Significance of Happiness in Hinduism

Happiness in Hinduism

by Jayaram V

existence; for truly on obtaining the delight of existence one becomes blissful. Taittiriya Upanishad, 2.7.1.

Peace arises from cultivating friendship with those who are happy, compassion towards those who are in distress, joy towards those who are virtuous, and sameness towards those who are not virtuous. Yogasutras 1.33


According to Hinduism, happiness in human life arises mainly from one's own actions, past life karma, actions of gods and others, and the grace of God. In Hindu scriptures we find references to mainly three types of happiness as stated below.

  1. Physical (bhautika) happiness, or sukham, which arises from comforts of life, sensual enjoyment, and bodily pleasures.
  2. Mental (manasika) happiness, or anandam, which arises from sense of fulfillment and freedom from worries, afflictions, and anxieties.
  3. Spiritual (adhyatmika) happiness, or atmanandam, which arises from freedom from the cycle of births and deaths, and union with Self.

According to Hinduism, an embodied being's ultimate purpose is enjoyment of supreme bliss as a free soul (mukta) in the highest heaven. Enjoyment is also the basis of happiness upon earth. However, in mortal life happiness should not be pursued for happiness sake alone, because mere pursuit of happiness in a bound state (baddha) leads to attachment (Yogasutras 2.7), and bondage. It should be pursued as part of a way of life in which liberation or union with the Self should be the highest goal. Human beings can temporarily secure happiness upon earth by doing their duties, or permanently in the highest heaven by achieving liberation.

An intermediary approach is to prolong happiness by doing good karmas and going to the ancestral heaven where souls can stay for longer periods than upon earth. However, such happiness would not last forever, because when their good karma is exhausted souls have to return to the earth and take another birth to continue their existence. The best strategy therefore is to secure happiness here, and liberation hereafter. In the following discussion we will examine how Hinduism expects each practitioner to achieve this rather difficult goal. The impediments to peace and happiness are egoism (aham), ignorance (avidya), impurities (malas), delusion (maya), past actions (karma), desires (kama) and attachments (pasas).

A structured approach to happiness in the moral world

To secure happiness here in mortal life, Hinduism prescribes a holistic method, which takes into consideration both the material and spiritual needs of human beings. It recognizes four chief aims of human life, called purusharthas, by pursuing which human beings can experience physical, mental, and spiritual happiness. They are also called the four chief purposes (purusharthas) of existence, because they are also chosen by God (Purusha) himself for his own enjoyment. Broadly speaking, in a secular sense, they refer to the pursuit of morality, prosperity, enjoyment, and spirituality. Specifically, in a religious sense, they refer to religious and moral duty (dharma), wealth (artha), conjugal bliss (kama) and liberation (moksha).

Let us examine how they contribute to our happiness. By pursuing dharma, you enjoy name and fame, social status, and respect in society. By pursuing wealth you enjoy the comforts of life, status in society, and the satisfaction of fulfilling your obligations to family and society. By pursuing kama (sex) you enjoy conjugal bliss, companionship with your spouse, family life, and the happiness of having children, relations, and continuation of family lineage. Finally, pursuing liberation, you can secure the ultimate happiness of being absolutely and eternally free from all obligations. For a human being, the four aims are the best means to secure happiness upon earth and lay a firm foundation for future happiness in the world of Brahman, the highest Self.

Hindu scriptures further suggest that a person has better chances of securing happiness and enjoying life if he pursues these four aims according to the four phases of human life, called ashramas, during which he has to fulfill the duties and obligations that are specific to each of them. The four phases of human life are, brahmacharya, grihasta, vanaprastha, and sanyasa. In Brahmacharya, which corresponds to childhood and young age, a person has to study the Vedas and learn about his duties and responsibilities (dharma), apart from the knowledge of the Self and the Supreme Self. In Grihasta, which correspond to the adult life, he has to perform his obligatory duties (dharma) and earn wealth (artha) to ensure the welfare, order and regularity of his family and society. In Vanaprastha, which correspond to the old age, he has to retire into seclusion and contemplate upon his experiential wisdom (dharma) and the ultimate purpose of human life (liberation). In Sanyasa, which correspond to the last phase of human life, he has to renounce everything, including his knowledge of the scriptures (dharma), and work for his liberation (moksha). In each of these stages it is possible to experience peace and happiness by following the injunctions specified in the scriptures. If he follows them strictly, at the end of the journey he is bound to become liberated and enter the world of bliss.

