There is no doubt in it that every human being has the right to live and, therefore, the right to find the wherewithal to feed, to clothe and to house himself as well as his dependents. Besides these three, one has to fulfil some other needs as well, the aim being to avoid pain and to have a reasonably comfortable life.
But the trouble starts when one adopts that economic philosophy which states that multiplication and fulfilment of wants leads to higher standard of living and to greater happiness, and one, then sets to accumulate whatever and as much as one can by fair as well as foul means. This economic philosophy is basically erroneous and self-defeating and is the cause of many social, economic, political and moral maladies of our times.
To begin, happiness is hard to define as different people may have very different concepts of happiness, but directly correlating standard of living with happiness is likely oversimplifying their relationship. While good life conditions certainly contribute to happiness, people in poor countries frequently express a surprisingly high levels of happiness in opinion polls.
We should also understand one thing that happiness is not the same thing as pleasure. Happiness depends more on the mental state of a person than on the fulfilment of desires and the gratification of senses. A man who is fabulously rich may have all sorts of comforts and yet may remain worried. By no stretch of imagination can such a man be called a happy man.
On the other hand, a person not living in luxury, or even in comfort may be found to be happy as well as contented. Hence, it would be wrong to say that his 'standard of living is not high. We should remember that just as food sustains the body so does the mind find sustenance in happiness.
So, the saying goes: there is no food as good as happiness. And, to be happy, you have to be contented. Just as, for bodily well-being, man seeks food, so should he maintain the state of contentment to ensure happiness of mind. As Alfred Nobel as rightly said that ‘Contentment is the only real wealth’ , we should therefore not run after securing another kind of wealth to lose the wealth of contentment because contentment is as good as a means of happiness as wealth is considered to be.
(The writer is a spiritual educator and popular columnist for publications across India, Nepal and UK. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org)