The hit Pharrell track still has all of us jamming to his tune.
But how many of us are truly happy? Can you name one individual who is happy at every instance of time? Surely, we all have experienced this euphoric state in installments but to achieve everlasting happiness is to kill yourself with an unattainable goal of perfection.
To feed our insatiable appetite for happiness, there is a plethora of content available in the market that milks on its meaning and means of attainment in one’s life. Self-help books, movies, and fiction tales also brush on this topic in their own measure.
Buying off this jargon is counter-intuitive to the most the apt theory of all i.e. happiness comes from within.
A story like Eat, Pray, Love or a film like Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara may appear to suggest that one can solve all their life problems from a trip abroad, but a traveling experience can only provide the momentary streak of happiness before one enters into another routine of life. Even the Rani character in Queen made new friends abroad but the essence of the story is how she brings home that spirited confidence back into her routinely life in Delhi. Stressful situations may surface again, and it is one’s mental attitude towards the problem that determines the outcome of happiness.
The Bhagvad Gita exhorts that the ideal path to contentment is to be even in mind and alike in pleasure and pain. That mantra can help withstand the undesirable outcomes that life may present. Contentment is not an app we can purchase to quieten our wavering minds, nor can it be framed on a wall to substantiate our worth like our paper degrees. Contentment is certainly not as lucrative of an aspiration for an individual plagued with scarcities or abundance, for the former is struggling for survival of the body and the latter, of the mind. However, when basic needs are met, contentment is possible but it comes with great difficulty and that is precisely why it offers such wonderful returns. The investment, of course, lies in regular honing of the self through introspection and meditation.
The common retaliation towards contentment is that it sounds an awful lot like complacency or in business terms, being averse to risk. Pursuing happiness is approached as a necessity to succeed. The rationale put forth is that if we don’t seek happiness, we lose out on following our passion. But how does a becoming the dream occupation you so desire guarantee permanency in happiness? Finances may get depleted, fame may become a narcotic necessity, and aversion to failure may lead to artistic outputs of poor quality.
As we accumulate more unique life experiences, we start to feel qualified enough to put our own $0.02 about achieving that ever elusive goal (as I am doing in this post). Based on my own experiences volunteering, working in some amazing companies, being a permanent caregiver to a loved one, and traveling in between, I have to come to understand that pursuing happiness is as successful of a strategy as pursuing sorrow. Both come in varying measures, usually, one after the other.
Nature exemplifies this in the manner that day follows night, rainbow manifests from the rain, winter culminates into spring, roses blossom from its thorny conduit etc.
What Makes Us Happy?
Clever marketing lures us to believe that we must be flawless in our attributes to be happy, and if we are not happy, there is surely something deficient in us. Those that escape the rigidity of such subliminal brainwashing and strive to be content within their means have a greater chance for happiness. A wonderful documentary titled “Happy” explored this emotion in great detail by recounting the experiences of people across the world and comparing their measures of happiness.
It showcased how a poor man who works as an auto driver and lives in a Kolkata slum is just as happy, if not more, than an overworked American man of similar age. The auto driver is happy to come to his loving family and finds opportunity for community involvement within the slum whereas the American lives alone and suffers health issues from the stress of his well paying job. The documentary also suggests that helping others, commitment to social issues, and support of loved ones are all key to being happy and thereby overcoming depression and sorrow. It is not easy to substantiate happiness, or any emotion for that matter, with scientific data because happiness can’t be quantified and it can easily fluctuate. For example, the slum dweller may lose out on his state of bliss when he can’t afford some basic necessities for his family, whereas the American man can find happiness in volunteering and charity. Personally, balance of the mind is more of a key to contentment than relegating oneself to either physical extreme. But how to achieve this balance?
Gita and the Three Gunas
This is where the Gita comes in to be mighty helpful resource to achieve a spiritual core of steel. From my limited knowledge of Ayurveda I learned about the concept of the three Gunas.
In the human context, guna usually refers to the quality of the mind and character of a person. That is, whether they are calm, gentle, patient and tolerant (sattvic), passionate, spontaneous, greedy, materialistic, exploitative and focused on sense gratification (rajasic), or ignorant, lazy, insensitive and deceitful (tamasic). All three types of guna are present in everyone, and each may be displayed in different contexts. People can alternate between gunas depending on the environmental context and their diet, as well as phase of life and other factors. The quality of the food we eat, and our environment, are therefore crucial to maintaining mental health.
All this while, I aspired to achieve the sattvic guna, which is rationally most likely to produce positive attributes of happiness but I failed to realize that it also creates an attachment to the same.
The 14th chapter of the Gita enlightened to think beyond the Sattvic Guna – and thereby let go of the attachment to happiness. Here is the quoted text for your reference below. I hope by reading this, you can too can forego the trivial pursuit of happiness and strive for contentment instead.
Arjuna asked :By what marks, O Lord, is he (known) who has gone beyond these three Gunas? What is his conduct, and how does he pass beyond these three Gunas?
The Blessed Lord said:
He who hates not the appearance of light, (the effect of Sattva), activity (the effect of Rajas), and delusion (the effect of Tamas), (in his own mind), nor longs for them when absent; He who, sitting like one unconcerned, is moved not by the Gunas, who, knowing that the Gunas operate, is Self-centred and swerves not; Alike in pleasure and pain, Self-abiding, regarding a clod of earth, a stone and gold alike; the same to agreeable and disagreeable, firm, the same in censure and, praise; The same in honour and disgrace, the same to friend and foe, relinquishing all undertakings—he is said to have gone beyond the Gunas.
Source: The Discrimination of the Three Gunas (Sacred Texts.com)