Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Happiness Metaphors

We all do things for a common reason: happiness.

Perhaps we do not realize it: Nobody does actions that (he/she believes) bring unhappiness to them. Paradoxically though, most people stumble through life not knowing why they're doing something in the first place: it's for happiness. Whether its sex, eating out, reading, having a conversation, holding a job, building a house,...down to the minutest actions like scratching an itch and blinking--all are for attaining happiness.

Happiness may not be the right word that you prefer: perhaps it is satisfaction, fulfillment, joy, or bliss...

But what are the results we are getting? Are we searching in the right place ? Are we getting the final beatitude -the ONE experience that ends our endless quest?

Consider: we set out on our sensual pursuits-again and again. Each time we have a vague notion: this is it. I'm going to do my favorite thing now. And I will be happy-forever. Or I am going to have a relationship with that wonderful person and my life is going to bloom into bliss-forever.

The growing rate of marriage failures and re-marriages illustrate the above fact. My last partner was not the right one for me, so it did not work out. Let me find the right one, and it will be perfect, for ever after.

Are we missing something here? We'll try to see in the coming paras.

I'd like to share with you some anecdotes that point out mankind's (elusive) search for happiness.
These stories come from all over the world: the Indian subcontinent, the middle-east, the far east, and the west and the far west. They are also from different religious paths: Hindu, Buddhist, Judaism, Christian, Islam, ...
These stories and examples  illustrate why our actions do not yield the happiness that we crave- and offer a hint as to where we need to look.

The first example is about an old lady who has lost her sewing needle and is searching for it. It appears in the Mullah Nasrudin stories.

Looking in the right place?
An old lady was busy searching for something under the street lamp at a junction. A bystander got curious, and asked her what she was looking for. She replied she had lost her sewing needle at home.

"But then why are you searching here? You should be looking for it at your home." he asked.
"That's fine. But there is no lamp there and its dark. So I am searching here".

The next one is famous. It is about how travellers are deceived by the mirage in the deserts.

Seemingly so, but not really
When travelers in the desert run out of water, they become desperate and frantically search for it. They may see mirages and mistake them for water. The hot desert air produces mirages. (You can see mirages on a hot day on a tarred road too). The mirage is the hot air's reflection in the distance which gives the appearance of rippling water. Not realizing this, the travellers go after it,... of course they will never reach it.

Just like this, man pursues sense pleasures in the hope that they will give lasting happiness. If only we looked within our minds, we would find it.

The promise of lasting joy draws people forward on the path of sense-enjoyment
A donkey pulls a cart. The driver uses a trick to get the donkey moving, without using a whip.
He sits in the cart, ties a carrot to a long stick, and holds it in front of the donkey. The donkey moves forward, trying to get the dangling carrot. As he moves forward, he pulls the cart and the driver forward, along with the carrot. However much he tries the donkey cannot get the carrot.

Isn't humanity repeating the same actions forever, hoping to get  happiness out of them?

Searching for Joy, but in the wrong place again
This one is based on another animal, the Musk deer. The Musk deer exudes the fragrance of musk. The musk fragrance is extracted from its glandular secretions (I realized this just now, from a Wikipedia search. Till then I had thought this was another folk tale.)
The animal does not however, realize this fact. It is enchanted by the fragrance and goes around in search of its origin. Alas, if it had only looked at itself, it could realize this fact, and stop the wandering.

Isn't this story pointing at us humans who search all over the world for happiness, which is actually within us?
Would you like to see how choices affect our happiness? It is here: The Choice Quandary
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