Humans are driven by two innate urges—the desire to free ourselves from sorrow and find happiness. Our entire lives revolve around these basic instincts.
We seek to achieve these goals in four ways—
- by gaining security in life,
- indulging in what brings us pleasure,
- living a right and moral life and
- through spiritual fulfillment.
Happiness through security and pleasure
A sense of fear and insecurity is the primary cause for sorrow. To eliminate it, we search for ways to be secure in life.
We strive to gain knowledge, skills and resources so that we can have food to eat, a roof over our heads, stable income and clothes to protect ourselves. The Sanskrit word for the pursuit of security is artha.
When these essential needs are fulfilled, we seek to be happy by enjoying things that bring us pleasure or kaama. Pleasures can come from good food, comforts and enjoyable objects and experiences,
When our basic needs for security and pleasure are fulfilled, we generally continue looking for more of the same.
We increase artha through greater wealth, fame, power and status, and kaama by acquiring and indulging in a plethora of sensuous pleasures and finer interests such as music, dance, art, science and so on.
There comes a time when these things don’t bring us the same happiness as before. It’s the “been there, done that” syndrome.
We begin to feel a desire to expand beyond our own interests, to do good for others and live a more meaningful life.
This is when we begin the pursuit of happiness through living a moral and ethical life or practicing dharma.
Happiness through moral living
We embark on the path of moral living in three stages. We begin by donating our time, money and energy to others.
Initially, people give with expectations of gaining tangible and intangible rewards such as gifts, favors, praise, admiration or appreciation from others.
The next stage in moral living comes when we give without expectations of any kind of rewards. This brings a greater happiness as the giving is totally unconditional.
Lastly, even as we continue to give and do more to improve the lives of others, we begin to want to improve ourselves.
We become sensitive to our own faults and past transgressions. For instance, we may be aware of a tendency to get angry at the smallest of things. We may remember times when we neglected our duties, were dishonest or unkind.
We have to be careful that the recognition of our past failings does not sink us into depression or shame thereby paralysing our forward movement.
If we have a sincere desire to change and faith that we can do it, we can start implementing positive changes in our character and behavior.
Security, pleasure and moral living are not enough
We can continue our quest to end sorrow and pursue happiness in life through these three paths, but this doesn’t guarantee that we will permanently overcome suffering and gain the real happiness that we seek.
This fact is clearly seen in the lives of highly successful rich and famous people who “have it all.” Many are also generous with their time and resources, have rewarding relationships and families. And yet, a number of them take their own lives. Drug use, depression and other mental illnesses commonly torment them.
The American chef, TV celebrity and author Anthony Bourdain, and highly successful fashion designer Kate Spade are two such people that come to my mind. They both committed suicide recently in June 2018.
Their wealth, fame and extraordinary success represent all that society holds up as ideals to achieve. And yet, all they had and did just wasn’t enough. It fact, it was so sadly lacking that they actually killed themselves in an effort to gain a greater happiness. It’s shocking.
What can we do to permanentlyend sorrow and be truly happy?
Enduring happiness through the path of spirituality
The desire that we have for happiness is actually for infinite bliss or happiness. We are not satisfied with being happy some of the time or being somewhat happy. We want to be absolutely happy, all the time.
But it’s impossible to find permanent happiness in a world that is in itself constantly changing and impermanent.
No outer joy fulfills us completely and our happiness keeps slipping away. Disappointment, dissatisfaction, sorrow and suffering show up uninvited and interrupt our experience of happiness.
The truth is that real happiness isn’t “out there” but “in here” within us. We are the source of all happiness and what we are really searching for. (Read, True happiness is inside—really?)
Spirituality tells us that we are not human beings but spiritual beings whose very nature is infinite bliss. Not knowing this, we continually look for happiness in the outer world.
The fourth and final way to freedom or moksha from this sorrow is through the path of spirituality.
Spirituality fills a void in our lives that cannot be gratified by any worldly means.
Vedanta, the spiritual science of life explains that we suffer in life primarily because of a sense of mistaken identity—we take ourselves to be mortal and limited human beings.
The way to permanent happiness is to give up our false sense of identity and come to abide in our blissful spiritual nature. This will free us from sorrow and bring us total peace and fulfilment in life.
Spiritual quest for self-transformation
The path of spirituality is a quest for permanent happiness through the rediscovery of our own true Self.
To achieve this, we can begin by living a moral, ethical life based on truthfulness, kindness, generosity, tolerance, forgiveness, compassion and so on. We can continue to pursue security and pleasure so long as we do so on the basis of morality. This will ensure that we remain on the path of spiritual unfoldment.
Then through spiritual study, reflection and finally in meditation we will come to rediscover our real blissful nature.
Only then will the four paths permanently end our sorrow and bring us the enduring happiness that we all seek.
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