In Search of Joy

This title may surprise some of my readers as the normal term used is “In search of happiness” (this is also the title of a book written by my good friend Prof Rakesh Sarin of UCLA). Let me explain my thought process behind this unusual title. 

Happiness (Hindi Translation Khushi)

In my definition, Happiness is what we experience when we get something. I had a delicious meal, and I felt happy. I bought a new car and I felt happy. Therefore, to me, happiness is something which is:

  • triggered by external factors, many of which are outside our control
  • is temporary (there is a concept in psychology called “Hedonic Treadmill” – the happiness of a new car may last a few months but then it becomes routine and hence we start seeking something else for happiness)
  • is comparative (a friend was very happy when he got a substantial annual bonus but next day, he was very unhappy when he found out that his colleague had received a higher bonus)

Therefore, search for happiness is never ending. I am not implying that we should stop looking for happiness (howsoever transient it may be).  It does give us at least a few moments of pleasure. In fact, I feel that we should enjoy every available opportunity of happiness, howsoever small it may be, (like a satisfying meal) rather than waiting for a big moment of happiness like buying a new expensive car.

Joy (Hindi translation Anand)

Joy is something which one experiences from within. It is a state of perfect harmony between you and your inner self.  You do not need external stimuli to be Joyful – it is long lasting. Swami Ramakrishna Paramhansa suffered from Cancer but it never impacted his happiness (inner Joy). Even today, I have live example of a classmate who has many health issues including a need for regular dialysis. But he never complains. Even in this condition, he happily travels (making advance arrangements with some hospital in the town of his visit for dialysis). Of course, for most of us, looking within is easier said than done. Let me illustrate it with the help of an old story.

Story of Sadhu and Thief

A learned and well-known Sadhu (Monk) lived in a hut in the forest near a town. He had many devotees who used to visit him, and he always helped them with wise advice. Once, the King visited the Sadhu and was extremely impressed with his vast knowledge, simple living and willingness to help. The King presented a large and rare diamond to Sadhu as a token of his gratitude. Sadhu was not keen on accepting such a valuable gift (which was also of no real use to him) but kept it on the King’s insistence. A clever thief wanted to steal the diamond. But never found an opportunity as the Sadhu was mostly surrounded by his devotees. So, the thief thought of a clever plan. He came to Sadhu as a poor orphan, told him a sob story and requested him for shelter. He said, “Sir, please accept me as your disciple. I will stay with you in this hut and help you with daily chores.” Sadhu thought for a while and then, allowed the disguised thief to stay there. 

Every night, when the Sadhu went to sleep, the thief would search all over the hut for the diamond but could not find it. During the day, when the hut was full of devotees, he could see the diamond in front of the statue of God but at night, he could never locate the diamond. This continued for a month. Since he was not getting enough sleep, the thief started to get worried for his health. Finally, one evening, when he was alone with the Sadhu, he confessed, “Sir, I am a thief who came here with the intention of stealing the diamond. Please forgive me. I now wish to leave.” Sadhu smiled and said, “I knew from day one who you were and what your intention was.”

The thief said, “Sir, you are a great soul who allowed me to stay here despite knowing that I was a thief. Being with you for so many days has cleansed my soul and conscience. From now on, I will work hard to earn my livelihood honestly and give up all my bad deeds.”

Sadhu was happy and blessed him for starting a new chapter in his life. Before he left, the thief (or rather ex-thief) requested the Sadhu to tell him the mystery of the diamond which disappeared at night. Sadhu laughed and said, “My dear, since I knew your intention, every evening, I used to put the diamond in the pocket of your shirt. I was sure that you will search for the diamond everywhere except your own shirt.”

Need to look inward

Like that thief, we also search for joy everywhere except in our own hearts. In fact, most of us are even afraid of looking within. Because, if we were to look within, we will find our heart largely occupied by negative thoughts – jealousy; worries and fear of unknown future; regrets of past actions; sense of hurt and need for revenge against so many people; unfulfilled desires of possessing and hoarding so many things; greed and so on. In all this crowd, poor joy gets no place.

Therefore, to bring Joy back in our lives; we have to gradually overcome these negative thoughts and allow joy to fill our hearts.

Once we are aware of our problems, it is possible to overcome these with mindfulness, philosophy of gratitude for what we have got (rather than sulking for what we did not get), empathy and helping others to bring smile on their faces, forgiveness for those who have hurt us, limiting our wants. In all this effort, practices like meditation can be of great help. We should try to live by the famous message of Sai Baba of Shirdi “Shraddha (unwavering faith) and Saburi (patience)”.

In the end

I will close this post with two small observations.

  1. Once, I heard a wise man saying, in pre mobile phone era, that we can talk to the whole world using telephone; but if we dial our own number on phone, it gives a “busy tone”. This metaphor illustrates how difficult it is to talk to oneself (looking inwards)
  2. The great philosopher Socrates lived in a hermitage away from the city. Every month, he would go to the main market of the city, visit each shop, examine all the goods and come back without buying anything. Once his disciple asked him the reason for this, seemingly, useless exercise. Socrates laughed and said, “I want to see how many new things mankind has made, without which I am living happily.”

5 thoughts on “In Search of Joy

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