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Happiness, Your Choice

Column Editors Speak May 2018

Happiness, Your Choice

The real path to joy lies in making informed decisions that prioritise your wellbeing.

By Dr Ulhas Ganu

Happiness is a relative term, described as the 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 through our friends asking for support. Going with them to meet oncologists 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 who was treating their brother. “I would ask for the biopsy for a 100th time even if it failed 99 times, as I have seen the tumor during scoping 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 in order to plan proper therapy for a better outcome.

Happiness, Your Choice 1
Dr. Ulhas Ganu

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. Swaroop counseled them is a life lesson for all: he said a scientific institution would follow ethics, and would do the best for the patient but would 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 had gone to perfection. After a 5-year follow-up, the patient was assured that he was cured. If he wanted to get married, it was suggested that he share information about his cancer surgery with the prospective family of the bride. Needless to say, the family was overjoyed. I was saddened to hear of relapse and his death a few years later. The reason: success in business, and huge profits leading to taking to alcohol in a big way. A promising life came to an abrupt end for lack of control over the mind, disregarding the need for modesty to handle success.

Compare this to the other patient I came across, who had oral cancer because of chewing tobacco for decades. When the cancer was diagnosed, his son was in college. The patient underwent three surgeries during which his son cleared 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 this 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 earn and support his family, and seeing his son’s success. He died a happy, contented person.

Among many definitions of man, the definition 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 curse while freedom from them is bliss and it is for oneself to choose from for 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 wellbeing. 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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