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Happiness: When Pain is transformed into Pleasure

Happiness is perhaps the greatest desire of all human beings. Ask any person what he wants in life and he would say that he just wants to be happy. Ask a person as to why he is working so hard to earn more money and he would say that he is doing it so that he can make himself happy. Happiness has always been the most important goal of every human being, yet most people are unhappy with their life and they seem to have no idea of what happiness is. Often we hear that happiness is lack of worry as a famous song says “Don’t worry, be happy”. People have tried to avoid worry even by becoming saints, abstaining from all the worldly pleasure and obligations, which reduced their worries, yet could not given them happiness. Happiness is not simply the absence of worries but also the presence of a positive force which we often call pleasure.


The modern world, despite producing innumerable objects of desire and pleasure, however, could not produce happiness.  The articles of pleasure are available in the market in plenty and most people have enough money to buy them from market. Yet these objects soon lose their capability to give pleasure and soon become the objects of pain. We then try to earn more to possess newer and better objects of desire and hope that they will make us happy. We work even harder to earn still more money in the hope of realizing happiness. Yet we realize soon in life that happiness like pleasure cannot be bought from the market. Had it been so, happiness would have been the mistress of the riches while the poor could have only sufferings in their lives.


When people do not find happiness in wealth, they often seek power to achieve happiness. Power, however, generates hatred from the people against whom it is used.  Powerful people do get the feel of hatred which makes them unhappy. People often spend their lives without understanding how to be happy - the simplest goal of their life.


Then you realize the mercy of God and find that He is not unkind and unfair. He conceals happiness in pain and converts pain into happiness. You then see that even the richest and the most powerful persons of the earth may not be even as happy as a common man on the street. You often find these people passing through mental depression and even committing suicide. You realize that happiness has no relationship with riches or power as we commonly believe.


Pain: The Seed of Pleasure

If there is one thing in the world, which no one desires to have, it is pain or suffering. Who wants pain? We do everything to avoid pain and suffering. Yet it follows us wherever we go like an unwanted child. We tell Pain, “Go away. We don’t want you, we only want happiness”; and Pain says, “I am the happiness, just open your eyes.”

It sounds quite absurd. How can pain be a source of happiness, we rationalize.


Pain seems to be the most unlikely source to happiness. We all know for sure that pain is the enemy of happiness. We are told that pain is the opposite of pleasure that is the only source of happiness. We all know it too well. We all know from our commonsense that pain is the enemy of happiness. ‘Can our commonsense be so wrong?’ We ask ourselves.


Yet we want to know the truth of happiness as it always deludes us. We have learnt from experience that true happiness does not come from pleasure based on sense objects. This is a problem, not of the modern generation alone, but one which is as old as humanity itself. We then turn the pages of the Gita and find Lord Krishna revealing the mystery of  happiness to Arjun in the following words:


O Arjuna!  Now listen to the three types of happiness. The true (Sattvik) happiness is one which is derived from repeated practice that ends the pain of the person, which appears like a poison in the beginning but at the end looks like nectar. The happiness of desire (Rajsik) is one which arises out of the contact of senses with the object, which appears like nectar in the beginning but in the end looks like poison. The happiness of darkness (Tamsik) is one which creates illusion for the soul from the beginning to the end and is derived from sleep, laziness and useless talk. (Gita XIII, 36-39)


The verses of the Gita are mysterious and require considerable patience to understand them. How can pain be the source of happiness? Yet when we look back in our life, we find that our greatest source of happiness came from the activities which in the beginning were very painful. Take the example of studies. No child ever likes to go through the drills of the classes and the home work and appears in examinations at a tender age. Most  people never like studies even when they grow up as they find more pleasure in playing with friends and watching television, which give them instant pleasure. However, once a person continues to study, he starts discovering the joy of learning. Gradually, he starts loving books and discovers pleasure in reading. Nothing has changed in the act of reading. What really changed was the person, who by persistent effort had made reading a pleasure, which may still be a pain for others.

