Imagine putting in a lot of effort to climb up to a lookout point. Finally, you see this incredible view all around you. Doesn’t it just amaze you?
I used to be a nature lover and traveled everywhere to find beautiful places. It’s like I could never get enough, always wanting to discover new spots and soak in their beauty. But you know what? There was something I didn’t get – I was fooling myself that such a thing could ever be truly satisfying.
In this article, we’ll start looking more deeply into the notion of apparent beauty and why it is such a tricky and deceptive concept to wrap your head around. I briefly touched on this topic a few times in the essential reads I suggest you start with on the homepage, though they were more like small teasers to let you know what’s coming. That said, grasping this concept deeply is truly important.
If you haven’t read those articles, I strongly encourage you to do so. Many people I encounter think that they comprehend this concept because on the surface it looks rather simple. If you genuinely comprehend this idea to the extent that it transforms your mind’s perception—and therefore your thoughts—you’ll immediately witness a shift in your life.
If that transformation does not happen, it is simply your ego leading you astray. The ego, a product of ignorance, is the biggest challenge you’ll have to face on this journey. I discussed the reasoning behind it in more detail in the post “The Biggest Obstacle to Happiness.” If you haven’t already read it, I urge you to give it a read.
A train ride of freedom
Back in September 2009, I found myself on a train in South India. The train wasn’t too crowded, and I noticed that the doors were left open. That intrigued me. I hesitated a bit, unsure if it was allowed, but eventually, I made my way to the doorway.
As the sun gradually dipped below the horizon, casting a shimmering reflection on the rice fields and the gentle breeze brushed against my skin, a surge of emotion engulfed me. It was an entirely new sensation – a deep feeling of freedom that I had never experienced before. Tears welled up in my eyes as I stood there, soaking in the moment for as long as I could. In that instance, I couldn’t help but think, “This place is truly something extraordinary.”
Why nobody else was impressed?
I chose this experience because of the immense happiness I felt, and it serves as a solid example for exploring the true nature of “beauty.” When I think back on this memory now, my feelings about it have completely changed. Above all, I feel a sense of freedom like I’ve never felt before. This experience on the train and any other experience that came after, pale in comparison. Actually, they’re not even in the same category.
Let’s revisit that train ride. Like I mentioned, I wasn’t the only person on the train. Although it wasn’t packed, there were still a good number of folks onboard. For some of them, it was probably just an ordinary train journey. They could have stood in the doorway like I did, but for some reason, they seemed happier doing something else.
In case you’re wondering whether they avoided the same spot because they preferred to stay out of trouble, I can tell you that’s not the case. I discovered it was, and maybe still is, a pretty regular and common thing to do. Unlike in some other countries where you’ll get arrested as soon as the train comes to a halt.
Let’s consider someone on that same train, for whom the journey was just an ordinary part of their daily routine. Perhaps they sometimes glanced outside. Who knows, they might have admired the view, but why didn’t they feel the same intense joy as I did?
Sure, a few factors come into play here; after all, I was at the train’s doorway, not merely observing the scenery. But even with just what I saw, I was absolutely captivated. The sight was truly breathtaking—those rice fields glistening, bathed in the soft orange hues of the expansive sun in the background.
I believe it was my first time witnessing rice fields in person. To fully convey the depth of emotion I felt, I’d need to touch on other elements that are more relevant to a subsequent discussion after we’ve explored this topic further. However, that’s not relevant for now. In that moment, all I experienced was the beauty of what lay right before my eyes.
It’s neither in rice fields nor in windmills
So, is it reasonable to assume that my fellow travelers, who witness this view every single day, aren’t quite as impressed by the rice fields? To them, it’s probably the most ordinary sight imaginable. Naturally, they’re going to feel very different. We all know this, but we hardly take a moment to truly reflect on it. How is it that I can see something that they seemingly can’t? Do I somehow have a superior eye for detail? Or is it possible that the more you’re exposed to something, the less you’re able to perceive its magnificence?
Imagine one of those individuals from the train visiting my home country. I’ve encountered more windmills than I can even begin to count. This person, on the other hand, might never have seen a windmill up close. Now, let’s suppose we decide to visit a windmill together. Assuming this person, like most tourists, is genuinely interested in doing some windmill sightseeing, who do you think finds the windmill more beautiful?
Naturally, you’ll notice that our tourist friend will be brimming with enthusiasm. They might toss around a few “beautifuls” or “amazings” as they go along. As for me? Well, not so much. And what about the person living right across from that windmill? Even less enthusiastic. They might even grumble about how it blocks the sun in the afternoon, thwarting their view of the sunset.
So, does that mean windmills are beautiful or not? Our tourist friend will confidently acknowledge their beauty, while the individual across from the windmill might label it as plain ugly.
Oddly enough, our tourist friend couldn’t see a great deal of beauty in the rice fields, yet they can find beauty in the windmill. Conversely, I struggled to see beauty in a windmill, but I could unmistakably see beauty in the rice fields.
The happiest person in the world: a rice farmer?
Now, consider a rice farmer. When they wade through the water, planting rice seedlings or reaping the fully grown plants, when they straighten their bent backs to gaze out across the rice fields, do you think they see beauty?
