Success, Happiness and Fulfillment–M.S. Srinivasan

[Published in Fourth Dimension Inc. Towards Integral Management. June 2011]

(The seeking of happiness is an irresistible human instinct.  Most of us seek for some form of success, happiness or fulfillment though our conception of these values may differ or change as we grow in the evolutionary curve.)

Key-perspectives: The meaning of success and happiness; path to happiness; inner source of happiness; peak of fulfillment.

The Meaning of Success and Happiness

He is a young executive in a software firm.  He is always tense and stressed.  His mind is constantly in a state of turbulent and painful whirl.  His physical heart is under repair; he has to undergo by-pass heart surgery at the age of thirty-five.  His inner heart is full of negative feelings like anger, resentment and depression.  His family life is in shambles; his wife is asking for divorce.  But in his professional life he is creative and innovative, a dynamic, result-oriented, can-do, go-getter, a fast rising star in the corporate ladder.  But at what cost?  Professional success has not brought him personal happiness.

John McCanroe was a former US tennis star, a Wimbledon champion and regarded as a legend in tennis.  At his prime, he was an icon of the American dream: youthful, smart, handsome, talented, rich, famous.  But in his autobiography, McCanroe says, inspite of all these marks of success, he never felt any real happiness in his life, until one day he fell in love with a girl whom he married later! At this moment of love, says McCanroe, he felt for the first time the meaning of true happiness.

He was a young and brilliant professor in a premier institute of technology in India, having a dream job for an academic.  Living in air-conditioned quarters, enjoying his work and a comfortable, relaxed, stress-free, happy life.  But one day he read a book by Mahatma Gandhi and felt inspired by the ideals of the Mahatma.  He left his plum job and joined a rural development institute at one third of his past salary, spending most of his time in a hut with poor villager, sleeping in bare floor.  He told one of his friends that he knew what is bliss only in this village hut!

J.R.D. Tata, the well-known Indian industrialist, wrote in his diary “To be kind to all, to like many, love a few, to be needed and wanted by those we love is the nearest we can come to happiness.”

So what is the meaning of success or happiness or which is a more creative achievement?  To be a healthy, balanced and happy individual or a successful and innovative professional? A rich, famous and champion athlete or a happy lover? A comfortable and satisfied academic life or the life of selfless dedication and serve?

These examples and questions are given not as moral lessons or either-or choices or as role models to be followed.  It is perhaps possible to be a highly successful professional without loosing ones health or happiness.  Some of the “happinesses” indicated in these examples may not be the highest form of fulfillment.  The main purpose of these examples is to provoke enquiry into the meaning of true success or happiness.  Each individual has to find the answer himself by personal experience, self-observation and self-enquiry.

The Path to Happiness

Does this mean the concept or experience of fulfillment is entirely subjective and personal? Not entirely.  There are some universal principles of fulfillment which are based on the physical, psychological and spiritual constitution of human being.  These principles can be discerned through a careful study of human experience and the highest wisdom of humanity.  If we can put into practice these principles in our daily life, we can perhaps arrive at the right balance between professional, success and personal fulfillment.

Dr. Don Colbert, a general physician with a long experience in giving medical advice to a large number of individuals and families, makes the following interesting observations on the factors which lead to personal fulfillment.

“Stop to think for a moment about what you really desire. It very likely isn’t material possessions, new experiences, a chemically induced high or any other attribute often associated with a fast­ lane lifestyle. I am a physician in Florida, and a significant percent­age of my patients are elderly. When it comes down to the end of life, people very often get their priorities in line and start focusing on what they truly desire:

  • Peace with God
  • Loving family relationships and good health (marked by good energy and enduring strength)
  • Peace of mind
  • Joyful, simple pleasures
  • Time with friends
  • Having a purpose in living, usually indicated by purposeful giving to others.”

The above list of factors given by Dr. Colbert is comprehensive and authentic because it is based on a discerning observation of human experience.  Similarly, The Mother of Sri Aurobindo Ashram in a letter to the Ashram workers said:  “It is not money that makes a man happy but rather an inner balance of energy, good health and good feelings.”  Here are a few important factors behind personal or individual happiness which the corporate leaders have to take note.

