Finding Happiness

Aparajita Sengupta

(Reprinted from author’s Facebook page)

Aparajita Sengupta lives and works on a farm in Birbhum, West Bengal with her daughter Prateeti and husband Debal, trying to produce all the food that her family eats with the help of natural farming methods. Her dream is to buy as little as possible and live a low-energy, low impact, community-based, ecologically sustainable life. She also (quite accidentally) engages in some fun and alternative learning with the neighborhood kids. Aparajita used to teach English and Film earlier, but is now more interested in writing about alternative/ sustainable livelihoods (as opposed to employment), chemical-free farming and localism.

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Happiness is such a neglected sentiment in our time and world, and we tend so easily to confuse it with pleasure or fun or excitement that I often feel that educated, urban people have forgotten the true taste of deep, enduring happiness. It is rather unfortunate that these feelings lie so close together in our brain so that it was easy for some people to convince us that happiness could be traded for its more trivial and temporal cousins.

Most of us believe that although we are often unhappy, we have experienced true happiness in our lives. We also generally tend to believe that we were happier when we were younger unless we have had particularly traumatic experiences growing up. Being loved and doing things we value also usually makes us happy. Food, drink, sex, addictive substances and shopping also make us happy in a sense, and even though we recognize the fleeting nature of  the happiness derived from these acts, it hardly keep us from indulging in them.  Other experiences might elevate or pacify or fulfill, but they are not the same as the complex mix of pleasure, peace, well-being and joy that happiness is.

I was quite sure I had experienced true happiness by the time I was say, twenty. But I also realized that these were moments of happiness, not a state of mind that feels almost permanent or even strong enough to balance the constant sense of irritation and anger that I have carried with me most of my adult life. Something about it, however, seems to have changed fundamentally since me and my husband decided to come and settle in a village to grow our own food through natural farming methods. This decision has been the culmination of a long process of thoughts and actions that goaded us to seek a hands-on answer to things that were keeping us bitter—the loss of ecosystems and traditional livelihoods, the power of corporations over farmers, and our own helplessness when it came to real political change.  I had sought this path looking specifically for solutions to the agrarian crisis in India, and the aspect of happiness presented itself to me rather unexpectedly.  I was walking the red mud trail just outside our new farm, gazing out to the rice paddies stretching to the horizon, the sun going down over a thicket of palms, birds chirping in the hedges, when I saw my daughter, who had run ahead, running back to me, her laughter rippling on the chilly winter wind. As I wrapped her up in my arms, I felt something I had never felt before. It had a little to do with my love for her, but was more about the freedom, peace and comfort that I have recently experienced.

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