Before comparing the state of happiness of modern man with that of his ancestors, it will be better to fix criteria for happiness and the absence of happiness. If we leave aside the sense of eternal bliss experienced by a mystic in communion with God or a sense of self-fulfillment and exaltation experienced by the artist in the process of creation of a work of art, there would be hardly any dispute that happiness consists in activities which make men satisfied and at peace with themselves and with the world around them.
Such activities would be sharing and celebrating good news and events like a good harvest, birth of a child, a marriage or a victory in a game. It is well known fact that happiness increases by sharing.
There is no doubt that our forefathers were able to get more happiness by sharing their happiness with their kith and kin. Most communities in the world still preserve some memories of the dance and festivities they used to have at the time of harvesting their crop. Punjabi bhangra dance with its hilarity and abandon suggests how excited and happy our forefathers must have been for days together while celebrating achievement of community in the form of a bumper harvest. With very inadequate and primitive facilities for selling and storing of food products, people used to indulge in feasts of catering and drinking, entertaining even strangers with sumptuous meals.
Sports practiced by our forefathers were mostly community sports where the accent was more on group cooperation. Rowing, Tugs Of War, Kabaddi are some instances. Participating teams consisted of youth from different villages or tribes and great excitement and revelry accompanied these tournaments.
Family life of our forefathers was more cohesive and happy. In time of stress one could get emotional support not only from one’s mother or father but also from a grand-parent or an uncle or a cousin. Joint family was a source of rich emotional sustenance and economic security. Nucleus family or single parent or single child family of today is virtually emotionally starved in comparison to the emotional well- being of families of our forefathers. One could always depend for help on one’s
family members in case of an emergency. Today, one has to go in supplication before impersonal and emotionally drained bureaucrats for relief and loans.
Most of the land in the time of our forefathers was community owned. Cooperative work in the field was a way of life with all its attendant joys and supports. Work in the field was a joy and people would sing almost interminably while engaging in hard physical work in making the earth yield crops and fruits.
People lived in harmony with nature. In old literature, there are frequent and laudatory references to forces of nature, rains, rivers, trees, mountains and oceans which would bring plenty of food and riches to the community. Valmiki’s ‘Aranyakand’ (Ramayana) and Kalidasa’s ‘Meghdootam’ are brilliant testimony to man’s love of nature in the olden days.
Our forefathers were fairly happy and contented when things went well, when rains were timely and food was in plenty. But when the rains failed, our forefathers were at their wits’ end. Famine and starvations stared them in their faces. Their yagnas and prayers were hardly of much avail. Thousands and thousands of men and cattle starved to death. Since they had not devised means of scientific storage of foodgrains for a rainy day, they could not make use of good harvests. Means of transport were primitive. Food could not be imported from far-off places. Things have vastly changed now. With storage capacity of millions of tonnes of foodgrains in our nation’s godowns, with huge ships capable of carrying loads of thousands of tonnes across continents and Oceans, starvation deaths have become things of the past.
Epidemics like plague, cholera, malaria and small pox used to extract heavy toll of human lives in the times of our forefathers. With inventions of modern medicines, vaccines and anti-biotic and prolific preventive measures against epidemics, small¬pox and plague have been entirely eliminated and malaria has been thoroughly controlled. A net result of low death rate has been a tremendous population explosion at present which is straining the food and oil resources of the world.
Opportunities of entertainment have multiplied manifold with the invention of television, radio, cinema and music-systems. For enjoying a football match, you need not always buy a ticket after a long wait in the queue and watch the match in the sweltering heat in the stadium.
You can be in your bed and watch Argentina humbling Greece in World Cup Football on the screen of your T.V. You can play video games; listen to your favourite singers on your television safely in the comfort of your homes. With multiple facilities of entertainment, boredom has become a thing of the past. You can buy excitement at affordable prices. Telephone keeps you in touch with your friends and relatives across the length and the breadth of the world. Gone are the days when going on a long-pilgrimage was almost like going from the life of one’s family. Now you can have your breakfast in Delhi, lunch in London and dinner in New York.
Nobody in his right mind will dispute that modern man has at his disposal much larger number of means of entertainment, remedies of sickness and ailments, access to luxury and culture than our forefathers could hardly dream of. But are comforts and luxuries the sole components of happiness? Are we not having a much larger proportion forefathers ever had? If the incidence of suicide has increased substantially over that of the last many centuries, does it reflect positively on the state of our happiness?
It cannot be said with any degree of certainty that we are happier than our forefathers. This much is certain that we are far more advanced than our forefathers; our means of obtaining excitement and pleasure are more sophisticated and varied than those of our forefathers.
Our information and insight into diseases is greater and more penetrating. Our means of transport are very fast. The variety of food and drinks we have is staggering. But the industrial society has weakened the bonds between man and community. Man is lonelier today in the midst of milling crowds. Man is depressed in the midst of excited millions. Man is emotionally starved in the midst of films depicting romances and emotionally right relationships.
We have conquered nature but are no longer in harmony with it.
We have manufactured machines which have increased production and riches but to a great extent we have also become dependent on machines and a mechanical routine of life which has plenty of made to order titillation of the senses but which lacks in spontaneous joy, community festivities and emotional richness.