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Joy, Happiness, Contentment

Our engagement with material objects and pleasures can be broadly categorized in three ways.
First, joy, which loosely corresponds to the Indic term anand. It describes the pleasure of the moment or experience while it is in progress: the joy of eating a delicious meal, visiting a scenic location or reading a bestseller novel.
Second is happiness, approximately equivalent to the Indic sukh, is a step higher than joy. It implies a deeper feeling that lasts beyond the act of enjoyment or pleasure. It represents the fulfilment of our desires. But such happiness only persists until new desires arise. Then the happiness wanes and eventually subsides. Only when the new desires are fulfilled is happiness restored, temporarily. And this cycle continues.
The third category is that of satisfaction or contentment, represented by the Indic words santosh and trupti. This, in essence, is what we really want – to remain always happy and enjoy life. It is a state in which material desires are overcome and we are satisfied with what we have.
Often, we are so focused on attaining the next level, that we do not appreciate or enjoy what we do have. In this age of rampant social media, we crave for more likes, followers, views and other metrics that demonstrate our popularity. But there will always be someone or something more popular. We measure life in quantifiable metrics instead of meaning. Measuring our happiness by such external parameters is like treating bullet wounds with band-aids. They do not tackle the root problem, because external sources are incapable of giving permanent internal fulfilment.
As a result, we see that, in general, happiness has not only flatlined, but has nosedived. We live in an era of external enjoyment, but inner discontent. The wanting of more makes a person miserable – despite having an abundance.

The Next Gen

Even children demand more: more toys – even though they don’t have time to play with the room-full they already have. More chocolate, ice cream and cake even though they can’t finish what they already have.
Where have they learnt this from? Parents, of course. Parents tend to overestimate what kids really need. They nobly wish for their children to have everything. But what children really need is attention and affection more than the gadgets and games. So, to curb this epidemic, we must educate our children about the futility of chasing more. Leading by example is the best teacher.
Ambition is healthy and necessary – it is the basis for personal and human progress. But when it goes unchecked, it tends to be unhealthy and damages individuals and society. In the body, unchecked growth is called cancer and we seek treatment to curb or cure it. Drug and other addicts are often sent to forums and rehab centres to help them overcome their habits. Where are those addicted to the disease of more sent for treatment? They are not. In fact, they are rewarded by society with more fame, money and awards, perpetuating the cycle and reinforcing their habit, and speeding the spiral descent into potential misery. Superficially, addicts to the disease of more do not appear self-destructive like drug addicts. But chasing an ever receding horizon never brings happiness. The remedy: ask yourself, how much is enough?
Dax Shepard, an American podcast host who interviews celebrities about their lives, often asks them, “You are rich, famous and successful. Did it fix the things you thought it would?” Nobody has ever answered ‘Yes’.

The Answer Lies Within

Urges to acquire things will come and go. It is innate in human nature to seek. It is the mind that interprets the outer conditions as feelings of inner happiness or misery. In Vachanamrut Gadhada II 23, Bhagwan Swaminarayan explains that we should strive to attain an equipoised mind, whether we are exposed to misery-causing material objects or pleasurable material objects. Such a state of mind leads to permanent inner peace.
The long term, realistic and sustainable solution to this hedonic treadmill is to look within and curb our desires for more unnecessary objects. Learn to want less by controlling impulses. Avoid the feeling that you need to keep up with others. Such self-control can, actually, liberate one from unhealthy behaviours and actions. Instead of always endeavouring for more – optimally use what we already have.
Today, modern technologies make the temptation to spend easily implemented. Unless one has a measure of self-control, such spending can soon sky-rocket and result in many problems. We humans have become compulsive hoarders. In America, the self-storage industry is worth $22 billion. Americans need over 2.3 billion square feet of rooms, lockers, containers, outdoor space and other types of storage units to store their stuff. The same is true for citizens of other countries as well and the global self-storage market is expected to be worth over $64 billion by 2026.
The chase for more things illustrates that we are unhappy and seek alternatives to find the elusive joy. Inner discontent drives our consumerism. Although it is not possible to stop the mind from generating desires, they can be completely controlled to experience ultimate happiness.
Verse 2.66 of the Bhagavad Gita states: “An undisciplined person, who has not controlled the mind and senses, can neither have a resolute intellect nor steady contemplation on God. For one who never unites the mind with God there is no peace; and how can one who lacks peace be happy?”
In Vachanamrut Gadhada III 8, titled ‘Remaining Eternally Happy’, Bhagwan Swami­narayan says, “A person who has not controlled his indriyas by vairagya and swadharma remains miserable…. He who has not gained control over his indriyas does not experience happiness anywhere…. Thus, only one who gains control over one’s indriyas remains eternally happy…. Therefore, since a person who has vairagya and dharma has restraint over all of his indriyas, he is eternally happy.”
Thus, the message is clear: exercise restraint to attain inner peace and lasting happiness.
To achieve this, Bhagwan Swaminarayan directs us in Vachanamrut Panchala 1 to realize that compared to the bliss of God, the fleeting joys of this world are insignificant. Thus, he stresses in Vachanamrut Gadhada II 49 that one should never be satiated in pursuing devotion and service to God. One should always desire more. In the Gita, Shri Krishna teaches: Know God; Know peace. And he warns: No God; No peace.
A question may arise that when one desires more spirituality does that not also lead to unhappiness, since it is, after all, a desire? However, one must understand that material pleasures have an expiry date. So, after initially giving happiness, that happiness eventually fades away. On the other hand, spiritual pursuits have no expiry date – they never go out of fashion – and so are a source of perpetual happiness.
Pursuing and attaining material pleasures makes one restless and spurs one’s desire for more. While spiritual pleasures make one restful and give one lasting inner peace. That is why one should always pursue them.

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