How many of us wake up in the morning with a desire to have a day full of suffering, misery and despair; I assume no one. Even an aloof person, who is not participating in life, has lost interest in everything or is on the verge of committing suicide seeks happiness and thinks that his odd way of living or dying can be a gateway to it. Certainly, we all are in the pursuit of some kind of happiness. Hence, whatever we do is directly or indirectly related to the search of happiness. But here arises a question, what is happiness? Some people understand it as a recollection of memories, for some hope can lead to happiness and still for some it’s living in the moment. Understanding happiness is one of the fundamentally important aspects of life for it is a primary drive behind our every step.
People usually mix happiness with pleasure but happiness, as we shall see, is a different category of experience. Pleasure is a fleeting emotion; an experience that does not sustain for a long time. It can be intense or mild depending upon the situation. Imagine, you are craving for a chocolate cake. The craving makes you anxious and you want to end that anxiety. You rush to eat and the first bite gives you immense pleasure but what happens next? With each bite the pleasure experience diminishes. Interestingly, if you have to eat a chocolate cake for a whole day, you will get put off. Pleasure does not necessarily take into account people around you; it becomes self serving. For example, you feel great pleasure whenever you get promotion but it can be gloomy for your competitor. A sadist can draw pleasure from the suffering of someone else. The pursuit of pleasure is tiring in its nature.
One must appreciate that an emotion which is fleeting and self serving cannot be happiness. Happiness refers to a generalized and encompassing mental experience that colors the mind as a whole and then sustains for a considerable stretch of time. Buddhists define happiness as “a state of serenity and fulfillment”. It is not a spring of joy which is higher in intensity at certain point of time and then as time passes, diminishes. Happiness is a state of contentment and balance. When we gather things like a collection of luxury cars, a new dream house, start a new relationship, reach the highest rank in our profession and have a sound bank balance; we experience pleasure but not happiness, because the feeling diminishes with time. Happiness cannot be a feeling which is dependent on external conditions. I am not denying the impact of external conditions, they do have an impact but that remains secondary if one is in pursuit of true happiness. It always feels good to have good health, a secure financial position, healthy relationships, fulfilling career and freedom to travel but these do not satisfy you. With the passage of time these things lose pleasure associated with them and become neutral or negative. One must be aware that dependency on external factors gives rise to a desire of controlling them. And since we live in a complexity of processes and cannot fully control them, this dependency puts happiness on risk. Conversely, if happiness depends primarily upon internal factors, we can sustain it since we have better control on our internal world.
Have you not seen a man who is living in a luxurious home but is not contended and peaceful? On the other hand, there are people who live under harsh conditions but are serene, calm and confident. It may be suggested that happiness has a strong link with the internal world of a human being, the stronger the internal condition the better the wellbeing of a person. To cultivate happiness we have to nurture ourselves from inside. But, what exactly are these inner conditions? Inner conditions refer to the states of our mind that are responsible for interpreting things and reacting to them. There are certain conditions of mind that promote happiness, on the contrary, certain conditions of mind are counter-productive for happiness; such as anger, hatred, jealousy, arrogance and obsession of something. The more the state of mind is negative the more we will feel miserable. These negative states of mind are, like positive states, potentialities of the mind and it depends on us that what do we prefer.
A primary feature of mind is to be aware and conscious. Consciousness is like a mirror, it reflects the reality of objects regardless of their negative or positive quality. This means that no matter what we provide to mind, it’s essential function is not disturbed. Building upon this, there is a method to furnish ground for happiness, i.e. cognitive restructuring. Cognitive restructuring is based on the idea that two opposite emotions cannot function at the same time; you cannot love and hate simultaneously in one instance. Positive emotions are natural antidotes to negative emotions. For example, rejoicing to jealousy, inner freedom to the obsession of things, and benevolence, love and kindness are antidotes to hatred. We have to look inside and feel every emotion without reacting or suppressing. The more we give attention to the positive emotions, the negative feelings will go away. This state will eliminate the destructive effect of negative emotions and help us to achieve a higher state of well-being and happiness independent to external situations.