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Indian Ethos, Ethics and Happiness

Updated: Feb 10, 2021

Buddha’s first lecture post-attaining enlightenment, popularly referred to as ‘4 Noble Truths’, starts with the concept of “Dukkha”. While in common parlance, in India, we understand ‘Dukkha’ as pain, the Buddha talks about it in terms of the fact that ‘life, despite all its pursuits & achievements, leads to little change in permanent satisfaction. In fact, this is also a common theme discussed across many eastern religions including Hinduism [both in Vedic literature and in the Bhagavad Gita].

Does this ancient understanding stand the modern scientific understanding of happiness?

In 1978, a seminal study was conducted to check if external events hold power to influence our state of well-being permanently. And so, researchers took the toughest test by studying groups who had faced the most extreme events in life. One such group was lottery winners. A few months after winning, lottery winners (and a comparative control group) were asked to rate how happy they were and how much pleasure they derived from mundane everyday events. Surprisingly enough, lottery winners were no better than the control group on both these measures.

While it was a small-sample qualitative study, it brought to light a broader phenomenon that psychologists refer to as the “hedonic treadmill”. In almost all cases, we quickly habituate & adapt to life events (good & bad) and return to a ‘happiness baseline’. Novel soon becomes normal. Here’s a qualitative view of how this treadmill looks like for a University student.

The above is just one example of how a confluence of science and spirituality expands exists themes of happiness. Be it Mindfulness (that originated from the application of Theravada Buddhism), understanding of Morals & Ethics (closely linked to the idea of ‘Dhamma’ and ‘Dharma’ in Buddhism & Hinduism respectively) and many other aspects of happiness, there exist innumerable pearls that through the lens of science, can become invaluable tools for both our personal and professional lives. Through our course on ‘Indian Ethos, Ethics and Happiness’ we bring to light these intersections between science & spirituality to derive meaningful lessons for happiness and management.

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