Happiness needs to be pursued, not simply desired

In the ancient Indian Vedic tradition, happiness is described as ‘purushartha’ meaning ‘pursuit’, something we need to plan, budget and work for rather than something that is obtained by wishing for it.

The Vedic tradition talks of four Purusharthas or Pursuits (they sound similar): Kama (Pleasure or simply Fun), Artha (Security), Dharma (Values) and Moksha (Inner Peace and Freedom). The Kama includes all forms of sensual or intellectual pleasures like novelty, food, status, romance, music, adventure and entertainment. Anything we do for fun or entertainment is Kama Artha including health, wealth, home, belongingness, security, respect and relationships. Dharma can simply be translated as universal values like equality, justice, charity and so on. Finally, Moksha is freedom- freedom from emotional suffering, dissatisfaction, craving, vices. It means true inner peace and poise.

Indeed all human strivings can be summed up and boxed into these four pursuits. Happiness can then be seen as an evaluation of one’s state of mind and life as an integration of the achievements resulting from these pursuits. It is not static and fixed in time, but a rolling evaluation of all that one has achieved in one lifetime in terms of pleasures, securities, values and freedom.

Each of these four pursuits can be pursued independently and solely. One can pursue wealth alone, with life’s only goal to maximize one’s net worth paying no heed to values, pleasures or inner peace. Similarly, one can be a hedonist, always seeking newer, variegated pleasures and trying to maximize them, without thinking about whether they are providing him health, safety or security. Yet happiness arises only when the Purusharthas align with each other and do not conflict with each other. Choosing to pursue only one, may lead you into a wild goose chase of happiness.

Happiness is not wishful thinking or simply a rumination of what could be or could have been. It is an active striving to achieve. Happiness cannot be achieved by merely positive thinking. Pursuing happiness requires intellectual energy and real effort. It requires clarity of one’s goals, the acknowledgement that in the end one has only a limited time, energy and will that one can expand on the accomplishment of these goals and finally a plan that allocates and balances your resources across the four pursuits.

Happiness is the skill of choosing, prioritizing and executing actions in the value-driven pursuit of security and pleasures. It is the pursuit of that knowledge of the truth that culminated in inner peace and happiness.

Don’t just desire happiness. Work for it.

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