There is a story from an old spiritual tradition that tells about a rich man who loses all his possessions and becomes as poor as a street beggar. Instead of lamenting his fate, the man starts to laugh and dance with joy. To the bewildered bystanders he explains, “I am dancing because since things cannot get any worse than they are now, they can only get better.” But when by a miraculous turn of events the man regains all of his previous wealth, instead of rejoicing, he starts weeping bitterly. “Alas” he cries out, “now that I am at the peak of good fortune again, things can only get worse.”
The moral of the story of course is to be detached from both joy and sorrow, since our fate is always dogged by these two opposites. The ancient Greek philosophers had a similar view of life, albeit somewhat gloomier. They argued that a man’s life was composed either of joy and sorrow or, if he wasn’t thus fortunate, only of sorrow. A joy-only version did not exist. That is why the ancient Greeks considered the greatest fortune that could befall a human being was not to be born at all.
For a seeker of enduring happiness these are somewhat dismaying conclusions. Is it really not possible to have a life composed primarily of happiness? Does sorrow always have to enter into the mix? Or, to rephrase the question: Is a state of permanent and lasting happiness achievable?
If by permanent happiness we mean that nothing bad ever happens to us, that no misfortune will ever befall us, the answer has to be “no.” Into each life some rain must fall, as the wise singer sang. But if by lasting happiness we mean that despite the misfortunes and the ill-fated turns that life may take, we can have access to an indestructible source of cheerfulness and joy, the answer is a resounding “yes.”
Over the centuries spiritual masters, yogis, saints and sages have all told us that permanent happiness lies within. It is a state of consciousness that can be brought to the fore through prayer and meditation. If we practice these spiritual disciplines we will discover that our soul, the spark of divinity within us, is all happiness. Like a fountain, this happiness wells up spontaneously in the silence of our heart.
Once we start experiencing this happiness, life loses its venomous sting. Even when things go terribly wrong in our outer life, we are not disturbed, nor do we become miserable. We simply deal with the circumstances the best way we can, without worrying about them. The peace and happiness of our soul can never be overpowered by these outer happenings. So even when some rain is falling in our outer life, we can always have sunny skies within.
It seems hard to believe that we have this source of joy and happiness inside. It is quite common to doubt its existence. I was also skeptical in the beginning and didn’t think I would ever attain such noble inner qualities. The only answer is to just start practicing and not give up. Then prayer and meditation will show you that permanent happiness is just your natural state of being–whether you believe it or not.