By Ellen Grace O’Brian –
We can easily verify that the search for happiness is a fundamental motivation underlying all that we do. From the moment we get up in the morning, we are on a quest to avoid suffering and gather as much happiness as possible—from mundane desires to satisfy hunger or thirst to our search for comforts and pleasures, and even to our higher aspirations for connection and meaning. All have one thing in common: Like a trained hound on a hunt, they are aimed at happiness.
Simply inquiring into the nature of happiness will instigate positive changes. Observe yourself. Inquire: What makes me happy? Explore what happiness is for you. At the end of the day, take a quick happiness assessment. Ask: Did I experience happiness today?If yes, what was it? If no, why not? What do you think was the obstacle?
See if you can perceive the drive to find happiness behind your desires throughout the day. Notice what you want. Ask if behind that drive is a desire for happiness, some form of satisfaction, or avoidance of pain or suffering. Then ask if getting what you want can bring the happiness you seek.
Often the satisfaction of a desire will momentarily quiet the mind. That inner calm allows our innate joy to arise. The thing we acquired or the situation we found did not createthe happiness. It was ours to begin with, just obscured by our restless desire to possess that thing. If we are not aware of how that works, we say, Yes, satisfying this desire does make me happy!The next question is: If we associate our happiness with what we acquire or achieve, how long will it last?
This process of inquiry is not to say that we shouldn’t have desires or experience the happiness that arises when they are fulfilled. Rather, it’s a simple but powerful tool to help us discern the distinction between fleeting pleasures and the innate joy of the soul. When we become skillful at this process of inquiry and readily discern the source of happiness, we are freer to make choices that serve us well.
There Is Pleasure
The Buddha said, “There is pleasure and there is bliss. Forgo the first to possess the second.” Does this mean that to experience bliss we must avoid pleasure? Heavens, no! Even the Buddha’s experiments with pleasureless asceticism led him to the middle way of moderation.
Life is, fortunately, permeated with pleasure. Pleasure is unavoidable and experienced in ways great and small. When we are thirsty and we have a drink of water, we experience pleasure. When we work diligently toward a goal and it is accomplished, we experience pleasure. What is helpful is to understand the difference between pleasure and bliss. Thankfully, it is simple to make that distinction. Pleasure comes to us as the result of satisfying desires. The satisfaction of desires is always limited and potentially problematic. The satisfaction of desire generally leads to more desire. If we are not attentive, we can bind ourselves to certain desires. Bliss, however, is innate. It is unconditional; it is not the result of anything. No desire needs to be satisfied to experience it. It is a divine quality of the soul that is revealed when the mental field is calm and we are aware. We are not required to give up pleasure to know bliss. We are advised, however, to know which is which—and not lose the joy we already have while we look everywhere else for happiness.
The most transitory happiness we experience is physical. When a desire related to the senses is fulfilled, we experience relief and happiness but soon find that particular form of pleasure to be short-lived. After our bellies are filled, we are hungry again.
The happiness we experience when we set goals and reach them, or succeed in life, stays with us longer. Even more enduring than that is the happiness we experience when we serve life by selflessly helping others. Being of service to others brings a deep and long-lasting sense of inner peace and happiness.
Beyond all of those, however, is the highest happiness. The highest happiness is the bliss we experience through Self-knowing, through realizing our true nature. When we experience our essential nature, we discover our innate wholeness. That experience is free from desire. Nothing needs to be added or attained for us to be happy. We are inherently blissful.
Ellen Grace O’Brian is the author of The Jewel of Abundance and director of the Center for Spiritual Enlightenment in San Jose, CA. Ellen is a yogacharya(an esteemed yoga teacher), a radio host, and an award-winning poet who weaves poetry into her teachings on spiritual matters, pointing to the mystical experience beyond words and thought. Ordained by a direct disciple of Paramahansa Yogananda, she has been teaching Kriya Yoga philosophy and practice nationally and internationally for over three decades. Visit her online at www.ellengraceobrian.com.
Excerpted from the book The Jewel of Abundance: Finding Prosperity through the Ancient Wisdom of Yoga.