We spend our lives trying to find it, grab it and keep it. But what constitutes contentment in a world that constantly reminds us that we are what we earn or what we have? Alvin Thomas attempts to make sense of it all.
Pharrell Williams was certainly onto something when he wrote and recorded Happy.
The song has lived up to its name for the American singer by winning him an Oscar, making him mega-rich and crediting him for arguably creating the most-played song of the past 10 years.
And if listening to it doesn’t make you feel good about yourself, we don’t know what will.
This brings us to the big question: what is happiness? And what happens if, as Pharrell says, you feel like a “room without a roof”?
Our findings reveal many answers to that. For instance, a young woman says that “happiness is what you experience when you have a few days off from work”; an engineer tells us that “happiness is when you have had a good night’s sleep”, while a new mother says that “happiness is when I look at my newborn son”.
So, three people; three different answers. And that’s what makes evaluating the word very difficult. There seems to be no specific definition of the word “happiness”.
As a matter of fact, it could be a state of mind, a physical response or simply a feeling. In short then, as a concept, happiness is the state of being happy – at least according to the Oxford English Dictionary.
But Aaron Prince, a life coach who works with the armed forces and many other individuals in need of support, thinks “there could be more to happiness than just being happy”.
“The key to happiness lies in you prioritising your passions ahead of your routines,” he says.
“It lies in you creating great moments for yourself; and above all, it only happens when you are past being happy, and are surrounded by the people you love.
“You can be happy right now. Let’s take an example: you buy yourself a new phone. Let’s take the new Samsung Galaxy S8 or and iPhone7, for instance. You purchase the spanking new phone from a vendor, and are completely content by it. You could even say that you are happy with your decision. But – and here lies my question – how long do you think you will you remain happy by it?
“Undeniably, most people of today – me included – have somehow come to a point wherein we seek instant gratification. You and I want to have that instant pleasure or sense of relief.
“Of course, there is no denying that seeking instant pleasure can be an important factor in boosting one’s mood. It will make you happy… temporarily.
“But this love for materialistic pleasures has taken over humanity, and that is what has caused a sense of disconnection among us humans, thus resulting in our loss of happiness.
“People need to start spending time with real people. By sharing our thoughts and our time with the people we know and love, we share the happiness too.
“That way, we remain happier for longer; we create an emotional bond. That is why our ancestors were happier than us: they used to share everything. You and I need to start communicating… you and I, we need to change,” he says.
Aaron’s strong words are proved correct by a recent survey carried out in Oman, by shopping conglomerate Majid Al Futtaim.
The campaign is based on findings confirmed by research commissioned by the company across the region. It reveals that people in the Middle East feel that spending quality time with friends and family is key to their happiness but they don’t prioritise it enough.
Entitled Create Great Moments Together , the report states that nearly one-third (30 per cent) of Oman’s residents spend, on average, less than five hours a week with their family or loved ones.
The survey also shows that nearly 94 per cent of people are at the peak of their happiness when they spend quality time with their loved ones.
To learn more about this, and perhaps shed some light on the subject, we asked two individuals and one family for their take on the report and their feedback based on their own experience.
Bushra, a 23-year-old travel agent, says: “I cannot lie. I live alone and I am not happy with the way I am proceeding with my life here in Oman.
“My family used to reside here but have since moved back to India. So my life has become quite monotonous, even though I have friends here.
“The problem is that I spend a lot of time at work [nearly 10 hours a day], and forget to reach out to my family or friends. I end up going back home and relaxing. Of course, I do interact with a lot of my old friends through Facebook and Instagram. Otherwise, there’s very little interaction.
“I think the report is right when it says that people are happiest when they spend time with their loved ones. As a matter of fact, I am heading home for a short vacation soon. So, I should be connecting with everyone then. Just the thought of that makes me happy,” she tells us.
