At 1.29 billion & 254 Mn, “Death” and “Depression” bring up more search results than “Happiness” (213 Mn) on the internet. In case you’re wondering, even terror, suicide and murder score better!
Luckily, at 4.93 billion, “Life” is ahead by a mile and much more!
“Are we searching it right?”
In the age of instant gratification and “big data” overload, do we find ourselves getting a “lot” maybe, but settling for less? There maybe at least 7 billion+ different ways of looking at happiness. It may never be possible to truly agree on a uniform definition. We may find happiness in what we are, do, be and have. You may stake everything to get lasting happiness, but are you manifesting the happiness you’ll truly enjoy?
Happiness that creates higher positive impact on life may at times seem hard to crack. Moving from X to A may entail changes at several levels in life. It may lead to a big shift in terms of what you are, be or do. A bigger responsibility at work, luxurious possessions, change in position/status, moving up the social ladder…all the cherished trappings of success.
It may also be a slippery ride with many imponderables. As you seek greater impact, the difficulty level to navigate the transition also rises. This is depicted in the diagram. Sacrifices are willfully made, and a lot of energy and effort are expended too. We look forward to the glory, the blinding flashbulbs and the sheer exhilaration of having arrived at the destination. And then! Alas, it looks like the scale seems to have reset itself! At the summit point A, a frantic struggle ensues to hold fort. Is there a danger of hurtling down to B, or worse still, all the way down to X? But wait, “I didn’t sign up for all this fear and stress”, you aver! The happiness gravy train seems to be chugging away alright, but you’re busy running on (what seems like) a treadmill!
Why doesn't it feel like you thought it would?
Examining this question truthfully holds the promise to liberate you from this “almost there, but never quite there” trap. You’ll need to look at some of your choices, decisions, permissions and also interpretations. And these are in turn driven by your sense of identity, values, beliefs and attitudes.
Our highly celebrated modern lifestyle offers enough diversions to quell the unrest that such a process can trigger. And that’s good in a way. Not many can handle the chaos!
Those with nerves of steel can look forward to a very different beat!
The first step will be to define a personalized reference map for a sattvic (serene, wholesome, creative, virtuous) form of happiness. You can refine it with more awareness and understanding. This is a process of mindful inquiry. You can use the script below, or even enhance it!
Letting Happiness Stay!
Take out some time for yourself and give your gadgets a temporary holiday! Select a place and time-slot where you’ll be undisturbed for at least 7 mins. Pleasant surroundings work best. Keep a notepad and pen nearby. Be comfortably seated with your spine in upright position and body relaxed. Let go of all tightness in the body. Take a few long and deep breaths. Fill your lower belly area with the cool fresh incoming air, and as you exhale, imagine you are emptying your lungs completely. Keep your shoulders calm, steady and relaxed. It is only your stomach that expands forward and contracts all the while.
Now, go back in time in your life and recall a particular time or event where you experienced a lot of happiness and felt totally elated. Re-connect with that experience. See what you saw, hear what you heard and let those feelings come alive once more. Merge fully into the experience, as if it’s happening right now. Enjoy the experience and stay with it for at least 2 minutes. Now, spend some time with the following 3 statements, feeling very enthusiastic as you do this. Repeat it a couple of times either mentally or in a soft voice. If you can memorize it before the exercise, that’s great. Otherwise, you may read out these statements from a sheet of paper.
- I am grateful for this experience; I accept it freely and completely.
- All the gains I’ve made now, stay with me; I have this trust.
- This has been a great change for me, and that’s all that matters.
Close your eyes again, and now allow these feelings to flood you totally. Magnify this experience by 2 times first, then by 3 times, and then, as much as you want. Stay with it for around 3 minutes.
Take a couple of deep breaths, and then gently open your eyes.
- How often do you experience this in your current life?
- What can make it happen more frequently?
Reflect on these questions, and jot down any thought or idea that comes up.
The purpose of this exercise is to melt away resistance, a major inhibitor of happiness. This resistance is fueled by insecurity, fear and lack of acknowledgement. There could be more; I’ve picked these for now. They have such a corrosive effect on our experience and acceptance of happiness, that it’s almost like pouring water into a bucket with big holes at the bottom!
