging them right now from your partial perspective! Instead of comparing with others, set a goal for yourself. Try to be a better version of yourself that includes the betterment of professional skills to betterment of social and moral virtues such as wisdom, honesty, benevolence, courage, etc. According to virtue theorist Aristotle, a morally better person always endeavors to cultivate moral virtues.
Aristotle’s virtues: 1) Wisdom 2) Courage — braver 3) Temperance — moderation, 4) Justice — a sense of right / wrong 5) Magnificence — charisma, style 6) Magnanimity — generosity 7) Ambition — pride 8) Patience — temper, calm 9) Friendliness — social IQ 10) Truthfulness — honesty, candidness 11) Wit — humor, joy 12) Modesty — ego
– Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics
Following the virtue theorist Aristotle, a virtuous person with profound self-knowledge and focused vocation make the world a better place around her by her choice of living.
- Stop Finding Faults in Others: I know it is quite easy to tell rather than execute in real life since we are by nature egocentric species. We always keen to blame others since that is extremely easy to do than introspect on ourselves or retrospect the situation. Here, I would suggest following Adam Smith’s process that he once proposes to balance between egocentrism and altruism. According to Smith, the agent or observer empathizes with the pain of the sufferer by switching one’s position with the position of the sufferer and imagine oneself in the position of the sufferer. In his own words,
“When I endeavor to examine my own conduct… it is evident that… I divide myself into two persons; and that I, the examiner and the judge, represent a different character from that other I, the person whose conduct is examined into the judge.”
– Adam Smith, Part3, Chapter-1, Theory of Moral Sentiments
Here, following philosopher Smith, my advice is whenever you confront such situations, start practicing switch your position from the egocentric subject-person to an unbiased judge and retrospect the whole situation again calmly. Adopt this process to reanalyze such confronting scenarios from an unbiased position in a calm state of mind to envision the whole situation again. Here I can judge my position and also imagine myself in the place of the confronting person to realize and rationally judge the person’s point of view and act accordingly.
- Never Stop Forgiving: In daily life-struggle, often we have to face some unpleasant situations where we may feel that our trust has been broken. We have been cheated and got hurt by a person we believed in. In those unfortunate scenarios, instead of demeaning that person try to detach yourself to heal faster. On top of everything, if you want to move over from the uncomfortable state of mind just forgive the person but never forget the lesson you have learned.
“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the Strong.” – Mahatma Gandhi
Forgiveness is one of the greatest virtues which soothes your mind and imbues yourself with divine peace. At the end of the day, no material gains last; what really matters is your inner peace and happiness.
Start following these 5 philosophical tips from today and experience the positive change in your life. Good luck!
Dr. Prasasti Pandit is a passionate educator and dedicated academic researcher of Philosophy. Her area of interest is Ethics. In December 2020, she completed her PhD in the core area of Ethics, where she explored the normative importance of the Principle of Beneficence in the moral domain and worked on a more credible form of this. Apart from attending different national and international seminars as an invited speaker, she has published papers in various journals as well.
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