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New Scientific Study Gets Closer to Understanding Happiness

By: for ISKCON News on Aug. 16, 2013
Opinion
Photo Credits: lesserevillife.com

In pursuit of happiness.

A new study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in the USA looks at different kinds of happiness, and which is better for human well-being.

Breaking the study down for the layperson, psychology website www.theemotionmachine.com explained that there are two different types of happiness.

One is the common understanding of happiness, referred to as hedonic well-being. This is the belief that happiness is based on the amount of pleasureable experiences you have—experiences such as eating a piece of cake, winning the lottery, or having sex.

The other type of happiness is eudaimonic well-being. This is the belief that happiness is based on having a sense of purpose and meaning in life; in doing things like following your passion, helping others, contributing to society, and identifying yourself as part of a “bigger picture.”

The National Academy of Sciences study found that people who scored high on meaningful happiness, or eudaimonic well-being, showed healthier gene expression than those who only scored high on pleasurable happiness, or hedonic well-being.

The Emotion Machine website then suggested some ways to live a more meaningful life, including expressing yourself creatively through art or music; actively helping others and doing good deeds; finding knowledge and wisdom from your negative experiences and adversity; focusing on growth in your life instead of results; and keeping long-term relationships with family, loved ones, friends, and coworkers.

This is a very insightful study and an effective way to live what the ancient Vedic scriptures would refer to as a “mode of goodness” life in this world—one that is more peaceful, moral, satisfying and helpful to others.

However the Vedic and Gaudiya Vaishnava teachings followed by the International Society for Krishna Consciousness also offer more insight that take the search for happiness—which is an intrinsic need in every person—to a new level.

The ancient wisdom text Bhagavad-gita explains that we are not our bodies or minds but that we are eternal souls who are never born and never die. ISKCON Founder Srila Prabhupada often cited the analogy of a car and its driver to describe the relationship between the body and the soul. The soul is the driver of the car (the body), which only has value when the driver is present.

Prabhupada also used the analogy of the bird and its cage. If we simply focus all our energies on cleaning and decorating the cage, and forget to feed the bird inside, it will die of malnourishment. Similarly, if we ignore the needs of our selves — the spirit soul within the body — we will never be truly happy.

So what are the needs of the self? Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, the founder of Gaudiya Vaishnavism, explained that the natural state of the soul is to love and serve God, just as the natural state of a fish is to live in water. When we act against this intrinsic nature and just try to enjoy with our bodies, we never really feel satisfied — as the National Academy of Sciences’ recent study has found.

Knowing this, ISKCON devotees — while they may still be living externally ‘normal’ lives, working and caring for their families — try to offer the results of their work to God, worship Him, and always try to please Him according to the directions of ancient wisdom texts like the Bhagavad-gita. They also try to chant God’s name and absorb themselves in thoughts of Him. This brings a deep sense of peace, fulfillment and deep happiness that soothes the soul.

Like the National Academy of Sciences, devotees of Krishna also understand the value of helping others. Vaishnava scriptures often say that Vaishnavas are sad to see others suffer, and become happy when they see others happy.

But while devotees appreciate how typical welfare work helps others live an easier life in this world, they ultimately want to assist souls in getting in touch with their intrinsic love of God. And they want to help them get out of this world, where happiness is so elusive, to live with God and serve Him happily for ever.

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