Happiness, it seems to me, is both more difficult and easier to attain in the modern age.
As educated people, Americans and Europeans are expected to know all the 'basics' ... such as the fact that money can't/doesn't buy you happiness. And yet survey after survey seem to point to the fact that people in less developed nations such as India tend to be happier.
What gives? I think the difference lies in what one's life goals are, what one is striving for, what one chooses to measure one's life by. The 'BIG' "Meaning of Life" question.
We take our cues from our parents, family, society, surroundings, and so on. The horizons of someone who lives in a village in India or China is limited. He/She sees folks grow up, pursue the same activities as his or her parents, then get married and have kids and slowly grow old. The cycle of life tends to repeat itself. The 'desires' tend to be basic and simple and easily obtained. Hence, happiness and contentment are easy to attain.
The modern world has turned everything into a mess. We are bombarded with endless information, endless temptations, endless possibilities. We do not know where to draw the limit. For the new middle class in India, buying a small car costing $8,000 may be a major life achievement leading to much contentment and wide celebration. For Americans, a $30,000 sedan may be a 'basic necessity' rather than a luxury.
How 'big' a house is enough? 500 sq. ft.? 1,500 sq. ft.? At least a 3-bedroom suburban home with a garden and picket fences?
What about traveling the world and vacationing and honeymoons? How many kids must one contribute to the family and to the world?
The 'items' mentioned above are already more than enough to keep most men and women busy through their lives. And I have not even talked about the multitude of choices we are faced with that makes compatibility less likely.
One of the key factors that impacts how happy or otherwise we are in life has to do with the relationships we have in our lives. In traditional societies, there really is not much of a choice. These relationships are automatically decided for you before you are born. You live in the house that your forefathers have built and till the land that belongs to the forefathers. You spend entire lifetimes with your parents and probably live to see your own kids grow up and have their own kids in turn. This is not necessarily an endearing prospect.
People in developed nations have managed to get out of this vicious circle. They leave home pretty much permanently when they leave for college. They choose their own life partners. And those 'life' partners do not even have to be for life. This is all good. It's my conviction that with the proliferation of choices we have, it is going to be more and more difficult to find a 'partner' who is exactly like us. This already leads to much heartburn and will continue to do so in the future.
Just consider the possibilities for differences —>>
what food one likes: veg, non-veg, Mexican, Thai, Sushi, Indian
what TV shows one likes: Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, Sopranos, Seinfeld, Jon Stewart, Bill Maher, Stephen Colbert, The Office, Girls, and so on till infinity
what is one's chosen favorite way of relaxation: working out, cycling, boxing, sleeping till noon, reading a book, tweeting
what is one's attitude towards technology: always connected, tweets from the loo, Apple-fanatic, Linux-head, technophobe
car crazy or a believer in public transport, lover of nature and a warrior for the environment, watches what one eats, cleanliness-freak, etc. etc.
So the choices are endless. As the letters that pour in to advice columnists show, folks are facing many and varied and unprecedented relationship issues which of course explains the proliferation of gurus not the least of whom is Deepak Chopra.
Here's wishing that we will realize that there ARE no lessons to learn; that there is no BIG "Meaning of Life" as such; that if we enjoy reading fiction or non-fiction or enjoy cooking, then that IS the meaning. That IS enough.
I can do no better than to conclude with my favorite words which capture my philosophy of life exquisitely and perfectly:
"There are no lessons to be learnt, no discoveries to be made, no solutions to offer. I find myself left with nothing but a few random thoughts. One of them is that from up here I can look back and see that although a human life is less than the blink of an eyelid in terms of the universe, within its own framework it is amazingly capacious so that it can contain many opposites. One life can contain serenity and tumult, heartbreak and happiness, coldness and warmth, grabbing and giving — and also more particular opposites such as a neurotic conviction that one is a flop and a consciousness of success amounting to smugness." — Diana Athill