If rice fields somehow possessed that quality or characteristic, a rice farmer should be one of the luckiest people in the world. After all, they’re in the presence of this sight constantly. But that’s not how it works. A rice farmer has an incredible physically demanding and rough job. Every time they get tired and get up to take a breather they should feel utterly delighted by what they see, but at those moments they would find the sight of a chair a whole lot more beautiful.
If a windmill was beautiful, then the person across the street should be extremely happy. Yet, he is not happy because he doesn’t see that beauty. In fact, he would likely say it’s extremely ugly!
The right and wrong questions to ask
It’s common for some people to deceive themselves by thinking that they truly comprehend all of the above. I’m not poking at people or trying to provoke anyone, I have no such intention, but we should be able to ask the question then why do those same people work hard just so that they can go on an expensive holiday to see beautiful things?
Do you never go on a holiday expecting to see beauty? If not, would you still go? Would you still put in the effort and travel across oceans to see things that are not beautiful?
After all, is that not one of the reasons why you get on a plane and fly across the ocean? If there was nothing beautiful to see, why would you go through that trouble?
These are the questions we should be asking ourselves and contemplate on. But who encourages us to do so?
Different people think different things are beautiful. What’s wrong with that?
In a conventional sense, we can respond to this with, “Yes, that’s true,” and “There’s nothing wrong with that.” But we need to look at it more deeply, with wisdom.
We need to see things as they truly are, or else we’ll be constantly chasing after illusions. When viewed from this perspective, both the statement and the question are flawed. Allow me to shed more light on this with another example.
Following that particular train ride, I found myself on numerous other trains. Whenever I stepped onto a train, there was an undeniable eagerness within me to station myself at the doorway and gaze at the view. I passed by rice fields and countless other landscapes. While I did find them beautiful, it never seemed quite the same level of beauty I had previously encountered. If beauty was an inherent quality of the scenery or the act of standing in a train doorway, logically I should have been able to witness that same beauty each and every time, don’t you think?
As a matter of fact. This one time, it was fairly crowded on the train and I secured myself a seat right on the steps of the doorway. That way, my spot was safe from being taken, and I could even sit down when I got a bit tired from standing. Not only did I not find it all that appealing as before, but it also led me to become self-centered. A few people behind me were also keen on getting a spot in the doorway. More about this adverse side-effect in a moment.
If beauty is inherently part of something, we should come to the following conclusion:
- We should always be able to perceive the beauty whenever we desire.
- We should never be able to get enough of it, i.e., it can’t diminish if we don’t want it to.
- Everybody should be able to perceive the beauty. After all, it’s “in” the thing itself.
- Nobody should ever be able to perceive it as ugly because ugliness is not inherent to it.
Does any of the above make sense?
You know it can’t make sense because these statements are full of contradictions.
Why did I say the statement itself was flawed?
Different people think different things are beautiful.
This statement is flawed in an absolute sense, because the person who believes they can see beauty somewhere will stop seeing that beauty if they get exposed to it long enough.
That’s why when you get a new car, it’s so pretty, and a few years later you’re eager to get a new one.
But that’s because it has a few scratches on it, and it doesn’t look so sparkly anymore.
Alright, so beauty was in the paint job then?
If beauty is in the paint job, then you’d opt for a new car in the exact same color, right? And why not have the entire interior of the car spray-painted in that color as well?
if beauty was found in the paint, that would make you feel ecstatic.
Let’s give a name to the color and say we’re talking about metallic blue.
If metallic blue is beautiful, you surely won’t mind spraying your furniture in that color. Or your walls. While you’re at it, why not even give your family a metallic blue makeover?
See, that’s why that statement is ultimately flawed. The idea of “beauty” can actually transform into “ugliness.” The very notion contradicts itself.
As I’ve said, I don’t have any intention to offend you. I’m aware I may come across as sarcastic or a “know-it-all,” but I can assure you that I harbor no such feelings in the slightest. What I want is for you to think about these questions, because this is not something that anyone has asked of you before.
Critical thinking and analyzing these questions along with your own beliefs, is the first major step on the path to unconditional happiness.
I provided the car example, but if cars aren’t your thing and instead you’re more passionate about clothing, shoes, or maybe even a piece of artwork adorning your wall, try to connect these ideas to those instead.
I could present numerous examples, yet the ones that resonate with your own experiences tend to have a more potent impact. So, I encourage you to expand your viewpoint and not become fixated on individual examples. Please keep this in mind as we proceed.
To get back to the car, you could argue:
“Well, I only prefer that color for my car.”
In essence, you have a specific form in mind that appeals to you in metallic blue, yet you’re not fond of it for other forms. While this might sound like a bit of a stretch to some, if the concept we’re delving into is indeed valid, it should be able to consistently account for this scenario as well.
If that holds true and you exclusively perceive the beauty of metallic blue when it takes the form of your car, you should never be able to lose sight of that beauty.
Imagine this: your car is parked right in front of your house, and you’re comfortably settled on your sofa with a prime view of your car. Contentedly, you glance outside.
“Dad, can you get a pink car next time? Blue looks so ugly,” your daughter comments as she walks by.
