What on earth are we looking for?
If a question “what is the goal of your life?” is casually thrown at you, what would be your response? You are sure to grope in darkness at least for a few minutes. The reason could be that we seldom allowed such a thought. Anyway, it’s more likely that we come up with a list of material goals in life as an answer to this question like…”My goal is to… pass the exam with A grade, be selected for a job from the campus, do research, get married, have children, buy a car, an apartment, get a promotion, get my children married, secure the retired life.. “so on and so forth. No end to the list.
Take it personally. Are you one of that great majority that believes in your whims and fancies and living as your feelings and emotions prescribe from time to time? This is quite natural as we have been brought up that way unmindful of a second dimension of life. Assume that you have achieved at least half, if not all, of the above material goals by the time you are 26 or 28 and expecting that the rest of the goals would naturally happen at its time, would you just live on until 80 or 90 without any more ambitions and aspirations? Young men and ladies achieving their goals early in life are likely to be disillusioned earlier. On one side, their ego puts them above an unfortunate lot struggling with their lives. On the other, they build castles of comfort around them and find themselves prisoners.
Still worse is the plight of their parents who have sacrificed for their children. To tell the truth, apart from being boastful about their children’s achievements, most of them are disillusioned and lives in mental agony. This is either because they have no goals left or the children do not reciprocate their love and care. Most won’t admit it, though. Recently read about a mother complaining about her engineer son settled in the US. She wants him to come and meet her at least occasionally. Son’s response to this may baffle and at the same time make us sit and think. He says he doesn’t want to meet his mother as she is the only reason for his becoming an engineer where his passion was for something else. It was she who forced him to go to the US. Obviously, he is taking revenge on his mother! Who is happy here? Mother or son? None. This is only one among the several of such cases. Mention of this is made here only to illustrate how going after material goals alone pilots to an inevitable crash landing. In short, we are feigning happiness when we are actually not.
Keep the material goals apart, ponder over the question once again and we are in for real confusion. We need to direct our thoughts into a new realm not explored before. Conceiving of goals other than the material ones changes the whole perspective of life all of a sudden. We are brought under a new spotlight. This could well be the starting point of a different and fulfilling journey. You search far and wide for some answers and end up inside of yourself, only to be revealed that ultimately you are after happiness. Everyone is. Above and amidst all wealth, power, glory, poverty and sickness, we are looking for only one thing: Happiness and happiness alone.
The dictionary defines happiness as a state of peace and contentment. However lame that definition could be to the true feeling of it, sounds a little soothing to the mind. Like any other emotion, it is hard to translate the experience of happiness into words. Happiness is the destination as well as the travel to that destination. It emanates from a positive mindset. People are genetically happy or unhappy to a great extent. We know how hard it is to make some people smile. Although smile is not always a reflection of your happiness, we all like to interact with smiling faces. Attitude can even change genetics.
Happiness has different variants like pleasure, joy and bliss. We all have experienced pleasure, to a certain extent joy, but bliss very rarely. A common mistake has been to equate happiness with pleasure. Happiness, while not a permanent state, is a more stable state than pleasure. Pleasure is that feeling we get by satisfying the urges of our senses. Eating good food, seeing a beautiful sight, hearing music, receiving a compliment etc. all give pleasure. After a point they become ordinary things and cease to excite us. A brand new car thrills us for a few drives only. After that, it is like any other car which does its basic function of transporting us from one place to another. By this time our eyes fall on a better car and we wish for that one. You see a pile of jalebis in a sweet shop and wish if you could eat the whole. But after two or three you get satiated and cannot even think of eating one more. Pleasure doesn’t last for long. Happiness generally sticks around for longer than a few moments at a time. It is more stable. Happiness comes from the way we think. We can have it if we decide to have it. If we have it inside us, we bring happiness to everything we think and do.
Joy is a deeper state of happiness, the one that makes you jump out and even cry. Note that there is no ‘tears of happiness’, but only ‘tears of joy’. When you accomplish something after real hard work, you are not merely happy. You are joyous. You rejoice in your achievement.
