The Elusive Happiness
What everyone wants from life is continuous and genuine happiness. – Baruch Spinoza
Why is it that happiness always eludes us? Why we never experience inner peace and if we do why it vanishes soon? We often end up accumulating a lot of money and comforts; yet we hardly ever feel satisfied with life. The so-called normal living is unsatisfactory; it only offers momentary pleasures and never any meaningful lasting sense of satisfaction and joy within. Why? We all run around and work hard, but somehow never seem to get any long lasting happiness and sense of satisfaction. Therefore, what is it that we are missing or confused about?
This is the basic quest of this piece.
Do You Really Know “Who You Are?”
This fundamental question has occupied inquisitive human minds for ages. Great minds have given various understandings of how a person should take him or her self. Leaving the differences aside, we can easily come to the conclusion that a person is made up of two entities:
1. Body and
2. Life-force (Myself, Self, Consciousness, Life, Soul or Spirit). This distinction exists in every “living person.”
It is easy to understand that a “dead body” has no “Life”.
[In any case, a “dead person” doesn’t have to worry about silly things like inner peace and satisfaction! It is just like a log of wood which can be simply buried, burnt, or thrown into water and it does not get up to protest or protect itself! At least that is my understanding of dead people!!]
The reason why I am trying to distinguish between the two will become clear as we go along.
There is no dispute that we all have a body – we all can see it and know that it is made up of flesh, bones, tissues, and blood. Researchers and medical experts are always busy finding newer chemicals in the human body, then they correlate them with some new disease, make another chemical to treat it, and of course make money.
However, there may be some disagreement on the second part: Life-force. People, particularly spiritual and psychologists, have given various names to this second component and have different concepts and ideas about it, but even that is irrelevant for this article. It serves our purpose as long as we agree that any human being is the symbiotic sum of “body” and “Life-force”.
“Now I propose that not knowing this basic separation is the root cause of human suffering. This leads to Identity Crisis, which is the basic reason why real happiness eludes us.”
Want to find out, how? Please bear with me through the following analysis.
“All I ask for is an opportunity to prove that money doesn’t buy happiness.” – Anonymous
Most of us assume that the “my body” and “me” (or “myself”) are just one and the same thing and go about working hard to be happy. In today’s materialistic social culture, all we do is make as much money as we can and then use it to acquire various things and facilities that we desire (or media commercials made us to desire!). When we have a lot of money we buy a lot of things; and when we have less (or no money) money we become miserable, almost robotically. And this is precisely what we are busy doing all the time. So, what is the problem?
In order to understand this, we need to figure out what satisfies the two entities – the “body” and “Life-force” (or “myself”).
Body’s needs are simple, limited, and easy to meet. It needs limited amounts of food, water, and air for its sustenance. It needs a continuous supply of air for breathing but food and water only at intervals. Its communication is also simple: hunger is the signal to eat and thirst for water. In a nutshell, as long as the body gets regular nourishment it has no complaints – plain and simple.
Abuse of Body
However, the problem is that we have the habit of making things complicated; we just can’t stand simplicity. Just talk to people who stuff their bodies all the time and then complain of weight and other health problems! And the reason: They don’t care what the body needs, they are only concerned with satisfying the “taste craving” of the tongue. What and how much they eat or drink is dictated by less than a quarter pound tongue, not the 120 pound body which has to digest whatever is forced inside and then eliminate the waste. It is fair to say that we live to eat; not we eat to live.
It is nothing but blatant abuse of the body, in the broad daylight! A lot of people even inject drugs and chemicals into their bodies or inhale tobacco smoke to “get high.” Your “body” does not require such absolutely unhealthy things, but is ironically helpless to defend itself against such abusive practices. All it needs is healthy food, water, and air; and that too in limited quantities.
I wonder why no champion of human rights has ever raised his/her voice against the widespread practice of stuffing human bodies with junk food and harmful substances!!
The “life-force” or “myself” does not require material things. It has needs but they are not tangible and are non-material. It is here that the confusion arises. We will come to the needs of this “self” later but let us see why we tend to get identified with the body and ignore the needs of this “life-force” or “myself” which is which is at the core of our unhappiness.
Sense Faculties: The Real Culprits
As hinted above, the real culprits are our “sense organs” – the faculties of taste, smell, feel, sight, and sound. They provide various sensations that lead us to sense pleasures. The sensations can be traps, particularly when they are pleasant, and lead us on the path of over-indulgence. Since all the senses are connected to the body, we come to the erroneous conclusion that we are nothing but the “body” only. Besides, over-indulgence in the sense-pleasures is a dominant reason for most of our pains and dissatisfactions.
