Happiness has always been one of the top-selling ideas in a number of books, articles, and videos. It is also one of the most discussed topics worldwide, irrespective of culture and geography. Then why is happiness never easily achieved?
To me, the idea of happiness in school was landing good grades. When I reached college, the idea changed to having more friends. When I started a job, it changed to having a good work-life balance. Now that I’ve worked for quite a few years, the idea has further changed to having financial security.
What I’m trying to convey is that we don’t understand the true meaning of happiness, so we keep defining it by the stages or circumstances of life.
So, what is true happiness? Is there even a thing like that?
True happiness is being free from any kind of mental afflictions that affect your “inner state” while you live under the shadow of divinity, making a better world.
For this, you have to understand that happiness is within you, just like all the emotions you have ever felt in your life. There’s no need to look outside to “discover” it; you just have to look inside to “awaken” it.
To incorporate happiness into our lives, we must first understand why we aren’t happy and how to fix that.
The Cycle of Suffering: Four Causes of Unhappiness
From my personal experiences, I’ve summarized the causes of unhappiness into four pillars, and I call them the “Cycle of Suffering.” Cycle, because it continues if one doesn’t break away from it.
The first cause of unhappiness is Desire (kaamana).
Without desire, one would never come into contact with the world. It is our desire for something that facilitates action, which leads to the communication we have with this world.
For example, if love someone and want them to love you back, you make romantic gestures to attract them. You may buy them a coffee, take them out for a long drive, and maybe get them a rose too. And one day, they finally love you back.
From the moment this desire emerged in you to the moment it became a reality, there was action at every step.
This action, the entire process, leads to the second cause of unhappiness, Expectations (apeksha).
While trying hard to attract them, you give birth to expectations fueled by emotions. Expecting that they might love you in a certain way, or they’ll always stay with you or something of similar nature. These expectations will sooner or later lead to disappointment, and I’ll explain how. Let’s see where our expectations take us next.
These expectations take you to the third cause of unhappiness, Attachment (aasakti).
Remember that love is transcendental in nature; it doesn’t need the presence of physicality, such as it is in Bhakti. You do not need the divine to be physically present, but you are still in love with the divine. However, in the case of attachment, physicality is dominant.
In our example, you start getting attached to the person, their presence, or cute habits, and soon, you realize you can’t live without that person. This attachment grows stronger with time, sometimes reaching dangerous levels. Since our mind naturally does not think of a “negative future” and always imagines a beautiful life ahead. You start believing everything will work out in your favor because that person belongs to you; in other words, there’s subtle ownership.
This belief that you own something leads to the fourth cause of unhappiness, Ego (ahamkara).
In the state of ego, you start building an imaginary world where everything is yours, and you have complete control. In our example, that person is with you all the time and might get married to you one day and have kids in a beautiful bungalow. Everything will be in your control, and you’ll never lose anything you like.
This state of ego makes you forget the “temporary” nature of life. Everything in this cosmos is temporary, and the very nature of reality is an “illusion” that makes you feel you’re always in control and everything belongs to you.
Let’s say one day, that person breaks up with you. You naturally start blaming outer circumstances for it. You blame the person, their friends, or even yourself for “loving unconditionally.” You try to look at this problem from the outward lens instead of the inward lens.
Think about it. Was it them leaving you that hurt or was it your own false beliefs that they would stay forever?
When you look at it from the inward lens, you understand that it was your own desire, expectations, attachment, and ego that caused you unhappiness, not the person or the situation. This is true in case of any unhappiness.
Even though our scriptures and Gurus, including Shriguru Om Swami Ji, have described various causes of unhappiness, these four pillars come from my personal experiences tried and tested in relationships, career, family life, personal life, and more.
But by the grace of the Divine and the guidance of my Gurus, I’ve found 4 ways to break free from these causes of unhappiness and start experiencing fulfilling joy.
Breaking the Cycle of Suffering
Burn your Desires by Gratitude (kritagyata): – My mother often says, “jo praapt hai, wahi paryaapt hai,” meaning what you have right now is enough for you. Often in life, we forget how much we have been gifted with that others only dream of. This makes us feel incomplete and produces more desires in our mind, so one day, we’ll finally be complete. And with every desire, you are aware of what stages are bound to come later, ultimately leading to suffering, not completeness.
If you sit back and observe, you will know that everything you have right now is precisely what you need at this moment. You have been given food, shelter, clothing, and even technologies that assist your life. Most people don’t have these but are still grateful for the little they have.
When you are grateful for what you have, you rarely think about what you don’t have. This effectively kills the need for something more and calms down your desires.