Bliss is extreme happiness (paramananda) and lasts for a long time. It’s spiritual and we could be blissful without any apparent reason. Bliss happens out of your connection with the divine. Yogis are said to experience permanent bliss.
Are we happy?
You ask people “how are you?”. They say they are fine, good and even great. Look at their face when they say this. Far from what they said. Nobody cares actually. It’s only a ritual. I had an Arab sponsor who used to ask this question each time we met or called. There were days we talked over phone more than ten times. Sometimes the interval between the calls was less than five minutes !
Why we struggle to find lasting happiness in life? Primarily because we think we are destined not to have a happy life, while it is abundantly available to others. The fact is that neither we have understood ourselves well nor we don’t know the other’s story. You think a wealthy man is happy, a beggar whose home is the street is unhappy. No. The truth could just be the opposite. The more you keep your life simple the more happy you become.
No one can make us unhappy unless we allow them from our inside. If you think that you are unhappy because of others’ behaviour, you own it. Nobody can help you. It is what is inside you that is attracted to you. Problems are not your monopoly. Everyone has them. Your attitudes decide them.
There are many myths about happiness. ‘Happiness is to be found’; ‘I will have happiness when my circumstances change’; ‘You either have happiness or not’ etc.. The basic reason why we do not experience happiness is that we do not know where to look for it. Rather, we are looking for it in the wrong place.
Treading the happiness path
The good news is that we can all be happy despite our life circumstances. When we change the way we look at things, the things we look at change.
Reminded of an interesting example from Dr.Wayne Dyer:
“If you ask a no-limit person how much two times two is, they’ll say, “Four .” But if you ask a self-defeating person the same question, they’ll say, “Two times two is four, but I can’t stand it. Why does it always have to be four? It’s so boring. God, it’s four all the time, I get so tired of it being four. Why can’t it be five once in a while?”
Funny right? Haven’t we come across such people?
Happiness does not come without an effort. We need to change the way we do things a little. Let’s take a trip through some common situations:
How do you get up in the morning? At the ‘outburst’ of the alarm, stressed about all those tasks you have to do this day? Most likely. Next day onwards, set the alarm 5 minutes before your regular time. Still, on your bed, be grateful for getting one more day to live. At least some people in the world who had gone to sleep like you last night have not opened their eyes to see the new day. They are ‘gone’ in sleep. Isn’t that sufficient reason to be thankful to God for keeping us alive? Don’t stop there. Smile and say thanks for your life, your body, your family, friends, job, colleagues, neighbours and for all the things that have been given to you. Be thankful also to all your experiences, good or bad, because they have made you the person you are. Get out of bed with a smile on your face. Look in the mirror with a smile from the heart. Wish ‘’good morning ‘ to yourself. Check how do you feel. Aren’t you excited to take on the day?
Happiness can be found in simple things which do not cost us anything:
Have you ever kept a door open for the person who came behind you?
Helped a stranger pick up some papers dropped by him?
Gave your seat to an old man in public transport?
Ever allowed a speeding car provoking you for a chase on the road to overtake you?
Tried to meet strangers with smiling eyes?
Acknowledged a courtesy on the road with a smile or grateful gesture?
Don’t just turn your head and walk away. Look at the person in his eyes and collect the reward due for you.
There are a lot many simple things that we can do to keep ourselves happy every single day.
Come down to make a call to a dear one even though she or he did not call you for a long time. Life may not allow that extra time to clear misunderstandings later. I personally have done this a few days ago. None of them called me back after that. But I am happy that I have got rid of that uneasiness in me. Even if they do not call me I am open to call them again.
Take eyes off social media and be happily curious about the life happening around. Close your eyes and listen to the sounds of Nature.
Show some gesture of kindness, however small, to a needy.
Don’t let yourself be carried away by the drama and violence on the TV.
Live a mindful life. Stop and notice. Be aware of what you do. There must be more to life.
