Too Busy To Be Happy?
How happiness eludes us, and what to do about it.
by Chaitanya Charan das
Once a healthy, handsome youth came to a psychologist with a complaint of chronic depression. The psychologist recommended the show of a famous comedian in a nearby circus. With a tearful face, the youth replied, “Doc, I am that comedian.”
Most people pursue external material things – wealth, sensual pleasure, skills, power, position, possession – to achieve happiness. In the Mahabharata after the unfortunate fratricidal world war, the saintly Vidura pointed out to his materially minded brother Dhritrashtra, “When did the kingdom give you anything except misery? When you didn’t have it, you were tormented by craving for it. When you had it, you were worried about retaining it. Now after losing it, you are filled with sorrow.” Nonetheless the world eulogizes material achievements and most people savor worldly recognition, no matter what the cost. However all achievers experience euphoria as long as others glorify their accomplishments, but steady inner fulfillment always eludes them.
Most people try to either hide or forget this dissatisfaction as they don’t know any other way to happiness. They hide it by putting on a pretense of jollity or forget it by busying themselves in work or entertainment. The above youth felt no fulfillment despite his achievements as a comedian and tried to forget it by his work of making others laugh, though he himself felt like crying. But we don’t have to suffer inner dissatisfaction. The Vedic texts call the external achievement we show others abhyudaya and the internal fulfillment we feel ourselves nihshreyas. They remind us that abhyudaya is available to all species of life (every dog wants to prove that it is the greatest in its pack), whereas nihshreyas beckons humans alone. They urge us to not overlook our unique human right to fulfillment in the overhyped pursuit of achievement.
Inner satisfaction is not as abstract or remote as many think. God, Lord Krishna, is living in our own hearts and is the reservoir and source of all happiness. The Holy Names of God, like the Hare Krishna mahamantra, are our antar jyotir (inner light), which reveal to us our own spiritual identity and glory as beloved children of the supremely wealthy and loving father. Chanting blesses us with experience of the grace, love and protection of Krishna in our hearts and floods our lives with serenity, joy and fulfillment, even without any external achievement. Of course, fulfillment and achievement are not mutually exclusive, as is evident from the achievements of Vedic sages in architecture, literature, medicine, mathematics, physics, chemistry, astronomy and administration – all ultimately meant to harmonize humanity with God.
When we experience fulfillment by cultivating devotion to God, we naturally become inspired and empowered to use fully our God given talents to do wonderful things that benefit all our brothers and sisters. But those bereft of devotion often become motivated by ego, greed and envy in their pursuit of achievements. Even if they succeed, their accomplishments don’t mitigate their poverty of heart and often harm others. For example, a spiritually bankrupt executive greedy for promotion may backbite about colleagues to his boss. He may achieve the promotion, but he will increase his inner insecurity and emptiness and also cause distress to others. Hence the Shrimad Bhagvatam (1.5.22) asserts that all occupations are meant for glorification of the Lord. Therefore let us give fulfillment its rightful place along with achievement in our life’s priorities and thus experience real happiness ourselves and share it with others.