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Happiness Is An Informed Choice

Column Editors Speak June 2018

Happiness Is An Informed Choice

To be happy is not an elusive concept; the choice invariably lies with the seeker

By Dr Ulhas Ganu

Happiness is a relative term, described as one’s state of mind under given conditions. People wait all week for Friday, all year for summer and all their life for happiness. Happiness has been defined as a mental or emotional state of wellbeing, defined by positive or pleasant emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy. What is invariably forgotten is that happiness is a by-product? A wrong step like succumbing to vices at a critical time may result in losing carefully crafted happiness.

Working at the Cancer Research Institute, just adjacent to the Tata Memorial Hospital, provided us with an opportunity for social work through interaction with patients and their relatives, coming as referrals from our friends, asking for support. Meeting oncologists with them to understand the stage of the disease, its seriousness, the best possible treatment option, and the prognosis was a great learning experience. I recall meeting two sisters, who approached me through a common friend. Concerned that repeat biopsies were asked for, in spite of two negative reports, they wanted me to talk to Dr. Swaroop, the consulting physician.

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“I would ask for the biopsy a 100th time if it failed 99 times, as I have seen the tumor during scope with my own eyes,” the doctor thundered. That was the conviction of an expert who knew exactly what he was looking for to help arrive at a definitive diagnosis to plan proper therapy for a better outcome. Collecting the report and leaving it for the oncologist to break the unpleasant news was wiser. The sisters broke down when the doctor said he was advising surgery though the prognosis was bad. The way Dr. Swarup counseled them is a life lesson for all: he said a scientific institution would follow ethics, will do the best for the patient but never tell lies to give false hope. That distinguishes elite institutes from quacks. Post-surgery, during which the physician remained present, he said the surgery was perfect. After a five-year follow-up, the patient was assured that he was cured. If he wanted to get married, the suggestion was that he shares information about his cancer surgery. Needless to say, the family was overjoyed. I was saddened to hear of his relapse and death a few years later. The reason was a success in business, huge profits leading to going on a drinking binge with friends. A promising life came to an abrupt end for lack of control over the mind, disregarding the need for modesty to handle success.

Against this, I came across a patient who had developed oral cancer because of chewing tobacco for decades. When the cancer was diagnosed, his son was studying in college. The patient underwent three surgeries during which his son got B. Sc. (Tech) and went on to do MS in the US for an outstanding career. As Joseph Addison said, there are three grand essentials to happiness in life: something to do, something to love, and something to hope for. The second example shows a father looking at family welfare through the success of his son, being mentally strong, surviving three major surgeries, bouncing back from agony, working as an interior decorator to support his family, seeing his son’s success and advising his son not to worry about him. He died, a happy, contented person.

Among the many definitions of man, the one I love the most is: Man is the only animal who indulges in consuming substances without food value, except water. No other animal deviates from this. Man, though provided with better intelligence, is expected to behave differently but fails miserably. Vices are curses while freedom from them is bliss and it is for oneself to choose the good for the sake of self and family.

Mahatma Gandhi said happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony. Happy mental states may reflect a judgment by a person about their overall well-being. Knowing well that consuming tobacco is responsible for causing oral cancer, which is largely preventable, is one thing and still choosing pleasure from it instead of preferring to stay safe and healthy is an informed choice. The choice to be happy or not is invariable with the seeker.

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