Happiness, generally, seems to be a property of the object of my desire. When I desire something, I get happy when I get the thing that I desired. I want a big car, I get a big car and I get happy. I want a new house, I get a new house, I get happy. I want some of my office problem to be sorted out, it gets sorted out and I get happy.
It almost seems as if happiness is an integral attribute of the object of my desire. Just as the color metallic gray is one property of the new car, happiness is another property of the car. That’s why, when the car comes to me, with it comes some happiness.
While this theory is very intuitive, it is neither empirically true, nor can it stand the test of the reason.
Empirically speaking, there are just too many people who do not have lot of these happy-things and yet they are quite happy. Also, there are just too many people who do have many (oh, many is a small word here) of these happy-things but are still unhappy.
Logically speaking, if happiness is an attribute of the new car, once I have it, I should remain happy as long as I have the car. But that doesn’t happen. While driving the car, I may be utterly unhappy. I feel happy when I get the car. Having a car seems to be immaterial to my happiness. It almost seems that happiness attribute of the car depreciates to zero soon after I get the car. As if the car had finite amount of happiness that it could give to the owner and once the owner has used up that happiness, the car has no more happiness to give. However, even this theory is flawed. When someone else gets the same car from me (may be by means of second purchase), the car will most probably make that person happy.
So, this whole theory that a car has happiness as its attribute is wrong. In fact, it is absurd. Yet, we all live in this absurd notion all the time? Running after one thing or the other all the time and never questioning this run?
Anyways, we still need to figure out where happiness comes from. Let me put forward what the Vedantic philosophy says about it to the extent I have understood and experienced it. I know a lot of people will have their own theories about it. In my opinion, what Vedanta says can reconcile all other theories which are empirically true and can stand the test of the reason.
Vedanta says that the source of the happiness is within us. In the spacio-temporal sense, this source sits behind the mind. It keeps feeding happiness to the mind. However, if the mind is agitated, this happiness flow gets blocked. When the mind is calm, this flow goes on uninterrupted. So, when my mind is calm, I experience happiness; when my mind is agitated, I do not experience happiness.
Of course, this is not how Vedantic philosophy puts it forward. The philosophy itself is very elaborate and well, very philosophy-like. The last passage was my attempt to summarize a part of it without making references to the larger texts.
So, when I get the desire to buy a new big car, my mind gets agitated. I start thinking about the car all the time. I start imagining myself driving the car and having fun. My mind gets excited and thoughts cross over very fast. All this is agitation of the mind which blocks the smooth flow of happiness within. When I get the car, the agitation subsides and the happiness starts flowing smoothly again and that is the happiness I experience. Yes, the car has no happiness to give to me. I am feeling happy. I think about a car. I get the desire to have the car. Agitations start rising in the mind and they are directly proportional to the intensity of my desire. These agitations block happiness and make me feel unhappy. I get the car. The agitations subside. Happiness flow becomes smooth. I feel happy again.
Usually, I will soon shift my energies to the fulfillment of some other desire(s) and the happiness flow will get blocked again. That’s why even though I continue to have the car, I feel happy only when I get it.
Now, visualize a scenario wherein I am continually working on multiple desires all the time and one or the other is getting fulfilled now or then. I’ll keep experiencing bouts of happiness as and when a desire gets fulfilled and this happiness will soon fade away. The mind is constantly agitated because of one desire or the other and once in a while there would be some relief.
Of course, happiness is not a water-like liquid whose flow is originated from a glacier kind of place. The phenomenon is beyond the reach of words. All these phrases like happiness-flow etc are just an attempt to capture this phenomenon in day-to-day language so that the mind can comprehend.
What I wanted to say about happiness in this post, I have said. However, I must add one more note just to avoid any wrong conclusions that one might make reading this.
One may wrongly think that we work because of our desires and hence, we must not do anything at all in order to be happy. First, Vedanta says that we do not work because of desires. This is where the law of Karma comes into the picture. Secondly, Vedanta talks about something called ‘Desireless Will’ which means the will to do something and it is devoid of any desires. This is where Karma Yoga comes into the picture.