Paramhansa Yogananda used to tell the story of a man who lived a disappointing life. When he passed, God appeared to him and asked if there was anything He could do for the man. In response, the man asked for his next life to have the blessings of health. He was born with extraordinary physical health, but lived and died in poverty.

Appearing again, at the end of life, God asked the man if there was anything he could do for him. The man asked for his next life to be filled with health and wealth. And so it was, but the man was lonely.

The next life he asked for health, wealth and a partner, but his wife was unkind, so he asked for health, wealth, a good wife—who then died early…and so on and so on…until at last he realized that there is no outer perfection, and simply asked to feel God’s presence no matter what came.

So, too, with us. When we decide what will make us happy, we set up for conditions that will always be short of the goal. What we can do instead, so we are told, is to decide to be happy under every circumstance. Tell life what we want, and we will get it, but until we decide we want the unconditioned joy that is God, we continue to wander from limited condition to limited condition and wonder why we still feel empty.

There is a prayer that can be offered when we realize that our own insistence on conditions is the very thing that blocks our happiness. And when we start to realize that we don’t have the wisdom to know how to navigate ourselves—we discover that we need wise friendship to help us figure it out along the way. Part of that prayer reads:

Divine Mother, I come before Thee today, having long sought Thy eternal light, long pondered the eternal truths, long followed the winding path that leads to Thee. I have walked with my own strength, all too seldom with Thine. I have walked with the thought,
“I want this from life; these answers; that guidance; this pathway, or that,” but I have seen that, as often as I made claims on life, it eluded me. As often as I presumed on Thy will,
it turned away from me.

Ah, too long, Mother, have I sought Thee for myself, not for Thy love. I know now that, without Thy strength added to mine, infusing it, I shall never find Thee.

God’s joy is what we seek—the unconditioned joy of our own nature—flowing through every circumstance. Thankfully, the teachings of great spiritual masters and their advanced students are available to us to help us along the way.