The Three Types of Happiness
According to Vedic wisdom books, there are two distinct dimensions of happiness: the temporary or material and the eternal or spiritual. And human beings have discovered a third phenomenon that has emerged in modern times.
Type 1 and Type 2 Happiness
Let’s first examine the first two types: Material and Spiritual.
Material happiness can be seen as a relief from suffering. For example, imagine the overcrowded local trains in Mumbai, where hundreds of people squeeze into a space meant for a fraction of that number. In such situations, finding a seat, even if it’s a rare occurrence, brings immense relief. Similarly, a boxer who gets a break between rounds feels relief because he is no longer being hit. These instances represent a shift from a state of constant suffering to a momentary respite. Material happiness is often derived from sensory pleasures and provides temporary relief from daily struggles.
However, living solely for sense gratification can lead to disappointment. Sense pleasures are often less fulfilling than anticipated or promised, and they are transient. Even if we attain something we desire, the enjoyment it brings doesn’t last long, and it is often accompanied by pain. Additionally, most worldly happiness is relative and changes according to our circumstances. For example, being stuck in a noisy and hot traffic jam can make entering an air-conditioned room feel like a great relief. However, after some time, the effect wears off, and the mind continues to find reasons to complain and seek further relief through sense gratification. This continuous struggle for enjoyment is an inherent part of the material realm.
One hundred twenty years ago, the Tajmahal hotel in Mumbai advertised in newspapers that its special rooms were equipped with a fan to provide cooling comfort. The advertisement featured an image of a three-blade fan, with a joyful woman smiling below. What was once considered a luxury in has now become a necessity. Still, despite the abundance of conveniences and comforts available today, the mind’s incessant chatter continues unabated. It expertly highlights what is lacking in our lives or how the world seems to be spiralling into chaos. Paradoxically, the same mind seeks solace from this constant grumbling through acts of sensory indulgence. As a result, we find ourselves trapped in an unending cycle of struggle and fleeting enjoyment.
On the other hand, Spiritual happiness begins with an enquiry of what is eternal in this realm of temporariness? As everything around us crumbles by the force of time, something remains, and that is called Brahman or the Sat principle. While our bodies age and change, the sense of “I” remains constant. Connecting with this unchanging principle within and without is the essence of spiritual happiness. Traditionally, spiritual seekers have considered the pleasures of the material world illusory due to their temporary nature. Spiritual texts like the Bhagavad Gita and Shrimad Bhagavatam emphasize the pursuit of happiness that is eternal and not subject to the fluctuations of time.
Type 3 happiness – a modern phenomenon
In modern times, a new phenomenon has emerged—the pursuit of happiness in the unreal or virtual world. Unlike sightseeing at landmarks, which is a real experience, modern forms of entertainment, such as complex storylines, music videos, or movies viewed on electronic screens, transport us to non-existent landscapes filled with gory murders and explicit scenes. Although these experiences are unreal, their impact on our consciousness is real and long-lasting.
Thus, in the twenty-first century, there are three realms where people seek happiness: the unreal or virtual world, the real but temporary world, and the spiritual realm. While spiritual teachers of the past helped individuals transition from the temporary to the eternal, the present challenge lies in guiding people to move from the illusory world of smartphones and virtual experiences to at least engaging with the temporary world. Only then can they gradually rise to the spiritual dimension of happiness.
Living in the real world and cherishing genuine interactions with others is a significant achievement in itself. Amidst the struggles and joys of this tangible reality, one may develop a desire to transcend the dualities of pain and pleasure, leading to the initiation of a spiritual quest. However, breaking free from the clutches of the virtual world, which numbs our authentic emotions, is a necessary step for all these transformative experiences to manifest.
To be continued…