Everyone in the world wishes to be happy. This is the one unifying goal that brings together the whole of the human race. Behind everything we do, every decision we take, there is an underlying motivation: happiness.
Think about it: isn’t this true for you as well? When you wish to, for example, buy a new car, aren’t you thinking that this purchase will increase your level of happiness? Let’s say, however, for argument’s sake, that the car for you is not a want, but a need: let’s suppose you found a job which requires a long commute, and having a car is the only practical way to get there every day. So, you buy it. Where does the desire for happiness come into the picture, you might ask?
Well, for one, obviously you care enough about the job to want to go all the way there, and you feel that not being able to commute will consequently decrease your level of happiness. Moreover, the prospect of being able to simply drive to your new job, as opposed to a long and tiring second choice of taking three buses and walking part of the way, fills you with relief. Again, the desire to avoid a situation which will bring unhappiness becomes a deciding factor. Another reason might simply be comfort; a comfort which we believe will make us feel happier than its alternative of discomfort.
Happiness is Our Natural State
While contemplating these issues, the curious mind might ask, “where does the desire for happiness come from, then? If it is present in every human being, why is it?”
The Indian scriptures declare that the soul, man’s essence, is a manifestation of Satchidananda, variously referred to as God, Absolute Consciousness, Spirit, and so on. The beauty of this definition of Sat-Chid-Ananda lies in its meaning and what it signifies for all of us. Its translation is traditionally given as “existence, consciousness, bliss.” Paramhansa Yogananda went a step further, and translated it as “ever-existing, ever-conscious, ever new Bliss.”
This desire for happiness we all share, then, is not something to be marveled at, but the most natural of human instincts: we are made out of bliss, but have forgotten our true nature. That’s why we feel compelled to search for it: because we know at a very deep level that happiness is our destiny, our birthright!
The Four Stages of Happiness
As we discover these facts about our inner nature, we go through different and very recognizable stages in our quest:
First, we search for pleasure. At the beginning, pleasure seems like the most immediate way to fulfillment of our longing for perennial bliss. And, for a moment, it may meet all of our expectations… but only for a moment. The satisfaction attained with mere sensory pleasure is soon blown away like leaves in a storm, and replaced either by pain, or by a state of indifference which waits for the next “high” to come. People can spend their whole lives going from pleasure to pleasure, excitement to excitement, high to high, until finally they realize that it is no use: the experience is too fleeting, and they long for something more.
The second stage in the search is what we most often call happiness. Typically, it comes to us when our lives accommodate themselves into a comfortable combination of right circumstances and emotional satisfaction. When things are going well (which often means things go the way we want), we claim to be “happy.” When things are going slightly less well, we may be “mostly happy.” When things are not going the way we want them, we are unhappy.
Although at this level we have become more stable, our level of happiness still continues to go up and down, because it depends on outward circumstances. Effectively, we are allowing the world, other people, and external factors to dictate whether we are contented or not. We react to things, and thus our happiness is swept up and down along with the ups and downs of life.
Then comes the third stage, which we will call joy. Here it is that we start to achieve something significant, because joy does not depend on anything external to ourselves. When we have joy, or inner joy, circumstances can be whatever they may, and still they will not touch our level of happiness. Joy is a force, or a “power,” if you will, that every human being has the ability to bring forth from the core of their own self to permeate every aspect of his life. It acts, rather than merely reacting.
Finally, the highest manifestation of happiness is bliss. Bliss, also referred to as Divine Bliss, is higher than joy because it stems out of total realization of our deeper existence as Satchidananda. The truth that we had started to intuit and put into practice in the prior stage now has become a part of us. We no longer express joy, we realize that we are joy! We are bliss!
Joy is Inside
The single most important thing to know in order to learn to be happy at will is that joy is not something we find outside of ourselves: joy is inside! We merely need to learn how to channel it and bring it out. A story will help illustrate this point nicely:
A man called Mark had lived in Alaska all of his life. He was reasonably content; not swimming in happiness, but not unhappy also. He thought he had a decent enough life.
