Happiness is really just Cessation of Suffering

By Desmond Yeoh SC

When we feel lonely, we are suffering. However, when we find a partner, we feel happy because we are no longer lonely. So, what we think of as happiness is really the cessation of suffering, which in this example is the loneliness we felt before finding a partner. Similar, when we suffer from boredom, we feel happy when find something exciting to distract us. Again, that “happiness” is the cessation of the suffering arising from boredom.

happy businessman checking message on smartphone in downtown alley

Researchers out the Stockholm School of Economics, Stockholm University and New York University found that for those who won at least $100,000 in the lottery, their happiness and mental health were not significantly impacted. Initially, there would be some excitement and euphoria over winning a large sum of money because the suffering of discontentment is temporarily relieved but the feeling, like everything else, fades over time. The National Endowment for Financial Education reported that approximately 70% of people who win a lottery or get a big windfall ended up broke in a few years. Then then become worse off that before windfall because they have become attached to the “good life”.

So winning the lottery can improve a person’s quality of life but not happiness. This is because worldly happiness is the process of going through some suffering and then experiencing a temporary cessation of that suffering.

That is why our happiness is very fleeting. Very soon, we forget about our original suffering and start to become burdened by other forms of suffering. Finding a partner may help us to overcome our loneliness but after a while, we suffer because of unmet expectations and we get into arguments after arguments.

It is very important to recognise this truth. If we do not properly understand, we will continue to chase after happiness without addressing the cause of suffering. In the examples above, the temporary cessations are short-term fixes. In the example of boredom above, once the distraction ends, the boredom returns; or we just get bored with that form of distraction and start to desire something else. The distractions themselves bring other forms of suffering for example, if it is alcohol, we will feel terrible later on.

The wise ones will address the suffering internally rather than rely on external factors for comfort. When they feel lonely, the analyse the causes and conditions that cause the loneliness to arise. They observe how loneliness feels like emotionally. They study the thoughts and other mental formations that contribute to the loneliness.

Therefore, the wise ones do not chase after happiness because they understand that to chase after happiness is to grasp at suffering. Chasing after suffering only keeps us in the cycle of continuous suffering and happiness. That is why the rich are not happy, the famous are not happy and the powerful are not happy. Denying this truth will block us from self-realisation.

The sad truth is that many of us choose not to see the truth because we are too lazy and blind to see any other way. We argue that talking of such things is very depressing. Denial is better because we can continue to justify the way we think and live with our lies. Unless we knock down this wall of denial, we will not be able to move forward.

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