In reality, all the five sense organs exist for just two basic reasons: 1. to protect the body from harm and 2. to enable the body to function properly and efficiently. But as things stand, we devise ways to abuse them for short term pleasure. Meditators and Yogis are generally clear about this pitfall and how sense-faculties create the impression that we are nothing but the “body” only. They can easily see the hollowness of sense-pleasures because they are short lived and ever-changing.
Therefore, we have acquired the bad habit of giving in to sense pleasures at the cost of body’s well being. This is the real problem.
What are the Needs of the “Myself”
The needs of the “Myself” or “I” are very different; they are also continuous and they are based on mental states. These are mental/emotional needs – need for love, trust, respect, and security (freedom from fear). Happiness is a mental state. It includes a sense of personal safety, contentment, and assurance of trustful interactions. It also includes the feelings of being respected, loved, and cared-for. All these necessarily imply predictable and positive behavior.
In brief, “myself” needs share-and-care; hence, is interpersonal. It is only possible through proper relations with others. Now you see why humans are called social-beings. The concept of individualism has been taken to extreme in many societies which has deprived the nourishment of “self” by underplaying relationships.
Clearly, these can never be met by running after sense pleasures or through material accumulations. What we foolishly do is to try to sustain the sense pleasures – which are by nature transitory and unsustainable – through constant indulgence.
To make the point clear, let me ask you something. Suppose you are really fond of, say pizza, ice-cream, or even sex. Can you keep eating pizza or ice-cream, or indulge in sex non-stop endlessly? Certainly not. Sooner than later you get fed up – and can’t continue any longer. Such a “pleasure” is obviously non-sustainable and you are now back to where you started. Additionally, as you get older your sense organs become weaker, so would be the pleasure coming from them.
This is why you can’t be permanently happy chasing sense-pleasures expecting lasting happiness.
Finally, the Formula for Real Happiness!
If I have to be happy, I must satisfy the needs of both my-body and myself. Money and material facilities can only provide nourishment and comfort to the body and can hardly do any thing about the mental needs. It is erroneous to think that greater physical comforts alone can provide mental happiness which also crucially depend upon the relationships I have with others – in the family and society. That in turn depends on my own conduct – my behavior, beliefs and attitudes. When relationships repeatedly become difficult, many people take to spiritualism in the hope that it will ultimately make them happier. However, what spirituality does is to correct your faulty materialistic attitude towards life.
In many ways, materialism and spiritualism are two extremes. An ordinary person would do well if he realistically makes efforts to meet the needs of both his-body and his-self, which are different, and stays away from over-indulgence in sense pleasures. The body is just a vehicle or a home for the “self” or the “life-force” to live in – accept it that way. A healthy well-nourished body and skills to create an atmosphere of trust and respect can create a life where happiness becomes not only infectious but also multiplies. All that is needed is the right understanding of “who I am” and the different needs of the body and the self.
I just hope that I was able to convey the basic message that sense pleasures alone based on material possessions are not sufficient to find deep satisfaction in life. Emotional needs require healthy attitude and trusting relations with others around us. The following quotes provide further food for thought to develop right attitude about life.
Moderation. Small helpings. Sample a little bit of everything. These are the secrets of happiness and good health. – Julia Child
A table, a chair, a bowl of fruit and a violin; what else does a man need to be happy? – Albert Einstein
Gratitude is one of the sweet shortcuts to finding peace of mind and happiness inside. No matter what is going on outside of us, there’s always something we could be grateful for. – Barry Neil Kaufman
The supreme happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved. – Victor Hugo
Happiness is a perfume you cannot pour on others without getting a few drops on yourself. – Ralph Waldo Emerson
If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion. – Tenzin Gyatso, 14th Dalai Lama
Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful. – Albert Schweitzer
There is a wonderful mythical law of nature that the three things we crave most in life – happiness, freedom, and peace of mind – are always attained by giving them to someone else. – Peyton Conway March
The foolish man seeks happiness in the distance, the wise grows it under his feet. – James Oppenheim
“Remember happiness doesn’t depend upon who you are or what you have; it depends solely on what you think.” – Dale Carnegie
Happiness is not a station you arrive at, but a manner of traveling. – Margaret Lee Runbeck
Success is getting what you want; happiness is wanting what you get. – Dale Carnegie