If, by giving up a lesser happiness,
One could experience greater happiness,
A wise person would renounce the lesser
To behold the greater.
Dhammapada 290, translated by Gil Fronsdal
There are so many ways in which this verse is true. I think immediately of our impulse to be liked, to say things that people like to hear, to agree to things without wanting to — these provide the instant happiness of not rubbing someone else the wrong way, but also the unhappiness of not being entirely truthful and of being burdened with unwanted commitments.
Some of us try to set aside time most days for meditation, but the lesser happiness of rolling along with what we’re doing until there’s no time for meditation sometimes undoes our good intentions.
Then, there’s general laziness, which we often regret later, but which seems to have its own momentum. If we take a deep breath, we might recognize that it’s time to get on with something more important than surfing the net, or whatever your default time-kill activity is.
When we’re in the midst of an activity, sometimes we hold onto the lesser happiness of judging it, wishing we were somewhere else, rather than surrendering to where we are and participating in [whatever] wholeheartedly – the greater happiness – even (or especially) if the activity itself is nothing special.
Most generally, the verse refers to the lesser happiness of indulging in self-centeredness vs. the greater happiness of generosity, restraint and kindness. The principle of delayed gratification works here. Stop. Consider. Then act.