What is real and what is unreal is one of the gravest doubts in our minds. Unless this doubt gets clarified, we shall never be able to achieve real happiness in life. Because real happiness is eternal happiness and unreal happiness is temporary happiness. Real happiness can never be achieved if it is dependent or associated with something unreal.
This world is considered to be unreal and the atman (the pure divine self) is considered to be real.
Essentially, unreal is anything that undergoes changes, modifications, is impermanent and short-lived. Anything which has a life span and which is born or created, and which gets destroyed over a period of time is unreal. There is nothing in the universe that does not change. There is nothing in this universe that is permanent and does not get destroyed. Everything is changing here, whether it is physical matter, an object or a physical body.
Our body is constantly changing and is becoming older moment by moment. It is heading towards death from the moment it is born. Similarly, the thoughts of our mind change, our emotions change and everything else is changing here such as wealth, houses, cars, the weather, mountains, oceans, etc.
Since everything is changing here, everything could be construed as unreal. It is a different issue that everything is changing at its own pace. The lifespan could be one minute, one hour, one day, one year, 100 years, 1,000 years or 100,000 years but everything has a lifespan, and that which has a lifespan is constantly moving towards the end of its lifespan thereby meaning that it is changing. This is because everything in creation is within the ambit of time and space and time and space are never constant, they are ever changing, so is with everything which is within time and space.
There is only one thing in creation which does not change and that is atman, the divine self (the pure consciousness). There is never any change in the consciousness. It is static as it is eternal i.e. beyond birth and death. Since it never takes birth, it never dies and that which does not take birth and does not die, does not undergo any change also.
When we seek happiness in unreal objects such as wealth, houses, jewellery, clothes, cars, people, spouses, parents, children, etc who are unreal and changing every moment, how can we get real happiness?
If we want real, long-lasting and permanent happiness, then we should seek it in the real, eternal and unchangeable atman, the self.
Always thinking about the self (atman), meditating and contemplating on it will help us get connected with it. Every thought, every emotion should be considered to have emanated from the self, every object and every situation should also be considered to have emanated from this self (atman) only. Then even when the object changes, we would continue to enjoy permanent happiness as we would have attributed everything to the permanent self. This is the only way to attain permanent and long-lasting happiness in this world.