The Earthquake Model of Happiness

— Swami Narasimhananda —

Happiness can be achieved only if we know what makes us happy. Each person has a different requirement that makes one happy. Also, when a person fulfils that requirement, which she or he thought would make one happy, happiness eludes the person and one thinks that there is something else that is needed for happiness. This is essentially the cause of all human development, material or philosophical. A human being creates, imagines, or thinks to become happy. It is in such a search of happiness that a human being encounters misery or suffering. 


Indian sages of the past found out how much less one could be happy with.


Though human beings have been searching for happiness since they came into existence, they have not been able to pinpoint any material thing that can bring about complete happiness. Sometimes the general populace feels that they have found the one thing that will give them the ultimate happiness, a happiness that would need no other thing to sustain itself, a finality that would be the fitting answer to all attempts to become happy. But, after some time, they realise that the thing they thought would give them ever­lasting happiness has stopped giving happiness, or worse, has become the cause of misery. Then, they try to find out another source of happiness. The other source supposed to bring everlasting happiness also fails to do so. And this unending cycle of seeking the ultimate happiness and failing in such a pursuit goes on and on. 

Why does this happen? One of the reasons for this elusive search for happiness is our emphasis on getting more and more of anything that will make us happy. We seek more things, more relationships, more wealth, more sense pleasures, and more and more of all that can make us happy. We generally try to find out how much more can make us happy. On the other hand, Indian sages of the past tried to solve the problem of elusive happiness by trying to find out how much less could one be happy with. They discovered that a minimalist approach to every aspect of life could lead to the path to an everlasting contentment. 

When we think that a particular thing, person, or place can give us happiness, we immediately put the responsibility of our happiness on something or someone other than us. In other words, we give the control of our happiness to something or someone. And since most of what we do in our lives, we do to get happy, by giving the control of our happiness to something or someone, we give the control of our lives to something or someone. By doing so, we make things in our life beyond our control. This is so because we cannot control how a particular thing or person, which or who is separate from us, behaves. Thus, in our search for happiness, we give up our control of that happiness and also our control of misery. This paradoxical situation happens over and again in our lives though we see the same thing in the lives of people around us. 

This difficult situation arises because of two main problems. One, deep down, we think that we cannot control our happiness or misery. Two, because of such a belief we seek happiness outside of ourselves. The solution to this is quite simple. We need to remind ourselves all the time, in our waking state and also in our dreams, that we are the sole creators of our happiness or misery. This can happen only when our attention to the external conditions is reduced and we start focusing on our inner selves. That is where the title of the present discussion becomes relevant. 

Since we seek happiness outside of ourselves, we seek an increase in the magnitude of all that we experience outside of ourselves—in wealth, power, relationships, and sense pleasures. However, all these external attainments or accumulations only distract us from our inner selves. Therefore, our goal should be to reduce the quantum of these distractions to a minimum. So, what do we need externally? Or, do we at all need anything external to ourselves? Since we have to live in this world and interact with our surroundings and maintain our body and mind, we do indeed need some external things. However, we can minimise our external needs. 

Imagine you have been told that a severe earthquake is about to hit your house. You have to evacuate your house immediately. What is it that you would take out from your house? Would you not first evacuate your kith and kin? If you get any time other than that, you might remove some other things that are closer to your heart, things that cannot be bought in a shop. These are the essentials you need from the external world. And this is enough for you to carry as mental attachments. Gradually, you can reduce and transcend even these minimal attachments. 

This model of happiness could be called the earthquake model of happiness. But this model does not stop only in limiting your attachment to things that you would evacuate in the case of an impending earthquake. It also requires of us to live every moment of our lives as if we were about to be struck by an earthquake the next second. Not only should we not have any external attachments that we would not be able to remove in a moment’s notice, but we should also behave in a manner as though we would die the next moment in an earthquake. 

For example, suppose we are displeased with someone and have to communicate our displeasure to that person, mainly so that the cause of our displeasure is not repeated. Most people just hide their anger and let it grow into resentment without having given the other person a chance to resolve the issue. Some just pour out the anger and cause a rift in the relationship. Very few discuss the problem in as impersonal a way as possible and stress that the relationship is important to them and they are just looking to find a way out of a particular kind of behaviour. 

If we conduct our lives as though an earthquake could happen any moment, we would always, quite effortlessly, have the third alternative as our behaviour. We would have a healthy psychological life, rootedness, and peace of mind, and would seldom waver from the ultimate aim of life, to find ultimate happiness, a happiness that is beyond all happiness, a happiness that leaves nothing else to be desired for. 

In other words, we need to embrace the impermanence of our lives. We need to embrace the impermanence of this world and this universe. Only with such a welcoming acceptance of our apparent uncertain realities, can we understand our true selves and only then can we understand the ultimate Reality, and this understanding would put an end to all suffering.

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