Often yoga is associated with discipline, hard work, denial and even rigorous practice. Sure, we talk a lot in Yoga about discipline, and yes, we need that, but really, Yoga is the “Art of Joyful Living” (Swami Rama). We confuse joy with happiness, not knowing what either is except that it’s something that makes me feel good, invoking in me the feeling of being happy.

Scientific research names three sources that give us “happiness”:

  1. Pleasure (positive sensory experience, for example eating chocolate, drinking cappuccino, making love, even doing vigorous exercises).
  2. Engagement (involvement with one’s family, work, romance and hobbies, doing something where we are positively involved, not feeling alone and separate).
  3. Meaning (something like fulfillment, satisfaction, etc.)

All these bring a rush of energy to our heart; we say it gives an adrenalin rush and releases endorphins. But that’s not it. Let’s contemplate: Whether through pleasure, engagement in the world or in meaning, or indeed, whether from the satisfaction derived from knowing I do “right” – all the above reasons link happiness to events that happen outside of ourselves.

The research indicates that what contributes most to happiness are working human relationships. In fact, the happiest people seem to be those who are in the center of a network of people, such as family, friends and community. We derive happiness from: my wife, my husband, my children, my friends, my state. This includes not only simple contact, but the ability to communicate and be understood by them. So happiness is a reaction to something that happens “on the outside.”

Moreover, what makes us happy seems to depend on our personal make-up, our character type. We can easily recognize five types of happiness, which we call the elements or gunas. According to the Bhagavad Gita (Yogic Scripture), for one type of people happiness arises from things staying the same (security, routine, habits, lack of inspiration). This type of happiness satisfies the basic human urge for safety and mere sense cravings. It is linked to addictive, samsaric patterns.

The second kind of happiness arises from doing the job asked of you perfectly; happiness here arises out of the satisfaction of achieving an aim. This can, with higher understanding mean that happiness arises from dropping the confines of the conditioned ego-self, rising above it and merging in the joy of knowing one’s subtler core, one’s essence, the Higher Self.

The third type of happiness arises from the thrill resulting from passionate sensual stimulus; however, unhappiness follows in its wake, dumping the enjoyer into a pit of exhaustion. Happiness changes easily into un-happiness. However this burning fire has the potential of transcending the sense experience into awareness of the “light beyond,” and with such transformation one can taste the “joy of being.”

The fourth and fifth kinds of happiness stem from the joy of discovering something new and through creativity, discriminative awareness and insight, which leads to the moment of “eureka” – of the aha experience, the “Ionian enchantment.” The satisfaction from such insights brings equilibrium and hence fosters inner harmony and peace. It roots in “the joy arising out of inner self-control. Initially it might feel ‘tough’ (tapasya), unpleasant/like poison, but is in effect like elixir; that happiness is called sattvic, born of the pleasantness of one’s intelligence” (Swami Rama; Perennial psychology of the Bhagavad Gita; XVIII/37).

The peace and tranquillity, the joy and expansion that the mind and intellect come to experience as a result of the latter, is a coming together of inner and outer nature, and as such is called “prasadam,” gladness of the heart.

The Bhagavad Gita says that when the individual self finds delight and joy in his Self, that is the highest form of all joys. That is love – love not for an object, not love because of fulfilling a desire, but love without object…simply love for all. More subtle versions of happiness relate to a “state of being in joy” that Swami Veda Bharati refers to as “Chitta prasadanam” and is in Buddhism called “the beautiful mind.” The joy that arises from such beautiful mind, is caused by:

  • “Giving of oneself (earth)
  • Merging into the ocean of the all-pervading (water)
  • Fulfillment of one’s destiny (fire to light)
  • Gladness of heart and mind
  • Through living a divine life (air and space).”

Happiness that stems from fulfillment of lower desires (sense pleasures) is always temporary, invariably followed by unhappiness. The subtler, higher versions of an inner happiness is what we refer to as joy! Joy has no opposite, because it is not related to the external. To experience joy we have to turn inward, to get in touch with that “inner happiness,” which has no trigger, no relationship with what goes on in the outside world. That joy is there, whether we live in a troubled world, chaotic family situation, alone on a mountain top – or in prison.

Somewhere within us, there exists a source of deep joy, independent of causation. It is what is referred to as ananda, marking our true source: sat (existence) chit (consciousness) ananda (bliss/joy).  Joy then rises in its purest sense from realizing who we really are, hence is always available within us, arising from “an internal state of tranquillity!” (S.R. Holistic Health).

It’s the source in our being, that joy externalized is felt as happiness. Joy itself is something intrinsically ours; it cannot be taken away, even if the circumstances change, or we lose all wealth and health. It is, rather, an innate quality that is in you and part of you. You don’t lose it when you lose your job! Or your children!

Joy is a sense of tranquillity and love, which bubbles in us as a life spring. In Swami Rama’s  (and Swami Ajaya’s) book, Creative Use of Emotions, this definition of joy is given: “Joy is the first-born of love and is experienced by all creatures. A human being can experience joy through thought, actions and speech which soothes the senses and stimulates the nervous system. Joy is a necessity in human life. It repairs the physical and mental damage brought on by one’s way of day-to-day living.

“Life without joy is a light that shines only for the dead. A fortunate few know how to utilize this joyous state of mind. Joy is very necessary for maintaining harmony within oneself and in one’s relationships in the world, at home and in society.”

To live from such inner tranquility, peace and joy is what Yoga offers us. In fact, it is the key to “the art of joyful living” as Swami Rama called it.


Swami Nitya will be in the Twin Cities area through the end of July. She will be giving public lectures at The University of St. Thomas in St. Paul as part of the Creating Joy: The Art and Science of Yoga Congress 2011. For more information visit www.TheMeditationCenter.org or stop by The Meditation Center, 631 University Ave. NE, Minneapolis, MN 55413. Email info@TheMeditationCenter.org or call 612.379.2386.

Swami Nityamuktananda Saraswati (Dr. Christa-Maria Herrmann), German by birth and naturalized British, became a Yogic monk in 2003 from Swami Anubhavananda and confirmed her vows in the traditional Vedic ceremony with Swami Veda Bharati in the Himalayan Tradition in 2007. In 1997 she completed a Ph.D. in ecophilosophy on the subjects of the mahabhutas (five great elements) and has since contributed worldwide in conferences and workshops especially in two areas: the five elements and Yoga philosophy in its widest sense. Presently, she teaches mainly on topics related to Yoga philosophy (including meditation) and the five elements in many countries, and she also teaches in the Association of Himalayan Yoga Meditation Societies International teacher training program. She has taught for many years at the Kaivalyadhama Yoga Research Institute (Lonavla, India) as well as at Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama (Rishekesh, India).

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