Evidently, she doesn’t see what you see.
Well, never mind, you keep your eyes on your car. Don’t worry, you’ve got a drink and a snack handy in case you get thirsty or hungry. Since you find your car more beautiful than anything else in the vicinity, and you have no other immediate responsibilities, the logical thing to do is to fully immerse yourself in that beauty.
Now, let’s ponder what’s likely to happen over time. Will you be able to sustain watching your car for a solid 30 minutes? On second thought, forget about 30, how about 10 minutes? Or just 5 minutes for that matter?
The longer you focus on it, the more you’re going to struggle. That initial beauty you perceived will gradually give way to feelings of restlessness, boredom, or maybe even frustration.
Actually, you’re going to wish to see something you may not find that beautiful at all. Remember that ugly ornament you got for your birthday? If that ornament happened to be the only other thing around, the longer you’re stuck staring at your beautiful car, outfit, painting, or whatever it is, the more you might find yourself gravitating toward that “unsightly” birthday present.
Give it some time, and won’t you begin to value that gift just a tad more? Doesn’t it start to seem a bit more pleasing to the eye?
Now, to get the most out of this reading, finish up this paragraph and then take a moment to ponder the following question. I mentioned earlier that the question that comes after that statement is also flawed:
Different people think different things are beautiful. What’s wrong with that?”
Once again, I’m addressing this in a deeper sense, so we can examine it objectively with a sense of wisdom. In society, we can’t really communicate like this because it would just create confusion. And I’m not suggesting that we should try to change society in this manner; it would disrupt our ability to function as a species.
To truly find happiness, all we need to do is alter our perception or how we view things. The exact words we use aren’t as crucial. Two people can use the same word but feel completely different about it. So, after all this discussion, why, from a broader perspective, is this question fundamentally flawed?
Beauty does not exist in the outside world
Beauty isn’t, and cannot be, a quality inherently tied to something visible to the eye. It’s not hiding in a rice field or in a windmill. It doesn’t reside in your car, its paint job, your furniture, or even your watch. It’s not in this woman or that man, and neither can it be found in this or that child.
Because if beauty were to reside within any of those things, every single one of us would be able to perceive it, we would always find happiness in their presence, and we’d never tire of experiencing them.
To assert that different people appreciate different things in an absolute sense doesn’t hold up logically. The statement itself contradicts its own premise, as I’ve hopefully explained. Therefore, asking, “What’s wrong with that?” isn’t the right question to ask. You’re essentially seeking validation for something that doesn’t hold up logically. (Later on, we’ll explore the question we should be posing).
It all boils down to this:
You’re perceiving something that fundamentally doesn’t exist in the outside world. Yet, because you perceive it to be real, you strive, put in effort, and work relentlessly throughout your life, all the way until your final breath, just to have a glimpse of that.
Throughout your entire existence, you’ve placed significant importance on witnessing beautiful things, yet unknowingly, you’ve been searching for something that was never actually present to begin with.
A fabrication of the mind
Every instance where you’ve experienced beauty was a fabrication of your own mind. This is why something that initially appears beautiful can eventually lose its luster or even turn unattractive.
The mind can’t extract beauty from anything because there’s no inherent beauty to extract. Nonetheless, it persistently tries. It exerts tremendous effort. Yet, it always fails, every single time. This is why no sight on this planet or anywhere else in the universe can completely satisfy you.
At this point, you might find that this concept is beginning to make sense on some level, or you might sense some resistance emerging in your thoughts. Now, it’s possible that you’ve identified instances that seem to challenge what I’ve discussed.
If you haven’t, I encourage you to give it a shot before we move forward. Seriously, give it a try. Be critical, and see whether your views can hold up. But don’t disagree for the sake of disagreeing or question for the sake of questioning. That would not be productive at all.
Remember, only you, yourself, can develop a perception that allows you to become genuinely happy without having to rely on anything else. Including “beautiful” things.
Especially consider the last part where I said that you’ve strived your whole life trying to encounter beautiful things and have never succeeded at that because they never existed in the first place.
We’re going to look at this more deeply and dive into the concerns that commonly arise. To do that, we need a bit more context and an objective analysis. Regardless of the outcome, maintaining an open mind and objective perspective is essential, even when it comes to your own beliefs! This applies to anyone, including you and me.
Here are common concerns that arise based on what we’ve discussed so far:
1. Even if beauty doesn’t exist in this world, the feeling in my mind is very real. So what’s wrong with striving to cultivate that feeling? Isn’t happiness subjective in the end?
2. I have problems accepting that there’s no beauty in the world, because that would mean that life is meaningless. What’s the point of living if everything we do results to nothing. What about having goals and aspirations?
3. Is there any connection between the pursuit of beauty and our desire for happiness? If beauty isn’t real, does that mean our quest for happiness is equally fruitless?
The five sensory inputs
Up until now, we’ve primarily discussed the beauty that we perceive through our eyes. However, before delving into these questions in-depth, it would be wise to explore the other avenues through which we experience beauty. While they ultimately boil down to the same core concept, it’s important to acknowledge them to paint a complete picture. Along the way, we’ll also need to touch on pertinent examples to enhance our understanding.