The present corporate motivational strategies are based on target-oriented performance and monetary or career awards.  But this approach has only created highly stressed, unhealthy and unhappy employees.  Opinion Research of Princeton, New Jersey has found “largest incidents of heart attack or stroke occurs on Monday” because according to a Gallup’s annual poll, “80% of employees dread returning to work on Mondays.”  So if corporate management wants to have happy and satisfied work-force there must be a greater emphasis on the physical, mental and moral wellbeing of employees.  Among the many factors of happiness indicated by Dr. Colbert and The Mother, the most important is what Colbert mentions as “purposeful giving to others”  Most of us are habituated to the notion that happiness comes by more acquisition.  But the spiritual wisdom of seers and saints has always insisted that true happiness lies not in self-aggrandizement but in self-giving.  As The Mother of Sri Aurobindo points out, “The happiness you give makes you more happy than the happiness you receive.”

Interestingly this spiritual insight of seers is now getting validated in modern corporate research.  In a short column in Harvard Business Review, Michael I. Norton and Elizabeth W. Dunn report on the conclusions of their research on how employees spend their bonus money:

“When companies hand out bonuses, one intention is to make the rewarded workers happy. But how employees spend that bonus money, our research shows, is what really affects their happiness. We found that people get no meaningful boost in happiness by spending money on things like new clothes, TVs, and iPods. They do tend to feel better, however, if they spend even a small portion of a windfall on others.”

In one of the research survey to discover whether such giving really caused happiness, Michael and Elizabeth, “randomly assigned half of them to spend the money on themselves and the other half to spend it on others.”  And they found “people who spent it on others were significantly happier that night.”

However in a deeper spiritual perspective, the main emphasis will be on the inner attitude of giving in thought and feelings rather than the outer act.  The true happiness comes only when outer act of giving is a spontaneous expression of generosity and benevolence in out mind and heart.  Otherwise, if the outer act of giving is made into an external culture of behaviour, enforced or induced by an external authority or group think or a reward-system without a corresponding feeling in the heart, then it becomes a mechanical custom, which cannot bring happiness.  The act of giving, inorder to be spontaneous has to be free from any external or inner compulsion and also from expectation of return or reward.  Initially, when the act of giving is spontaneous, it brings happiness.  But if we make the equation giving=happiness into a formula, and give inorder to get happiness, then also the outer act looses its moral and spiritual quality and will not bring the happiness we are looking for.

The Inner Source of Happiness

However, we cannot attain enduring happiness if we depend on external factors like people or things.  These external factors are changing, transient and perishable.  So happiness which comes from these factors would also be of the same nature, changing, transient, and perishable.  If we want lasting happiness we have to find its source within our own self in something which is Happiness itself and therefore does not depend on external factors to be happy.  But is there such self-existent happiness within us? All the spiritual traditions of the world say that there is such a source of happiness within us and many saints, sages and seers have found it.  It is the innermost truth and essence of our being.

How to find this fountain of happiness?   There are methods and practices in India to discover this inner happiness.  But if we seek it in order to become personally happy we may not find it.  We have to seek it not to become happy but because this indwelling Happiness is the very source and essence of our being.  True happiness comes only when we seek for something greater and larger than the self-seeking smallness of our ego and dedicate ourself to this higher self-transcending cause, ideal or purpose.  And everlasting happiness comes as a result of coming into direct contact with something eternal, universal and infinite within us, the Divine.  We can now understand why Mother of Sri Aurobindo said:

“Do not live to be happy, but to serve the Divine and the joy you experience will be beyond expectations.”

The Peak of Fulfillment

We as human beings can achieve our highest and lasting happiness or fulfillment only when we are able to achieve two great inner realizations.  The first one is to consciously integrate all our being, our body, mind and heart, around the divinity or spiritual self within us; second is to make all our life and action into an offering and a service to the divinity within us, the divine in all the divine Oneness which pervades all creation.  This goal may appear very remote and difficult to most of us.  But it is worth striving for because it gives a greater sense, meaning and purpose to our lives, than chasing after narrow personal interests of our egos and the rat race for personal success.  For, someone has said, in the rat race, even if you win, you are still a rat!

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