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Formula for Family Happiness
May 18, 2000
Edward Witten, while speaking of String Theory, expressed a preference for spending his time in discovering a formula for family happiness rather than in discovering the formula for the origin of the universe.
A happy family has long been the ideal of men and even of societies. Is this attainable? To which plane of life does this ideal belong? We are witnessing the phenomenon of the family slowly dissolving in the social fabric.
Can we raise this question in the broader context of human ideal and seek an answer in the writings of Sri Aurobindo? Sri Aurobindo has said that the best ideal for man is God realization. To discover one’s own soul and help others to discover the same in themselves is the ideal Sri Aurobindo places before men. Mother declared that marriage must one day disappear. Woman can seek God, She said, only when she gives up the desire for masculine domination and for having children. She pleaded for the abolition of inheritance. So, she leaves little scope for the family. The question of family happiness does not arise.
Happiness and success are the ideals of the lower vital, Sri Aurobindo says. Thus, he too gives little scope for inquiry into this subject. Can we then pitch Witten’s ideal into the very narrow scope of the individual’s social life? Obviously, when we make Family Happiness an ideal, we take for granted the sanctity of a family. There is no harm in assuming it to be real and discussing its possibility.
Family exists after a fashion for a short period in animal life when the young ones are to be protected by the mother. As animals live in herds, even after the weaning of the offspring, the herd itself assumes the hue of an extended family.
FAMILY is superfluous biologically, it is shunned by spirituality, but it is adored by the social man. If it has any significance, it has it in that social context. He who seeks family happiness has his philosophy pitched within that context.
If happiness and success are lower vital ideals, what then is the higher vital ideal? Man is mental and has officially outgrown vitality. But the ideal of vitality is energetic, enthusiastic enjoyment. It cannot stipulate success as such enjoyment needs to court failure too, or at least provide for failure that is inevitable. He who does not stipulate success cannot also demand happiness that issues out of success. Joy, not happiness is a better goal, as Joy is Ananda in the nerves. If not Love that is Ananda in the soul, Joy is a better pursuit. Its mental version is beauty. Truth has been held to be the highest ideal through the ages.
In this light, family happiness walks out of the domain of human idealism at its higher reaches and leaves us to consider it as a proposition in itself.
Choosing Family Happiness as an ideal, assumes that family and happiness are desirable ends. Let us fully concede it and go about achieving it. The first step is to have a family. Perhaps the scientist meant only a nuclear family and not an extended family. In either case, let us offer arguments that would hold good in both the bases.
Family is a human organisation existing not by the force of law or rule but by the knowledge that living together is more enjoyable than living apart. Thus, the basic condition of the family is the enjoyment of one of the other person’s constant physical nearness. It is an age-old wisdom that familiarity breeds contempt. Biologically, the gregarious instinct enjoys being together with others, which is mainly physical. Of course, it extends to vitality and vital living. Anyway, at the mental level the more dominant character is individuality. In between lies the emotional zone that enjoys emotional company. It can reach great heights and when it comes to accomplishment, it can outgrow the mental emotion as well as the narrow bounds of the family based on blood relationship. At this point, the family shades off into ORGANISATION. Unless we choose to call this organisation a family, family at this point loses much of its significance. Let us go back to the narrow waters of the family and pursue the ideal of happiness within its boundaries.
Family and happiness are twin terms that can generate friction by their original nature when pressed to idealistic limits. The family is based on blood. Happiness is based on excess energy of the positive nature. Blood generates limited energy and cannot rise to the expectation of great energy needed by happiness, simply because blood is physical and energy is vital. Should blood relations be paramount, by definition happiness is abridged to the level of energy that blood relations can generate. If that is true, discipline enters to maintain order and sustain functions. Happiness disappears or at least is abridged when discipline enters. Family and happiness are, in that view, opposites, or least part company when the ideal is pressed. Still, let us pursue the ‘ideal’. We can say, after a fashion, that this ‘ideal’ is achievable. The restrictions of blood—the physical plane—are twofold, one based on needs and the other issuing from the nature of physicality. Prosperity can overcome the need-based restrictions. The demands of physicality are repetition, conservatism, opposition to change and horizontal growth, like the man who took 17 MA degrees. From the point of view of family, the ideal of happiness is sustainable if there is prosperity and the temperament enjoys stagnation.