Sound: melodious sounds that turn out not to be so melodious
Blind people experience beauty in life just like any other person. For them, sound might be more important. As I say this, think about what kind of sensory inputs you value. What sights do you find most beautiful, and therefore, most precious in life?
What sounds? Do you like music? If so, what music do you listen to? Do you like to listen to classical music, jazz, or perhaps a noisy cat in the middle of the night?
As with sights, there are sounds you have preferences for. You like hearing certain sounds and dislike hearing others. You might enjoy the sound of birds in the early morning, or the soothing murmur of a forest stream. You may like to hear words of praise and dislike hearing critique. Just as we did earlier, it’s critical to approach sound with the same objective analysis.
If beautiful sounds existed, it would be possible to extract beauty from them at any given time, whenever you desire. If classical music possessed an inherent characteristic of beauty, everybody should absolutely love classical music. Also, you should not mind playing it non-stop from the moment you wake up to the moment you go to bed. You should be thrilled listening to your favorite song all day long.
Do you enjoy receiving praise from others? Are you completely sure about that? Well, consider this: what if the praise becomes incessant?
I recall how much I appreciated being called handsome. However, when I moved to another country and interacted with new people regularly, I heard it so frequently that I became utterly fed up with it.
Yet, there was a time when I believed those words of praise held beauty and had the power to bring me happiness. I didn’t realize that beauty doesn’t actually reside within any sight or sound.
But because I perceived it to be so, they could make me feel both good and bad.
Although something or someone can’t actually “make” you feel good or bad in an absolute sense, it’s good enough for this discussion. We’ll examine the deeper intricacies in the next article.
If you’re someone who prefers praise over criticism and you’ve grown accustomed to only hearing praise, imagine the day when someone does finally offer you critique, assuming it’s conveyed respectfully. You’re likely to find it remarkably refreshing.
In this scenario, you’re discovering a sense of beauty in something you previously perceived as unpleasant. The truth is, inherent beauty or ugliness isn’t present in either praise or critique. They’re simply sounds that your mind processes. Once again, you’re interpreting something that doesn’t truly exist within the sound itself. These are also fabrications of the mind.
If you enjoy the soothing melodies of birds, come and stay in my neighborhood for a while. You’ll encounter certain birds that seem to have taken it upon themselves to serenade people as early as 4 am. If beauty were truly embedded within the sound, it wouldn’t have the power to bring about unhappiness. You’d simply wake up with a smile, thinking, “How delightful, that sound!”
However, not everyone finds themselves disturbed by such situations; some merely accept it and go back to sleep. Over time, I too got used to it. The fact that you can get used to something is also an indicator of how beauty and ugliness are simply perceptions of the mind.
Smell: the odor of poop
Similarly, you encounter various sensory experiences through your nose. You’ll find some scents pleasant while others unpleasant. In this context, it might not always be grammatically accurate to use the term “beautiful,” but we can easily substitute it with a positive term like “pleasant.” Ultimately, whenever we encounter a sensory input that we find appealing or beautiful, that’s when we experience happiness.
Our experience of happiness is rooted in the multitude of inputs we encounter through our senses. While thoughts and memories do contribute, they typically arise after interacting with sensory perceptions. Hence, for the time being, it’s sufficient to concentrate on these sensory inputs.
When it comes to smells, you might wonder, “Nobody likes the smell of poop. So, a bad smell must be an inherent part of poop.”
Please think about what you’ve learned so far and apply that knowledge to this statement. Just because it may sound sensible on the surface doesn’t necessarily mean it’s logically consistent.
Poop contains harmful microorganisms, much like rotten or moldy food does. That poses risks to our health. Naturally, we tend to shy away from it instinctively, although that’s only partly accurate. Many cultures, especially in rural farming communities around the world, don’t share the same aversion to poop.
Setting that aside, not everyone reacts the same way mentally when picking up the scent of poop. There could be a physical response prompting you to say things like “Be cautious not to get too close” or “Remember to wash your hands if you come in contact” (like after using the toilet). However, these don’t explain the mental reaction.
When food smells off, you instinctively determine it’s not edible anymore. So, you won’t keep smelling it repeatedly; that would be foolish. But this doesn’t mean your mind must respond with aversion. For example, why is the scent of your own poop acceptable but not someone else’s? What’s behind this inconsistency? Once again, a mental construction prevents you from being objective.
Imagine we put together a jury, a group of professionals skilled in assessing poop smells, and have them rate the intensity of various samples, including your own. You wouldn’t receive identical ratings from every participant. Curiously, the poop you’re least averse to (your own) might end up being rated as the most pungent by this group.
If you spend time in an environment tainted with different kinds of poop, eventually, your aversion would diminish as you get accustomed to the smell. If poop were truly to blame, you’d always feel the same level of disgust.
Now, if poop inherently carried an intrinsically “bad” smell, why would some animals take pleasure in it? “But they’re animals,” you might argue. Fair enough, but if it’s a fundamental aspect of poop, that implies it’s not exclusively tied to humans. That would be contradictory. Even though animals perceive smells differently, they’d still pick up on some unique quality in the poop.
