What could be more important to us than happiness? At the end of the day, all our materialistic desires, including wealth, family, etc., are about being happy.
The ancient eastern philosophy, Vedanta, predates organized religion and is comprised of a base set of realities that have guided the genesis of several eastern religions. There is no clear perspective on how old it truly is, besides the understanding that the knowledge of this philosophy and the associated realities were passed down over generations by seers and saints in ancient India (especially in the Himalayas). It’s safe to say that the philosophy is well over 6000 years old, if not much older.
The Vedanta philosophy provides a set of 5 principles to guide a person through mental purification resulting in inner peace and sustained happiness. I’m calling the 5-principles as The Happiness Model. Here are the 5-principles in a nutshell:
#1 - We have only one primary goal in this lifetime and it is a spiritual one
The idea here is not that we divorce ourselves from the world we live in, which is naturally materialistic, and impact the lives we’ve built for ourselves and our family by suddenly shunning our responsibilities. The idea here is understanding that we are spiritual beings rather than physical ones. This lifetime is part of a broader continuum and we need to evolve spiritually as a part of that. Keeping that broader continuum in mind, we need to focus more on our inward journey rather than our outward one. It's like a meal...we need to understand what our main course is and what is desert. Confusing our desert (aka materialistic life) to be the main course isn't the right thing to do.
#2 - Surrender and accept everything that comes our way as a gift from God/Universe
Accept everything that comes our way, irrespective of its positive or negative connotation, as a blessing. Treat death as a blessing just the way we treat birth as one. Treat a tough situation at work or a difficult boss as a blessing just the way we would a great work environment. Essentially treat everything as a gift from God/Universe and say “thank you”.
#3 - Perform all our actions as a gift to God/Universe with gratitude
Perform all our actions, especially our duty, to the best of our abilities and say thank you to God/Universe for the opportunity to do so. Most religions today have a version of saying grace before a meal. Saying grace before a meal is a great example of this principle, where you are basically telling God/Universe that you are grateful for the meal that is in front of you and are consuming it as a part of your appreciation.
#4 - Manage our ego and realize how little we actually control
We get caught up in self-serving notions of “this happened because of me” or “I did this”. There are countless factors that go into something being successful and our efforts are only a contributing factor. While our effort may be an extremely important factor that we control, the outcome could be impacted by a multitude of others. Appreciate what you control and what you don’t and put your ego on the shelf. When the term “I” drops off our vocabulary, mental peace automatically follows.
#5 - Equanimity
When principles 1-4 are deeply embedded in our actions and behaviors, equanimity is a natural by-product. Equanimity means handing challenging situations with poise. My prior blog post on Inner Attitude is really about the equanimity and inner calm that comes from knowing that external factors can’t disturb you mentally. The factors here would be the natural dualities of life that we encounter - birth-death, wealth-poverty, victory-defeat, etc.
On a personal note, these 5 principles have been a core part of my personal journey and have had a tremendous impact on my mind and my life. Additionally, I have a book on The Happiness Model that is nearly complete. With the right publishing situation, it should be out early next year.