Here are a few ways to practice gratitude:
· Notice what nature provides you and appreciate its beauty
· Contemplate on what you have (family, friends, food, shelter, clothing, resources, and more)
· Volunteer with organizations to contribute to the society
· Commit to one day a week when you won’t complain about anything
· Thank everybody who makes your day easier, including shopkeepers, bus drivers, etc
Kill your Expectations by Donating (daan): – Expectations rise during the course of action, i.e., doing something or giving something. When we give something, be it time, attention, food, or anything we own, we naturally expect something back. This expectation will sooner or later lead to some form of disappointment.
Through donation, we transfer our ownership to somebody else, thus giving up our rights on it (tyaaga).
However, it is natural for one to expect, even while donating, but conscious and mindful thinking will allow you to let go of expectations. Every time you donate something, you must remind yourself that you want nothing in exchange. The reason is you don’t actually own anything, so what you’re giving isn’t yours anyway.
For example, the clothes you’re wearing come from a material converted into a wearable by the effort of people and delivered to you. It’s not yours; it’s the product of their hard work and nature’s resources. Even though you purchased it with money, that money isn’t yours either. You received it from somebody in exchange for work. You don’t own it; you just have access to it, that too temporarily only until you deliver some work.
This is just one example. Pick anything at random in your life, and you’ll always have somebody owning it before you, except your soul. Think about it. When you realize that you own nothing, donating becomes easy. Once this process becomes a practice, expectations will naturally come into your control.
Here are a few ways to make positive contributions to the world:
· Feed the hungry, including animals/insects of any kind
· Support small businesses and not-for-profit organizations
· Be kind to your fellow human beings
· Donate blood, or volunteer with a local organization
· Plant a tree
· Go “meat-free” one day a week
Break your Attachment by Devotion (bhakti): – Devotion is the supreme form of love. There is no love greater than devotion because it is the only kind of love that does not become a “bondage” but instead sets you free. Our attachment to the material world comes from our interaction with maya. When a Seeker (sadhak) explores dimensions other than the material world, the attachment naturally turns into detachment. It’s because he starts to realize the temporary nature of this world and intends to experience the exuberance of divinity within him.
As you come closer to the divine, you leave the material world behind. Nothing of material nature bothers you anymore; that is when you achieve a state of dispassion and detachment (Vairagya).
Here are a few ways to practice devotion:
· Light a lamp in your temple every day
· Chant any mantra once after you wake up and once before you sleep.
· Bow down to the beauty of nature (the trees, the sun, the wind, etc.)
· Perform Elemental Cleaning (Bhuta Shuddhi) once in a while to cleanse your five elements (water, fire, earth, ether, and air)
· Meditate for 5-15 mins a day minimum
· Start an active practice of Yoga with basic asanas (Padmasana, Bhujangasana, Halasana, Trikonasana and Dhanurasana)
Crush your Ego by Compassion (karuna):- When we see somebody suffering and refuse to help, we help produce a cruel world. This insensitivity soon comes back to bite us when we are in despair.
Everything in this cosmos is cyclical. We see cycles everywhere, from menstruation in female bodies to the orbits of massive planets and more. One such cycle is the cycle of Action (Karm) and Reaction (Karma). When we take good action, we are bound to receive a more fruitful reaction. But that does not mean doing good things for the sole purpose of receiving something. If this happens, your compassion will become a transaction fueled by expectations.
When you start helping others live a more fulfilled life, you begin to notice that you’re just them, in a different body. Their suffering is the same as yours, and you are one with them.
This feeling expands your “identity” beyond your mind, body, and soul. You start becoming one with the creation. Instead of saying “I am,” you become inclusive and start saying “we are.”
The light of “we are” sets you free from the darkness of ego.
Here are a few ways to practice compassion:
· Feed stray animals
· Ask your friends/family how they are doing and listen intently
· Water the soil and plants around your house
· Help an elder or a pregnant lady with a seat
· Treat your body with love, relaxation, and cleansing.
· Help the elders in your family with any household work to take the weight off their shoulders
· Help your colleague complete a project or reach a deadline.
· Smile at a random person whenever you can.
Try to do one of the four things at least once a day and carefully notice the difference in your mental state in 30 days. Make a journal if you can and start noting minor changes in your inner state daily.
Practicing Kritagyata, Daan, Bhakti and Karuna will help you break the cycle of suffering by effectively ending desire, expectations, attachment, and ego.
Hope this article was of some help. I would like to welcome your thoughts on happiness, please comment. Thank you.