In 1776, the introduction to America’s ‘Declaration of Independence’ proclaimed, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Closer to home and almost two centuries later, the doyen of Indian Industry, Late JRD Tata said, “I do not want India to be an economic superpower. I want India to be a happy country.”
What is Happiness?
Happiness is that wonderful feeling that comes over us when we feel that our life is good or going well and we just smile for no reason. It is a sense of well-being, joy, satisfaction, elation, achievement, success or contentment. Fleeting as these feelings of happiness may be, they are always welcome and much sought after by us. Most of us don’t really even need or care for a formal definition of happiness; we know it when we feel it
The ancient Greeks defined happiness as the joy of striving after one’s true potential. Aristotle believed that happiness is a state of activity. Some may disagree with Aristotle and argue that lying in bed, reading a good book or lazing on a sunny beach with a chilled beverage is more a state of happiness than the activity of driving in a crowded city or competing with your rival. But, how many “happy” people do you know who sit at home all day, every day? They might be feeling relaxed, but are they truly happy?
Truth is, happiness is often found in doing what one is passionate about and in building meaningful relationships, be it with Divinity, family, friends or just anyone. Academic research actually supports the fact that a strong social support is correlated with a number of positive outcomes.
Former First Lady of the United States of America, Eleanor Roosevelt was once asked what she regarded as the three most important requirements for happiness. Her response was, “A feeling that you have been honest with yourself and those around you; a feeling that you have done the best you could both in your personal life and in your work; and the ability to love others.”
The Quest For Happiness:
Who in this world does seek happiness? But wanting something is not the same as finding it. We endeavor to find happiness, but how many of us actually find true or lasting happiness? Aristotle considered happiness as the central purpose of human life, a goal in itself, and was convinced that happiness depends on our own selves.
An old saying goes, “there is no path to happiness; happiness is the path” – this nugget of wisdom is so fundamental. In order to attain happiness, we must first quit focusing on what’s wrong with ourselves or our life and begin focusing on what’s right about ourselves and our life.
Happiness is not necessarily the absence of suffering. Often there is no real reason why we suffer. We are living in a perfecting and not a perfect world. Suffering is often irrational and trying to rationalize the irrational only adds to our grief. Happy indeed are those free of past regrets and future worries.
Three States Of Happiness
Though definition and perception of happiness may differ from person to person (some may find joy in companionship while another may find it in solitude) we all crave happiness. In the Gita, Krishna speaks to Arjun of the three kinds of happiness, in which the embodied soul rejoices, and can even reach the end of all suffering.
The foremost is ‘Satvik’ or pure happiness that arises from the elevation of the soul. attaining this is not easy – one pursuing Satvik or pure happiness has to practice rigid discipline. ‘Rajasik’ or result-oriented happiness is materialistic pleasure that is derived when the senses come in contact with external objects that provide gratification. However, this kind of happiness is temporary. Sri Krishna warns that such happiness is like nectar at first but poison at the end. Finally, ‘Tamasic’ or slothful happiness is the lowest form of happiness and is derived from being lazy. The soul is never nurtured through these practices yet since there is a small sense of pleasure associated with sloth, people wrongfully consider it to be a state of happiness.
The Buddha taught that happiness is one of the seven factors of enlightenment. One word for ‘happiness’ from the early Pali texts is Piti which is deep tranquility or rapture and one method of attaining Piti is simply by letting go. ‘Let go’ whatever brings grief or a false sense of success, safety or security. It is not always easy. But it can be life-changing.
We often tend to think that holding on and not giving up makes us strong and successful, but letting go what one cannot control can free up time and energy which one can harness for something better and more fulfilling. Choose your battles wisely. Life is too short to spend it on warring. Fight only the most important ones, let the rest go.
Gratitude And Contentment
Cultivating feelings of gratitude leads to contentment and tranquility. Generally we offer gratitude only when others do us good. However, one who is truly evolved offers gratitude to everyone and for everything, good or bad. There is a beautiful Zen story that illustrates this truth.
A lady monk was on a pilgrimage and she came to a village at sunset and begged for lodging for the night, but the villagers slammed their doors. It was a cold night and the old lady had to make a cherry tree in the fields her shelter. At midnight she awoke and beheld the beauty of the fully opened cherry blossoms in the soft light of the misty full moon. Overcome witnessing this natural beauty, she got up and made reverence in the direction of the village. Through their kindness in refusing me lodging I found myself beneath the blossoms on the night of this misty full moon. She genuinely felt thankful to the villagers for refusing her accommodation, because if they did, she would have been sleeping under a roof and she would have missed this blessing. Indeed, happy is the person who accepts all that life brings with gratitude.
No matter how much we may deny it at times, relationships do matter in life. One could have a successful career, wealth and good health, but without supportive, loving relationships one could feel incomplete and therefore unhappy.
Most human misery is not due to economic factors but due to failed relationships and physical and mental illness. This truth is among the findings presented at a landmark conference on wellbeing at the London School of Economics (LSE), co-organized with the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and other leading institutions in December 2016. At this conference Lord Layard said: “The evidence shows that the things that matter most for our happiness and for our misery are our social relationships and our mental and physical health. This demands a new role for the state – not ‘wealth creation’ but ‘well-being creation’.”
Relationship With Divinity
In the Zoroastrian tradition and particularly in the Gatha, the Supreme Divinity is referred to as ‘Friya’ (Sanskrit Priya or beloved) which means friend or beloved. In other words, a Zoroastrian’s relationship with God is built on terms of friendship and love. God is to be loved and not feared.
In the Zoroastrian tradition, God is not to be pleased with sacrifices or fasts. Ahura Mazda wants all His friends to enjoy Ushta or happiness. But, how best can we befriend Ahura Mazda? Those who pray the Hoshbam at dawn would recollect praying, “Asha vahishta, asha sraeshta, daresāma thwā, pairi thwā jamyāma, hamem thwā hakhma” – which means, “Through the best righteousness, excellent righteousness, O Ahura Mazda, may we catch sight of Thee and may we come near Thee and attain Thy eternal friendship.”
Ushta or happiness is central to Zoroastrian theology and the key to happiness is given by Zarathushtra in the Ushtavaiti Gatha, “Ushta ahmai yahmai ushta Kahmai chit” – Happiness (be) to him through whom happiness (is caused) to another!