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Happiness, Health, Wellbeing & Self-Realisation

 

Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” - World Health Organisation (1948,)

Guruji B.K.S Iyengar, elaborates on this definition of Health by exploring every aspect of what makes us Human and what does it means to be Human.

According to Guruji,  Health is a state of complete harmony of the body, mind and spirit. When one is free from physical disabilities and mental distractions, the gates of the soul open.” 

He empasises that though health begins at the physical level, diseases are just not a physical phenomenon. Mental distractions have a massive impact as they disturb our spiritual life and practice which eventually manifest in disease and illness. 

Health has the potential to be experienced at every level; physical,  moral, mental, intellectual health and even the health of our consciousness, the health of our conscience and ultimately, divine health.

But current models of Wellbeing are not integrative. They donot take into account all the aspects and levels of Health and investigate different aspects separately.

 

Western models of Well being focus either on Hedonic Well-being or Eudaemonic Wellbeing.

 

Hedonic Wellbeing – Well being of Pleasure

The word ‘hedonism’ comes from the ancient Greek ‘hedone’ which means ‘pleasure’. It claims that only sensory pleasure or pain motivates us. And the sum of these moments of pleasure constitutes a positive experience. And the ultimate goal of life is to maximise pleasure and to minimise pain.

When you subtract the number of positive experiences from the negative, you are left with affective balance which can give a perception of a life satisfaction.

hedonism

But spikes in pleasures during a hedonic experience are not lasting. Once their novelty has worn off, one returns to base level. This is the hedonic treadmill or rather the hamster wheel where it is never enough and there is always a need for more.  

Although material wellbeing and higher financial capacity results correlate with life satisfaction, wealth has a smaller impact on human wellbeing than people generally think.

Research suggest that wealth is subject to laws of 'diminishing happiness returns' meaning that once there is a high level of initial income, further increase in wealth has lesser impact on wellbeing.

But the want of hedonistic experience is crucial to keep the wheels of the economy moving. Hence the ‘Pursuit of Happiness is championed as a prime purpose of life where we spend our hard-earned money on the things that we don’t need but would rather have anyways.   

Eudaemonic Wellbeing – Well being of Virtue

Though the English translation of this ancient Greek term ‘Eudaemonia’ is Happiness , it is not related to a feeling pleasure or satisfaction.   

For Aristotle, every human being is unique and is born with an intrinsic virtue. Something which comes naturally to you. To do that which you are born to do in an excellent manner. And to do it for its on own sake rather than for sake of something else results in Eudaemonia – the highest Human Good.  
Eudaemonic Wellbeing than refers to experiences associated with living a life of virtue in pursuit of Human excellence. It is realising your true potential and can be summed up as ‘becoming the best version of yourself

Six factor model of psychological wellbeing

The six-factor model of psychological wellbeing (Ryff and Sarason 1989) which integrates different perspectives of Western Psychology employs a ‘Eudaimonic’ approach and proposes six factors which contribute to an individual’s wellbeing:

  • Positive relations with others: - engagement in meaningful relationships with others that include reciprocal empathy, intimacy, and affection. "People would describe me as a giving person, willing to share my time with others".
  • Sense of purpose: - strong goal orientation and conviction that life holds meaning. Some people wander aimlessly through life, but I am not one of them".
  • Self-acceptance: - positive attitude about his or herself. "I like most aspects of my personality".
  • Personal growth: - continual development, welcoming to new experiences, and recognizes improvement in behavior and self over time. "I think it is important to have new experiences that challenge how you think about yourself and the world".
  • Autonomy: - freedom to regulate behavior independent of social pressures, "I have confidence in my opinions, even if they are contrary to the general consensus".
  • Environmental mastery: - Managing everyday affairs and creating situations to benefit personal needs. "I feel I am in charge of the situation in which I live".

Though a comprehensive model, it misses out on Aristotle's fundamental principles of Eudaemonia; the process of finding out your intrinsic virtue and that of performing it for its own sake rather than for the sake of results. 

