What is Happiness?

The happiest man in God’s creation.

Make yourself known to humanity:
Its dark jealousy will make you unhappy.
Make yourself known to yourself:
You will unquestionably be
The happiest man in God’s entire creation.

Sri Chinmoy [1]

It might be interesting to have a look at the philosophical development of happiness in a historical context. A good place to begin a search for happiness might not be in Europe during the middle ages where life must have been pretty hard for most people, with seemingly constant wars, the threat of disease, hunger and religious superstitions all rife. Especially it would seem for women. (Please don’t burn that witch, before she cooks me my dinner) For many the idea of dying and going to a beautiful heaven was all that was worth living for! The Renaissance began a new chapter in western history and the development of perhaps a new meaning of happiness.

Take for instance Francis Hutcheson, who was born in 1694 in Ireland, to Scottish parents and later moved back to Glasgow. He is generally regarded as the founding father of the Scottish Enlightenment. He believed that man universally carried within himself the means to learn how to be virtuous and helpful to others. Men served others not because they had no choice in it, if they wanted to get along with others, but because they realized they actually enjoyed doing it. (By the way, women still really had no choice in it!) He believed that helping others suffused us with a sense of well-being and pleasure. Being good meant doing good to others. Virtue (and to some extent the ten commandments!) required it, but our feelings confirmed it.

The link between feelings and happiness was important. Man was born to make other’s lives more pleasant, and to be wicked or vicious was to be miserable and unhappy. A delight in the good of others becomes the basis of our sense of right and wrong. We decided that what helps and pleases a person, is good, because it gives us pleasure. What injures him is bad, because it causes us pain. Men begin to realize that the happiness of others is also their own happiness. Some vulgar people assumed, mistakenly, that happiness meant the gratification of the physical desires: food, drink, and sex. But for Hutcheson the highest form of happiness was making others happy. The desire to be moral and virtuous, to treat others with kindness, and the desire to be free were universal, and human beings wanted them because it made them happy.
Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence in 1776 enshrined these same ideals in writing for the American people. Jefferson believed that happiness was the aim of life, and that virtue was the foundation of happiness. He wrote that, all men are endowed by their creator with inherent and inalienable rights; among these, are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

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The Greater Plan.

On 12 September 1939, Sri Aurobindo wrote the following sonnet;

THE GREATER PLAN

I am held no more by life’s alluring cry,
Her joy and grief, her charm, her laughter’s lute.
Hushed are the magic moments of the flute,
And form and colour and brief ecstacy.
I would hear, in my spirit’s wideness solitary
The Voice that speaks when mortal lips are mute:
I seek the wonder of things absolute
Born from the silence of Eternity.

There is a need within the soul of man
The splendours of the surface never sate;
For life and mind and their glory and debate
Are the slow prelude of a vaster theme,
A sketch confused of a supernal plan,
A preface to the epic of the Supreme.

– Sri Aurobindo

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The Descent into Night – Savitri

night

His name the index of a failing hope,
The position of a dead remembered star.
Only were safe who kept God in their hearts:
Courage their armour, faith their sword, they must walk,
The hand ready to smite, the eye to scout,
Casting a javelin regard in front,
Heroes and soldiers of the army of Light.
Hardly even so, the grisly danger past,
Released into a calmer purer air,
They dared at length to breathe and smile once more.
Once more they moved beneath a real sun.
Though Hell claimed rule, the spirit still had power.
This No-man’s-land he passed without debate;
Him the heights missioned, him the Abyss desired:
None stood across his way, no voice forbade.
For swift and easy is the downward path,
And now towards the Night was turned his face.

– Sri Aurobindo, Savitri

Canto VII p 211

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photo top: Tejvan

 

John Keats – When I have fears that I may cease to be

John keats

WHEN I have fears that I may cease to be
  Before my pen has glean’d my teeming brain,
Before high piled books, in charact’ry,
  Hold like rich garners the full-ripen’d grain;
When I behold, upon the night’s starr’d face,
  Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never live to trace
  Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance;
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour!
  That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the faery power
  Of unreflecting love!—then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till Love and Fame to nothingness do sink.

 

– John Keats

photo: Tejvan

Do You Want to be Always Happy?

Do you want to be always happy?
Then give up fighting
For negativity
And learn the beautiful art
Of self-encouragement.

– Sri Chinmoy

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To See a World in a Grain of Sand

To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.

– William Blake – Auguries of Innocence

more on William Blake

All The World’s A Stage

All the world’s a stage
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts.

– William Shakespeare, As You Like It

photo: Phoolanjaya, Sri Chinmoy Centre Gallery.