Certainly, with the same logic, we’d be led to the odd conclusion that if animals enjoy the smell, there must be an element of pleasantness in the poop. This would be irrational, but it follows the same line of reasoning.
Touch and feel: “bodily” tricks?
We naturally avoid various things. For instance, we tend to keep our distance from situations that bring pain or harm.
Now, let’s set aside individuals who find enjoyment in specific types of pain. Even for them, the same principle applies, as they derive pleasure from something that doesn’t inherently contain pleasure. But moving on from this point, I plan to dedicate one or two comprehensive articles to the intricacies of the human body in the near future.
Let’s go through a few examples and delve into the rest in a future post. Most people would agree that a massage is both relaxing and pleasurable. The same holds true for sexual stimulation. Now, if we consider that pleasure is solely inherent in the physical interaction of skin, we encounter another logical inconsistency: it not only diminishes but can also turn into unpleasantness over time. That’s why there always comes a point where you say: “Okay, that’s enough of that.”
If pleasure were an inherent quality of massages or sexual experiences, this shift wouldn’t happen. Additionally, if we believe pleasure stems from the physical interaction of bodies, then why would the specific bodies involved play a role? For instance, if you asked a heterosexual woman or a gay man, they might concur that a male body offers more pleasure. Tell that to a heterosexual male. Would he agree with that?
Here’s something else to think about:
Imagine you have an eye on someone. If you don’t, or are in a relationship, just go back to a time when you were single or just use your imagination.
Engaging in physical contact with that person can be pleasant, especially if you’ve been looking forward to it. Let’s say you’re on a date, and your date places their hand on your arm or shoulder. It feels nice, doesn’t it?
As you sit on a bench overlooking the ocean, you enjoy the soothing sounds of the waves and the bright sun reflecting off the water. You’re delighted to be there with your lovely company, who occasionally gives you goosebumps with their touch.
However, like any other human being, your date has a bladder, and it fills up. They go to the restroom while you wait on your cozy bench. A few minutes later, you feel a hand on your shoulder. Tingly sensations go through your body, and a delightful smile appears on your face. You slowly turn your head, and the tingly sensations suddenly come to an end:
It’s not your date but a homeless person asking you for some change.
He is dressed in old, dirty rags. Suddenly, you sense a feeling of revulsion. “OMG, who knows where those hands have been?!”
Hold on, didn’t this unclean person just let you feel tingly all over your body? What changed all of a sudden? Shouldn’t you feel grateful instead?
You’re going to say, “But I thought it was my date.”
This proves the point that your date never made you feel all tingly inside. It was a fabrication of your mind. Otherwise, how could the homeless person let you feel the same feeling? In fact, the same touch made you feel two completely different feelings. At first, you felt delighted, and seconds later you felt revulsed. It was the exact same touch!
There’s nothing special about the hands or skin of your date. However, your mind has created an illusory image that those hands can make you feel special somehow.
But even a stranger can make you feel like that as long as the mind perceives it to be that special person.
We can even take it one step further.
You give the homeless man some change and then turn to check if your date has returned. As you look away, you hear a request for more change, but you have no intention of giving more. Suddenly, you feel a hand on your shoulder once more. Instantly, a sense of aversion, revulsion, and irritation overwhelms you. Your face tightens, and you prepare to confront the homeless man. However, what you don’t realize is that the homeless man has already walked away, and your cherished date has gently placed their hand on your shoulder.
Again, your mind has created this make-believe world. The same touch can provoke two completely different feelings. Physically, there’s no difference, but mentally, they’re worlds apart.
The source of pleasure isn’t rooted in the bodies themselves. Indeed, physical sensations arise from bodily contact. But once again, it’s the mental construct that dictates the extent of pleasure (or displeasure) felt.
This pleasure doesn’t originate from the bodies or the actions themselves, otherwise, everyone would share the same preferences.
Taste: eating or tasting?
Let’s delve into the final sensory input before revisiting the four primary questions. Our bodies require sustenance in the form of food and water. From an objective standpoint, as long as we consume all the necessary nutrients, there isn’t a specific requirement to consume any particular foods or drinks. However, that’s not how you perceive it, is it?
Don’t you find yourself becoming emotionally invested in food at times? When you head out to dine and browse through the menu, you’re not merely observing images, are you? Instead, you’re distinguishing between appealing images and less appealing ones.
Why do those pictures deserve such evaluations? They’re just visual representations, after all. There’s no intrinsic beauty or ugliness in them. We might discuss their aesthetic qualities like resolution, color contrast, and pixel count, but those can be measured. Yet, when it comes to labeling them as “good” or “bad,” we’re dealing with subjective and immeasurable notions. When you sense these judgments, it’s a sign that your mind is creating a story.
Imagine you’re looking at a menu, and there’s an item that seems to align perfectly with your preferences. Essentially, you perceive that this particular dish can bring you more joy compared to all the other options. On the other hand, your partner goes for a different choice—one that doesn’t seem appealing from your perspective, but in their eyes, they believe it holds happiness for them.
See how you’re starting off on the wrong foot before the meal is even served? These dishes don’t possess the qualities you’re seeking. If your chosen dish was truly as amazing as you think, shouldn’t everyone crave for it?
