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 Table of Contents  
Year : 2023  |  Volume : 11  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 27-33

Happiness analysis: Need for cross-cultural interventions across religions

1 City Counselling Centre-BNG, Bengaluru, Karnataka, India
2 Department of Psychiatric Social Work, National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences, Bengaluru, Karnataka, India
3 Division of Yoga and Life Sciences, Swami Vivekananda Yoga Anusandhana Samsthana, Bengaluru, Karnataka, India

Date of Submission24-Nov-2021
Date of Acceptance09-Dec-2022
Date of Web Publication03-Feb-2023

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Aarti Jagannathan
Department of Psychiatry Social Work, Hosur Road, National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences, Bengaluru - 560 029, Karnataka
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/jacs.jacs_45_21

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Happiness being a state-of-mind, it can be achieved by different paths as laid out by various world religions. Since the ultimate goal of all religions is inner peace, cross-referencing of factors to achieve happiness throws up an interesting mix of feasibility and barriers across global societies. The integration of thoughts from a Hindu culture to a European Christian culture or an Arabic Muslim could lead a mosaic without being religion specific. Since yoga is not affiliated to any religion in particular, it has the direction to lead the aspirant on well-laid path to happiness that includes the best principles integrated from world religions. This study reviews the concept of happiness and pathways to happiness from the perspective of different religions. It also provides a comparative statement on happiness analysis and a conceptual framework based on the results of the review.

Keywords: Cross culture, happiness analysis, religion

How to cite this article:
Rao V N, Jagannathan A, Vani K V. Happiness analysis: Need for cross-cultural interventions across religions. J Appl Conscious Stud 2023;11:27-33

How to cite this URL:
Rao V N, Jagannathan A, Vani K V. Happiness analysis: Need for cross-cultural interventions across religions. J Appl Conscious Stud [serial online] 2023 [cited 2023 Oct 4];11:27-33. Available from: http://www.jacsonline.in/text.asp?2023/11/1/27/369134

  Introduction Top

The Oxford English Dictionary defines “Happiness” as a state of feeling or showing pleasure or contentment. Happiness is the ultimate goal of every human being (Lee, 2020). It is a state-of-mind which is hard to define and difficult to measure. However, life's moments of joy happen when there is a sense of achievement like getting the first job, getting a promotion, getting married, owning a car, making friends and the like.

While happiness is often considered a life experience of pleasures, with genuine happiness consisting of various pleasurable experiences, while happiness is an innate desire of every individual, it is perceived as a result of material pursuits and accomplishments. However, a deeper analysis reveals that happiness can also be a feeling beyond the obvious. According to Daniel Nettle, there are three levels of happiness. Level one happiness is instantaneous, sensual, quantifiable and expressed through laughter, smiles, singing and dancing. Level two happiness pertains to the individual's thought process and involves emotions and values such as contentment, inquisitiveness, joy, hope and inspiration, which are intricate and comparable to life. Level three happiness mirrors an individual's quality of life and cannot be measured. In this state, the mind is at ease with no clash of emotions. The values of life, personal beliefs and actions are in perfect alignment with each other and joy through contentment is observed (Nettle, 2005).

Seligman, 2002, the founder of positive psychology, theorised using scientific approaches about why people are happy (Joseph Sirgy and Wu, 2009). He stated that happy people have three dimensions – a pleasant life, a good life and a meaningful life. A pleasant life is accomplished when one learns to forgive and have gratitude for the past, live happily in the present, and look forward to the future with hope and optimism. The good life is accomplished when one finds the unique strength, values, and virtues to live a great life. A meaningful life is attained when we use our strengths and virtues to enrich the lives of others (Seligman, 2002).

Happiness, which is a state of mind, is not dependent on the external affairs of the world. According to Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader from Tibet, any individual in pursuit of happiness can attain the state of happiness by training for it just like any other skill (Lama, 2009). However, when we analyze the concept of happiness from the perspective of different religions, there are similarities and differences. Thus, it becomes challenging due to the various belief systems and faiths.

This philosophical exploration aims to understand the meaning of happiness across different religions and cultures if we can juxtapose them with one another to arrive at a conceptual framework of happiness.

  Happiness as Understood Across Religions and Cultures Top

In Hindu philosophy, happiness means bliss or ananda. Hindu texts such as the Vedas, Upanishads, and bhagavad gita describe the attainment of eternal happiness with the termination of the birth and death cycle (moksha). In this concept, those who give up the fruits of their action (karma phala) and submit themselves entirely to the divine will arrive at the termination of the birth and death cycle (samsara) to enjoy eternal happiness (ananda) (Kiran Kumar, 2006).

