Is Happiness Imaginary?
April 15, 2012
When the payout for an American lottery reached 640 million dollars, there was a buying frenzy for tickets. It is easy to understand why. To even imagine having over half a billion dollars is enough to make anyone smile. That imagined happiness is so real that it has a name in Sanskrit, priya. The people who stood in line and purchased a ticket experienced a slightly greater joy. They had a chance at winning this lottery, albeit a remote one. That anticipatory joy is still in the mind and it too has a name, moda. Out of the millions who purchased a ticket, three people had the winning number. They cashed their fat cheques, relished their luck and began to to consume and enjoy with this windfall. That happiness too has name, pramoda. Surprisingly, it too is imagined.
This feels counter-intuitive. If I love my dog because he is cute, loyal, loving, then isn’t the dog which is responsible for bringing me happiness? No. Somewhere over the years you made a decision that you liked cute animals. You have a value for loyalty. Loving the dog was a decision made based upon several interconnected needs and wants. The needs and wants existed within the mind. Hence their satiation could only be within the mind. Take any other example, ice cream, diamond necklace, a fast car. The happiness of consuming them happens only in the mind.
When a man is clinically depressed, he finds no happiness in anything he previously enjoyed. That is the symptom of depression. When you and I are fast asleep, if people were to present you with gold and riches (as long as they did so quietly) we would not derive any pleasure from owning these objects. Why? Because the mind is not available to enjoy them.
And speaking of sleep, is there anything as blissful as good night’s sleep? Where are your loved ones in sleep? Where is the car, the house, the career? Clearly, happiness is intrisnic. This begs the question, are external objects really necessary to make me happy?
I have tried this experiment. I sat alone in a quiet room and imagined myself happy. Unreasonably happy. Without any cause or justification. Just blind, abstract happy. And you know what? It is as good as the real thing. Because it is the real thing. Then it occurred to me, so why not be happy all of the time?
It did not take long to discover why I was not able to stay happy all of the time. Needs and wants stood in the way. The neighbors should not be making so much noise. My friend should not be suffering from cancer. Something ought to be done about cleaning the house. And on and on. It became evident to me that desires were not the vehicles of happiness, but rather they were bandits. They hold us for ransom, demanding that all their conditions be met before they release happiness: that house with the swimming pool be purchased, that you marry this type of spouse, that you sit in that spot by the window. The only reason we go to lengths to satisfy desires is because they are inherently uncomfortable. By satisfying a desire – it goes away. At least temporarily. But it soon rears its head, just a little stronger each time.
Needs and desires create a sense that you are in control. That by deliberately acting on situations and people you can affect the outcome in predictable ways. Then we get frustrated when it does not happen. And no matter how often we are disappointed, we still harbor this illusion. I now consciously try to be mindful that I do not have control. I simply do the best that I can. I accept life for what it is, or isn’t. This is as much control as I actually have.
Then is there a another way to quieten desires? Yes. Desires do not withstand scrutiny. When the whole process is examined critically, it disintegrates. It takes work initially and many times you cannot muster the patience or will-power. But over time, this habit of questioning becomes routine, effortless. Sure, I still fail sometimes. Though more and more, I feel happy without any reason.
Just imagine a day when nothing or no one gets in the way of happiness. Unreasonable, effortless, happiness 24/7. Now that would be like winning billions of dollars.