'The pursuit of Happiness' - the title of my first ever blog post is such an oxymoron, I am now wondering, why I chose this title in the first place. The word 'pursuit', denotes 'movement', it speaks about the chase, and the funny thing about 'happiness', is it's found only when you stop the chase.
I've spent many years trying to understand the concept of 'happiness'. Of the zillion attempts to find happiness, here are a few successful discoveries, experiments, and realisations. This list is not exhaustive nor is this the only path to the truth (as truth is just perspective remember). I vouch that all the concepts, ideas, and instructions listed here, are things I have personally tried before I dish out the advice.1.Concept of Happiness
The beauty of the concept of happiness is it means different things to different people. My good friend Raj Nayak sent me this request for a 60 second video on what Happiness meant to me. And he also sent the same request to hundreds of people. You can logo on to his youtube channel
to see the variety of answers from celebrities, corporate honchos, leaders and common folks like me.
Happiness mean different things to different folks. For some it is made up life's simple pleasures, for others it is in the joy of giving, for some its about peace, while for many its about bliss. What ever your own definition of happiness may be, the most common trait of happiness is its generally linked to experiencing more positive and pleasant feelings than negative ones. Remember the old adage, "One man's fantasy, is another man's nightmare." So the takeaway from this point for you as a reader is one size does not fit all, and your definition of happiness, may vary very differently from others so choose your path and walk on it without getting distracted by others.2.The Impermanence of Happiness
In all of my quests on hard truth that emerged was the impermanence of everything in life. Happiness is a state of mind, not a personality trait. The concept of a happy person is a misnomer, one feels happy sometimes, and other times unhappy. Happiness is an emotion that ebbs and flows as you journey through the trail of life.
So the key take away for you as a reader is to remember the ancient wisdom "This too shall pass". Everything is temporary, the good, bad and the ugly is all passing phases. Try not to get too attached to any of them.3.The Science of Happiness
As a student of science, I cannot complete an attempt to decode happiness without the scientific exploration of the topic. In fact Happiness is actually just a chemical reaction within your body. Serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin, and endorphins are famously known as happy hormones as they promote positive feelings like pleasure, happiness, and even love. Hormones and neurotransmitters are involved in lots of essential processes, like heart rate and digestion, but also your mood and feelings. They are the body’s chemical messengers, and some of them are known for their ability to help people bond, feel joy, and experience pleasure. Our bodies produce these hormones, in response to various inputs, ranging from food, to spending time with loved ones, exercise, and even cuddling a pet.
The takeaway here is that each one of us, has the ability to create happiness within ourselves. If you still looking for someone else to make you happy then it's time for you to wake and smell the coffee.4.The Spirituality of Happiness
Most people I know, are unhappy because they think the past looks rosier than it really was and they fear the future will be bleaker than it will be. It is this constant movement between yesterday and tomorrow that robs the joy of today. When I hear the words, "Those were the day" - I can already picture an unhappy person.
Buddha say that acceptance is the key to eternal bliss. The ability to accept everything without judging or attachment is the fundamental secret to happiness. It is more difficult that it sounds. Every new year, my mom fed me a spoonful of Neem and Jaggery in equal measure. The concept of eating this bittersweet concoction was to remind oneself that the year will bring both bitter and sweet moments and we should learn to take them in the same stride. In Vipassana meditation we are taught this craving for sweet and aversion of bitter is the root cause of all unhappiness. The day we can accept it we will master the secret of eternal happiness.5.My Experiments with Happiness
Of all the experiments one stands head and shoulders above the rest, this is something I tried during my college days. It was actually a classmate who asked me to look at a crippled beggar on the streets, and made me compare my life with his. You very quickly realise everyday is actually a blessing and you will instantly stop complaining about your first world problems.
The more I thought and more I realised the only difference between me and that person was that I hit a jackpot of a genetic lottery to be born where I was. Most people are not as blessed as us and we fail to compare our lives with them and instead look up to folks who appear to have more. I have since then always remembered how blessed I was. Even in my worst periods of life I always tell myself, "Remember it could have been worse".
So stop complaining and stop comparing your lives to other who have more.6.Truth about Life and Happiness.
The truth is life is hard. Everyone goes through ups and down and that is life. From the richest man in the world to the poorest man on earth everyone has troubles and everyone has bad days. Happiness is something that you can find irrespective of how bad your day is going. Even in your worst moments you can find tiny bits and moments of joy. And this is because Happiness is internal and is totally in your control. And no one on the outside can make you happy or unhappy. They can only influence your happiness if you let them.
So you need to make the choice to be happy. The singer Nightbirdie, said on America's got Talent "You cannot wait until life isn't hard anymore before you decide to be happy." And that is a quote you should think again and again about. And these iconic words were uttered by a person who was battling cancer.7.The Tools for Happiness.
I have used many tools and tricks to find and nurture the happiness within. Here are the top five.
