About two years ago, I met Isha (name changed), through a mutual friend, at a party. She seemed very smart and intelligent, and more importantly, very happy. There was something about her energy that used to make her a hit at every social gathering. Jokes and sarcasm came to her naturally. Everyone used to enjoy being around her. It seemed as if she somehow knew how to be happy.


I will get back to this story in a while, but let us all try to be honest for a moment here. We all want ourselves to be fucking happy all the time. We all want our lives to look admirable and sexy to others. Pleasures are something that we all invariably obsess about, and pain, for all of us, is a constant NO! However, nobody really knows how to be happy.

Since the 18th and 19th centuries, the quality and comfort of living, for humans, have improved significantly. As comfort levels developed, people suddenly started feeling better about themselves. Therefore, in the pursuit of examining what is life and subjective wellbeing of individuals, psychologists and philosophers associated happiness with the reduction and elimination of pain and suffering

They inferred that less pain and stress that a person has to suffer, further happy he/she shall be. 

Similarly, even the overrated self-help industry also indoctrinates the ability to upkeep constant positivity and radical optimism as the healthy way towards a prosperous future.

Anything even remotely on the negative side of the emotional scale makes us lament, wanna drop everything, and probably holiday in the Himalayas. But one cannot do that every time he feels low, therefore, he undertakes the most carefree action he can do. Scroll feed on Instagram!

Apparently, on Instagram, he finds: a socialite dumbo drunk out in a rave party in Goa, a pothead getting his skin carved out for yet another tattoo, the girl he wishes to date hanging out with four other dudes for no apparent reason, and lastly, a social activist distributing free food to the poor. And here he is sending likes to these obnoxious pretense personalities, wondering what to have for lunch. God damn it, life is tough man. Seriously tough. But wait, it gets better. Because;

None of the personified dignities, mentioned above, are entirely satisfied with their life either. None of them has got everything figured about their life, and none of them is particularly happy.

The party-raver in Goa has no idea about his career. Pothead is mostly busy being smoked-out. The highly extrovert seeming girl is compensating for pensive loneliness. And the social activist – supposedly, the last best hope for a better society – is only making righteous efforts due to a contrivance hope that it will somehow end up in him getting laid.

The Study for Happiness

Initially, when the researchers began to study happiness, they asked some people to record their levels of satisfaction on a scale of 1-10. And they were asked to record multiple entries in a day, randomly.

Then the results came and appeared remarkably fascinating as everyone mostly recorded seven (7) as their basic level of happiness. Talking to friends – 7, grocery shopping – 7, reading a book – 7, giving a presentation – 7, as if seven remained a preset emotional standard.

Although, if something adverse transpired in someone’s life, like a heated argument with her partner or receiving a scolding from mother, her level would dip to two (2) to five (5) range for a brief period. And if something delightful occurred, for instance, achieving a fitness goal, winning a soccer match, or a new relationship, his level would jump to nine (9) or ten (10) for a short while.

Nevertheless, eventually, the level would invariably land back at seven (7). It was like everyone perpetually lived in a moderately satisfying state, meaning things were pretty much agreeable, but at the same time, they could always be better. In other words, no one could sustain life at a grand sexy level, all the time.

The Emotional Wealth Function

Last month, I wrote an article wherein I explained the function of our intensity curve.

A Quick Recap: Every action, dream, or thought that we all indulge with is due to a fundamental desire for higher emotional intensity.

Whether you want to build yourself an empire, wish for a merry lifestyle, become the best teacher, travel to mountains to meditate, take vacations, have amazing relationships, fight elections, smoke cigarettes, take LSD pills, drink alcohol, have sex, or worship God; your initial objective is higher emotional intensity.

Standard emotional Intensity Curve - Aashish Vats

When we are born, our Intensity curve is something like this because our experiences are mostly constant. Our life is pretty much: eat, sleep, cry, and poop.

Then as we grow up, our intensity curve begins to fluctuate according to our experiences. We develop a rationale for basic knowledge, and through our lifetime, we further build upon that knowledge.

When you win a cricket match for your junior school team, your emotional intensity goes high. Then your father scolds you for playing cricket the whole day, and your emotional fervor is majorly disturbed.