Eternal happiness through complete freedom

True enjoyment and happiness in life are not possible, unless it is secured on a lasting basis. Like Buddhism, Hinduism also clearly and emphatically recognizes the suffering that is inherent to earthly life and traces its root cause to desire only. Beings are unhappy because they are bound to impermanent things and cannot easily escape from their attraction and aversion to them. Because they are driven by their desire for impermanent things, and pairs of opposites, their happiness upon earth remains temporary and elusive. No one is free from suffering because of impermanence, which manifests in our lives as loss, union, aging, sickness, decay, death, and destruction.

Duality is another important cause. We experience unhappiness, because of union and separation, or attraction and aversion to the objects and conditions that we like or dislike. We are happy when we are with those that we like, or unhappy when we are with those that we dislike. One may experience temporary happiness when we pursue sense objects. However, it is a trap, since the pursuit of objects results in attachment. From attachment arise karma, delusion, and bondage, which aggravate our suffering and make our chances of enjoying life increasingly difficult.

Thus, chasing happiness upon earth by worldly means is like chasing a mirage. To escape from this predicament, one should subordinate earthly happiness to spiritual happiness and, earthly goals to spiritual goals, and aim for permanent happiness, which can be secured only when a being is completely free from all attachments, and the limitations of mortal life. True happiness of the divine kind arises not from having things or fulfilling our desires, but by restraining our minds and bodies, and becoming free from our dependence upon them. When we are free from all attachments, from the impurity of maya and desires, we return to our soul's essential nature, which is permanent bliss. Reaching this state is called liberation, which one can achieve even when one is alive upon earth.

Thus, in Hinduism you will find that a very complex thought process is associated with the idea of happiness. To secure peace and happiness on a lasting basis you must secure freedom from the afflictions of the mind and body. You should aim for happiness of the higher kind, rather than the baser kind that arises purely from physical and sexual pleasures. You can achieve it either ritually by securing the help of gods, or spiritually with the practice of yoga. Both are ideal means. However, of them the latter is superior since it alone can permanently deliver you from the misery of life and the cycle of births and deaths.

Three types of happiness

Just as everything in creation is colored by the gunas, our happiness upon earth is also influenced by our predominant nature. According to the predominance of the gunas, we can identify three types of happiness.

  1. Sattvic happiness, which arises from moral and mental purity, and from being good and doing good. This also corresponds to spiritual happiness.
  2. Rajasic happiness, which arises from fulfilling your desires, and securing power, position, name and fame, etc. This corresponded to mental happiness.
  3. Tamasic happiness, which arises from bodily pleasures and base desires. This corresponds to physical happiness.

While sattvic happiness is the best of the three, it does not by itself guarantee liberation or true enjoyment. All types of happiness that arise from fulfilling desires and likes and dislikes are binding and have consequences. True happiness is freedom from the compulsion to be happy, dualities, and conditionality. It should arise in one as a reflection of the soul in the pure consciousness.

Transcendental happiness

Both the individual soul in the microcosm and the Supreme Self in the macrocosm represent the transcendental realities in creation. They are also the ultimate and highest enjoyers of all manifestation. The very aim of creation is their enjoyment. The individual soul is the ultimate enjoyer in the body of a being, and the Brahman is the highest enjoyer in the body of the universe. The worlds and beings exist for the enjoyment of Brahman, who is both the enjoyer and the enjoyed in duality. His enjoyment comes not from the compulsion to perform actions out of desires but from being an observer of the events that manifest or project from his will. Being complete and full, His enjoyment is not dependent upon fulfillment or the externalities that complement our lives. His very nature is bliss, which is billions of times more intense than any happiness which mortal beings experience upon earth. Physical happiness (sukham), which we mentioned before pales in comparison to mental happiness (harsham or ullhasam), and mental happiness pales in comparison to spiritual happiness (brahmanandam).

The supreme state of happiness, which is the essential nature of God, can be reached by several means by overcoming the obstacles which we stated previously, namely egoism, desires, delusion, ignorance, etc. In other words, happiness is a natural consequences of inner transformation and self-purification. Of the various methods prescribed to accomplish it, the following are considered the most reliable, practical and spiritual.

  1. Overcoming desires.
  2. Cultivating detachment.
  3. Not becoming excessively involved with worldly life.
  4. Stabilizing the mind.
  5. Cultivating discretion.
  6. Acquiring knowledge and overcoming ignorance.
  7. Practicing virtue and righteousness.
  8. Doing your duty and meeting your obligations.
  9. Securing the help and blessings of gods.
  10. Serving gods, ancestors, ascetic people and living beings.
  11. Ensuring the order and regularity of life and society.
  12. Avoiding the company of demonic and evil people.
  13. Cultivating divine qualities.
  14. Devotion to God.
  15. Cultivating purity (sattva).
  16. Renouncing the worldly life.
  17. Good health and longevity.
  18. Leading a divine centered life.
  19. Becoming absorbed in the Self.

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