Western psychology takes it for granted that the purpose of human existence is the pursuit of personal happiness. However, if one really thinks about it – how can personal happiness be the goal of existence? Personal happiness, as Frankl puts it, cannot be achieved by aiming for it because you are not your own purpose. In other words, you are not here for you.
Do not misunderstand me. Delight is of course inherently a part of the creation. Just look at a simple flower – how beautifully it expresses happiness inherent in existence! However, that joy of existence is all pervading. It is not pursued for the sake of the little creature with which most of us identify. The pursuit of happiness is an ego-centric desire and thus, problematic.
A beautiful and short story elaborates this–A man once told the Buddha, “I want happiness.” The Buddha replied, “First remove ‘I’, that’s ego. Then remove ‘want’, that’s desire.” And now all you are left with is happiness.”
Egocentric desire for happiness assumes the existence of independent creatures, in a world that is interdependent. Come to think of it – nothing, nothing at all in this world as it appears has anything that is absolute in existence. Nothing small is independent. This assumption can really be disastrous. As Tegchok (2011) writes, “…the very root, the fundamental cause, of all our delusions, negative minds and suffering is self-grasping, the mind that thinks we are completely self-existent, inherently-existent; that we exist in a way that is totally independent of any causes or conditions, utterly independent of anything.” This assumption of independence is, thus, in direct contradiction with the nature of things.
Secondly, pursuit of personal happiness, invests the person in the past and the future. In the act of pursuing personal happiness you travel from a point in the present to a point in the future. This can lead to, what Whoolery (2014) calls as ‘if-only thinking’. For instance, pursuit of happiness can make you think that if only you had everything you wanted, you would be happy. This way of thinking is contingent upon the object of desire, and thus, causes far more suffering than the happiness it promises to give.
Thirdly, in line with the second critique, the pursuit of personal happiness ignores the joy of being alive, just as we are, with all our defects and pain. In a way, it makes happiness as a thing to be achieved with effort, and thus, makes humans take life too seriously. Sydney J. Harris once said–“Do not take life too seriously, nobody makes it come alive anyway”. The advice thus must be the complete opposite of pursuit of happiness– to not aim at happiness, but begin with joy, peace, bliss, delight and then aim.
Fourthly, ego-centered desire forgets that that achievement of any and everything is impermanent, and thus, aiming to possess or achieve happiness would only lead to temporary highs. Pursuit of happiness amidst life’s transitoriness takes people far from happiness, not closer to it.
Therefore, it is important to, firstly, understand that unhappiness is not a disease. In fact, unhappiness is important to be healthy and authentic. Secondly, it is important to be in touch with the happiness that ‘lives’ in all existence than to pursue it on the outside. You can keep searching for happiness by acquiring things, achieving things only to realize that it has been the cause of all misery. Within each one of us, there lies a deep sense of serenity and fulfillment, a state that actually pervades and underlies all emotional states, and all the joys and sorrows that can come one’s way. It is like the depth of the ocean, even as there are waves on the surface. It is really the heart of existence. The very fact that we breathe reveals to us that life is a gift, before any and everything else. The act of breathing is not a quality-less pursuit. It is the essence of life, connecting the mind and the body, and feeding into the soul. As Mahatma Gandhi said, ‘where there is love, there is life.’ It is this bliss, joy, delight of existence that you must find.
It is not very difficult to find either. Of course! How would it be difficult to find when it is everywhere. It is just that our perceptions clouded by multiple layers of social constructions make us miss the very essence of life, radiant and ever joyful. Probably, just feel the water on your toes, steal a glance of a newborn, smell a flower, sit by the side of the sea or simply meditate for sometime on your heart! And you shall see the magic within everything.
Frankl, V. (1972). The human search for meaning [TED.com]. Retrieved from http://www.ted.com/talks/viktor_frankl_youth_in_search_of_meaning
Frankl, V. E. (2006). Logotherapy in a nutshell. In Man’s search for meaning. Retrieved from https://app.box.com/shared/pie42flqk8
Ricard, M. (2004). The habits of happiness [TED.com]. Retrieved from http://www.ted.com/talks/matthieu_ricard_on_the_habits_of_happiness/transcript?language=en#t-255000
Tegchok, G. J. (2011). The second point – The actual practice, training in Bodhicitta. InThe kindness of others. Retrieved from http://www.lamayeshe.com/index.php?sect=article&id=437&chid=1475#sthash.qVwUwPIB.dpuf
Whoolery. (2012). There are More Important Things. The Learning Curve, 2(1), 6-10. Retrieved from https://app.box.com/s/p4otjeau73c7wl5r71s943u2p8ulcdcv
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