Apr 11, 2021 • 13M

How Much Does Happiness Cost?

Lately, I have been focusing more on this seemingly-inherent pursuit of happiness by humankind, and how we can actually start figuring out the ‘how’ of being happy.

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Vinay Sutaria
Thoughts, insights and wisdom from The Keshav Way.
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Hey everyone!

Anyone who has ever taken a class in economics will have heard of the phrase:

There’s no such thing as a free lunch.

Everything has a cost, even if that cost is not always immediately apparent.
To achieve anything, you must give up something else.

In today’s happiness-obsessed culture, most pursue the opposite: we want to be happy with no costs, and all of the benefits. We all want the rewards of our endeavours without the risks, we want the gain without the pain.

Ironically, it is this unwillingness to sacrifice anything that ends up making us more miserable.

Happiness has costs. Happiness is not free. And despite what Gary Vee or Tony Robbins may tell you, it’s not always a simple task working out how to be happy either. Over the past few months, I have been focusing more on this seemingly-inherent pursuit of happiness by humankind, and how we can actually start figuring out the ‘how’ of being happy.

1. You Must Accept Imperfection and Flaws

Many people believe that if they just pay off the mortgage on the house, hitch with your partner for life, get that dream a car, and raise two or three kids, everything will be “perfect.” Tick each item off the human bucketlist, be happy and old for a couple decades, and then you die. But is that it?

Unfortunately, life doesn’t work that way. Problems never go away — they just change and evolve. Today’s perfection becomes tomorrow’s problems, and the quicker we accept that the point of life is not to get rid of problems, but instead seek progress, not perfection, the sooner we can strive for the higher aims in life.

I have come to believe that perfection is an idealisation. It can be approached but never reached. Whatever your conception of “perfect” is in our pretty little heads, it is, in itself, an imperfect unattainable idea. In reality though, it does not exist. I have shared this notion a couple of times: perfection is ultimately unattainable. It is an ongoing practice.

When we let go of our conception of what is perfect and what “should” be, we relieve ourselves of the stress and frustration of living up to some arbitrary standard. And usually, this standard isn’t even ours! It’s a standard we adopt from other people.

Accepting imperfection is hard because it forces us to accept that we have to live with things we don’t like. We want to hold onto control and let the whole world know how Western democracy should be and why the season finale to Game of Thrones was possibly the worst thing that’s ever happened. If only the world would cater to my wants, then everything would be better.

But life will never conform to all of our desires. Ever. And we will always be wrong about something, in some way. Ironically, it’s the acceptance of this that allows us to be happy, allowing us to appreciate the flaws in ourselves and in others. And that, is the best thing.

2. You Must Take Responsibility For Your Problems

Blaming the world for our problems is the easy way out. It’s tempting and it can even be satisfying. When we blame others, we get to be the victims and we get to be all emotional about all of the terrible injustices that have been inflicted upon us. We wallow in our imagined victimhood so as to make ourselves feel unique and special in ways in which we never got to feel unique and special anywhere else.

Let me share a story from the Mahabharata. The great war had finished and Shri Vasudev Krishna convinced Prince Yudhishthir to wear the crown of Hastinapur and become its king. The grand ceremony of crowning the new king concluded. It was time to part. Krishna said his customary greetings to the new King and to the other Pandava brothers.

While he was about to board his chariot, his eyes were searching for someone. Who could it be? He was looking for his aunt, Kunti, the mother of the Pandavas.

Conversation between Kunti and Lord Krishna - thepranams.com

Krishna said his greetings to her as well, ‘I shall make a leave now, Mother Kunti!’

‘Sure,’ said Kunti. ‘But before you leave, can you grant me a blessing?’

‘Of course’ said Krishna with all his magnanimity.

What would Kunti ask for? A prayer bead, some ritual materials, or goodness for her 5 sons and their kins, liberation for her dead son, Karna…

What else could it be?

‘Tell me, Kuntidevi. What do you want? Whatever you ask, will be granted,’ said Krishna.

Kunti asked, ‘Krishna, I want sufferings. I want pain.
I want more sufferings and pain!’

Why would she even ask this? Well, that's another story in itself.

But the point I am getting at is that our problems are not unique. And we are not special.

The beauty of accepting the imperfection of your own knowledge is that you can no longer be certain that you’re not to blame for your own problems. Are you really late because of the traffic? Or could you just have work up and left a bit earlier? Is it really the incompetence of your boss that lost you your promotion? Or was there something more you could have done?

The truth is usually somewhere around “both,” — although it varies from situation to situation. But the point is that you can only fix your own imperfections and not the imperfections of others. Your self, your control, your work. So you may as well get started.

Sure, stuff happens. It’s not your fault a drunk driver hit you and you lost your ended up in an accident. But it is your responsibility to recover from that loss, both physically and emotionally. That onus is on you. For you.

Blaming others for the problems in your life may give you a little bit of short-term relief, but ultimately it implies something entirely insidious: that you are incapable of controlling your own fate. And that’s one of the highest truths we must accept.

3. You Must Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway

Bravery is not the absence of fear. Bravery is feeling the fear, the doubt, the insecurity, and deciding that something else is more important. And then working on that.

If we identify with our moment-to-moment emotional states and sensitivities, our happiness will surge and crash. We want sturdy, resilient happiness. We want sturdy, resilient experiences of ānanda.

True, long-lasting happiness is derived not from our immediate emotional states — being constantly high is impossible and would be unbearably annoying. Rather, our long-term happiness is derived from the deeper values we define for ourselves, it is defined by our purpose. Life satisfaction is not defined by what we do and what happens to us, but why we do what we do and what it means to us.

4. You Must Find a Deeper Purpose to Your Actions

A better way of saying this is you must choose what motivates you. Is it something superficial and external that motivates us? Or is it something more meaningful?

Being motivated by money for the sake of money leads to unstable emotional regulation and a lot of obnoxious and superficial behavior. Being motivated by money so that one can provide a good life for their family and children is a much sturdier foundation to work with. That deeper purpose will motivate one through the stress and fear and inevitable complications that a more superficial motivation would not.

Being motivated by the approval of others leads to needy and unattractive behavior. Being motivated by the approval of others because you’re an artist and you want to construct art that moves and inspires people in new and powerful ways is far more sustainable and noble. You’ll be able to work through disapproval, embarrassments, and the occasional disaster.

How does we find their deeper purpose?
Well, it’s not easy. But then again, robust and resilient lifelong happiness isn’t easy either.

A large part of my next book will be about finding a deeper purpose in our lives. But here’s a small teaser: it has something to do with growth and contribution. Growth means finding a way to make yourself a better person, based upon your existing values, and discovering new ones. Contribution means finding a way to make the lives of other people better. As well as looking for ways that you can integrate those into your motivations.

There’s nothing wrong with getting a big house, making money, and even seeking happiness. But the pursuit needs to be motivated by something deeper than the pursuit itself.

5. You Must Be Willing to Fail and Be Embarrassed

The most beautiful thing about humanity is the diversity of life values. When you live out your values and let them motivate your actions and behaviors, you will inevitably clash with those whose values contradict your own. These people will not like you. They will leave nasty anonymous comments on your instagram posts, and they will make inappropriate remarks about your mum. Anything you do that’s important will inevitably be accompanied by those who wish for you to fail. Not because they’re bad people, but because their values differ from yours.

(OK, yeah people like Hitler and Bin Laden were pretty awful.)

In any venture, failure is required to make progress. And progress, by definition, is what drives happiness — the progress of ourselves, the progress of others, the progress of our values and what we care about. Without failure, there is no progress and without progress, there is no happiness.

With prayers,



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