The Pursuit of Happiness
The desire for happiness drives human life forward. We search for it through our career, relationships, money, power and fame. The sad truth is that we exhaust ourselves in an endless effort to experience happiness by satisfying our desires without ever achieving satisfaction.
It is like the anecdote about a man who was seen eating a basket of chillies. His tongue was swollen and his gums were bleeding profusely. So a passer-by asked him, “What are you doing? Why are you eating one chilli after another?” The man replied, “I keep hoping I will find a sweet one.”
In our pursuit of external desires, no doubt there are times when we feel happy and even believe that we have at last found what we were searching for. Inevitably, however, such happiness is fleeting and transitory. Eventually, we are left with a familiar feeling of emptiness but are unable to understand what it is. Even the richest or the most powerful person is subject to such despondency and loneliness. And no matter how hard we strive to achieve some satisfaction, some sense of belonging in this world, we find ourselves overcome by an inner discontent from which there is no escape.
In order to fill this gap in our lives, we look for solutions. We immerse ourselves in our work, or we attempt to buy happiness through objects and experiences. Eventually, we realize that whatever we pursue, sooner or later we are at the exact same spot on the ‘happiness treadmill’ as we were before.
Saints remind us that our necessities are minimal, so why this relentless pursuit of self-gratification? Maharaj Charan Singh explains:
What do we really need in this world? If we look broadly at our needs, how few we have! How much can one eat? How much can one wear? How many places to sleep do we need? We have so many rooms in our house, so many dishes on the table, so many restaurants and hotels to feed us, such variety of clothes and dresses to wear – wardrobes full. You can expand your needs as much as you like, or you can bring them to the minimum.
Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. III
There is no doubt that we should fulfil our basic needs. Saints and mystics, through their own example, strongly advocate everyone earning their own living. They have nothing against ambition. But they warn us not to be so overcome by greed and materialism that we become blind to the truth and compromise our principles. Life is simple but we complicate it by giving material comforts priority.
Saints continually remind us of the immense and priceless treasure that lies inside each one of us, but we seem to be too preoccupied with collecting pennies.
A Sufi mystic once pointed out the need for us to grasp the essence of life:
An ocean is within your heart, O Farid,
why do you trudge along the shore?
Dive into the depths;
the pearl shall be found within.
Sheikh Farid, The Great Sufi Mystic
In order to achieve real happiness, saints advise us to direct our efforts towards collecting our spiritual treasure through meditation. It is only when we look within that we can experience true and everlasting happiness. Maharaj Charan Singh Ji explains:
Meditation gives you that bliss, that peace, that happiness, that contentment within you. We are trying to seek happiness outside, in worldly objects, worldly possessions, worldly people. And the more we look there, the more miserable we become every day because our pursuit is absolutely in the wrong direction. Only if we try to find happiness within can we succeed in becoming happy. Nobody can find happiness in the sensual pleasures – there’s frustration after that. The real happiness is only in meditation, nowhere else.
Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. I
It is through the practice of meditation that we come into contact with the bliss of the divine melody. When we attune ourselves to the Word, then the same mind that is constantly running after sensual pleasures becomes completely subdued. It ceases to chase short-lived pleasures in the outside world. Instead, it is drawn inside to experience lasting peace and incomparable happiness.
The more the mind is drawn towards meditation, the more we learn to submit to the Lord’s will. We entrust ourselves to the Master and begin to appreciate how he takes care of both our worldly and spiritual needs. Then, rather than chasing after the things of the world, we cultivate immense gratitude for whatever has been bestowed upon us. We realize that we actually want for nothing; that we already have great riches inside. And when this happens, we no longer need to pursue happiness. Happiness finds us.
If we live in his will and if we are grateful to him for whatever he has given us, then we feel extremely happy and light.
Maharaj Charan Singh, Legacy of Love