One day, a local merchant received a shipment of Californian grapes, and Mark decided to buy some and try them. He found out that he loved them! Their taste was so exquisite! He had never tasted something so delicious before, and he could no longer be content unless he had more of it. He decided, therefore, to move out of Alaska and settle in California, where he could have easy access to these grapes he liked so much.
He went on to buy a house in the Californian countryside and moved in. On his first evening, he met one of his new neighbors: a lady who owned one of the farms nearby. Upon learning of Mark’s extreme taste for grapes, the lady said to him: “It just so happens that I grow these grapes in abundance. I will gladly provide you with as many grapes as you can eat!” Mark, very grateful, accepted her offer.
The next day, in the early morning, the bell rang at Mark’s home. It was his neighbor, bearing a basket full of grapes for him! Delighted, he thanked her and set off to his task of eating the grapes. He felt he was in heaven! He finished the whole lot before evening, and could not wait to receive more the next morning.
On the second day, Mark’s neighbor brought another basket full of grapes. Once again, very enthusiastically, Mark ate them throughout the day, albeit this time a little more slowly.
The third morning came, and so came Mark’s neighbor with a new basket of grapes. Smiling kindly and with gratitude, but without the enthusiasm of previous days, he thanked her. That day he ate slower than the previous two days, and when the night time came, there were still some grapes left uneaten.
On the fourth day, in the early morning, Mark answered the bell once more, this time with a forced smile on his face. When his neighbor presented him with the grapes, he said to her: “I still have some leftover from yesterday, I don’t need any more today.” She, thinking he was merely being shy, insisted that he took them. As he did so, he exclaimed sarcastically, “more grapes… great” and closed the door without thanking her.
When the neighbor showed up on the fifth day with her basket of grapes, Mark opened the door forcefully and shouted: “Grapes, grapes! I’m sick of grapes! I never want to see another grape in my life!”
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This story humorously illustrates a deep truth: we think that outward objects and situations give us happiness. And yet, if happiness dwelt in the objects themselves, they would always make us happy… and not only us, they would make everyone happy. This is, obviously, not so, and that makes it one of the surest indicators that happiness lies not in things, but it rather comes out of us in our reaction to things. In other words, happiness is inside ourselves! The search, then, simply becomes a matter of learning how to find it, how to tap into it, and how to feel and express it always.
In the following weeks, we will be exploring different practices, with their guiding principles, of how to do precisely that: how to tap into our inner reservoirs of happiness and joy and bring them forth into a fulfilling and joyful life.
Joy to you!
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Note: The next articles will be coming weekly or biweekly; please make sure to check the blog’s main page on a weekly basis if you are interested. Alternatively, you can come back to this article, and the links to each follow-up article will be included at the end of it.
Read Part 2: Let Your Body Affirm Your Happiness
Read Part 3: The Role of Gratitude
Thank you for this wonderful and timely series of articles. I live in a country I moved to 20 years ago, and I always thought that I would move back to be closer to old friends, familiar places (and now where my beloved daughter lives); unfortunately finances do not seem to make that possible and I am struggling with finding happiness where I am and in my current circumstances. I am also trying to develop a brand new activity in order to improve my financial situation, one which revolves around the elderly, and I do not know exactly where I want to go with this and feel very very tired. I pray for guidance and wonder if I am letting my pride and ego interfere with my clarity (in fact, I am pretty sure I am doing that). Well, just looking forward to the next articles and the insights to help me find love and joy …
Dear Virginia, I am happy that you enjoyed the article! One of the main obstructions to happiness, I’ve observed, is that our mind tends to make things unnecessarily complicated. The next couple of articles will discuss very simple and very effective techniques that can change that tendency, if practised. I hope they will be helpful 🙂 God bless.
The picture of ‘Mark with the grapes’ is just hilarious! Beautiful article with great lessons.
Very beautifully written.Thanks.
Hi Hezequiel, I am thankful that I “bumped” into this article while searching for an image of a happy man. Perhaps this is divine intervention or serendipity. I was an Ananda Marga member in the early ’70s and today, I am still doing Yoga and Meditation on my own style using the universal mantra. I am also a modified vegan. I wish this discovering of your blog will lead me to more ways to re-learn what I left unfinished in the past. In the meantime, I wish to receive updates on your blog. Namaskar.