The word ‘happiness” has a thousand definitions – literally! When most people in today’s society use the word, they usually mean positive emotion or feeling. It is also a way of describing satisfaction with life, or general well being. An interesting comparison is found in the four (4) Doctrines of Happiness – by way of Sanskrit and in the modern world we call, today.
Today, I want you to understand the levels of happiness.
I want to offer you a modern, more readily understood version of being authentically happy.
And then, touch on the four levels found in more ‘traditional’ or Sanskrit meanings.
We could link the emotion of happiness to joy.
However, joy is sometimes thought of as more spiritual than happiness, which your own systems of belief may find trouble in making the connection.
Over the years, happiness has meant many other things.
Some of which, are surprising when we compare them with our current understanding of the word.
In Christian philosophy it often relates to the emotion of feeling blessed. By definition, this could also translate to suffering – waiting for their divine time in heaven.
Described in East Asian religions and philosophy, happiness means a life of fulfillment and joy – living and leading ‘the way‘. It also meant liberation from stressors in the day to day life – living a life by design. And, these ‘ways’ almost always relate to nature.
A deeper sense of belonging and connection to a larger family.
The comparisons really could go on for days – the range is quite fascinating. Descriptors like pleasure, striving for better, accomplishment, positive emotion, engagement, things we need and things we want.
Authentic Happiness and PERMA are happiness theories born out of positive psychology.
This term has become much more popular among the self-help community.
Therefore, they incorporate elements such as:
- positive emotion
- positive relationships
The ‘happy’ life is sometimes called the good life, which includes all of those goods we would choose for ourselves, including integrity and ethics.
In addition, neuroscientist and Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard teaches the term durable happiness. It is a way of life that requires training the mind and developing qualities like inner peace, mindfulness, and altruistic love. The Dalai Lama (the irony given his journey) agrees. He describes happiness as a skill that requires effort and time to develop an understanding of the true nature of its reality.
The Modern Happiness Ladder
- Who you are — Self knowledge, self realization
- Who you are not — Self control, self activation
- The Hierarchy of Needs — Self actualization
- The what if? The Ego Death — Self awareness
There is a significant difference between the typically ancient and the typically modern meaning of happiness. Ancient words for happiness, like eudaimonia, or makariosin Greek or beatitudo in Latin, mean true, real blessedness, while the modern English word happiness usually means merely subjective satisfaction, or contentment.
Therefore in modern English if you feel happy, you are happy.
In modern English, to tell someone, ‘You think you’re happy, but you’re not’ – hardly, makes sense. Thus, that is precisely the point in the history of philosophy, Plato’s Republic:
That justice, the all-inclusive virtue, is always profitable, that is, ‘happifying’. And arguably, injustice never is.
Sanskrit Spiritual Ladder
- Santosha — The feeling of contentment
- Sukha — An emotion of happiness or bliss
- Mudhita — Feelings of joy or pleasure
- Ananda — Spiritual ecstacy, feelings of euphoria
In sharing this spiritual ladder of happiness with you, it elicits a sense of good feelings – even just typing the words out. Many people describe it as intriguing, and helping one discover a deeper sense of the word happy. To some degree, it is as though the word itself does not serve the feeling to the degree it deserves. Therefore, let us dive a little deeper into the meaning behind these words.
Santosha is the practice of finding contentment or happiness. Regardless, of the external circumstances. Our thought patterns often tell us what we don’t have is what we need, in order to bring us ‘joy’. However, it is not long before we settle into feeling of dissatisfaction and begin to quickly search for something else to take its place.
Its literal translation is often given as ‘good space’, that comes from the Sanskrit words, su (good) and kha (space). This word has often been explained in contrast to preya (meaning pleasure). This is because sukha is a deep and lasting state of happiness, while preya is a temporary state, or a passing pleasure.
Mudhita is the Sanskrit term that means ‘joy’ or ‘pleasure’. It refers to the kind of pleasure that can be obtained from seeing other people do well. Mudhita is commonly explained to compare it to the joy and satisfaction a parent gets as they watch their child grow up, become successful.
Ananda means happiness or bliss. Literally, ‘aa‘ means from all sides and ‘nanda‘ means happiness or joy. Thus literally speaking, ‘ananda‘ means joy from all sides. Above, I use the word ecstasy and euphoria – the primary reason for this is that, many people can only reach this level of happiness through deep mediation and/or actualization. Lastly, these moments can be described as time standing still, an out of body experience.
Overall, when the need or desire for happiness is absent, happiness manifests itself. When dependence upon happiness is absent, happiness becomes an integral part of your consciousness. The purpose of spiritual activity is to turn the mind away from the sensory objects and inwards so that both the mind and the ego can be dissolved in an endless state of bliss.