Why didn’t your partner go for the same dish, if it had the highest pleasure potential? And why didn’t you order multiple servings of that dish? I mean, if its deliciousness was a built-in feature, you should always be able to sense and enjoy it consistently.
But reality shows that after you’ve had your fill, that very same flavor no longer satisfies you. After only just a few bites, that pleasure you sense from that amazing flavor already starts to decrease.
This all points to the fact that the flavor wasn’t a source of true satisfaction to begin with. Yet, the mind tricks you into believing you absolutely needed it for your happiness at that moment.
Think about your favorite food for a moment. You know what my favorite used to be? Durian. That spiky fruit with its distinctive odor—people tend to either love it or hate it. Well, I fell into the “love it” camp, and I cherished it more than anything else.
The excitement would bubble up as I scrutinized all the durians, searching for the “best” one. Yes, the “best.” It might sound a bit off now, but that’s exactly the mindset I had back then.
Back in those days, durian had the power to make me feel both good and bad, although that’s not an entirely accurate description, as I’ve mentioned before. It’s not even plausible for something external to make you feel good; but, we’ll delve deeper into this in the next article.
For now, we need to complete our current discussion before we tackle that aspect. Though, you might wonder, “Then what exactly is that good feeling?” Well, that feeling is real, but how that feeling arises is a whole different story. Consider it a quick preview.
Insatiable and getting fed up: a silver lining
Over the past decade or so, I must have consumed hundreds of durians. And you know what? Not a single one managed to truly satisfy me. Why, you ask? Because I always craved another, didn’t I? If not the same day, then the next day, or a few days later. I was attempting to extract from a durian what it simply didn’t contain—joy, incredible flavor, unadulterated happiness, and so on.
It wasn’t until my perspective shifted that I began looking at durians differently. It wasn’t a conscious effort; the change occurred naturally. My mind doesn’t obsess over it anymore. Even during the peak of my obsession—and I encourage you to consider your own favorite food—the flavor could eventually “transform” into something unappealing.
There was always a boundary. I couldn’t indulge in durian three times a day. Perhaps, at most, for three consecutive meals, but I would never consider doing that for days on end. The same applies to your favorite dish. It doesn’t harbor deliciousness and joy. That’s why you’d inevitably grow tired of it if you were to consume it at every single meal.
Just imagine this:
Breakfast: favorite food
Lunch: favorite food
Dinner favorite food
Any snack: favorite food.
You get invited for a birthday party. You see a delightful spread of various dishes on the table. But that’s none of your concern because none of them are your favorite food. Thankfully, the host went out of his way to include your personal favorite on a separate plate. How kind!
Suppose you have eaten your favorite food for 30 days straight because that’s all you have. After 30 days someone offers you something that you normally find not too enjoyable, but not terrible either. However, you never went for it when other choices were available to you. What would you do now? Doesn’t it become a whole lot more enticing?
Beauty, joy, happiness, deliciousness, ugliness, disgust, and similar feelings do not exist in the external world. Instead, they are illusions that we continuously seek to experience or avoid. Keeping this perspective in mind, let’s return to the questions at hand.
- “Even if something doesn’t exist in this world, the feeling in my mind is very real. So what’s wrong with striving to cultivate that feeling? Isn’t happiness subjective in the end?”
- “I have problems accepting that there’s no beauty in the world, because that would mean that life is meaningless. What’s the point of living if everything we do ultimately results in nothing? What about having goals and aspirations?”
- “Is there any connection between the pursuit of beauty and our desire for happiness? If beauty isn’t real, does that mean our quest for happiness is equally fruitless?”
Even if something doesn’t exist in this world, the feeling in my mind is very real. So what’s wrong with striving to cultivate that feeling?
Isn’t happiness subjective in the end?
The feeling you experience when encountering sensory inputs is undeniably real. The problem is that the feeling is created due to a wrong perception of the mind–that happiness can be found in external things. That’s the reason it values those things so much.
In a conventional sense, we say that we think A or B is beautiful, or that C or D is delicious. There’s nothing wrong with that. That’s simply how the world works. But if you don’t start interpreting this objectively, with wisdom, then you run into issues.
The problem is now that you need to have A, B, C, and/or D in your life otherwise you’re going to be unhappy. How can you possibly be unhappy when neither A, B, C nor D contain happiness? Although they don’t contain happiness, the mind ironically perceives the exact opposite.
Consequently, you experience a sense of joy upon acquiring them, but this joy is built upon a foundation of delusion. This is why—and I urge you to reflect deeply on this concept rather than simply accepting or rejecting it based on your immediate reaction—the very things you perceive to bring you happiness also lead to unhappiness:
- You’re in a state of discontent before you have what you seek. That’s because your mind is under the illusion it needs to rely on external inputs for happiness. You experience that through the thoughts that are created from that false perception, that illusion. You identify with those thoughts and personalize them, and so you feel it is you who needs A, B, C, or D and that those can indeed make you happy.
