I was in my teens when I first read the “American Declaration of Independence”. Even then I found it to be a document of beauty, very eloquent, very lucid, and most powerful. The words too expressed a Utopian [perfect state] desire; the American Dream. But, it was in my mid-twenties, when I read it again, that I was struck by some words that began the Declaration i.e. that “Mankind is born equal, with the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”.
Why should happiness be pursued? Doesn’t it come of its own accord? These questions led me to try to understand the meaning of Happiness. This search began by my first adverting to “apposite and opposites”. An apposite exists only for an opposite; they define each other. Unhappiness or sorrow are opposites, defining happiness. Good and Evil; Dark and Light all apposite to an opposite; all relative to each other
That’s the first step.
The next step took me to another level. The absence of sorrow or unhappiness doesn’t mean you are happy, nor vice versa. Which meant that like all emotions, happiness has its own trigger(s). It took a decade or two more before I came to the conclusion that if you are at peace with yourself and there is no positive cause for grief in you, almost anything could make you happy. Being with family and/or friends, a nice movie or book or a walk in the park, any and all could make one happy. Even peaceful solitude could trigger happiness.
So what does it mean “to be at peace with yourself”?
To answer that question, we need to sidetrack a little. Life is a continuous, unending process of taking decisions; they are sometimes right, sometimes they turn out to be wrong. We need to understand two things about decision-making: first, each decision is taken according to the information you have at that time, not with the information you get after taking the decision. And, second, that for every decision (or choice) you make, you will need to pay a price—-immediately or later, less or more; a price will invariably need to be paid.
Now, let’s look at “being at peace” e.g. you are sixteen and have a date to go out with your friends. Your mother requests you to stay home and look after your sister instead because Mom has a commitment. You dearly want to go but you also don’t want to make your mom unhappy. Whatever decision you take will make you unhappy.
If you go out with your friends, your mother and sister might be unhappy but, even you might not be happy for ignoring your mom’s request. And, if you decide to stay home and look after your sister; you might be sulking all the while because you had to forego your fun-time with friends. So you were forced into making a choice but, whatever choice you made, you were not going to be happy. Not at peace with yourself.
Now, if you understand that you have merely paid the price of a decision you had to take, you will be slightly at peace. And, if you think more deeply , you will realize that when you have to make this kind of a choice, whichever you choose is actually the choice that would make you less unhappy, you will then, not only be at peace with yourself; you will have understood that mankind is born totally selfish. Whatever he/she chooses is what either makes him/her happy or, at least, least unhappy.
However, there is nothing wrong with realizing that mankind is innately selfish. It is, in fact, quite normal. But you need to be conscious of the reasoning. If you aren’t conscious of it, and think of your consideration of another person makes you selfless, then you are likely to think that the person you have been considerate to, owes you a debt. He/she doesn’t.
Which is why you need to pursue happiness and understand that you do nobody any favors, you act selfishly and, are actually pursuing happiness or, at least, least unhappiness. And that doing so is totally selfish; in no way selfless.
This is when you can be at peace with yourself and pursue happiness without remorse.