Reading may still be a pain for one who is unwilling to bear the pain of reading, which can be averted only by the discipline of senses and body.  Most people cannot understand how one can enjoy studies. Yet reading can be the greatest source of happiness if you develop a liking for it. It not only gives you pleasure but also gives you greater wealth and status in society as you get better-paid jobs and earn higher salary and consequently a higher position in  society. Thus what looked like poison in the beginning became nectar in the end.

If we closely study happy people, we will find that they enjoy things which are very painful otherwise, e.g., getting up early in the morning, jogging or exercising. When you start this, you may find it extremely painful. Body does everything to dissuade you from engaging in the painful activity. Yet if you persist in your objective and withstand the pain, the same activity becomes the greatest source of pleasure for you. It not only gives you pleasure but also gives you good health for life.

Pleasure transforming into Pain

Pleasure is so much associated with happiness that often it is considered to be the synonym of happiness. Even Oxford English Dictionary defines the word ‘happy’ as ‘feeling or showing pleasure or contentment’. Pleasure often lies in gratification of senses by external objects which cannot be possessed without money. Therefore, people earn more and more money to buy more and more objects of desire in the hope that it will give them happiness. These objects do provide immediate pleasure which makes us happy for sometime, yet soon we discover that such pleasures do not last and soon the same objects stop giving us pleasure and often lead to boredom and even pain. The law of diminishing returns of value soon starts applying on all objects of desire.  


Imagine yourself, in a desert where you had been without a drop of water for days. You are so thirsty that if you don’t get a glass of water soon, you will die. Here comes a man, who offers you a glass of water and asks you to pay ‘one thousand dollars. “It is too much” you say and ask him to reduce the price. “Not a penny less. Take it or leave it.” 


You, reluctantly give him a thousand dollar for a glass of water which would otherwise cost only a few cents. After you have drunk the first glass of water, your thirst is still not over. “Do you want more water?” Ask the waterman. “No, It is too expensive.” you say as your thirst is partly satisfied and the desire has reduced. “O.K., I will charge only hundred dollars for the second glass.” You agree and pay hundred dollars for the next glass of water.


Gradually you find that the desire for water reduced with every glass of water you consume and soon you are so much filled with water that consumption of water becomes a painful activity. Now you can’t consume a glass of water even if the waterman is willing to pay you ten thousand dollars.


Pleasure of senses is also similar. Pleasure reduces as consumptions goes up and soon a situation comes when the same object becomes a source of pain instead of pleasure. It is true with every object of desire, be it food, drink, sex or simply watching your favorite movie. You get bored soon of any pleasant activity and stop doing it. Yet, if you further indulge in the same activity, the same activity or object becomes a source of pain. Remember the happiness you had when you first boarded the plane, had the first touch of your lover, the first job, the first car or the first child. The happiness derived from all these objects must have already declined considerably and some of these objects might already have become a source of pain to you.

Gita correctly explains that pleasure is a form of happiness that arises out of the contact of senses with their objects. Such happiness is Rajsik in nature. So we get pleasure in eating foods which are tasty, fatty and sweet. Such foods are a pleasure to eat as these are pleasant to the senses. You then notice that what is pleasant to senses is often bad for health. The temptation of the object is often in the proportion of the evil value of the object.

All types of pleasures which are due to the contact of the senses with their objects fall in this category. Sex for example, is the biggest source of pleasure for a man or woman, which also becomes the biggest cause of crime and pain to mankind. If you are driven by your senses, you may get instant gratification and pleasure but in the end, the same activity invariably becomes the biggest source of pain to you.

If obesity has become such an epidemic problem in the world, it is solely because people have preferred to seek sensual pleasure rather than true happiness.  They are indulging in acts which give instant pleasure to senses i.e. tongue, nose and eyes etc. An obese person often falls prey to innumerable diseases by eating foods which give him pleasure. The pleasure may last for a few minutes but the pain due to ill health lasts for life.

Pleasure cannot last long as the pleasure or sensual titilation arising out of the contact of senses with their objects diminishes with time, gradually perishes and then becomes a source of pain if it has to last for longer period. Yet the consequences of such pleasures are like that of poison, which often endanger the life of the person.