Happiness analysis in “ananda mimamsa” from Taittiriya Upanishad details nine levels of happiness, the first level being manusya ananda and the highest happiness being brahmananda (Banavathy and Choudry, 2014). Yogic texts describe complete happiness as a state of silence free from unnecessary thoughts and fears, leading to perfect poise and freedom of choice in life. The manusmriti and patanjali yoga sutras describes the root of happiness as contentment, nonviolence, truthfulness, cleanliness, control of one's senses, conformity in words, thoughts and deeds, and not acquiring wealth through immoral methods (Jois, 2015; Nagarathna and Nagendra, 2003).

According to Hinduism, the word sukha (happiness) has several meanings, including peace, pleasure, and comfort, and from physical to spiritual levels of happiness. Usually, word sukha is attributed to worldly happiness and ananda for eternal bliss. According to the bhagavad gita, there are three kinds of happiness. Happiness is born out of deriving pleasure from indulging in wrongdoings which affect others negatively (tamasic happiness). Happiness is derived from materialistic pleasure for self (rajasic happiness) and happiness born of the clear perceptive discrimination of self-realization (sattvic happiness). Thus, every human has these three qualities (gunas)(tamasic, rajasic, and sattvic). A person freed from these three qualities is said to become a “gunatita” (one who is beyond the sway of the three (gunas), unaffected by joy or sorrow, pain or pleasure or any dualities. By rising to this level, one attains supreme bliss by realising God (Banavathy and Choudry, 2014; Yogananda, 1995). According to sri aurobindo, happiness is the natural state of humanity despite the dualities of pain and pleasure experienced by humankind (Misra and Miśra, 1998). Each individual chooses the most appropriate path that suits their life (DeLuca, 2010).

Christianity considers happiness as a gift of God which can be both present and eschatological. Present happiness is achieved through prior experiences of worldly life, while eschatological happiness is through heaven. Human happiness on the earth is viewed as imperfect happiness (felicitas) dependent on a physical body acquired through knowledge of God and application of our natural intellect. Happiness in this life can be achieved by contemplating truth and virtue. However, true happiness or beatitudo is in the vision of God, and it is not dependent on the physical body. Such happiness is what one would experience in a heavenly world. Christians believe that communion with the holy trinity, where God is the father, son and holy spirit, can lead to salvation (Erickson, 2000; Lee, 2020). Christianity considers happiness to be the ultimate goal of humanity, and Jesus wants his followers to be always in peace and happiness (Shalom) with fellow beings and nature (Jefferts Schori, 2014; Lomas et al., 2021). According to new testament, the Greek word Makarios refers to beatitude or supreme happiness as humans' ultimate goal, which is achieved by having a close relationship with God and following the teachings of Jesus Christ. Christ proffers eight beatitudes representing the highest morals endowing human beings with the perfect Christian life to attain happiness and salvation. Such happiness is a blissful state of inner peace associated with the divine and remains untouched by the circumstances of life. According to St. Augustine, happiness can be attained only through the realization of God, which is the purpose of life. Such happiness is attainable with human wisdom and knowledge of God. Saint Aelred of Rievaulx identifies happiness with three components: “moral virtue, transcendent happiness, and earthly pleasures” (Jefferts Schori, 2014; Lee, 2020; Marques, 2020).

The concept of happiness in Islam points to a balance of various states of self, body and soul as the essential component of happiness. Happiness has three types: false, temporary, true or eternal. The first two are those which have been acquired by achieving short-term goals in life and are temporary. In comparison, true happiness is permanent throughout lives, irrespective of the world's situation (Abde and Salih, 2015). Happiness in the current world is obtained by following God's commandments and receiving his grace. The word happiness (al-sa'ada) is derived from the Quranic word Su'idu (blessed with happiness, who is happy), which is used as a synonym for happiness, salvation and blessing relevant to the worldly life as the afterlife. Here happiness is two-fold and complementary: one attainable on the earth (Al sa'ada al dunia) and another attained hereafter (Al sa'ada al quswa). Islamic philosophy expounds that happiness and eschatology are interrelated. The possibility of achieving the ultimate realization of happiness is only in the afterlife (Omar et al., 2021). Sufis advocate cultivating the soul (nafs) to attain enduring happiness, akin to developing a sense of self-contentment and purity to achieve the highest state (Al-Ghazzali et al., 2015). According to the philosopher, Miskawayh, happiness is often misconstrued as materialistic pleasures. However, true happiness is experienced within and cannot be described in words (Radez, 2019).

