Sunday, October 20, 2019

Why Is Happiness So Elusive?

There is talk nowadays of the science of happiness.  Science has created the atom bomb and taken us to the moon.  Why can't it make us happy?  But I wonder if that is possible.  After all, the things that make us happy are so various. Do we really know what makes us happy?  Or are we just guessing, hoping? What if we’re completely clueless about our real happiness?

Suppose you think you know what makes you happy. Now you know what you’re missing--and that can make you unhappy. Okay, suppose you do achieve the happiness you wanted. Great, but now you have a lot to lose; you’re more vulnerable to new and different kinds of unhappiness. Next, pretend you own this thing that makes you happy forever.  You and your happiness are joined at the hip, but habit and boredom will likely take over, sooner or later, and unhappiness will rear its head.  Happiness is a hard bird to catch and keep on a string.   

As long as we think of it as something out there we hope to find, happiness is apt to be forever elusive. For a different angle, consider the Chinese philosopher of the Tao, Chuang Tzu, who had this to say: “My opinion is that you never find happiness until you stop looking for it.  My greatest happiness consists precisely in doing nothing whatever that is calculated to obtain happiness: and this, in the minds of most people, is the worst possible course.” Chuang Tzu reminds us that the effort and striving to be happy can get in the way of actually being happy. In fact, the idea of ‘looking for happiness’, as if it were some prize conferred on us from the outside, might be the wrong approach.

To untie this knot, let me borrow a formula of Hindu wisdom: Satchitananda or being—consciousness—bliss. These are thought to be the components of the atman, our deep self.  So, according to this view of the self, our consciousness is inherently blissful, energized, happy. That’s why it’s always a mistake to rely passively on anything outside of ourselves; the source of our ultimate happiness is within our conscious nature.

But this paradise of our own consciousness is buried under the crowded experience of ordinary life. In the trance of life’s struggles we move about, oblivious to what is sleeping within us. But it is possible, by accident or deliberate practice, to wake up. Despite the inevitable distractions of ordinary life, the creative bliss energy can and does break through to us when we least expect it; perhaps in a dream, a beautiful scene of nature, the love we feel for this or that, and so on.  Stories of breakthroughs to a deeper consciousness abound. That’s the good news. They may be induced by all sorts of meditation practices, by means of psychoactive chemicals, and sometimes by coming very close to death.

Happiness can only come from ourselves, but the illusion is hard to resist that it lies outside in some particular thing or some one person. To a fully animated soul the smallest things may be occasions for great happiness. But happiness for too many human beings remains elusive. One has to look in the right direction—


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