Illusion of Soul

The Gita also describes the pleasure which arises out of inactivity or useless activities and calls it Tamsik pleasure. There is immense pleasure in activities which subsist on the boundaries of pleasure and pain. Intoxicants are great help for illusion of the soul. Smoking, alcohol or drugs are quite repulsive to the senses in the beginning, yet once they are consumed in the body, they transform the very soul of the person. They can reverse everything which is so natural to man. What is wrong becomes right for such a person. That is why; Lord Krishna says that such pleasure deludes the soul. The soul, which connects one person to another and also connects the whole universe in a single entity, itself becomes deluded and starts guiding the person on the opposite path, i.e. the path of destruction, pain and misery. Thankfully, the effect of intoxicants does not last long. Yet till such time it holds its sway, man cannot see the world like a normal human being.

However, most people do not have to use intoxicants for deluding their soul. Often people achieve such pleasure simply by being lazy, inactive and engaging themselves in useless talk. Such people derive the greatest pleasure in criticizing actions of other people, even if they themselves are engaged in the same or even worse action. They start believing the wrong to be right and right to be wrong.

People seemingly deriving happiness due to tamsik pleasure, gradually become enemies of the world and engage themselves in activities which are detrimental to society and the world. Most of the crimes committed against the society are the handiwork of such people. They invite the hatred of the world and ultimately become unhappy, isolated and frustrated .

Be your friend

Happiness, therefore, comes neither from the pleasure of the senses nor from the imagination of the mind. It comes by developing harmony among the body, mind and the soul. It comes when you have become friend of yourself, as Lord Krishna says in the Gita (VI 6):

The man who has won the physical self (body and mind) by the help of his spiritual self (soul), his Soul is a friend of self. Else the Soul of the man behaves like enemy of the (physical) self.

Once the person has harmonized his mind, body and soul, he automatically harmonizes himself with the universe since the soul of a person is part of the Universal Soul or God.  Winning the physical self, however, is not possible without pain. The body and mind react violently no sooner any action is taken to discipline them. The discomfort and reaction of the body is manifested in the form of pain in the body. The mind reacts by causing boredom and multiplying the effect of body-pain. The path of happiness, however, starts from here. If you withstand the pain and continue to follow the path repeatedly to achieve a goal which is worthy of achieving not only for yourself but also for the whole world, then the pain gets transformed into pleasure, and you get happiness.  

Every action leading to true happiness is painful in the beginning. When you start yoga, meditation or physical exercise, you are bound to feel the discomfort of the body even though only through such action, the body becomes healthy and free from disease and pain in the end.

Right food for the body is, therefore, one which is not very tempting to the senses, though not repulsive to the senses either. The senses are designed by nature in such a way that it can identify the foods which are needed for the body. Therefore, the foods which are liked by the senses (but not tempting) and nourish the body are the best for the body and soul. One may start liking such foods with practice and discovers pleasure in it, if the initial pain or lack of taste is overcome by repeated practice. With each repetition, such food becomes more and more likeable till it finally changes the nature of the senses itself so much so that they start loving such foods more than anything else in the world.

Discovery of  Happiness

Happiness is never available off-the-self and it is always to be discovered individually by the person. The basic requirement of happiness is, therefore, to discover oneself because, only if you know yourself, you would know what you need from the world outside.  However, the body and mind have inertia and they do not want to change. They resist anything which tries to change it. If you seek something it wants, it gives you pleasure. If you seek something which wants your body and mind to change so that they harmonize with the world, it threatens you by causing pain.  

In order to achieve true happiness, one has to choose such pain which could be transformed into pleasure by repeated practice, so that our body and mind themselves get changed so as to love the objects which looked painful in the beginning. This leads to the transformation within and results in happiness. Such a transformation brings harmony amongst the body, mind and soul. Since the soul is but a spark of the Universal Soul which is present within each of us, such transformation connects us with the whole of the universe and we achieve real happiness.

Author:Awdhesh K Singh



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