We do actions only to be happy. Whether we do something we like or dislike, we do it because we ultimately gain some happiness and satisfaction from it. Even not doing something is an action that makes us happy.
If we are doing actions throughout our lives, why are we still not happy? In this article, I will explain how when we detach from the outcome or the results of our actions, we can find the happiness we are looking for right in the action itself.
Three types of results of action
The results of actions can be of three types –
- Desirable – These make us happy.
- Undesirable or unwanted – They leave us dissatisfied and unhappy.
- Mixed – These results are neither completely good or bad. They may be good in one way and not-so-good in another.
Undesirable and mixed results leave us unhappy and motivate us to do more actions to be happy. Although desirable results do make us happy, they don’t put an end to all actions. Why?
Even desirable results are unsatisfactory
Desirable results make us happy only for some time. This is because nothing stays in a certain way for ever.
We may work for, and get the job, house or car that we want but the happiness eventually flatlines because:
- We crowd it out with more desires.
- Things change.
- We change our minds about things.
It’s important to understand that what we are really searching for is permanent and complete happiness.
The happiness that comes as a result of actions has various gradations and is disappointingly temporary. What’s more, that happiness is usually tinged with fear – fear that the happiness will surely come to an end sooner or later.
How to be happy?
The secret to being happy is beautifully encapsulated in a verse from the spiritual wisdom of the Bhagavad Gita.
It says: Thy right is to work only, but never to its fruits. Let not the fruit of action be thy motive, nor let thy attachment be to inaction. Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 2:47
The first part of this verse, ‘Thy right is to work only, but never to its fruits’ tells us that we can choose what actions to perform, but we have no stake, claim or control over what we get, how we get it and when it comes. The results of actions, or the ‘fruits’ emerge from a play of many other factors.
For example, you have an important presentation at work. You research, plan and prepare for it. But how it turns out depends on many factors that are out of your control. Some of these factors could be whether everything you need is available to you and functioning properly (projector, screen, lights, heating/ air-conditioning, your computer); and whether the people who are supposed to be present are actually there and what mood they are in. So, you can put in your very best effort, but ultimately, the success of your presentation depends on many things out of your control.
Understanding that the results of our actions are out of our hands, the verse continues to advise us do actions without worrying about what we will get as a result of our efforts. ‘Let not the fruit of action be thy motive’
And lastly, the verse tells us not to let laziness stop us from doing what we should and could be doing, ‘nor let thy attachment be to inaction’.
Being attached to the results postpones happiness
We do actions to gain happiness through desirable results. As we’ve seen, results are not always desirable and if they are, the happiness is never permanent.
Focusing on the results leaves us perpetually striving for desirable results that are temporary anyway. We keep postponing our happiness, making it dependent on factors out of our control.
We are only in control of what actions to do now and the attitude with which we do them. And yet, instead of focusing on what we can control now, we’ve made ourselves dependent on unknown future results that are out of our control.
Happiness comes when we love the work itself
To find happiness in our actions, the first thing to do is slow down. This allows us to focus on the job at hand. When we give our full attention to what we are doing, the mind becomes calmer. When the mind is quietly calm, a wellspring of joy naturally gurgles out from within that can be poured into the work itself. So, the work itself becomes joyful.
We don’t feel a need to wait for the results to come to be happy in the future. We can find joy right now in doing the work itself. Whether the results are good, bad or mixed, we are already happy.
Detaching from the outcome of action by finding happiness in the action itself puts us in control of our own happiness and is the simple secret to being happy NOW.
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Hi Manisha, just wanted to say it was wonderful to read this article. We keep forgetting and need this to reinforce our thoughts to make it a rewarding practice. So refreshing.
Thanks Mahela. Yes, we do need reminders to stay focused on what we do rather than what we hope to get as a result. Writing this blog is my personal spiritual discipline. It’s as though I am teaching myself. Thanks for coming along the journey with me!