Based on a Lecture by Swami Bodhananda Saraswathi, Founder of Sambodh Society
What is Happiness? Where can I find it, how can I sustain it and what is the cost of that happiness? What kind of material, social, spiritual, mental resources do we need to gain that happiness? This is a very important topic and each of us has to find our own answer to this question. It is a given that we are all seeking happiness. No one seeks unhappiness. Underlying all the things that people seek like money, fame, family, material comforts etc. lies one common quest which is happiness. It is hard to define under what conditions one can discover Happiness. It is a very elusive subject.
In Hindu tradition Happiness is referred to by the word Aanandam (nandati iti aananda). Happy person is bubbly and dancing. Unhappy person sits like a question mark. What creates the condition of happiness? Nobody can say when definitely they can be happy. Sometimes even a memory is enough to trigger happiness. Laughter is an effect of happiness. Laughter itself cannot create happiness, maybe only temporarily. Real Happiness brings real belly laughter. When you are happy you feel a thousand lotuses blooming in your inner space, a thousand bubbles bubbling up in you, or an inner snake is awakening within you and dancing. But one can only experience it, not command it or create it. One can do all the right things and still not be happy.
Another word for Happiness is Sukham, Su is plenty and kham is space. So Sukham is plenty of space. You invite everyone in to be with you. On the contrary, dukham is very limited space where you don’t want to accommodate anyone. A happy person can accommodate differences, choices, everyone, even people who disagree with them. They can also accommodate different experiences – ups and downs of life. Nobody can shake their balance. Through this accommodation they become wiser, they see everything as meaningful, even things they cannot control. So we must learn to accommodate. If we see meaning in everything that is happening then we can be happy. Otherwise we will always be fighting with the world. Hence Sukham is a psychological experience which can accommodate everything, including praise and criticism. When you accept praise from someone you are also giving them the power to criticize you.
Bhagavad Gita Chapter 2, v 38
Other words to describe happiness are Nija sukham (where you are comfortable with yourself and you don’t need anybody’s approval) and Kaivalya (according to Maharishi Patanjali). We always find some reason to be unhappy because it has become a habit. When we are happy we become afraid to be too happy, since we perceive happiness as being in limited quantity and we are as though afraid that it will get exhausted.
Ancient Indian rishis offered two different definitions of sukha
Bhoga sukha (happiness that arises out of consumption) and Yoga sukha (happiness from contemplation)
The Ancient Greeks also had their own definitions. Eudaimonic happiness (gained by living an ethical value oriented life, through truth, discipline, non-violence) and Hedonistic happiness (similar to bhoga sukha) which was a striving for maximization of pleasure (sukha prapti) and minimization of pain (dukha nivritti).
Currently we live in a consumption oriented society. We continue to consume more even though it does not add to the quantum of happiness. People do find joy in having and consuming but it is a non-reflective kind of happiness. It has become a habit and we cannot help it. Since everybody is in the same rat race nobody can help anybody else. Hedonistic happiness has become the new script. Self-interest is the secret agenda that drives people for doing anything. This philosophy that the world has been following for over 500 years has not made us any happier, has become a habitual trap and we are inducting our children and grandchildren also into this. Since it appeals to thoughtless people, politicians use this philosophy to win.
Yoga sukha is attained through real self-control which comes from moderation. When you suppress your desires too much you end up developing inner conflict. Whatever you are trying to avoid will become an obsession for you. And at that point even if you get it you will not be happy or satisfied. On the other hand, if you had entertained your desire at that moment but in moderation, then it would not have ended up becoming an obsession. In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna advises Arjuna to practice moderation in all aspects of life to achieve yoga (Chapter 6, v17).
With moderation yoga will remove your dukha, but without moderation yoga will be a miserable experience and bring more dukha. Yoga is meant for people who work in moderation. Some people are workaholics who don’t give any time for family, community, sleep, exercise, for God, etc. Moderation in consumption, working, relationships etc is the key for happiness. The level of moderation is decided purely based on one’s own sense of wellbeing. No other standard can be applied. We need to be sensitive enough to know how to live well and manage our lives. The new international definition for standard of living is actually the standard of wellbeing or wellness. Multidimensional aspects are involved in this definition – physical, mental, emotional, social, spiritual.
Success is getting what you want; Happiness is wanting what you get. Success is when I set a goal and I realize it. But are you now happy with it? When you love what you have and you are content with what you have, you get that wonderful experience of happiness. When you practice moderation which is nothing in excess and nothing in exclusion it leads to a sense of wellbeing or wellness. For this a certain minimum material condition is necessary. Cleanliness and basic comforts are necessary but not any more than that. Therefore one needs to unclutter and simplify one’s life to achieve success.
Swami Bodhananda is the spiritual Founder of Sambodh Society.