Then you become a school topper, and the emotional intensity is back high again. However, once you are at the top, it all seems meaningless. Therefore, you try to keep the intensity high through other means. Maybe bunk school to visit a beautiful lake. But, ultimately, your teachers and parents figure it out, and they punish you. Hence, you feel like an inferior piece of shit, and emotional intensity is back low again.

You fall in love, and the intensity skyrockets, but eventually, it doesn’t work out too well, or maybe not well at all, and the intensity rock bottoms.

High and Low Emotional Intensity Curve - Aashish Vats

Well, you get the point. Right?

Life is essentially a struggle for intensity. And the Intensity curve fluctuates with every event or experience and acts as a means for every person to identify which activities are desirable and which are undesirable.

Higher the intensity experience of a particular activity, the more it would be further desired. Whereas, the weaker the intensity experience of an exercise, the less it would be desired. The intensity curve function works independently and differently for every individual based upon his/her life values.

Well, it turns out that the intensity curve also has a co-related emotional wealth function, which is directly and disproportionately affected by the intensity curve.

Time to go back to the economics class. Because fuck it, I am going to be your Economics professor for the next section and explain a very simplistic concept of life in terms of wealth.

Why?

Well, money is the only language that people seem to pay close attention to. So, suck it up!

What is Emotional Wealth?

The emotional wealth can be described as the capacity of an individual to endure and sustain adversity. Alike the intensity curve, emotional wealth also has an equal and similar default value for every person. However, the value changes with every new experience, and the interpretation of that experience, according to the different life values adopted by the user.

Think of emotional wealth like a certain sum of money available at your disposal, whose fundamental purpose is to help face-off adverse circumstances in life. However, the constant inclination to buy more and more desirable experiences leads to, well, less and less money in the bank account of emotional wealth.

The Emotional Wealth Curve

Let’s suppose your current level of happiness is seven, and your current emotional wealth is 100 px. There are two different scenarios possible here. Either the experience of your next event will be good/positive (desirable), which will increase your emotional intensity (level of happiness) or, the experience of your next event will be bad/negative (undesirable), which will decrease your emotional intensity.

Irrespective of the nature of our experience, our willingness to spend constantly progresses. For instance, you have a pleasant experience, and your intensity level increases to nine (from seven), thus, you would be willing to spend more to stay at nine for a longer period.

Similarly, if you have an unpleasant experience, and your intensity dips to two (from seven), then again, you would be willing to spend more to take your intensity back at seven or higher as soon as possible.

Emotional Wealth Curve in relation to Intensity Curve - Aashish Vats
Emotional Wealth constantly diminishes when trying to be always happy using the Intensity Curve Approach

And at last – if you fear adversity or are afraid of suffering or engaging pain – with every forthcoming experience, your ability to endure adversity further diminishes. Your fear grows. Subsequently, as the underlying spiral paradox continues, you get emotionally poor with every passing day.

As this cycle continues, you keep making bad decisions. Regret them later. Indulge in more distractions, thereby spending more wealth, and persist to bargaining until you eventually stuck poverty.1)Okay, this might be a little exaggeration.

Undoubtedly, every person has a distinct spending behavior. And every way of subsistence (that is, trying to keep oneself happy) adopted by people can be categorized into two broad strategies – (1) the intensity curve approach and (2) the emotional wealth approach.

The rest of this article is a brief discussion about these two emotional strategies and thereby enlightening the most efficient approach to a good life.

The Intensity Curve Approach for happiness

The good vibes’ is the unique selling proposition of the Intensity Curve approach to happiness. It is what is marketed throughout the internet across every social media platform, be it Instagram or Facebook or Snapchat.

At the beginning of this article, I mentioned four exemplary illustrations of ‘the Intensity Curve Approach.’ Partying, getting a tattoo, hanging out with a bunch of friends, or helping with social work are all examples of activities that generate good vibes and high intensity for a brief period.

Though these activities aren’t necessarily a bad thing, by themselves. However, when an action is performed with an intent to be used as a distraction, or as a means to compensate for pain/anxiety, or with an ulterior motive to extract something in return, it leads to degradation of emotional wealth.

Most of my generation works like this –

Feeling anxious? Smoke a cigarette or drink alcohol.

Feeling unloved? Meet a random girl and pretend to fall in love with her until you have sex. And then run as fast as you can.

Don’t want to have a difficult conversation? Avoid him. Lie. Construct unreal stories. Or best, block him!

Had a tough breakup? Quickly, find a rebound relationship.

