Question: I grew up in a relatively poor family and I always envied the movie stars I watched on TV and read about who got whatever they wanted, traveled anywhere in the world, and ate at the best restaurants. I was certain living that lifestyle would make me happy. I worked day and night and saved every penny I got, eventually establishing a lucrative business that went public. For years I was caught up in the excitement of enjoying the “high life” I’d always dreamed of. But deep down inside, I still had this nagging feeling that something was missing. Then I started noticing that many of the rich and famous stars seemed just as empty as I felt, some even killing themselves. Why are people who seem to have it all still miserable?
Answer: This is a very important question. Michael Jackson, Anna Nicole Smith, and Elvis Presley sadly struggled for years with addiction to both illegal and prescription drugs. There are countless examples of rich and famous people who were so despondent they killed themselves. Even more have ended up in psychiatric hospitals or addicted to drugs. Despite the relative affluence of people in western countries, the high and ever-increasing rates of alcoholism, drug use, divorce, and suicide are continuing to spiral upwards.
Question: It’s so hard to understand for someone like me who comes from a middle class or poor background. How could someone who seems to have “everything” be so miserable?
Answer: Even people who have tremendous fame and wealth and full facility for sense gratification, are still not satisfied within. This leads them to a position where they experience frustration because they thought something was going to make them perfectly happy, but it did not make them perfectly happy. So their motivation to exist becomes less and less. Their motivation to do anything becomes less.
Such a person will experience purposelessness and complete hopelessness. After all, they firmly believe wealth, fame, sex, eating and other forms of gratification will make them happy. But even after they have had so much sense gratification, they’re still not happy. Therefore, they see no solution to their problem of unhappiness or dissatisfaction. They have no idea what the problem really is or why they are unhappy. They cannot understand it.
Yoga wisdom makes clear that our search for happiness—and whether or not we will find real happiness—is dependent upon how we identify ourselves.
The physical body is a vehicle you are driving or riding in. You, the self, are the driver of this vehicle. If you are the owner and driver of a beautiful, shiny car, would putting gas into it and maintaining it in any way satisfy the hunger in your belly? If a person only took care of his car, but failed to take care of himself, he would die.
Taking care of our physical body, which is like a car, is important, but if all we do is take care of the needs and wants of our body and we neglect the spiritual food we need to be truly happy, we will feel empty and miserable. So although there is pleasure derived from sense enjoyment, wealth, power, fame and so on, it is not completely sufficient to satisfy your heart.
To be blissful is our natural condition. But where will we find such pleasure, such bliss? Great yoga teachers and philosophers state that the highest happiness is found when one begins to care about and work for the welfare for other people instead of just caring about and working for oneself. This selfless service further increases one’s happiness.