Meanwhile, Mark Sanchez, an expatriate who works in the petroleum industry, and lives with his wife and daughter replicates Bushra’s thoughts, saying: “I don’t think I could live in Oman without my family. I really do sympathise with Bushra. It is true that I cannot spend as much time with them as I used to before, but that isn’t because I don’t love them. I just have to work harder, especially after my firm has sacked a few of my colleagues.
“I am really at my peak when I go home and spend some time chatting with them.
“My daughter is currently going to school so she has to go to bed at around 9pm. And it is hard because I only get home by 7.30pm. That means we have very little time to spend talking to each other. But we have made it a rule to sit down, talk and have supper together.
“Is it fun? I cannot say yes to that. But what I can tell you is that I somehow feel more human. I can sort of replenish myself by opening up to my family. I can say that I am happy.
“After my little one goes to sleep, I make it a point to talk to my wife [who is a stay-at- home mum] and share things about work.
“This way, I can let her be involved in what I do, and not feel left alone. Both of us can feel that the stress has increased, and she understands that I have to spend a lot of time away from her at work. But, we still do little things; like watch a movie or do the dishes together later at night so that we bond.
“I personally think that everyone must have that special someone to go home to. It can be a wife, a mother or father, a girlfriend, or even just friends. Otherwise, I think that the person will be consumed by work and other daily pressures. I, for one, would have broken down emotionally if it weren’t for my lovely family,” he says.
Our third interviewee is Zubair, a 22-year-old engineer, who lives with his mother in Muscat.
“I don’t think I prioritise my time with friends and my mum effectively. I can always hear complaints from her about it,” he says.
“My mother practically raised me alone, and I know that I do not give her a lot of attention. But of course, at my age, I am also looking to head out and have adventures of my own with my mates.
“I cannot lie. I do feel guilty when I am out with my friends, and have left my mother alone at home. She has her own circle of friends but I think she enjoys it more when she is with me.
“I read the survey I was sent, and I think that a lot of it is true. I am genuinely happy when I am with my mum or friends. I just wish I could do both.”
The report further highlights that almost 46 per cent of people who took part in the survey feel they currently waste at least two weekends per month by not spending time with family and friends and above all, 40 per cent turn down offers to meet loved ones at least twice per month.
On the plus side, though, 77 per cent of those surveyed recognise the need to prioritise and spend more quality time with those they love.
Adding to his earlier points, Aaron says, “We all know what is needed of us. The report even states that nearly four-fifths of the people in Oman understand the consequences of putting off loved ones for work or other purposes.
“Understanding is key when it comes to self-growth. I feel that people need to educate each other about the purpose of spending time with family and friends and how something as simple as that can make a difference in their lives.
Over the past few years, happiness and the need for human interaction have been touted as prime factors in the growth and development of a country.
And according to the World Happiness Report 2017, the key factors to happiness include economic variables (such as income and employment), health (mental and physical) and, above all, social factors (such as education and family life).
The report also states that jobs that inhibit giving time to family members or a partner have been known to negatively affect life satisfaction, job satisfaction and ultimately happiness.
“Where our society takes a hit is when people start spending more time at work and doing other activities, and not having a work-life balance,” Aaron explains.
“Recently, there was a report that stated that happy nations don’t focus much on growth, and that is true to a huge extent. But, I think the right way to phrase this would be that growth is interdependent on the happiness of the people.
“The vice-versa, however, isn’t a huge factor when it comes to living and working in the country.”
Vino el Khatib, chief marketing officer at Majid Al Futtaim, says: “The greatest moments in life come from experiencing, sharing and discovering life together, and that is what happiness is made of.
“We were inspired to conduct our study into the drivers of happiness, an emotion that is a fundamental pursuit of all people across countries and cultures.
“When we received the findings, they highlighted a clear need to encourage people to devote more time to doing what they enjoy the most – spending quality time with friends and family – as in today’s fast-paced, hyperconnected world this all too often takes a back seat.”
8. New Zealand
12. Costa Rica
14. United States