‘The luxury I advocate has nothing to do with money. It cannot be bought. It is the reward of those who have no fear of discomfort.’ Said Jean Cocteau, the French poet, novelist, who was the inspiration for the term ‘surrealism’.
I don’t know if this Frenchman ever visited this former French colony, Laos from where I write. But the Buddhists here know luxury – the luxury of happiness.
The ability to suffer discomfort is the source of happiness. It is the Western search for material luxury, and therefore the fear of losing it, that leads to unhappiness. With the ability to suffer discomfort comes meaningful achievement. Even if it be a gruelling sweaty arduous thigh killing, head thumping, sweat pouring, arm numbing eight hour mountain bike rides to see waterfalls that only truly exist in heaven itself.
The Hindus, Buddhists and Surrealists all know the world is an illusion. So they can be detached from its pains. Happiness comes from that realisation and that realisation comes as the ancient Hindu text, the Bhagavad Gita, carrying the ‘Song of God’ Himself says, comes from meditation.
Western scientists recently discovered that Hindu-Buddhist style meditation stimulates areas of the brain which cause a feeling of happiness.
The British Prime Minister on taking office said he wanted a measure for happiness not just economic growth (GDP). Why? Because despite a relentless rise in British GDP since it’s ever been measured, our happiness has not had the same trajectory. Indeed some of the happiest people in the world live in countries which have the lowest GDP.
The American Founding Father revolutionaries under their Constitution even sought to rid themselves of the British ‘in pursuit of happiness’. Happiness is therefore a legitimate political goal. Even though over 200 years since its founding, the country with the world’s largest GDP does not have the greatest happiness.
Some Americans do get it. Said their President Roosevelt, “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.” Arduous discomfort is where the credit belongs.
When was I happiest here in Laos? When cycling down a remote jungle hill or a moonlit deserted street at midnight. Why? It was the meditation the monks here told me of. My mind was empty. Meditation with monks taught me something; as a Hindu, I already knew how to meditate.
Want to make British people happier Mr PM? Teach meditation in schools. Your children are being whooped by those from Eastern meditative cultures – can’t get any worse can it? The benefits to concentration and performance are well known. You can’t keep spending your GDP out of unhappiness.
And that leads me to one final important part of happiness. I helped raise funds for 150 scholarships for learning Hinduism through the Oxford Centre For Hindu Studies. Education is freedom, and freedom is a luxury, freedom from the attachment to comfort. Bringing happiness to others is a source of the greatest happiness of all.
Alpesh B Patel