In the book titled, “How Much is Enough?” by economist Robert Skidelsky and his son Edward proposed seven alternatives to the pursuit of money as a means to happiness. They are: health, security, respect, personality, harmony with nature, friendship and leisure. But something most people consider essential seems to be missing from these seven components of a “good life”: faith and religion.
Let’s assume, theoretically, we have all the seven aspects in abundance in our life. Do you think you will be happy? Probably not. Because, at this stage of perceived happiness, you are still left with one fundamental question: “I have all these things that are the raw materials for my happiness, but what exactly is my life’s purpose?” So now, your happiness hinges upon finding a convincing answer to this question. You start seeking answers in various places: spiritual teachers, converting to other faiths, adopting various “pathways.” A new journey to chase the “real” happiness starts all over again.
For most of us, happiness is always just beyond arm’s reach. We are incessantly trying ways to find happiness, but even when we find it, it seems to be short lived.
We use various “pathways” to happiness, from the “Eight Fold Pathway” of Buddhists to the “Seven Steps to Happiness” of various contemporary spiritual gurus. While these are aimed at individual happiness, there are other principles that are directed toward entire societies and even whole nations. Bhutan is working on implementing a happiness measure called “Gross National Happiness” (GNH) index as an enlightened Eastern alternative to the materialistic pursuit of wealth in the West. Bhutan’s solution to a “happy” society is what it calls the “four pillars”: sustainable economic development, conservation of environment, preservation of culture and good governance. To implement these four pillar approach, the government of Bhutan designed numerous surveys with questions like: “How many people can you count on for help in case you get sick? When did you last spend time socializing with your neighbors?”
If you are spiritual seeker, you tend to think that by repeating formulas, blindly following pathways, reciting gospels, and cultivating virtues, you will be that happy persont you longed to be. You have religions drawing out their own pathways to happiness. The Five Pillars of Islam – faith in oneness of God, daily rituals, charity of the needy, fasting and pilgrimage to mecca. These pillars form the foundation of a happy and fulfilling life of a believer. Numerous pathways to happiness seem to offer a glimpse so hope from time to time, but our underlying suffering remains more or less the same. Why?
Because we fail to realize that all the “pathways” laid out by the prophets and mystics are the byproducts of enlightenment. We falsely believe that the paths are actually not a formula or short cut to enlightenment. If you don’t believe me, look at the life of any prophet of major religions – you will see that they found enlightenment only by giving up the status quo.
And if you are a scientific person, you think that the next invention will ease the dissonance. By no means am I undermining the scientific inventions of human mind. I recognize that it is these inventions that essentially make living easier and more comfortable. From ancient man using silicon rocks for hunting to the modern man making silicon chips that power our day-to-day lives, we have truly mastered the elements of nature. Scientific method made our lives far more comfortable than any species on Earth. In fact, it is because we made space in our daily lives by inventing such survival tools and organized institutions that we are able to dedicate more time to our loved ones. Imagine all our time being spent hunting and fishing, and trying to survive against odds of nature. We would have no time or mind to think about existential inquiries such as our life’s purpose.
My point is that living comfortably is not the same as having a fulfilling life. Even people who don’t have luxurious lives may still lead far more satisfying and fulfilling lives. The key to that fulfillment lies in leaving this planet a better place than how we found it.
Living comfortably is not the same as having a fulfilling life.
If I strive toward the well being of others, what about me? What about my own problems and struggles?
When your goal is to become useful to lives around you, you are transcending personal ambitions. Once you establish your usefulness in the society, your personal problems become the problems of everyone else. They will see so much value in you that they’ll internalize your problems as their own. At this level, you transcended your little petty issues, idiosyncrasies, and egoistic feelings. Now, people won’t over analyze your qualifications. Your qualification is simply your desire to help others.