- So what on earth is mindfulness, it's not some rocket science but just being aware and fully present in everything you do. It is very simple but very difficult to practice given the amount of distractions we face these days. I have been guilty of checking me email when my colleagues are speaking to me. I grew up in a household that ate meals in front of the television set. Only after I married my wife Have I started eating in the dining table and paying attention to every bite. The practice of mindfulness is the most important aspect of your well being and happiness. It help you stay in the moment and enjoy the moment instead of driving into the future or the past. If you master mindful living you will find true joy. Easy steps to begin your journey into mindfulness is as follows:
a) Avoid bringing mobile phones/laptops etc into meetings. Be present, irrespective if the meeting is with a friend or colleague or a business partner. Just because you are meeting a subordinate, it does not mean you can chat while checking your email (I've been guilt of this). Respect everyone's time and presence. If you are busy say no to a meeting rather than try and ride two boats at the same time, you will do justice to neither. Focus on the task in hand and just go all in.
b) Focus on what you eat. Ensure you pay proper attention to everything you eat, so mobiles, no tv, no distractions while eating. Eat slow and savour every bite. I recall an exercise in my first attempt to do a course with AOL. I was given a single grape and asked to first spend a minute looking at it from all angles, noticing its color, shape, wrinkles etc. Then we spent a minute with eyes closed feeling the grape in our palms and fingers without crushing it. Then we spent a minute feeling it within the contours of our mouth without biting it. Then we were allowed to bite into the grape and not swallow it for a minute feeling it squish and swish all over your mouth. Finally we swallowed it and believe me it was the best got damn grape I ever had. So if you pay that kind of attention to your food even a humble rice and rasam will taste like manna from heaven. Try it...
c) Finally get enough exercise and sleep. Your mind cannot focus if your body is not fit. So ensure you take care of your body with good regular exercise and adequate rest though sleep. A sound body leads to a sound mind.
- The act of meditation has been unnecessarily complicated and made to sound like some voodoo science. It is basically an extension of mindfulness and its a practise of slowing down to stillness of mind, body and spirit. Meditation is like a combination of exercise and sleep for your brain and your mind. It rejuvenates you and reinvigorates you. The reason why so few people meditate is because they have been miss led on the technicalities of it. Some tips to get started on meditation.
a)Start small! Always start with small goals like mediate for a minute or two. Dont attempt to mediate for an hour in the beginning. You will progress slowly.
b) It's not acrobatics! When you begin dont get carried away with the correct posture and sitting still. You will get there in time, first lessons is to be able to calm your mind and just observe your breadth.
c) One size doesn't fit all! There are hundreds of techniques in meditation, nothing I superior or inferior. What works for you , works for you. Keep it simple and try what works. For some its guided meditation, for others its transcendental, and for others its Vipassana. Just start and don't get judgemental .
- The great Zig Ziglar said, "Motivation is like bathing, you have to do it everyday". I have encountered this in my various organisations. Everyone is charged up after a workshop and will be back to old ways in a few days or weeks time. Motivation should be like brushing your teeth, you have to do it everyday and preferably multiple times a day. So how do you motivate yourself?
a) Gratitude - Like I mentioned above compare yourself to those who are less fortunate and be grateful for everything you are blessed with. This is a sure way to feel good and motivated to go do more good. And do this practice every single day.
b) Inspiring Content - Healthy diet is not just what you eat its also what you consume through reading, watching and listening. If you watch news, negative programs on tv or even spend time with dull and unhappy people you will become dull and unhappy. Watch inspiring movies, read biographies, self help books, spend time with motivating, inspiring and most important cheerful people.
c) Teach - When you spend time teaching someone else you end up getting boost of energy and motivation yourself. So if not for the sake of helping another human, do some mentoring and teaching for your own selfish benefit. This will help you remember more of what your learnt and will keep your mind energised and upbeats with the latest information.
As I start the third edit of this blog on happiness, I realised I missed two critical aspects that influence happiness. The external aspects like society, nature and the planet also have a bearing on our mental and physical well being.
- People - Unfortunately, despite all the great masters teaching us that happiness is something internal, we humans are social animals and are very deeply influenced by other people. While no other human can control our happiness they surely can influence it. So spending time with the right set of people is super critical to your mental stability. In the past, I used to hang around some friends and acquaintances who constantly cribbed, and complained about life, I now avoid them like plague.These energy sappers can leave you totally negative. I prefer meeting folks who are happy, upbeat and positive. For instance during the pandemic, my wife and I decided to move homes, the apartment complex we were staying in had become too toxic. We moved to a new space with younger, happier and more positive folks and immediately our own energy levels blossomed.
- Animals - If you ever had a pet, you would already know the benefits of hanging around animals. Animals are extensively used in therapy and healing. For me nothing works better than spending time cuddling my dog. It instantly improves my mood and recharges my spirit. Sometimes just spending time staring at the fish in the aquarium is enough to relax me. I will not bore you with the scientific data on the benefits of living with pets, and their effect on your positive hormones etc. All I can say is "Melody Kao Kud Jaan Jao" - Go get yourself a pet dog today and watch how your life will change for the better.
- Nature - I grew up in the hills of Ooty. My childhood memories are all filled with time spent exploring the forest, playing in the streams, plucking fruits of trees and drinking water from the spring. Every time I need a recharge from the draining city life, I head to the hills. My wife is a beach person so we occasionally go the sea. And the act of sitting and staring at the endless waves have a magical affect one me, it reminds me of how small we are, and how smaller our problems are. The Japanese have this ritual called Shinrin-Yoku , which literally means "Forest Bathing". The key is to leave your cellphone and your problems at home and just wander through the woods. You have to engage four out of your five senses – sight, smell, hearing and touch – because it's the combination of mindfulness and natural environment that gives Shinrin-Yoku its restorative powers. If I can't make time to visit the hills or the beaches, I just head to the neighbourhood park and feel better all the time.
I will keep updating this blogpost as the pursuit of happiness is a continuous exercise.
I will end this blog with a quote from Confucius - "We all have two lives, the second begins when we realise we only have one."
So get out there and choose to live a more happy life. Please do share your feedback on this blog.