On Relative Happiness
All of us are searching for happiness, but the idea of what makes us happy differs from person to person. A lifetime of misery can come from chasing the wrong kind of happiness. We often chase things that we think will make us happy, but in turn we make everyone — including (eventually) ourselves — miserable.
A person, when he is very poor and starving and is running helter-skelter for livelihood, feels himself very fortunate and is happy like the richest man in the world, when he comes by a handful of barley to prepare the days gruel.
However, when he becomes richer by stages and when his barn is overflowing with grains, he starts to look down upon his landholdings and starts to yearn for diversions in life — the bliss of small possessions is lost on him now.
This is human nature.
The sense of importance of something which is so close to him varies in inverse proportions with acquisition of wealth. The perception of importance of relationships, friendship and many other factors in life also undergo sea change with changing age, status and other factors.
The idea of happiness for a poor starving person is to have belly full of food every day. This idea of happiness of this poor person will start changing as his financial status changes. Then, even though he may have abundance of food, that doesn’t make him happy. Now he will seek happiness in things and beings according to his changing financial status.
For a new born baby, its whole world is its mother. Till a person is able to stand on his own feet, the parents and elder relatives are important. Once he gets a young wife (or she gets a husband) the world again goes topsy turvy. As one gets older, the children get priority over spouses. As status changes old friends often become embarrassment. It’s a very realistic evaluation of human mind in its paradigm shift vis-à-vis changing environs.
Relative happiness describes the more common, but also more transient concept of happiness. It’s the one that we look for outside of ourselves — in people, things, accomplishments, and so on. Though it’s easier to attain, it’s also ultimately not sustainable. It doesn’t last and we find ourselves craving more.
Relative happiness speaks of a condition in which one’s material desires or immediate personal wishes are satisfied. While there is no limit to what we can hope or wish for, there is a limit to what we can have materially and how long we can hold on to it.
For example, we may get something we want at this moment, but the fulfilment we enjoy from getting it will not last. Through effort and planning, we may develop and adjust our circumstances to our liking, thinking this is happiness. But should those circumstances change or disappear, so will our happiness. Such happiness is called relative because it exists only in relation to external factors, such as possessions, relationships or circumstances.
For example, one person lives in a hut, second one in a one room kitchen solid structure and the third one in a two-room house. Now their status changes. One living in the hut gets to live in a one room kitchen house and the one living in the two-room house ends up in a one room house. The status of the second one remains unchanged and continues to live in his one room house. Now all three are living in similar houses. But the one who previously lived in a hut will be happy and the one who previously lived in a two-room house will be miserable, while the one, whose status remains unchanged, will be neutral. It’s all relative.
Whatever we accomplish or acquire, it is subject to loss, degradation, or simply our own loss of interest and enthusiasm. It is well known that we as humans are subject to what’s called hedonic adaptation — the phenomenon whereby we become used to some new wave of happiness and suddenly demand more. We get a new thing, get giddy about it, get used to that giddiness and get hungry for another hit.
This adaptation happens in part because the source of that good feeling is outside of us. It is relative to what we have, what we’re doing, or who we’re with. Because it’s relative, it simply doesn’t last. And because it doesn’t last, it’s not the type of happiness we should be chasing.
Beyond the troubles of just getting by in life, we often face unexpected problems. True happiness is not dependent on whether we have problems, but how we perceive and deal with them.
Absolute, infinite, eternal bliss is not conditional upon anything happening externally. It is our essential nature. Therefore, we cannot tolerate even an iota of sorrow or misery. We are unaware of it, because of our ignorance about our own Real Self. It is covered by the thorny shrubbery of desire, anger, greed, delusion, arrogance, jealousy, negative self-talk and above all, the delusory ego.