Using Alcohol to get rid of anxiety - Aashish Vats

We are customary habitual to such transactional trade-offs where we can bargain a little bit of pleasure instead of pain. Most people are accustomed to bargain love for sex, respect for obedience, drama for attention, loyalty for affection, Instagram to evade mental pain associated with work, and lastly, drugs and alcohol to get rid of anxiety.

Because our experiences are judged and evaluated through intensity, therefore, we perceive that the intensity curve is the place where we need to work upon to be happy. And thus the paradox of Life – Intensity = Anxiety, is developed.

But here is the thing about transactional trade-offs – they never end. They are never just enough.

Every transaction arranged or performed with the motive to bargain happiness, pleasure, and satisfaction initially seems as perfect – just this one thing that was missing or the one thing that we desperately need – but soon there’s another, then another, and then another, and so on.

And as you would guess, if you’re paying attention, with every transaction that you carry out, your emotional wealth slightly diminishes Nickel by Nickel.

Further, the diminishing emotional wealth isn’t only a bad thing, but this is the paradox. Instead of focusing on increasing our emotional wealth, as any sound financial plan would suggest, we trade it to buy short-term pleasures, to boost our intensity, or in other words, to avoid pain until the pain comes back to bite our ass.

Too disturbing? Here, do another transaction. Quickly. Get a cigarette, maybe.

The Night that disturbs me slightly…

Let me complete the story that is precisely one of the biggest inspirations for this article. The story about Isha.

As I said earlier, Isha was smart and intelligent. And intelligent people are quite good at hiding what they truly feel. Therefore, though being sober, she was great and hilarious, but her drunk version was horrifying. Every time she got drunk, all she could do was talk about her relationship that was somehow going down the drain.

But off course, I hadn’t noticed it yet. So one night, the two of us were the last ones left as everyone else passed out or went home. If I remember correctly, we talked about a variety of stuff that night, however, each time, she stirred the conversation back to her relationship. After this happened for like a bunch of times, came the great epiphany, in my mind, about her.

It required me to be high on 8 beers and 3 tequila shots to notice a fundamental defect in her emotional persona. She was not only devastated psychologically, but she had almost accepted her doom.

Isha was dating a guy, let’s call him Aaron, who had no idea about her emotional needs. They were together for like 18 months (from what I remember), and their relationship was mostly physical rather than the things (like caring, talking, respect, and understanding) that a healthy relationship is truly about (from what she told me).

Aaron was busy with his vocation and had little to no time for Isha, to talk to her about her life. He mostly made himself available for her at his own time and used to disappear once he got what he needed; in this case, sex.

I asked her, “if you understand all this, then why are you wasting your time with him?”

She said, “he wasn’t always like this. When I first met him, he used to be great. He used to care for me, give me surprises.” Adding further, she said, “I didn’t want to have a relationship with him, and initially, I rejected him.”

“Then how did you two come together?”, I inquired.

“He didn’t care enough to wait for me and was looking to move on with someone else, and this somehow made me jealous”, she said.

Well, I was clearly drunk, so I replied with the first thing that came to my mind – “you don’t value yourself enough. You are valuing needs more than the self, and thereby treating yourself as a means to meet an emotional end (your needs).”

(That Night I made two mistakes, one big, one little. Saying these words was the first and the little one.)

As soon as she heard my words, she felt uncomfortable and began defending herself and her relationship. She used all sorts of excuses to make herself feel better. More than aspiring to change my opinion, she was mostly assuring herself that she was doing the right thing, even though moments ago, she had confessed that she was in a toxic relationship. Her defense lasted for about fifteen minutes.

The only thing I could think of in my inebriated state of mind was that life is incredibly fragile, and therefore, there is no point in wasting even a single day on something that you understand is garbage and harmful for you. And it becomes more significant to accept the truth when you could feel that by yourself.

And consequently, I asked her, abruptly, “what happens if you die tomorrow?” (my second and big mistake)

She looked at me as if I was some kind of God. Someone responsible to decide whether she deserves hell or heaven. She couldn’t speak for a few moments. However, when she did, I realized that there is no point in continuing the conversation.

She asked me, “do you think that he’ll care if I am dead?”

I replied, “you know the answer” and went home.

I never saw her again. I never even got the opportunity to speak to her again. And frankly, I didn’t care enough, until three months later when I heard that she killed herself!