According to Buddhist philosophy, happiness is a mental state. It can be achieved in earthly life by following strict ethical and moral behavior such as respect for all beings, nature, knowledge value, compassion, mindfulness, and meditation (Marques, 2020). Buddhist scripture Dhammapada mentions purity in action and deed with wisdom can eliminate sorrow to achieve ultimate happiness, which follows like a shadow. Buddhists believe in two kinds of happiness (sukha), materialistic happiness (amisa sukha), and perpetual happiness (niramisa sukha), which denote earthy and eternal happiness. Buddhism relates happiness to one's karma (deed) to emancipate from the cycle of birth and death, which leads to nibbana (Liberation). Selflessness is the prerequisite of supreme happiness, which leads to enlightenment (nirvana) (Siu and Pháptử, 2020). According to Buddhist understanding, the four noble truths about suffering and the knowledge of alleviating misery and affliction lead to happiness. According to Buddhist doctrine, the Eightfold path (astangika-marga) consists of three elements: wisdom (panna), moral precepts (sila), and mind control (Samadhi) lead to enlightenment (Aich, 2013). Buddha's teachings stress happiness (Sukhavagga) related to human welfare in this life and a favorable rebirth hereafter (Yew et al., 2021).

  The Process of Attaining Happiness Top

The fundamental desire of a man is happiness. Happiness forms an intrinsic part of all religions, interspersed with values such as kindness, love, righteousness, peace, and compassion. All major religions of the world have elucidated the concept of eternal happiness and the path toward achieving it. Even though the routes to happiness vary, the objective remains the same, according to various belief systems.

Hinduism stipulates a holistic approach involving the material and spiritual needs of the individual. Ancient Hindu scriptures have laid down guidelines for happy living – right from the individual's birth to demise. According to Hinduism, the four purusharthas or goals are artha, kama, dharma, and moksha. Artha and kama pertain to material and physical well-being and recognition in society; dharma pertains to virtues and experience of the divine through our actions, and moksha implies liberation from worldly bonds.

According to taittiriya upanishad, there are five kosas (sheath) of human existence. Annamaya kosa (physical sheath), Pranamaya kosa (energy sheath), Manomaya kosa (mental sheath), Vijnanamaya Kosha (intellectual sheath) Anandamaya kosa (happiness/bliss sheath).

Hinduism believes that practizing yoga is one of the processes to achieve the highest state of happiness. It emphasizes the eight-step method (astanga yoga), which consists of Yama (virtuous living in the external world), and Niyama the moral injunctions for healthy living for oneself). In addition, Asana (postures), Pranayama (breath control), and the four stages of meditation (Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi) help to achieve tranquillity of the mind. The above practices help to elevate oneself from the grossest level of annamaya kosa to the subtlest level of anandamaya kosa, leading to happiness and bliss (Kavuri et al., 2015; Nagarathna and Nagendra, 2003).

The Bhagavad Gita propounds four ways to achieve eternal happiness – Karma Yoga (duty-driven), Bhakti Yoga (Devotion driven), Jnana Yoga (Knowledge driven), Raja Yoga (Path for Liberation) (Yogananda, 1995).

Christianity details that the road to happiness follows the eight beatitudes of being humble, repenting for one's sins, having self-control, being righteous, merciful, being pure at heart, being a peacemaker and being in joy irrespective of external afflictions (Graham, 2011). These beatitudes and the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit help in physical and spiritual purification to attain happiness (Lee, 2020). One can obtain a happy life filled with love, peace, and prosperity that binds all humans by following the Ten Commandments, the essential law of the bible (Leap, 2013). Mathew quotes in the Gospel that leading a life of perfection and the path shown by Jesus will lead to the highest happiness (Marais, 2015). Bliss returns when we are good to others and surrender to God by becoming like a small child who does not have even a little vice (Graham, 2017).

Prayers are considered an effective means to unite with God to achieve happiness. According to Christianity, the soul has three faculties (understanding, memory, and will) whose objectives are three virtues – love, detachment, and humility. St. Teresa of Avila offers an explicit foundation for prayers (prayer of quiet, prayer of full union, a prayer of ecstasy, and prayer of transforming union) leading to inner silence, mindfulness, and attainment of divine happiness in life. The prayer of union with God, known as Oracion meditation, is one of the paths that lead to salvation (Dubay, 1989; Nityabodhananda, 1980; Paratparananda, 1980; Tyler, 2018). Similarly, St. Francis of Assisi voluntarily embraced poverty to follow the rules of the Lords and achieve happiness (Thompson, 2012). According to Protestants, the moral of life is about resisting sins and completely detaching oneself from vices. Notwithstanding the differences between Catholics and Protestants, the path to attain happiness and salvation remains the same (Marques, 2020).

