Everyone wants to be happy. It’s such a strong, deeply rooted desire that we rarely even think about it. However, if we observe our actions carefully, we realize that the motivation behind them is the desire to be happy. In our search for happiness, we form relationships or change jobs. We buy the latest gadget or travel around the world for the same reason. And we even get married, have children, and adopt pets, fully expecting that our commitments will pay off with a full and satisfying life.
The Pleasure Cycle
Purchasing things is an example of our endless search for happiness. If you’ve ever gotten a shiny new car, you understand. There’s a certain anticipation of getting a new car right off the lot or special-ordered. You may think about it for weeks before it arrives, looking forward to its smell, perfect performance, and sparkling shine. However, a few weeks after its arrival, you find yourself forgetting about it. The sense of happiness is already dissipating. The new-car smell fades, it gets its first ding, and regular maintenance costs begin. Someday the car is old and needs to be replaced. The cycle begins again. It’s the same cycle that happens with everything we have and do: anticipation, experience of happiness, decline and disappearance of pleasure.
Physical objects like cars, clothing, or jewelry—or experiences like careers, vacations, or relationships—can’t give us lasting happiness or contentment. That’s because all these things are impermanent.
The Search for Happiness and the Secret of the Calm Mind
If we want permanent happiness, we need to find it in something that lasts even longer than we do. That’s where spirituality comes in. Ancient thinkers experienced discontent similar to ours. They searched hard for answers and discovered this secret: when we achieve a calm mind, discontent dissolves and happiness increases.
These wise seekers developed techniques, like meditation, that helped calm the mind. They even discovered a byproduct of the calm mind—waves of endless joy rising from within—a joy that’s not dependent on any external object or situation. The calm mind is like a gold mine within each of us that, once tapped, can provide a wealth of peace, contentment, and joy unlike anything worldly trinkets can provide.
The wise sages, both of ancient times and today, know that true happiness can’t be experienced by anything that exists outside ourselves. If we seek lasting happiness without the ups and downs of life, without the new becoming old, without anticipation that always ends in disappointment, we need to connect with the source of true happiness. That source lies within—and the stilled mind is the key that opens its door.
Achieving Happiness is Easier Than You Think
You might think that such true and lasting happiness isn’t possible in today’s world. You might think that you need to renounce your life and go live in a Himalayan cave, practicing severe disciplines. But this is not the case.
In the search for happiness, many people have achieved perfect, permanent peace and joy—real-life human beings who had normal lives prior to discovering their spiritual paths. They might have been career- or family-oriented, or they may have been sinful, slothful, or greedy. However, once they discovered their path and tasted the inner wisdom, their lives gradually changed, their thoughts and actions faithfully following that path. These people achieved perfection in spite of humble beginnings. Because there are countless examples of such seekers, we know that what they experienced is also accessible to us.
A Familiar Experience: Inner Bliss Revealed
You’ve already tasted that bliss, almost imperceptibly. Can you recall the deep satisfaction of a good meal? Or the happiness you felt when reconnecting with an old friend? Perhaps you’ve noticed the condition of “being in the zone” when you’re fully focused on a task that you love. These fleeting moments are so pleasant that we mistake their source—we think the pleasure comes from the food, the friend, or the task.
Spiritual masters tell us to take a closer look at our most pleasurable experiences. Just beneath the surface of each experience is a perfectly still mind. It’s during these moments, when the mind is completely still, that the source of inner bliss is revealed. This is the experience we seek to repeat and retain—the perfect peace that allows us to connect with inner joy. This connection is what the masters mean when they tell us to “go within.”
Meditation is the Way
The search for happiness eventually shows that all external sources are temporary. We want the happiness, the peace, to last. Yoga masters developed meditation for this purpose.
Meditation is a simple practice of postponing the constant outward flow of thought and energy from our minds. It’s a timeless technique that served the ancient seekers. It works just as effectively in today’s world. Meditation is how you connect with your own inner source of happiness.
There are many types of meditation, secular and religious. All types are effective to some degree. Often, the effectiveness of a technique is directly related to the dedication and effort applied to it. Generally, any meditation technique must be practiced daily to have its full effect. And the effects are cumulative.
If you are already familiar with a meditation technique, consider increasing your practice by increments. If you learned a technique but don’t practice, today is a good day to revive your practice.
Here is a simple technique for new meditators. Do this every day, even several times a day, and you’ll begin to notice a calmer, more relaxed state of mind. A peaceful mind becomes strong and clear. Best of all, happiness rises from within, and it’s a happiness that lasts.
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Chityānanda has been a disciple of Svāmī Gurupremānanda Sarasvatī since 1975. She teaches meditation and yoga as a spiritual path in Santa Cruz, California.