What keeps us from being truly happy is quite simple really, yet difficult to put into practice until we really understand it. The fact of the matter is that the living entity is a pure spiritual being, but encased within a material body. What this means is that the individual soul, when in the materially conditioned state, identifies itself as this temporary body, which may, for example, be male or female, black or white, young or old, American or Russian, healthy or sickly, or something else. When the spiritual identity is transferred to the temporary body, all of the desires that the living entity has are then focused on the physical form, centered around the mind and senses. So the living being then tries to seek pleasure and satisfaction by serving the mind and senses. The problem is that there is a lack of reality in material existence since its basis is on the wrong identity. Material activities have little to do with the spiritual being within the body. Therefore, at some point the living being, who is almost lying dormant in the material form, will become restless with this lack of attention for its spiritual needs and start to wake up to the fact that he is still not fulfilled or satisfied, in spite of how many material engagements have occupied him. This then carries over into material consciousness, and the person will then feel unhappy with the way things have gone.
So it is the material mind and senses that have desires for sensual pleasure, which the mind may interpret as happiness. Yet the soul is still waiting for the proper attention to fulfill its own spiritual needs. The soul is simply the observer of material activities, and does not participate in them. It is like watching a movie, or having an out of body experience when merely watching what the body is doing, or what is happening to the body. But the soul is not the material body. It is only within it.1 The correct understanding is that the gross physical and subtle bodies (consisting of mind, intelligence and false ego) have nothing to do with the pure spirit soul within the body. They are simply a superficial covering of the pure Self.2 For this reason it is considered that the most foolish part of spiritual ignorance is identifying with the temporary material body. It is this misconception that precedes the idea that my legs, my hands, or my head are actually myself. Then all that appears to be connected with the body becomes "my" wife, "my" husband, "my" family, "my" property, "my" job or duties, "my" money, and on and on. All this continues without considering that we came into this world with nothing, and when we die we take with us nothing. Then everything in between those two conditions called birth and death are but temporary activities and belongings that do not really have much of a connection with our real identity.3 This is what people forget to consider, and what gives rise to the numerous problems that follow this initial misconception.
The main foolishness of the gross materialistic lifestyle is that people work very hard for what they think will be a permanent home, family, or career. What upsets most people is when they learn or experience that nothing is permanent. Something always happens sooner or later to disrupt or take away what they have been working to accomplish or acquire.4 So in truth, the spirit soul only "imagines" or "pretends" (for lack of better words) that he or she is the material body. Yes, the body is real, and so is a dream, but only as long as the person does not wake up from the dream. Once he awakes, then he sees through the illusion of the experience, regardless of how real it may have seemed to be. Similarly, as a person enjoys or suffers in a dream, life on the material plane is also illusory and full of joys and sorrows of short duration that have little to do with the spiritual Self. In this way, without proper regard for our spiritual identity, one thinks he is a permanent part of this temporary world.5 The individual and independent soul is transcendental or above the material nature. It exists on a much higher frequency or vibrational level. Thus, the soul can never actually be affected by material happiness or distress. It is only due to the false ego that causes the bodily covering to overwhelm the spiritual being and consider itself a material form. This further creates the tendency for one to enjoy or suffer while influenced by bodily activities, although a person is actually above it all. The purpose of spiritual practices is to relieve a person from this condition, and reawaken one to his genuine spiritual identity. Therefore, once again, because there is no real or permanent connection between the living being and matter, all happiness and distress have no essential reality in material existence. They go on as regular events, with you or without you. The more we think we are these material bodies that need to be served and catered to, the more we will be absorbed in the illusory highs and lows of life, which have little to do with who and what we really are. This is the main reason why our material engagements are limited in how much happiness or pleasure they can ever give us.