Simplicity Is the Key to Happiness
by Paramhansa Yogananda
Simplicity is not grinding poverty: It is not the polar opposite of wealth. To live simply is to pursue a quiet path of moderation. In a life of balance between opposite extremes lies inner happiness.
People everywhere, in their quest for happiness outside themselves, discover in the end that they’ve been seeking it in an empty cornucopia, and sucking feverishly at the rim of a crystal glass into which was never poured the wine of joy.
There are so many things here in America that I wanted for my own impoverished country. In time, however, I found that the people here are not so happy, on average, as the peasants in India—many of whom cannot afford more than one meal a day. Despite the material prosperity here, people haven’t the same inner happiness. Americans are satiated with a plethora of sense pleasures. Happiness eludes them for the simple reason that they seek it everywhere except in themselves.
Most so-called “happiness” is nothing but suffering in disguise. You may enjoy eating a huge meal, but you are also likely to have unpleasant after-effects such as acute indigestion or stomachache. The greatest way to create happiness for yourself is not to allow sense lures or bad habits to control you, but to be a stern ruler of your habits and appetites. Just as you cannot satisfy your own hunger by feeding another person, so you cannot find happiness in satisfying the over-demands of your senses. Too much luxury, instead of producing happiness, drives it away from your mind. Do not spend all your time looking for things to make you happy. Be contented always, equally in your struggle for prosperity and in your attainment of it. You can be a King of Happiness in a tattered cottage, or you can be a tortured victim of unhappiness in a palace. Happiness is a mental phenomenon exclusively. You must first establish it firmly within yourself and then, with an undying resolution always to be happy, go through the world seeking health, prosperity, and wisdom. You will find greater happiness if you seek success ever with a happy attitude than if you try to gain your heart’s desire with an unhappy mind, no matter what that desire may be.
Joy is too delicate a flower to bloom in the sooted atmosphere of worldly minds, which crave happiness from money and possessions. Joy wilts, too, when people water it inadequately by placing conditions on their happiness, telling themselves, “I won’t be really happy until I get that car (or dress, or house, or vacation by the sea)!” Materialistic people, however frantically they pursue the butterfly of happiness, never succeed in catching it. Were they to possess everything their hearts ever craved, happiness would still elude them.
On the other hand, happiness blooms naturally in the hearts of those who are inwardly free. It flows spontaneously, like a mountain spring after April showers, in minds that are contented with simple living and that willingly renounce the clutter of unnecessary, so-called “necessities”— the dream castles of a restless mind. When a person renounces outward ambition to seek peace within himself, he may feel a certain, fleeting nostalgia for his old, familiar habits. Accustomed as he was formerly to outward busy-ness, simplicity may strike him at times, in the beginning, as stark and unattractive. Gradually however, if he perseveres, he will accustom himself to the inner world, and will discover increasing happiness in soul-sufficiency. He will come to appreciate more and more deeply the meaning of true happiness. One may, similarly, experience a temporary sense of loss after failing in his worldly endeavors. Life then, at first, may seem devoid of any herbage of hope. If, however, after wandering in that desert for a time, he determines to face his new circumstances courageously, he will come to realize that life has not changed essentially at all; that whatever occurred to him was only defined as failure by his own imagination. He may then remember happier moments: the simple delights, for example, that he enjoyed as a child.
Suddenly he will understand that inner contentment is itself the one and only valid definition of success—and, quite as wonderfully, that contentment is the one thing in his life he need never lose! In every case, the wilderness of apparent loss, failure, and disappointment can be coaxed to bloom again, like a barren desert after abundant rain. Newly flowering meadows of peace appear suddenly in minds that seek rest within. The soul then knows a happiness more precious than the greatest success attainable through worldly pursuits.
If you, dear reader, should ever slip, or even fall, from the ladder of success, and find yourself abandoned by wealth and honor, and forced to live in humble circumstances—grieve not. Welcome, rather, the new adventure that life has placed before you. If your dreams lie in ruin all about you, bravely adjust to your altered circumstances. In simplicity you will find—even if you never sought it there!—the sweet happiness your heart has always craved. Life will give you more than you ever dreamed, if only you will define prosperity anew: not as worldly gain, but as inner, divine contentment.
Excerpted from How To Be Happy All The Time ©2006 with permission of Crystal Clarity Publishers, Nevada City, CA. www.crystalclarity.com or 800.424.1055.
Paramhansa Yogananda (1893-1952), one of the most renowned and beloved yoga masters of the 20th century, is the author of the spiritual classic, Autobiography of a Yogi. One of the first teachers to bring yoga to the West, Yogananda emphasized direct inner experience of the Divine, which he called “Self-realization.” His teachings are universal and offer a practical approach to inner awakening.