Happiness is harmonious excess energy that overflows. Taking the context of the family as described above, harmony requires good manners, and excess energy demands innovative action.
The ideal of Family Happiness is attainable and sustainable if one can be prosperous and willing to occupy himself only with activities of horizontal growth. Good manners can sustain it.
In other words, prosperous men who decide not to step out of tradition can reach family happiness and sustain it by good manners.
The above is a consideration of the theme from a social and practical angle. Let us consider it from a psychological context and begin our enquiry from the other end.
There are moments when anyone is happy, even a person given to depression as when they watch a game or a movie. At those moments the man consciously draws his personality center away from the depressing aspects of his personality and focuses it on an event that gives joy. An external event gives joy, and the man chooses to relate to it by a conscious choice. The results are short-lived. But when he chooses, not an external event, but an inner attitude that gives joy, the same joy is more intense and lasts longer. As man cannot escape depressing outer events and cannot get rid of sources of inner misery, we can only consider the possibility of endlessly prolonging the experience of joy. We now discuss family happiness which means apart from one’s own joy, one should be a source of joy to others in the family. When normal rules of social manners are followed, it unfailingly ensures happiness in a social relationship. The kernel of the rule is push your ego to the rear. By pushing one’s ego to the rear, the inner command over oneself is intact. That inner happiness is ensured.
Socially good manners, which is to put up unegoistic behaviour, ensure family happiness.
Children go to school, we work in offices, all of us visit shops. Work everywhere goes on smoothly as people behave everywhere as they should. Life will break down if the office is taken for a shop or the house is made a school or office. We are civilized enough not to expect one from the other. Marriage is a social institution. ALL of us expect great personal JOY from it, totally forgetting that personal results, joy or anything can be worked out only within the limits of one’s own personality. The moment two people come together, the context is social interaction and it demands social manners or behaviour. Expecting a social institution to yield a personal result is, to say the least, not rational. We can say it is far from wise, even foolish. A question arises in our own minds – how can all of us be that foolish? It is true that we are. Because all of us commit a folly, we can even ask whether there is not a wisdom behind it. There is. Behind the opposite lies the truth. Man refuses to see it. As school compels the children to read, marriage compels men and women to learn that the truth lies behind the opposite. Now that man has subconsciously learned it, the world is outgrowing the family.
Assuming that one agrees with all of the above arguments, is there still some scope for a FORMULA for happiness within the four walls of the family? The answer is yes.
- Social family can give social happiness, not psychological happiness.
- When social happiness is intense and saturates the fabric of the family, it can be felt as pure psychological happiness. People do feel it thus.
- Chaste women have been there in great number. They have even acquired supernatural powers enabling them to command the rain and postpone the sunrise. This is true.
- But chastity is not spiritual, it is psychological. When a psychological power rises to perfection, it is able to command the power of the next plane.
- Biologically, woman seeks a different man to conceive a second child. She is happy with several husbands. From the days of Pusana till DNA revealed these secrets, these ideas are true. Neither man nor woman is made biologically or spiritually to be chaste. Still, chastity is venerable, a wonder and a marvel, and we cherish it. It gives a noble satisfaction.
- Man has been handling a naughty child, insubordinate employees, greedy customers, and so on. He has surely handled a domineering wife and she an irresponsible husband. These are social skills.
- It works successfully as a tactic, a policy, a genuinely felt feeling and is at its best as a strategy of self-giving.
- Should a married couple realize that the family is a social institution and if they are willing to discover happiness within its portals, I invite them to espouse very good social manners in their personal context, acquire the skill of adapting to the needs of the spouse, think of family issues form the other person’s point of view and intensely practise genuine self-giving. They will be overflowing with inner peace and outer joy. Their life will be one of cheer and mirth. They will be truly known as ‘made for each other.’ They will surely receive from life more than most have ever received.