Honestly, I do regret leaving her that night like that. A lot. Maybe, I could have taught her a thing or two about life. Just perhaps, I could have saved her life. And it was only then that I decided that I would help people deal with emotional issues, stress, and pain.

The Pursuit of Happiness

See, the problem with our populations isn’t the propensity for the pursuit of happiness. It’s the misconception with the pursuit of happiness that is seriously causing our shit to go hay-hay. And if I have to list down the most fucked concepts of the entire human race, then this will probably feature amongst the top.

The pursuit of happiness doesn’t mean a mindset that propels us to be happy all the time. This is a disease. Because no one can ever be happy always, as there are many factors that are not in our control. But what is in our control is the ability to interpret those factors in whichever way we want.

If you think someone or something else is making you happy or sad, then there is no solution to your problems. You would act like a donkey chasing a carrot, tied to a stick attached to your back, constantly chasing experiences that generate a higher emotional intensity. Consistently deluding your emotional wealth, which inevitably will run out someday.

A donkey chasing a carrot - Aashish Vats

Isha indulged in psychological transactions one after another, bargaining for happiness, pleasures, and satisfaction. Doing so, her emotional wealth vanished at an accelerated pace, and her self-worth quickly turned zero. She was on the pursuit of happiness through the Intensity Curve approach. And it was a bad idea.

The pursuit of happiness means engaging pain. It means accepting what is and working honestly to improve it. The pursuit of happiness means practicing the emotional wealth approach, instead of working according to the intensity curve approach.

The Emotional Wealth approach for a good life

I have had many life-defining moments. Some moments broke me apart, some made me feel like an inferior piece of shit, some made me feel unlovable. Whereas, some made me feel extra-ordinary, extremely joyful, and unexpectedly satisfying.

However, there is one moment that changed my attitude towards life forever. The moment where I can draw a clear before and after line. And it was this one below.

Jon Snow at the Battle of Bastards - Aashish Vats

I was emotionally broken, had no idea about my career and about my life either when I first saw Game of Thrones. There was something special about this Jon Snow scene, where he falls down from his horse, stands up, and observes thousands of riders charging at him to kill him. And yet, he somehow gathers the courage to raise his sword and fight against invincible odds.

This changed me. Like really-really changed me, from inside. From that day onwards, I have tried to live my life with such a willingness to fight against all odds. No matter what.

Life can and will try to make you subliminal. There will be thousands of hindrances when you chase your dreams. They will scare you, and you are allowed to be afraid of them. You are allowed to make mistakes. But none of them should ever convince you to make compromises with your inner self. You must always be courageous to fight for what is right and important for you. Because making mistakes isn’t necessarily a mistake if you learn from it.

When the problem-riders charge at you, you must be willing to raise your sword and fight. You might not always win, yet stand up and fight. Fight for what is necessary, morally right, and emotionally healthy for you.

We must understand that happiness is a by-product. If we focus our energies on accomplishing the by-product, we’ll most likely end up with shit. However, if we direct our energies on keeping the process right, if we can garner enough strength to summon it whenever required, and if we stick to correct principles and healthy values, the by-product would automatically be obtained.

I suppose, as soon as we can understand and accept that life cannot always be sexy, embrace the truth, and not be afraid of pain, infact be willing to embrace it and engage it, the quicker our life would get better.

As Sadhguru once said, our life is a combination of a certain amount of time and energy. Though both of these things are extremely important, time is limited and beyond our control. Irrespective of what we do, be happy, sad, joyful, or miserable, time rolls away.

Pain is something that is physical and would always be there in some amount. But suffering is in the mind. You can suffer from something that happened years ago, and you probably are already suffering from what may happen in the future.

We think life is difficult, or painful. But mostly we don’t suffer life. We suffer due to our amazing memory and our ability to imagine things.

Life Quotes - Aashish Vats

Therefore, to have a good life, we must be extremely conscious of our energy. You must really value every day that you get being alive. You must believe that your life is a treasure, incredibly precious, and unfortunately fragile, and only then would you be able to do the right thing.

When we are not afraid of adversity, our emotional wealth increases, thus increasing the quality of our life. Willingness to engage with pain, whenever required, is thus the only way to be truly happy.

Because it’s a simple material fact that our life isn’t what we want it to be, or wish it to be. It is what we actually suffer to make it be.


Footnotes:-

Okay, this might be a little exaggeration.

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