Say you see a trailer of a new movie and you become intrigued. Now, you can’t rest until you’ve seen the full movie. At this point, you’re far from happy; rather, your mind has fabricated a false sense of necessity (this concept will be explored more extensively in the forthcoming article).
- When you get too much of the desired input, you become unhappy. This contradicts your perception and is, in fact, another mental fabrication since these inputs neither contain happiness nor unhappiness.
- You cannot separate the emotion from external things as long as the mind perceives that it can extract happiness from those things. That’s why you will always say that A, B, C, or D makes you either happy or unhappy. When you get them, you think you’re happy, when you’re separated from them, you’ll say you’re unhappy, but when you have too much of it you’re also going to say you’re unhappy.
And even when you have everything exactly according to your wishes, you’re STILL not going to be satisfied, because you’re going to want it again the next moment, the next hour, the next day, the next month, etc.
If these inputs truly contained happiness, extracting it would be straightforward. Instead, because of this illusory perception, you find yourself stuck in never-ending dependence, similar to how a drug addict relies on a specific substance. The mind relentlessly pursues the unattainable and, therefore, it will be forever needy and impossible to satisfy. This is the trap of conditional happiness and the illusion of beauty.
I have problems accepting that there’s no beauty in the world, because that would mean that life is meaningless. What’s the point of living if everything we do ultimately results in nothing?
What about having goals and aspirations?
It’s very normal for that thought to arise. On one hand, if pursuing something won’t ultimately bring about that very thing, it raises the question of why we should even make the effort. It’s akin to attempting to grasp air with the hope of gaining something from it, only to find emptiness each time you open your hand.
That does not mean that the endeavors themselves are meaningless. The question of whether they are meaningless or meaningful is not the best question to ask. The question we should ask ourselves is why do we set certain goals and aspirations.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with goals themselves. In fact, it would be contradictory to suggest so, considering the very act of reading this is a result of others’ aspirations. The internet is no minor accomplishment. Even the tools I use—bicycles, cars, trains, and various forms of technology—stem from someone else’s ambitions. I, too, have a goal. My aim revolves around spreading the very message you’re currently absorbing.
The key here is the mindset you adopt when you set a goal. If you’re pursuing that goal with the aim of finding happiness in its achievement, then I would agree, that is ultimately meaningless. Because happiness can’t be found in an outcome. Whether that’s the creation of an object, landing a successful job, or starting a family, happiness is not found in objects, jobs, and people.
If that were the case, everybody would aspire to get your job and spend time with your family, and possess whatever it is that you have. And it would also mean that your job and family always make you happy regardless of the circumstances.
Tell that to the person who needs to work overtime or whose children keep nagging and complaining. In other words, if the whole point of chasing your goal is just to reach that finish line so that you can become happy, then your pursuit cannot be successful. On the other hand, if your achievement is simply a means to an end, then your happiness is not necessarily dependent on the outcome. I say “not necessarily” because if you’re attached to the outcome because it’s a stepping stone to yet another goal, then you’re caught in the same trap.
To give you an example of what I mean by “a means to an end”: If I were writing this post with the sole purpose of finding happiness, I’d be setting myself up for disappointment. After all, there’s no ultimate happiness tucked within an article posted online or anywhere else, for that matter.
However, by sharing this, I’m actually putting myself on a track that leads to more wisdom. How? Well, I’m setting up the mental conditions that are conducive to that kind of growth. Why? Because I’m focusing on doing something for someone else. That’s when it shifts from being an end in itself to being a means to an end.
The end I’m striving for is a state of complete, unconditional happiness. Now, I’ve made quite a bit of progress on this journey, but I won’t claim to have fully grasped it just yet. Nevertheless, I’m confident that I’ll get there at some point. I’ve previously touched on the logic behind the power of kind deeds—those actions that benefit others—and how indispensable they are. You can find more about this topic in the post “The Two MUST-HAVES for Unconditional Happiness.“
The reality is that unconditional happiness has nothing to do with the outside. It is a happiness that comes from within. It’s already there. Even right this very moment. In fact, you need not look for it. The problem is that you can never sense it because the mind is looking for it in all the wrong places. It’s like hunting for keys in every single nook and corner except for the pocket that holds them.
Since real happiness is what our minds truly seek, realizing that the key to it has been with us all along can lead to a significant shift. The frantic searching stops, and a sense of calm takes over. So understanding the genuine nature of happiness and how it truly works is the most meaningful journey you could possibly pursue.
There’s not a single being who doesn’t yearn to be truly happy. It would unfortunately not be fruitful to try and talk about this happiness at this stage now, because for that the mind needs to have at least partially developed the perception that no beauty exists in the outside world.
It’s analogous to trying to go back in time to the 1930s when everybody believed that smoking was good for you and convince someone with asthma that it’s better to stop smoking. Initially, they must acknowledge that smoking is detrimental—why else would they quit? This exemplifies the mechanism of the mind. It willingly releases its grasp when it recognizes the futility of clinging.
The mind cannot be forced into accepting something. Therefore I’m trying to take my time and get there step by step. Please bear with me as we proceed patiently.
The reason I’m dedicating so much time to this website is that I want you to experience what I, and others on this journey, have felt. It’s a sensation beyond words – the inner peace and tranquillity that emerge when the mind realizes it’s pointless to chase happiness externally.
