Paradox of Identity and its Happiness
It is now an obvious fact that the great human civilization has long outgrown the natural ways of earthly existence. We no longer live and die by the rules that once directed our ancestors. This growth is supported through an ever developing capability and has resulted into an ever broadening identity of oneself. Your identity is what you define yourselves with — achievements, possessions, relationships, authority and just about anything else you may choose. This broadening of identity is the driver for most human lives.
Obviously one chooses to make these components a part of identity because these ought to supplement one’s experience of life. But the broadened identity also has a greater potential to cause displeasure — when components of identity become unpleasant and undesirable. It is rare that all components of one’s identity remain pleasant simultaneously. Most of the times, some or the other may remain unpleasant. Consider your own identity components for once — everything that may be considered as ‘my’ is a component of identity. You will see that you expect to derive specific forms of happiness from each of these. And in aspiration for more happiness, the identity keeps broadening.
But as the identity keeps broadening, one might fail to see the true form of how this actually benefits an individual or ‘self’. This failure can lead to a broadened identity and yet an unfulfilled self — which is arguably a widespread feature of the current human civilization. A civilization characterized by unprecedented achievements, possessions and connectivity of restless, vexed minds. Sounds familiar?
The understanding of how self interacts with happiness and identity may help in improving this situation. While the identity and its development is spread across past and future — across one’s lifetime to be precise — the perception of life and its happiness is a momentary thing. Your identity from past flows to become your identity in present and in future, but happiness from 2 minutes ago or even from the previous moment is past — gone forever, never to come back. The perception of happiness in this moment is now only, it is instantaneous.
One’s perception of life over an extended duration is not decided by its identity but by stacking of individual moments of perception.
To understand this statement better: Imagine a person with ambitious identity goals for next 10 years. In an experiment, he agrees that he may be injected with sadness and misery causing chemicals for 10 years — this will become his perception throughout this period. In return, he will have achieved all identity goals as he aspired upon completion of experiment. Bear in mind that the struggle to achieve goals may also cause sadness and misery but it also includes pleasure at the prospect for struggling for a worthy goal. This experiment also eliminates that pleasure. Would you expect him to have a good or bad perception of this period after achieving the goals?
As an individual chooses to depend upon identity as a source of happiness — an identity that is ever transmuting, never final or perfect — the perception of happiness appears to be an object of the past or the future — where it does not exist. Hence prohibiting the present from fulfilling its potential. Consciously decoupling the timeless aspect of happiness from time-based aspect of identity can be an enriching experience.
This was a theory. Now the application.
At any instant, your perception grapples with several aspects of your body and mind. Together this mixture becomes the perception of this instant. So in this instant, if your body is comfortable, defined by (1) pleasantness of 5 senses, what your see, smell, hear, taste and touch, (2) absence of painful/disturbing sensations from any body parts, (3) absence of hunger or thirst or breathlessness — and your mind is comfortable, defined by (4) absence of tasks requiring immediate action and (5) absence of disturbing thoughts in that instant, you perception of this moment has the potential to be thoroughly pleasant. These are instantaneous factors of perception and not time based.
Check when was the last time that your state of being fulfilled all these factors. You will see that most individuals come across several moments every day when these 5 factors are present. All aspects of one’s material resources, attachments, relationships and social status are perceived at any instant as these factors only. These may be said to be the filters through which a person perceives the world at any instant. This article asserts that this is the limit to what world can offer on a perceptual level. This article does not consider supernatural and spiritual orders of perception, just the normal waking consciousness.
So in conclusion, many individuals achieve the pinnacle of perceivable worldly fulfillment every day and yet fail to recognize it. This failure is rooted in a deluded correlation between identity and perception. When the mentioned 5 factors are mixed with wounds of the past and apprehensions of the future — components of identity which don’t really exist in the present — the possibility of pleasantness is adulterated. As one seldom strives to detach from identity, pleasantness of perception becomes a conditioned and rare event. When this process extends over time, the perception of life becomes unfulfilling despite the broadened and desirable identity.
If you think that your state in future will be more fulfilling than in present — consider if that state will offer the instantaneous factors of perception in a better manner than the present.
It might be worth introspecting if your future is directed towards improvement of perception or improvement of identity?