Dharmic Model of Self-Realisation  

The Dharmic Model of Self Realisation emanates from the philosophical framework of ‘Sankya Darshana’- the oldest amongst the sixteen philosophical systems of India.  ‘Sankhya’ means a system of numbers and categories while Darshana implies direct experiential knowledge gained out of thorough rational Self-enquiry.    

The Sankya system is formulated to address the fundamental enquiry into Human suffering.
It divides the enquiry into 4 parts

- What is Human Misery?
- What are its causes?
- How can it be destroyed?
- What are the causes of its destruction?

Sankhya draws a line between Energy & Matter, Spiritual & Material and not between the Mind and Body. Mind and Body are a material continuation where Mind is the finer aspect of the body and body is the gross aspect of the mind. Beyond the Mind-body is the Energy component known as Purusha or Atman or Consciousness.  

Sankhya and Yoga Philosophy 

Sankya and Yoga philosophy are integral to each other. Sankya is the theory and Yoga is the practice. Practice without theory is blind and theory incomplete without practice.  Any attempt to understand and practice one without the other are incomplete and unsatisfactory.

All socio-psycho- physio yogic practices are aimed towards becoming aware of the presence of the Energy component of Consciousness from which our very awareness emanates.

Through constant practice, as one become ever more aware of this source of awareness, the deeper is the cut on misery and higher the exuberance of Joy. Because our very true nature, of this consciousness is that of Bliss. We are born happy and Happiness is our true nature which we lose sight of when we look for it outside.     

child meditating

To really experience this inherent happiness, our body is to be prepared, perceptions to be refined and Concentration to be mastered.  Because only through single pointed concentration can the Consciousness be experienced. Every other thought is but a distraction which become obstacles in the practice. These mental obstacles translate to physical disorders at the body level.  

Another aspect which causes suffering, is the pre-conditioning of the Mind, Avidya or the lack of understanding of our true nature. Associating ourselves with what we possess rather than the knowledge of who we are. This breeds  
the Ego - I-me-myself; who is attached to that which brings pleasure and  avoids pain and lives in a fear and insecurity of losing it all. Every one is born with these mental afflictions and are inherent to all.

Here pleasure and pain are two sides of the same coin which condition our life and determine the course of our actions. Being disconnected with the source of bliss, one looks for external sources to bring short term pleasures. But this wrong baggage at the mental level is what leads to distraction and eventually to illness.

The practice of Yoga is a continuous process, with the progress of which these afflictions are weakened and sustained bliss is experienced.  

Theory of Three Gunas

Here comes the concept of three Gunas. ‘Guna’ is fundamental constituent of everything in the Universe that is material - ‘Prakriti’. This is what our mind and body is made of and we share this intrinsic constitution with everything we call Nature.   

Every material thing has theses three Gunas in various proportions.

  • Sattva – Positive energy, a spiritual quality which produces illumination, gladness, delight, joy, peace, tranquillity and clarity.
  • Rajas – Dynamic energy, principle of activity responsible for mobility, ambition, restlessness, pain, aggression and greed.
  • Tamas – Potential Energy, principle of Inactivity, responsible for Inertia, groundedness, indifference, laziness   

    The dominance of one Guna , decreases the strength of the other. For example, laziness (tamas) can be reduced by learning and doing new activities (rajas). To get rid of a bad habit, a new one needs to be cultivated.

    To experience our true nature, the inherent Happiness, Sattva must be dominate. All positive, Sattvik activities increase the strength of Sattva.

    indian girl doing yoga

    The limbs of Yoga, which include codes of conduct both social (Yamas) and personal (Niyamas), physical practices of Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara and psychological practices of Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi are all Sattvic activities designed to stimulate the Sattva Guna.  

    Their objective is to harmonise the Rajas and Tamas back into Sattva. As sattva increases the mind becomes calm, ever more focussed and aware to eventually realise its true nature, its inherent quality of pure joy.  This is Self-Realisation and Wellbeing is a fruit thereof.