‘ARE YOU REALLY HAPPY?’ by DEEPAK CHATTERJEE
“Am I really happy?” was the question that I posed to myself after reading Deepak Chatterjee’s book ‘Are You Really Happy?’ If I had been asked ‘Are you happy?’ I would have found it easier to answer for there have been moments when I did feel happy, but these moments like others had always moved on to be replaced by other feelings. So when he says ‘Really happy’, I understand it as a more permanent state, the key word being ‘really’. A state one reaches after a journey through pain, fear, anxiety and having understood and risen above such feelings to a state of eternal bliss.
When he let’s us have a peek into the factors that pushed him on his quest to ‘Fundamental Happiness’, I could immediately connect and empathise for my journey has been similar and I suppose it is true to many of us also. While most have been overwhelmed by their experiences, compromised and settled down with whatever life has to offer, Deepak has chosen to share the solutions that have helped him overcome his anxieties, his fear of death and nothingness.
By classification this would fall under the category of ‘self help’ books. I have myself kept away from such literature for I have always felt that ultimately each individual will strive to find his own way to happiness or whatever he understands of it. But the sharing of experiences does matter for it could trigger that something which you recognise as a path you have tread and opens up alternate possibilities to achieve your goal. I did read Deepak’s ‘Fundamental Happiness’ till the end, not only since it struck a chord in me, but because I found lucidity and a sincerity of purpose in his presentation. He wants to help.
When he talks of ‘Fundamental Happiness’ my understanding is, that it lies at the core of each individual and can be discovered only through an inward journey starting with our normal existence which is always covered with a security blanket (the diagram on page 67) and which is the cause of ‘Fundamental Unhappiness’. The only way forward is by shedding these layers you can achieve fundamental happiness. Fundamental as I understand is the basic state of existence and that defines the characteristics of the subject in question. So I personally have an objection to the use of the word ‘Fundamental Unhappiness’. At the core we are all in a state of bliss and that could be the only true state of our existence. This is covered by all our negative feelings- as per what he calls as our security blanket. Throw away the coverings and you find yourself and this is what Deepak is trying to say. But it was interesting to note his point of view that one should stop one step below the ultimate ‘Fundamental Happiness’. That is the step of – authenticity, higher vision, depth, richness, insight and practically no pain and this helped him immensely in his leadership positions, including his current role as a CEO. This is a very positive and constructive suggestion for he realises that it is necessary for us to be as authentic as possible in our present roles which we cannot shirk and go away into the forests like the Buddha did in search of ‘Nirvana’, after all we are lesser mortals.
The author is to a large extent influenced by existential thought and like the later existentialists like Sartre tries to find a solution in the authenticity of our living. Existentialism dwells on the sense of the meaninglessness and nothingness of human existence and the anxiety and depression which pervade each human life. Whether it is the Buddha or Kierkegaard the starting point for their quest to the meaning in life has been human anxiety. While the Buddha attained that state of ultimate bliss or Nirvana and sought to disseminate it to all through his eight fold path leading to the cessation of suffering and achieving self awareness, Kierkegaard or for the other existentialists there is no such thing as an ultimate state of bliss. They sought ways of overcoming this anxiety which they recognised as the basic human condition. For me the classic examples of existential angst and redemption have been Sartre’s ‘Nausea’ and Camus’s ‘The Outsider’.
Deepak does elaborate on the basic dilemma that an individual finds himself, in trying to breakaway from the shackles that bind him. He says that this is a waiting game “We are either in the future, waiting for something, or we dwell in the past. Future causes anxiety and past creates depression”. He gives the example of Beckett’s ‘Waiting for Godot’. I was also reminded of Kafka’s ‘The Castle’ and the ‘Trial’. He also talks of shedding of attachments and surrender as a manifestation of wisdom. In this sense I would call him a religious existentialist.
The Chapter 20 which comes at the end ‘Death’ I would say is the starting point and the motivation for this book. In his own words –
“This fear of death gave way to more fundamental and unanswered questions within me about the meaning of life, aimlessness, search for ultimate fulfilment and then on to depression, anxiety and emptiness.”
He ends this chapter by saying “We might be very effective in avoiding the deep fear, but the fact that death remains a mystery for mankind cannot be denied”.
The book is an easy read and easy to connect. Whether all what he says is attainable or not there is no doubting the author’s honesty.