Should happiness really be the goal? A Buddhist perspective


The pursuit of happiness generally is considered to be the ultimate goal of a human journey, while economic wealth is expected to support that goal. However, there are many different and plausible ways of looking at quality of living.

“You could be well off, without being well.
You could be well, without being able to lead the life you wanted.
You could have got the life you wanted, without being happy.
You could be happy without having much freedom.
You could have a good deal of freedom, without achieving much.”

– A. Sen (1987)

From a Buddhist perspective happiness is not the ultimate goal. The cessation of suffering is. Therefore in Buddhism economic growth is considered useful and welcome when it helps reduce suffering.

Suffering, according to Buddhist philosophy, is only completely ended when Nirvana, the state of ending the cycle of rebirth, is achieved. This achievement of ‘happiness’ however is not a hedonist sensual pleasure feeling, but a ‘feel good’ in the sense of deep satisfaction comparable to a feeling of complete fulfillment of one’s soul and forgetting ones suffering in that process. Meditation provides the means to level expectations, to keep experiences fresh, human, and spectacular, and to achieve a state of flow during life time.

Contemporary research more and more has clearly found too that satisfaction from wealth and income (once basic needs are met) do not last. Even in contrary, being enslaved to material craving and greed is increasing suffering. The control of the often self-deceptive and therefore suffering mind is a choice. Meditation is such a mindfulness practice that can be key to reach deeper and longer lasting states of calm and peaceful satisfaction-like happiness. It is the following paradoxes in combination with human unlimited want that need to be overcome by accepting life as it is against ones own ego:

  • Life is unstable and swept away
  • Life has no shelter, no guard
  • Life has nothing of its own, one must go leaving everything
  • Life is insatiate, incomplete, and the slave of craving

Good to remember, no? As we intuitively always realize again that our craving is conflicting with these ultimate laws of life, we feel empty and unhappy in spite of wealth, income, and money. Once our mind controls the rise of ever new desires, suffering can be controlled too.

For me this is not religious consolation nor spiritual escape, and certainly not just a wound plaster on demand. Rather it is daily down-to-earth mindfulness practice with the goal to control the mind, be it in terms of cravings, anger, or fear in order to lead a joyful life as a good human being.