All of the quotes in this post are taken from an excellent article by Mu Soeng called “Worldly Happiness/ Buddhist Happiness”. I recommend reading the full text here: http://parabola.org/2016/04/29/wordly-happiness-buddhist-happiness-mu-soeng/
There are two kinds of happiness, O monks: the happiness of the senses and the happiness of renunciation. But the happiness of renunciation is the higher of the two. (from Anguttara Nikaya, II: VII)
This could be another way of thinking about the origins of dukkha. We seek worldly, me-centered pleasures because we’re not aware of the possibility of a lasting, non-me-centered happiness.
Throughout the Pali Canon, the Buddha makes a distinction between worldly happiness and happiness obtained through letting go/renunciation. The language of the Buddha interweaves the themes of “carnal happiness” and “sensual pleasures” as a way to communicate what might be called the distinction between lasting happiness and pleasures of momentary gratification.
The canon (and other sources) makes a sharp distinction between worldly happiness as pursuit of sensual pleasures, and lasting happiness as letting-go of the same pursuit. We are fundamentally confused if we think that happiness lies in the direction of satisfying our sensual cravings. We can temporarily relieve specific forms of suffering, but the relentless buffeting of our own cravings can only be stopped by our letting go of those very cravings, by shifting our focus from “I want this” to “what is this?”
The article points out the growth and dangers of the “Happiness Industry”, a cultural trend that takes many forms, both secular and apparently Buddhist. We are encouraged to think we can achieve happiness by arranging our worldly circumstances in a better way. But with even minimal attention, we must have noticed that as soon as one desire is satisfied, another pops up to replace it. The alternative to this endless cycle of wanting and getting (or wanting and not getting) is not to feel empty, but to feel free.
The psychological life of disenchantment and dispassion, as a hallmark of Buddha’s teachings on happiness, is not an existentially negative condition. If anything, when it is built upon a long cultivation of preceding stages of joy, rapture, tranquility, and happiness, it offers a psychological matrix of completion; the feeling of being complete without seeking pleasure or gratification from external sources [bold added].
This is the key – the feeling of being complete without seeking pleasure or gratification from external sources. As long as we are seeking a feeling of completion through the ego, through personal accomplishments or rewards, we will be dissatisfied. Because the sense of “I” is so transitory, it can never settle down in contentment. But simply being aware, maintaining mindfulness through all our activities and periods of rest, without the score-keeping of the ego — this is a feeling of completion. It’s not stasis, but a gentle flow from one moment to the next. Nothing more to do, nowhere else to go. Just here. Just this.