Paramhansa Yogananda explained that everyone in the world is driven by the same motivation: the desire to be happy and to avoid suffering. What makes life so complex is the variety of ways we chase happiness. There is a kind of Happiness Cycle that works like this:
- We have a desire.
- We act in an attempt to fulfill that desire.
- If we succeed, we experience a period of happiness, but that happiness inevitably wanes. If we don’t succeed, our desire is frustrated and can either flame into anger or become a vortex of subconscious longing that may cause us to reincarnate.
- Either way, we experience suffering.
- During those times that we aren’t chasing a desire, we become bored. So . . .
- We create another desire.
This endless cycle governs everything from fleeting desires that are fulfilled without our even being aware of them, to lifelong yearnings that cause us to be reborn over and over again. A momentary desire might be something like scratching an itch, while a lifetime one might be seeking to become rich or powerful. Eventually, before we can achieve spiritual freedom, all desires must end and be replaced by the single desire for union with God.
So often we’re cautioned against being “worldly,” but don’t really understand what that means. It simply means that we seek our happiness “in the world,” rather than within ourselves. The more we depend on something outside us, the more we become entangled and enslaved. That is why wise men warn us to resist the three great temptations: money, sex, and intoxicants. It is not that these things are evil in themselves, but rather that they are lures of maya and can easily become compulsions or obsessions.
Can we break this cycle? Yes! But only by realizing that fulfillment lies not in things, but is a state of mind. Desires ever fed are never dead. Can we simply decide, then, to be happy all the time? In theory yes, but in practice subconscious desires and old habits hold us back.
Spiritual freedom comes when we reverse the cycle that takes us outward. Try these steps:
- Fill the mind with the desire for God.
- Meditate, do sadhana, and practice His presence as much as possible.
- As you feel His joy (true happiness), do your best to hold on to that experience.
- The more we hold on to this ever-new joy, the more we will, as Patanjali tells us, “rest in our own true Self.” In this state there is no longer any desire, boredom, or suffering.
To put it very simply: Don’t chase after happiness. BE joyful.