This world can’t provide you with this peace; it’s something already within your own mind. All you need to do is recognize this truth and dispel the layers of fog that are clouding your view. This is when the ceaseless search for the key stops, and you realize it’s been with you all along.
Through learning and cultivating the truth, you’re gradually lifting the fog of ignorance. Ignorance is what prevents you from grasping the truth – that’s one way to understand it.
Is there any connection between the pursuit of beauty and our desire for happiness? If beauty isn’t real, does that mean our quest for happiness is equally fruitless?
As I mentioned, the innate desire for happiness exists within all of us. As I’ve discussed in “Everything in the Name of Happiness,” there’s no exception. Even those who tragically resort to suicide harbor that very desire.
They believe it’s better to end their lives than to continue in a world that seems incapable of fulfilling their wishes. Had they been able to “attain” what they sought, suicide would never have been their choice. For some, it might be wealth; for others, something entirely different. Consider even the famous individuals who possessed ample riches but still chose to end their lives.
The pursuit of beauty, or conditional happiness, cannot ultimately lead to true happiness. That doesn’t mean the quest for happiness itself becomes fruitless.
That’s why the quest for unconditional happiness is the most fruitful thing you can aspire to since is the only happiness that can never be lost and or taken away from you, unlike conditional happiness.
I know that these articles are longer than the average article. That’s because this topic requires a lot of reflection. If I would trim down the content, I would take away the opportunity to reflect on it. That’s why I tend to give a variety of examples and encourage you to think of your own. A perception does not change just by reading a few words.
The exercise I’m sharing here is something you should ideally do frequently, even daily if possible. That’s because you’re living in a world where practically everyone perceives that happiness can be found out there. That means that anything you see or hear is not going to be conducive to developing an objective perception.
If you do this exercise once a day that would be amazing. But don’t force yourself. Always make sure your mind is reasonably calm before you proceed with the exercise. An agitated mind is not receptive to any wisdom.
As I’ve mentioned throughout the article, beauty, joy, or happiness, cannot be found in objects, situations, or people. Nonetheless, when a favorable input comes in through any of the senses at the right moment, you nevertheless perceive those feelings.
The mind has fabricated something that doesn’t actually exist in any of those sensory inputs. And because of that it can’t ever be happy without them and is left in a perpetual state of seeking.
To develop happiness that is free from any of those conditions, the mind needs to start seeing things objectively. Then it won’t be in a state of desperation all the time trying to extract something that’s not there. That is the development of the right perception I’ve been talking about.
When that happens, the mind will still interact with the same sensory inputs as before, especially when it comes to fulfilling daily responsibilities, but it won’t depend on them for happiness because happiness is always felt regardless of their presence.
To come to a realization of the truth we need to start thinking about the truth. We can do that through a set of questions we’ve discussed in this article. It would be easiest to focus on individual sensory inputs.
For instance, music mainly involves sound. The questions should then be directed toward the object of sound that the music represents. Art is an example of a visual input that requires you to focus on the object of sight.
Once you feel comfortable with this exercise, you could focus on things that involve multiple sense organs, such as movies (eyes and ears), food (eyes, nose, tongue), or interactions with people (any of the sense organs),
Questions to ask yourself
If the pleasure I experience is part of the sensory input (sight, sound, smell, taste, or touch):
- I should be able to keep experiencing a sense of joy as long as I’m in contact with the input. The pleasure should not be able to diminish. Is that the case?
- it should not be able to make me unhappy as long as I’m in contact with it. Is that the case?
- I should always feel unpleasant the moment I get separated from that sensory input. Is that the case?
- I should always feel elated when I come into contact with that sensory input. Is that the case?
- it should be experienced by other living beings, too. Can everybody around me feel the same sense of joy that I’m experiencing?
- nobody should be able to perceive it as something unpleasant. Is that the case?
Some of these questions are related, but there are subtle nuances. It’s worth keeping these questions on hand, either on paper or digitally. Don’t worry if you can’t remember them all the time; with regular practice, you’ll become familiar with them.
Think of each question as a magnifying glass held at different angles in front of an object. The more perspectives you explore, the better you’ll understand the subject of your study.
We’ve studied the origin of conditional happiness which we perceive as beauty when we see or hear something we want; as fragrant when we smell something we want; as delicious when we taste something we want; and as delightful or relaxing when we feel or touch something we want.
The feelings we experience are all fabrications of the mind and are not found in any of the sensory inputs we come in contact with.
Consequently, we become reliant on them, and they hold the power to make us feel unhappy. We have become their slave. And because we can’t be happy without them, we’re always in some form of discontent, constantly seeking and yearning to fill an inner void.
This topic is immensely deep, and we will continue it in the next article. where we’ll look more deeply into that feeling of wanting and how it relates to unhappiness or discontentment. Please understand that I cannot present all the puzzle pieces at once. If you try to be patient and do the exercises, I promise that we will lay out the puzzle soon enough over time.
If you feel there’s anything about this article that’s unclear, please don’t hesitate to let me know in the comments. Also, feel free to share your experiences or anything else related to the article or exercise.