Illicit happiness

Well those two words don’t usually go together, or do they ?

Since very early,  I have had this notion of happiness – happiness is something that you earn as a reward for doing your job well. The key point here is “earn”. And in school days this meant staying at the top in your class and doing what is considered as ‘good’.  As I entered my undergrad, this translated into a exploring all the different opportunities that lay ahead, dreaming up big and then being relentless in turning those dreams into reality.  But this model seemed to have broken down and led me to question its underlying hypothesis and validity. 

The natural question that i asked myself is that how come this model served me well during my earlier years but I just cannot stand by it any more.  After scurrying through a lot of material on this and introspection, i seem to have come to this understanding- when we are young, we are in a very protected and control environment. The work we do and the expected reward is highly correlated. So if we study hard enough , there is no reason we can’t top the class. If we play hard, no reason why we can’t bowl outswingers or play those elegant cover drives. There are hardly any factors that seem to be out of our direct control. Our family provides us the comfortable niche in which we comfortably live our lives.

But this is as far as it goes. As we enter the outside world, we counter forces that are just out of our control. And this becomes very hard to accept. You tend to believe that no matter what you want, if you dedicate yourself to it, you are gonna get it. But its not how it works. 

The equation to me seems more like this

y (k) = f(x, u) + n(k)

where Y is the result , X the state that defines your abilities ( and contains your history) , U is the input  and N is the noise – all the forces and factors beyond our control.

And this equation can come as a shock sometimes. It just seemed to me unacceptable that things could not be in my control. Why the hell there has to be noise in the system. I mean wasn’t I supposed to shape what my destiny with all my efforts and intensions. Why so then there were these forces acting without my permission or without consideration and shaping my destiny ? This dint make me happy, not one bit. 

During this period, i began screwing up other things – things that were in my control. When this started to happen, obviously there was no way I could find happiness with my earlier reward based model. Well desperate times call for desperate measures. So i took to doughnuts ! Ya thats not a typo. I took to doughnuts, coffee, pastries, travel. These things provided kind moments of happiness in the gloomy backdrop. And this is what I call “illicit happiness”, after all this wasn’t the happiness that I earned . i just created it, just manufactured it out of thin air. 

All goes well until my inner critic decides to wake up sporadically and utter such nonsense to me – ‘Dude, you cannot do that, thats not allowed . you cannot just creaaaaaaaaaate happiness like that. Thats not what the rules say !! Moreover isn’t it hollow since it does not last !!!’.   And I am like Damn You !! Cant  you just keep sleeping, buddy ? 

Meanwhile, I read a bit to understand human psychology, to understand the nature of all things. I also happened to visit a meditation centre which provided me the theoretical foundations or the mental models which seem to explain what was going around. These mental causal models became really effective.

But to truly accept these mental models and be aware of them all the time to make sense of things requires time and effort. So I have kept digging into my ‘illicit happiness’. There are times when my inner critic questions – Do you really deserve this happiness and what have you done to have it . In reply to this,  I am quick to draw upon a quote i read somewhere- “We not only have the right to be happy but more importantly an obligation to be happy. That’s the gift of human life.” On your face, you inner critic !!

But the quotes can only take you so far, so I was still questioning if this is the right thing. And then I had a moment of epiphany.  See the reward based happiness model that we have is a cycle – which can be virtuous when everything is going fine but can be deadly when its not. If you are not happy, you won’t be able to put in your best efforts in things which in turn mean that you won’t achieve so much which in turn would make you more unhappy. And this can escalate exponentially ( ok i did not plot the data points but still ).

There are two ways to effect this cycle and move it in the other direction. The first one is where people turn off their emotional engines( or atlas attempt to ) and channel all their energy into work . They achieve things and are able to turn the cycle other way around. I love these people cause these people are really strong and they are able to contribute even at their worst. But the sad part is that i am not one of these people. I truly need to be happy to be able to concentrate on my work and be creative. I need to be excited about things . So for me the strategy was – accumulate some H moments using “illicit” methods -> use the strength gained to work and also try and find a more solid ground for H-> make use of illicit methods + H  gained from work to amplify your work output and on and on until “illicit happiness becomes negligible portion.

All the while I have also been trying to find a better model to replace the reward based happiness model. You see its not sustainable. Things are always going to screw up and our models should make us resilient in the face of failures. Only recently, I could not have a thing that i wanted. No matter how earnest I am , i cannot influence it . I have to respect those constraints and wait for them to either go away or accept them. But the best part is that better models do exist. 


2 thoughts on “Illicit happiness

  1. kanchan says:

    Hey, I completely agree until the model part.I would, further, like to point out one thing: the noise term mostly averages out to zero in long run (assuming normal distribution), doesn’t it?

    But I disagree that the happiness cannot be (or should not be) synthesized. After all, we are merely the chemicals complying with the evolutionary rules and evolutionary psychology. If we know how to hack the system, then why shouldn’t we?


    • shubhamindia18 says:

      1) it does not seem that noise averages out. It could have a non-zero mean gaussian distribution. what probably could happen is that our prefrontal cortex ( which acts like the interpreter module) shifts the axis so as to be comfortable and explain away fairness . But ya in the end -its the stories that we tell ourselves that matter 🙂
      2) Completely agree with you on this point . Infact, the whole point of this was that it is critical and necessary. But i am not sure if it is a sustainable or a healthy solution as it comes with a lot of side effects. hacking into the system becomes important to solve it for immediate purpose but trying to resolve the underlying mechanisms could also be worth it .


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s