As mentioned before, it is also a personalized reference map for true happiness. The journey from X to B to A can be very eventful with experiences of success, failure and inertia too. My take is that we digress and get misled by the drama of the moment, the feverishness of action and even the bouts of lethargy. In moments like these, confusion reigns supreme, as we start internalizing a lot of the hype, and lose perspective. This is where a compass that re-directs us to a wholesome “sattvic" happiness can help enormously. It is like the North Star of life in many ways. Even when the situation is anything but happy, pointing ourselves towards this North Star can unleash the power of hope, clarity, optimism and possibility.
Now, let’s check out how to integrate this awareness in our day to day life and pursuit of happiness.
Resistance creeps up in many ways to inhibit and deny the experience of happiness. Being aware of these patterns can help you to free yourself.
Allow “your” happiness:
Whether we admit it or not, some of us are defensive about our choices, decisions and even parts of our identity. It’s as if we have to adhere to certain templates of what is right and “cool”. Even when some of the mess is of our own making, it helps to feign helplessness if possible!
This makes us deny “our” happiness and fake it so we belong. Not admitting that this happens leaves us disillusioned and totally confused about what is happiness. Get this connection clear. Denying or ignoring what truly makes you happy can leave you stuck in a rut, sometimes forever. As you’ll see shortly, it can be very damaging when the going gets tougher.
So, stop looking at others to validate your happiness and approve your conformance/submission. Stick to your own definition (like what you experienced in the mindfulness exercise above). “Permit” yourself to connect with it and merge fully with the moments of joy. A song and dance may not be needed always. You’ll know it inside out when you’re there! In fact, the first step is to let it sink in (at least) secretly! Don’t worry about nomenclature that’s limited by language and words. Get a feel for it, and you’re ready for action. Getting this “feel” is precisely what many are afraid of doing. It’s tempting to sweep it under the rug in the hope it goes away.
If you’ve crossed the bridge, well done! You’ll soon figure out a way to take what belongs to you without waiting for anyone’s approval. It could mean easy or tough choices. At times, you may want to connect with new people or environments, even on a limited scale. It helps with change, as “they” aren't watching over your shoulder all the time! At other times, options may be limited for a while. Or to put it rather explicitly, simple options are limited. Know that you deserve every bit of your happiness. When the choices aren't simple it’s your self worth that can give you energy for the long haul! This self-worth isn't taking off if you ignore what makes you truly happy. Those who wish to play safe can wallow in jealousy, fake anger and a sense of pique and victimhood and then take a walk of course!
Openness to Learn through the Journey:
That smug know-it-all attitude can destroy wonder and excitement, two ingredients that spice up the experience of happiness. So, un-learn, observe and absorb every insight, new angles and aspects. Break the mould and get a new lease of life, by looking at the secret messages from setbacks, failures, insults, slights, put-downs, and royal ignores served cold! Do the same for successes too.
Sometimes, we may slip a bit or a little more, while moving from Point X to B, and further; Or even after reaching the summit point A. Acceptance of an ugly truth is not a full stop, but a mere semicolon. And then you’ll notice that blessing in disguise, which is yours to keep. Examine it closely, agree with it, and then see how to do some major “spring cleaning” and de-weeding. You can now operate from a point of strength and even escort some folks out compassionately. They’ve done their bit, and now it’s time to move on. The first step is to mentally release them conclusively. Most often this is left incomplete making closure seem elusive.
Learning can mean fun! And fun is happiness in the moment, especially when you look back and see how you’ve grown as a person each day. This gain is staying with you. It counts for a lot, when so many others are happy wrestling and scoring against pigs.
Turn off the Auto-Responses:
Our ‘familiar’ simplifications and “natural” responses can limit our ability to enjoy the brighter side of life. Emotional regulation holds the key here, so you do it with awareness. You may also want to relax some of your rules and limits occasionally to let go of that “stiffness” and withholding of happiness. Stop magnifying the black spots; rather, focus on change. Seek out the silver lining even when only a hint is visible! It will do wonders to break the stranglehold of cynicism and self-pity. And then, do what it takes to make it brighter! Acknowledge, appreciate and express gratitude liberally. The cheer is now infectious!
In my Article about Resilience, I had written about connecting to a strong sense of purpose, and an exciting personal vision that gets you up in the morning, raring to go. Connectedness is also about unabashedly pursuing self interest without guilt. Living a life of connectedness in small and big ways holds out the hope for wholesome happiness. Read more about it here
The reference map of happiness gives you the right tempo to open up options, possibilities and more.
Go ahead and wear that smile prominently!