Islam mentions that those who follow the Quran and the Prophet's (Messenger of God) sayings will achieve happiness. The process of attaining happiness involves offering daily prayers, helping the poor and needy, practizing etiquettes of eating, drinking, talking and socializing, righteousness, and wishing the same for others that one wishes for themselves. Islam details the stages of perfecting self or soul (nafs) from the physical level of happiness to the intellectual level, leading to peace, harmony, balance, and perfect happiness where there is no compromise of eternal happiness (Ismail and Haron, 2014; Marques, 2020). Sufis believe the process of purification of the soul (tazkiyah al nafs) leads to spiritual happiness, achieved through holistic knowledge (marifah) (Gulam, 2019). According to Sufism, renouncing luxury and meditation (muraqaba), which advocates prayer and contemplation to unite with God, are the paths to achieving happiness (Isgandarova, 2019; Prabhananda, 1980).

Buddhism is based on four noble truths and the eight-fold path (right living, right vision, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, mindfulness, and concentration) one should follow to attain Liberation. The primary requisite to reach unshaken happiness is renunciation. One can achieve tranquillity and happiness through skilful actions, morality, compassion, detachment, and meditation. Buddhists practice meditation (anapanasati and vipassana) (Amarasekera and Chang, 2019) to purify the mind, which leads to eternal happiness (Ricard, 2014; Yew et al., 2021).

  Is it Possible to Achieve Cross-Cultural Adaptation of the Means of Achievement of Happiness? Top

In all religions, there are obvious parallels and contrasts to the means of attainment of happiness [Table 1]. One striking similarity is finding happiness in the service of the needy – the unhealthy, downtrodden, the underprivileged, and the aged. Understanding the meaning and paths to achieve happiness across different religions and cultures helps one juxtapose them with one another to arrive at a common conceptual framework of happiness [Figure 1]. This cultural framework can be used for cross-cultural adaptation.
Figure 1: Religions: Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism

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Table 1: Comparison of means of attaining happiness across Regilions

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However, adapting to cultural diversity can be complicated. In general, we could classify people and their preferences into three categories. Those who follow the religion they are born in, those who belong to a religion are open to accepting other religious practices and those who do not believe in any religion and abhor religious practices. Thus, it is essential to find common ground wherein people can achieve happiness, irrespective of their belief systems and interest.

The concept of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam – “the world is one family” found in Hinduism envisions integrating the world into one colossal human family, notwithstanding our cultural, linguistic and religious difference. This concept can be considered the guiding principle and the way forward for today's world in its quest for happiness. Happiness being a state of mind, it is imperative to bring forth a common ground for the aspects of love, faith, gratitude, hope, prayer, meditation, and compassion for different religions.

Hinduism propounds Yama and Niyama for virtuous living and moral conduct, which are found in all religions. Asana and Pranayama (physical-level practices) which help control body and mind, subsequently lead one to the higher-level practices of Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi, which leads to bliss.

The concept of meditation or similar practices in Christian prayer and Sufism contemplation practices, known as Oracion meditation and Muraqaba meditation, help achieve ultimate happiness. In comparison, the core facet of Buddhism is mindfulness and meditation (anapanasati and vipassana), which leads to the highest happiness. All these practices help elevate the mind leading to an exalted level of happiness, leading to Liberation.

Thus the prime component of Astanga Yoga is found in all major religions. Yoga as an intervention can be considered to achieve the goal of happiness.

The UN has proclaimed the 20th of March as the International Day of Happiness and released the comparative happiness index of all countries worldwide. The UN Sustainable Development strives to promote peace and happiness for world peace. Recognizing yoga as a practice to achieve health and well-being, the UNGA (United Nations General Assembly) declared the celebration of International Yoga Day on the 21st of June every year, wherein people can practice across the Nation.

  Conclusion Top

As espoused by world religions, the paths to the ultimate goal of happiness may be diverse, but in essence, they lead the seeker to the same purpose. Happiness being a state of mind and the inherent quality of a human being, it becomes essential to understand the milestones laid by all religions for ultimate happiness. This conceptual framework helps understand individual and spiritual happiness, which could inspire positive human action, benefitting humanity.

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