I listen to a Canadian radio station on the FM channel on my phone during my morning walk. Radio CSKY from Chatham, Ontario has podcasts, features, interviews in addition to music. Most mornings, corresponding to evenings in Ontario, I listen to John Tesh, a musician and the author of Relentless, a remarkable life story of being homeless at 19, battling cancer and achieving musical fame. His radio feature is “Intelligence For Your Life” (IFYL) distilled from current research in north American universities that prescribes changes in your lifestyle that can contribute to a better life and happiness. Yes, “happiness” is that elusive “holy grail” that all of us are in search of us but few of us get. Ramesh’s book speaks to us about this elusive goal of happiness and tells us of the way to get there. But as the cover depicts, the road is not a straight one, but one that meanders, with twists and turns and sometimes with obstacles on the way.
At the outset, Ramesh tells us that his book is not prescriptive or preachy nor is it a compass with a clear direction. It's more like a GPS, a positioning that gets you to the destination but there are many ways to get there. The essence of the book is in the description of these “ways”. He says, “Success does not mean Happiness”. We can work hard at being successful but at the end, are we happy?
Ramesh also distinguishes between pleasure and happiness. Happiness is a state of well-being and contentment Pleasure, on the other hand, is a state of gratification. Gratification by its very nature is often transient, temporary and very often, illusory. In fact, Ramesh quotes British psychologist, Eysenck. A success can trigger a burst of pleasure or joy indicating a temporary change in the status quo and our body soon adjusts to the new state. We now need to work hard to maintain this and obtain greater pleasure. This leads to another status quo and the cycle is never-ending. This is what Eysenck called the “hedonic treadmill”.
Our goal, Ramesh says, is to achieve the state of happiness. These are the 5 Is, a personal GPS to Happiness. But he gets to them in good time. Along the way, he too meanders much like his road map. He speaks about the effects of stress, the pressure to perform and win at all costs, the effects of envy and rising expectations. All these are illustrated with well-known examples from both the corporate and the sporting world. The 5 Is in his view are Integrity, Interact, Involve, Imbibe and Impact. Sage words of wisdom with a detailed exposition on each. He ends with a litmus test asking us to evaluate people we know on a 10 point scale. The higher a person scores, the nearest he is to a state of happiness. My takeaway line. “It’s okay to have butterflies in the stomach. The important thing is to make them fly in a formation”. If Ramesh has managed this with the scores of students and professionals he has trained and mentored over the years, he has achieved much.
The Happiness Trail — A Road Map to Success
By Ramesh Venkateswaran
pp. 232, Rs.299