Try doing something new often. Learn a new skill, cook a new delicacy or clear some clutter. If you do not know how to make a tea, learn it, for one day, you would definitely need to do it.
Make more time for people who matter to you.
Wish your boss with a heartful smile, much to his embarrassment !
Define your aims in life and take small steps towards them.
Why not ask some self-revealing questions? The key for solutions to many of your problems is with you only.
Do not think bad about asking your neighbour or colleague when in need. They will be more than happy to help.
Life is not always a smooth ride. Look at the bright side and do something that makes you feel good. Savour your life.
Accept your shortcomings. It’s no sin. No one is perfect. Be proud of your strong points as well.
Work at something that you are passionate about. All are born with some passion in the heart but circumstances compel us to take a detour and life follow that course. But the light of passion remains. It shall stand any storm. We might not have even If you stir have not identified your passion, try finding it. It is something that you love to do hours on hours without ever getting bored. There’s always time for a passion to be followed, however busy you are. If it is ‘no way’, keep it for your life after retirement. Retire early if you want. Become what you always wanted to be.
Do not expect too much from children. Understand that they are more concerned about their own lives. Some people want all their children around during old age and at the time of death (it happens rarely though!) What good it serves the parting soul?
Be glad that children are happy where they are. Do not set rules for their lives. They will not fail to see the kind of support you have been giving them. Let them know that your prayers follow them every minute of the day. It’s easier done than said.
Fear breeds disease. Never live in expectation of that day you would contract Covid 19 or Cancer. The human body has the devastating ability to manifest what we fear. Fortunately, it’s true the other way round as well.
Practise meditation. It is not a religious practice. No one becomes a ‘sanyasi’ because he meditates. Therapeutic benefits of meditation are scientifically proven too. Start with 10minutes each in the early morning and evening.
Do some physical exercise regularly. Everyone can spare time for three sun salutations (Soorya namaskar) and three minutes of pranayama every morning.
Write something. Write what comes to mind unmindful of language and grammar. ‘Think on paper’ is the catchphrase.
I am sure you have already felt enthusiastic about one or two of the above. Instantly start doing one or two of the above, if not all. The contentment and inner joy that we gain shall outweigh the pleasure of all your material achievements put together.
Happy people are more sociable and cooperative. They are more liked by others. They are more resilient in hardships. They have a stronger immune system and hence live longer. Moreover, it’s a joy watching them.
How I was made to be happy
Countries worldwide have started to emphasize the Gross Domestic Happiness (GDH) of their people. Without people being happy, sustainable progress is not possible. Some countries even have separate portfolios and ministers for happiness. United Nations releases a Report of Happiness every year based on the Happiness Index of countries which has 7 parameters. Finland tops the list this year for a consecutive third year. Do you know where we stand? India is pathetically placed at position 144 among 156 countries! Interestingly, even Pakistan is ahead of us !!
Although people’s satisfaction and standard of life contribute to the GDH, it is never found to be a reflection of a person’s inner happiness. Let me narrate an interesting experience which may add a pinch of humour to this whole story: While I was living in the Gulf, the country had set up a ministry for happiness and formulated many happiness policies. But a funny execution of this policy ‘extracting’ happiness was widely talked of in hushed tones in those days. Some officials would go to offices, shops and public places and begin asking some questions, but if you have hinted in any way that you are not that happy or ‘so-so’ (as we all are) they would pull out a receipt book and charge you hefty amounts for being unhappy in their country. What a way of bringing happiness to people !! I did not believe this until once I saved myself from the edge of being unhappy. Two officials came to my office, introduced themselves as government officials and started asking questions: How is your company going? Do you face any problems here? What is your opinion about this country? Do you like this country? Do you like the ruler of the country? You know what my answers would be. I had smelt ‘happiness’ by this time. Then came the ‘million dollar’ question: ‘So, you are happy?’ This time I was a little quicker and a bit louder too. Instead of one “Yes” I uttered two “yes”s in a hurry with the bonus of a smile and a thumbs-up sign. I don’t know whether they were happy. I was, for sure.