“As explained in Bhagavad-gita (15.7), manah-shashthanindriyani prakriti-sthani karshati. When the mind and senses are engaged in material activities, one has to continue his material existence and struggle to attain happiness. In each and every life one is engaged in the struggle to become happy. Actually no one in this material world is happy, but the struggle gives a false sense of happiness.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 4.28.20 Purport)
There is no happiness in the material world. Sure, there are the little joys in life. Taking a nap after a long day at the office. Coming home and being surprised with a meal cooked with love by your spouse. Taking a vacation to an exotic destination to get away from the grind of everyday life. Watching your children succeed at something very dear to them.
Vedic philosophy makes the distinction between material and spiritual life. Material life is what we know by default; it’s what we’ve lived ever since we can remember. In scientific terms, it is residence in a land where spirit gets covered up. You and I are spirit at the core, and what distinguishes us is the material covering. That covering is composed of five gross elements and three subtle ones.
bhūmir āpo ‘nalo vāyuḥ
khaṁ mano buddhir eva ca
ahaṅkāra itīyaṁ me
bhinnā prakṛtir aṣṭadhā
“Earth, water, fire, air, ether, mind, intelligence and false ego – altogether these eight comprise My separated material energies.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.4)
Another way to understand material life is to think of a pendulum that swings back and forth. At one end is happiness and at the other is distress. One end is wanting something and the other is rejecting. The reason happiness is not permanent is because we’re always finding situations that are unpleasant.
As an example, take a flight to a foreign land. One airline offers direct service, while another makes a short stop en route. We try the direct flight and it seems okay. The only problem is that it is crowded with people who tend to have no respect for personal space. Therefore, the next time we try the flight with the layover. The flying experience is better, but the total time of travel is greater, and so we are more tired when reaching the final destination.
Another example that shows how happiness is not permanent is computer programming. Let’s say that I have a system that gets updated with information coming over in files on a daily basis. I have a program to load these files manually, but I want to automate the procedure. The program allows for this. The only issue is with picking up the files and processing them on time.
I write another program that handles so many different cases. From files named the same each day to those that have an irregular naming convention, I think I have all my bases covered. This automation script is pretty awesome, I think. Then one day someone comes along who breaks everything. They send files for a specific day but with a naming convention for a previous day. And sometimes they send multiple sets of files. The automation still works, but it’s not perfect.
Indeed, the steady stream of releases of new smartphones and operating system upgrades proves the same point. Material life is constant adjustment, with each convenience introducing an inconvenience. Permanent happiness is only possible in spiritual life, which is nicely explained in the Bhagavad-gita. Spiritual life, not surprisingly, deals with the spirit soul. That soul is always blissful, despite what the externals relating to the body might say.
na tad bhāsayate sūryo
na śaśāṅko na pāvakaḥ
yad gatvā na nivartante
tad dhāma paramaṁ mama
“That abode of Mine is not illumined by the sun or moon, nor by electricity. One who reaches it never returns to this material world.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 15.6)
The happiness for the soul comes in a different land, namely the spiritual world. That place is illuminated by the body of the Supreme Spirit. There is no need for external lighting. The sun is not required there. Everything is already provided for, so there is no need for constant adjustment, either.
The permanent happiness is the result of a permanent engagement. We can get a taste of that happiness through trying out that engagement even while in the material world. That endless occupation is known as bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. This work is for the pleasure of someone else. It is not a way to please the senses necessarily, as the service continues without a requirement for reciprocation.
In simpler terms, love God with all your heart and continue to serve Him no matter what. Create an attachment to Him and strengthen it through learning more about Him. Apply your intellect, ask every question you have, so that no doubts remain. Extend faith in the beginning, but gradually see how that faith turns into assuredness in the validity of the path.
ananyāś cintayanto māṁ
ye janāḥ paryupāsate
yoga-kṣemaṁ vahāmy aham
“But those who worship Me with devotion, meditating on My transcendental form – to them I carry what they lack and preserve what they have.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.22)
Practice bhakti-yoga by always chanting the holy names: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. Adjust things in your life so that you’re practicing as much devotion as possible. The added benefit is that the Supreme Lord Himself offers help to the sincere soul. To them He carries what they lack and preserves what they have. In the end, He brings them the permanent happiness that has eluded them for so long.
Happiness that eluded for so long,
To come simply through a song.
The maha-mantra faithfully to chant,
Remove obstacles, cry not that you can’t.
Then seeing something different and new,
Happiness, permanent like you never knew.
Illuminated spiritual world to you coming,
In endless service satisfied becoming.