Happiness, A State of Mind

Susmit Kumar, Ph.D
Everyone tries to get happiness, but we do not get the desired results every time. Mostly, the results are not according to one's wishes, and this becomes the cause of unhappiness or sorrow. It is said even love causes unhappiness. Either the wife or the husband has to die first and this will cause unhappiness.

There are two types of philosophies. According to one philosophy, one should work according to capacity and should not worry about the results. In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna said – Karmanye waadhikare astu ma phale su kadachana … "Surrender the fruits of actions unto Me". This is one extreme. Buddhism also represents this philosophy. Here the ideal is detachment from all worldly objects. The other extreme is the materialist, or capitalist, attitude, i.e., to indulge in the worldly objects or pleasures.

Both positions are flawed. It is impossible to detach oneself from worldly objects. Unless one has some goal, i.e. to achieve some desired pleasure, he or she can not work with a maximum of effort. Hence, it is very difficult to follow the verse in the Gita. On the other hand, as already hinted, results are often not according to one's wishes and this causes pain or sorrow.

Pain, sorrow and unhappiness are inevitable in the world. So how to minimize them? Personally I am completely against Buddhist philosophy, which is to detach oneself from all worldly objects in order to eliminate unhappiness. The follower of this principle will not enjoy any pleasure in life.

Longing after an object may also not bring happiness. In the movies, when the camera is focused on a person's face, his face is very clear, but faces of others are hazy. Similarly, if we focus our mind on a particular object, that object controls our passions and other objects become less important. I try to work with all my abilities to get the best results, but if I do not get the desired results, then I will focus my mind on some other object to minimize the unhappiness. Even so, I had to experience unhappiness first.

We may also try to rationalize our unhappiness by playing down the importance of our desired object. Suppose I am to appear at an examination. I study very hard. If I get the desired results, then everything is OK. If the results are not according to my wishes, I may think – "This is not going to be of any importance to me after 20 years, so why should I bother for this?" And what happens to me now may not be of importance to me after 20 years, such as examination results when I was 15 years old.

Happiness is a state of mind. Worldly objects like wealth, sex, power, etc. are sources of happiness, but these are not ultimate goals. Such worldly pleasures are not absolute, but relative in nature. A graduate student assistantship in the US brings in about $13,000 per year. He compares himself with his professor whose salary is around $60,000 per year and thinks that if he had that much money, his life would be very easy and full of happiness. But after a few years, when the student finishes his degree and earns $60,000 per year in some corporation, he starts comparing himself with someone whose salary is higher than his and feels bad.

Hence, wealth, power, etc. are relative in nature. There will be always many who will be ahead in the materialist queue. A better philosophy for happiness is rather: I will try my best to achieve a goal, but whether I achieve that goal or not, I will always think for life's long term meanings in order to minimize any losses or pain. I shall also start comparing myself with those who are behind me in the queue. After all, it could be that they are better off than me.

Copyright The author 2011

The article was originally published in Global Times, 1995
Dr. Susmit Kumar is an Indian-born writer presently residing in Lansing, MI, USA.
Blog: www.susmitkumar.net

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