Deep down in every heart is an unquenchable desire for happiness. The advanced soul desires happiness just as much as the pleasure-seeking worldling, the difference between them is simply that the former, through knowledge and experience, do not search for happiness, knowing that it can never be found by direct seeking, but finds it through service and love to others and in victory over self; while the latter seeks happiness, like a will-o’-the-wisp, in every form of pleasure, and finds it not.
Man is never satisfied with his life: he is for ever seeking something that is better. Until he learns wisdom, he looks for it in pleasure, in sense gratification of various kinds, in wealth, luxury and possession. The less evolved a man is the more convinced he is that happiness can be gained in these ways, and the lower are his desires. For instance, those who form what is called the underworld of our cities, seek happiness in vice and debauchery. Those who are more evolved seek pleasure in more refined things, hoping to find happiness in intellectual pursuits, friendships, and in pure human loves. These more evolved types get much more pleasure through the senses than do those who are more elemental, but they are capable also of greater and more acute suffering. They can derive great pleasure from a picture gallery, whereas a savage would see nothing interesting at all: they can also suffer from things which a savage would not be capable of feeling. Yet, in spite of this developed refinement and ability to derive pleasure from art, science, literature, etc., happiness is still as far off as ever. All attempts at finding happiness lead finally to “emptiness.” There is no satisfaction, either in wealth and all that it can command, getting on in life, or in fame and power. They allure at first and promise happiness, but they fail us, and finally are seen to be but vanity and vexation of spirit.
This desire for prosperity is good, for it leads us through innumerable experiences so that the soul can realize, by practical experience, the emptiness of all self-seeking, and thus learn wisdom. After running the whole gamut of experience the soul learns at last that happiness is not something that can be found by seeking it, but is an inward mental state.
Although work, well done, brings a quiet sense of satisfaction, and success in one’s career may also be a source of gratification for a short time, yet even these cannot satisfy the deep longing of the soul.
Happiness, however, is to be found in service. Not if we seek happiness in service, and serve in order to be happy, but if we serve others for the sake of serving we find the only happiness that will endure and satisfy.
One has only to observe the lives of those who are always selfishly seeking and grabbing, who are hard in their dealings, and always “looking after number one,” in order to see how impossible it is for self-seekers to be happy. It does not matter whether they acquire riches or remain poor—they are equally unhappy. In contrast to this, you have only to go out of your way to do a kind and perfectly disinterested action and experience the glow of sheer happiness that it brings, in order to realize that you are dealing with a law of life that is as sure and unalterable as the law of gravitation.
There must be a purpose in life, and this must have for its object the betterment of the lives of others, either few or many. The law of service must be obeyed, otherwise there can be no happiness. This may fill some readers with dismay, for they may be employed in an occupation that apparently does no good to anybody. They may feel that if they were engaged in some noble enterprise for the uplift of humanity, then they could truly serve, but in their present occupation this is impossible. To think thus is very natural, yet the truth is we can all obey the law of service, and can begin now, in our present occupation, no matter what it may be. We have only to do our daily work, not as a task which must be “got through,” in order to bring us a living, or because it is expected of us that we should work, but as an offering of love to life and the world, in order to come into harmony with the great law of service. Our ideas of values with regard to occupations are altogether erroneous, from the “inner wisdom” point of view. The scrubbing of a doorstep, if faithfully done in a true spirit of service, is of as much value and real importance as the writing of a deathless poem, or dying for one’s country. We can never truthfully say that one act of service is of greater value, or is more important than another. All that the higher law looks at is the motive. Therefore, if your motive is right, you can be engaged in the humblest and, apparently, most useless occupation, and yet be happy because you satisfy the law of service.
Another road to happiness is the conquest of the lower nature, the overcoming of weaknesses, the climbing to higher and better things. There is intense happiness in realizing daily that old habits are being overthrown, weak points in the character built up, and an ever-increasing state of liberty and freedom entered into. Thank God, we do not have to remain as we once were, but can progress upwards, indefinitely, for there is no limit to our upward climb.
But there is a state that is far higher than happiness, and this is JOY. Happiness comes through service and overcoming, but joy comes only to one who realizes his oneness with his Divine Source. The reality is ineffable joy. Behind this world of shadows is the real, spiritual world of splendour and delight. When the soul, after its immense journey through matter, time and space, at last finds its way back to its Divine Source, it becomes aware of this intense joy, too great to be described in words. It not only realizes that the reality is joy, and the universe filled, not with groans or sighing, but with the sweet, quiet laughter of freed souls! it also is filled itself with this ineffable joy.
What has all this got to do with practical, everyday life, it may be asked? Everything, for the one who possesses this quiet joy can never be defeated in life’s battles. He has something within him that can never be quenched and which will lead him from victory to victory.