Happiness is one of the fundamental driving forces of human beings underlying most of their actions and aspirations. The pursuit of happiness has been one of the most prominent goals of humanity. There are different approaches which try to explore what is happiness, what are the factors that lead to happiness and the universal theory of happiness.
In the East, Vedantic and Buddhist approaches gave us a deeper insight about the meaning of happiness and how one can pursue the path of happiness that lead to unique experiences. In the West, positive psychology and Seligman’s approach to understand and enhance happiness led to attention towards happiness. There are two dominating approaches of happiness in the West – Hedonic and Eudemonic.
NATURE OF HAPPINESS
It explains the nature, characteristics, and path of happiness according to the vedantic perspective. The sources of this information are the Vedas and the Upanishads.
Happiness is the primary motivator and guiding value of human life – It is a supreme goal which gives meaning to all endeavours of life. There is a certain statement from Vedantic texts which reads, “all beings emerge from happiness, live by happiness and to happiness they return.” It means that happiness is at the core of human existence and beyond.
Lasting happiness is realizable – It states that happiness can be attained by all in a lasting manner. It could be difficult to describe but it is assured by the sources that it can be attained by all. There are different routes to attain it.
Wisdom /knowledge framework – There is a particular methodology and guidelines to attain it. Many people through rigorous practice have attained it. The two ways are – preyomārga (path of worldly life) and śreyomārga (path of spiritual life). The goal of śreyomārga is apavarga (liberation or self-realisation) and that of preyomārga is bhoga (worldly enjoyment or gratification.) The path to worldly life is based on the pursuit of karma and the path to spiritual life is based on the pursuit of trpti. The path of worldly life leads to sukka and the path of spiritual life leads to ananda.
Individual as the agent of happiness – It stated that an individual is solely responsible for its own happiness. They have the freedom and mastery to control whether they want to be happy or not and can control how much external factors influence them.
Self-cultivation as the means – It is an important aspect for transformation of the individual in Indic tradition. Self-cultivation leads to self-mastery.
Favourable condition for experiencing happiness
There are three favourable conditions to experience it which are – physical, psychological (healthy, good, worthy and positive engagement in life), and absence of sorrow.
- Happiness is subjective – It is subjective and lies within. It considers a person, a situation and an object as merely stimulus. People who are wise know that happiness lies within and are not affected by external circumstances.
- Happiness is a state of mind – It is a psychological state of satisfaction and contentment which is accompanied by positive feelings. The satisfaction of one’s needs from material to spiritual is one of the means to attain happiness. Positive emotions and internal harmony are important components in the state of mind.
- Happiness is the essential nature of self – Vedantic perspective considers happiness as an essential nature of self and describes it as sat-cit-ananda i.e. existence-consciousness-bliss. The innermost essence of one’s being is absolute happiness.
- Happiness is active interconnectedness with others – Happiness is not just self-directed it is also the interconnectedness with others and everything else in the creation. Others are seen as an extension of self. The people who experience ultimate happiness realise that they are a part of a common large space or brahman, and remove the notion of “I” which leads to ego. It states, “Self-sameness with all beings is the source of happiness of the wise people”, who identify with other creations as an extension of self which leads to the experience of ultimate happiness.
- Happiness as freedom and completeness – Freedom is defined as the possibility to choose from the given set of choices. At a personal level, it is a possibility to select, act, form opinions, doubts, conflicts, etc. An individual’s samskāras and vāsanās act as determinants of one’s character/ behaviour. Individual biases and consciousness leads to limitation and narrowing of their cognitive, emotional and functional freedom. Indic tradition believes that one can overcome one’s limitations and can exercise complete freedom.
- Happiness is not the absence of unhappiness – The dualities of life like pain and pleasure, life and death, happiness and sorrow, gain and loss are seen as complimentary experiences that make an individual’s life complete. It helps in the growth and evolution of a person. As Aurobindo stated, “pain is the hand of nature sculpting men to greatness.” Happiness and unhappiness complement each other with a singularity of purpose – to give a sense of complete experience.
In conclusion, this article highlights the importance of happiness as a central goal in an individual’s life. It mentions about the different perspectives of happiness such as eastern and western. It describes the nature, meaning and path of happiness in Vedantic perspective. The path of happiness is through self-discovery which leads to deeper understanding of self and other extensions of self in the universe. Happiness is long-lasting and can be permanently attained as it lies within us and not outside us.
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