There is a beautiful speech in Romeo and Juliet where Juliet is expressing the nature of her love for Romeo.
“My bounty is as boundless as the sea,
My love as deep; the more I give to thee,
The more I have, for both are infinite.”
I was reminded of this when thinking about happiness, because it shares much of the nature of Juliet’s love. It is boundless and unconfined. True happiness knows no limitation.
It is everywhere. And if we only open ourselves up to it then we can certainly find that all sorts of simple things are a source of happiness.
But to find the everlasting bliss that is spoken of in the teachings of the wise, we have to look elsewhere and in another way. We have to discover that well-spring of joy within ourselves, that continues to flow regardless of the external circumstances. A quiet joy.
The Sanskrit word for Happiness is Ānanda (आनन्द). It means total, complete and unending joy, happiness and bliss.
As with all the great universal energies like love, and peace, and knowledge, the wise tell us that Ānanda is part of our true nature, it is who we really are. Like breathing, or walking, or seeing, we don’t have to earn the right to happiness. It comes with our very existence.
But like love and peace, happiness appears to come and go. The wise may tell us we are eternally blissful, but it doesn’t always seem like that.
So how do we take the first steps along the path to find our true inheritance of Ānanda, eternal joy and bliss? The key is to start from where we are, not some idealised place which seems far off.
And Juliet can offer some more help. The second part of her description – the more I give to thee, the more I have, for both are infinite – tells us where to begin.
One of my teachers put the same idea slightly differently. He recommended that we give what we think we lack. If we have no friends, we should be friendly. If we lack money, we should be generous and charitable, even with the little that we have. If we feel unloved, we should be affectionate and loving to anyone who comes our way.
And if we want happiness, but our experience of joy is that it comes and goes and seems to be dependent on external circumstances over which we have no control, then a good place to start is to resolve to cheer others up, make them happy, spread a little joy in the world.
My teacher concluded this advice by telling us that this practice, of giving what we lack, seems impossible. Until we try it.
The wise promise us unending bliss. Most of us need to apply ourselves and make an effort to attain this wonderful condition. And the path is laid out before us. And a great way to take the first steps is to give happiness to everyone you meet.