Fundamentally, happiness is an inside job!

Happiness is just being. Being available to what is, being present in what is, being accepting of what is and moving on with what is.

If we can’t understand the concept and value of just being, we simply will never be happy.

In the July-August 2015 double edition of Harvard Business Review (HBR), Senior Editor Alison Beard writes about “The Happiness Backlash – Investigating the seemingly universal insistence on feeling good”.Reviewing a set of new books on happiness (mostly in the ‘Self-Help’ genre) and sharing her own perspectives candidly, Beard confesses that reading about happiness depresses her. “Because there’s too much advice out there about how to achieve it,” she explains. And she continues, “…And yet for me and many others, happiness remains elusive. Of course, I sometimes feel joyful and content – reading a bedtime story to my kids, interviewing someone I greatly admire, finishing a tough piece of writing. But despite having good health, supportive family and friends, and a stimulating and flexible job, I am often awash in negative emotions: worry, frustration, anger, disappointment, guilt, envy, regret. My default state is dissatisfied.” I feel sorry for Beard. That she has come to believe that her default state is one of dissatisfaction if not of complete unhappiness. To be sure, millions out there are unhappier than most others and, unfortunately, they remain unhappy almost perpetually. And the reason these people are this way is because they have not understood the value of just being.

Fundamentally, happiness is an inside job. As Beard rightly surmises, just because there is a wave of activity in the “happiness industry” with books being churned out and people talking about it more and more – actually tweeting and #tagging about it – it cannot be assumed that the people of the world are getting any happier. No one – or no thing – can make you happy unless you learn to simply be – be with yourself, be with your true Self, be with what is, be yourself, be in the moment. And to be, you must understand Life. You must realize that Life does not happen because of you. It happens in spite of you.   of what you do or don’t do. You cannot control the Life that’s happening to you. All you can and must do is to accept the Life you have, do the best in any circumstance and again be accepting of whatever outcome or result your efforts may generate.

Per ancient Roman philosophy, the Goddess Fortuna, rotates the wheel of fortune, rota fortunae, of our lives. The wheel has the picture of a king on top and a picture of the same man as pauper at the bottom. So when the wheel of Life turns, as it surely will, you are pushed down if you are on top and you are pushed up if you are down. But we as people, as a race, we have all been conditioned to cling to the periphery of Life, holding on to the material aspects of our lives – power, wealth and assets. This basically means that as long as you are on the periphery of Life you will have to deal with the ups and downs, with the highs and lows, with gain and loss, with success and with defeat. But if you move inward, to the center of the wheel, you could be unmoved by all that happens to you in Life. In a way, at the center of the wheel is where the opportunity to move beyond mortal and material abundance transcending health, wealth, power, pleasure and fame is available. This is where you are in a state where you just accept what Life is offering you at the moment. Which is, kahbi khushi, kabhi gham – sometimes joy and sorrow. The nub is this: when you are accepting of the Life you have, of what is, you may feel the pain, but you will not suffer. You will learn to be in this material world and yet be above all the attachments that lure you and want to hold you hostage!
There are only two ways to live Life. You can enjoy it. Or you can endure it. Enjoyment comes easily. When what you want comes your way, you enjoy it. But how can you enjoy death, separation, illness, misunderstanding, hatred, conspiracy, break-ups, loss, penury? These you simply have to endure. If you learn to just be, you can indeed be happy, even while you are enduring the Life that you never wanted, never wished or never expected.

So, I would like to humbly disagree with Beard – even though she is one of my favorite writers at my favorite HBR. There is no backlash against happiness. There can never be – who will ever say no to being happy? Besides, happiness is not an industry. It is not a pursuit. It is a state. A state of being. Really, happiness is in you. You are unable to find it, or uncork it, because you have heaped layer upon layer of negative, debilitating emotions on happiness. To be happy, you simply have to be. When you are, accepting of the Life you have, no matter what the context or circumstance, you will find that all the negativity in you has evaporated. Or better still dissolved. When you are, you are in the moment, in the present. All your negativity stems from living in the past – anger, grief, guilt over what happened in a period of time that is dead, is gone – or from living in the future – worry, fear, anxiety over what may happen in a moment that no one has really known or seen. In the present moment there is no negativity. In the present, there is only one way, and that way is to simply be. When you simply are, you are happy!

Live for your inner joy!

Pay attention to what Confucius had to say, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your Life.”

So, pause. Stop rushing. Know that in Life, you really have to choose only between two things: do what you love or love what you do. When you do neither is when you grieve, you struggle and you labor through each day. Please awaken to this reality that you and I have not been created to slog, to earn a living and to pine for a Life in the future. We have been created to enjoy this Lifetime and have been endowed with all that we need for this celebration called Life. We are perfect creations in our own, unique ways.

Roman Opalka was a French-born Polish painter who passed away in 2011, at 79. His claim to fame: something bizzarre from a layman’s point of view. In 1965, in his studio in Warsaw, Opałka began painting a process of counting – from one to infinity. Starting in the top left-hand corner of the canvas and finishing in the bottom right-hand corner, the tiny numbers were painted in horizontal rows. Each new canvas, which the artist called a ‘detail’, took up counting where the last left off. Each ‘detail’ is the same size (196 x 135 cm), the dimension of his studio door in Warsaw. All details have the same title, “1965 / 1 – ∞”; the concept had no end, and the artist pledged his Life to its execution: “All my work is a single thing, the description from number one to infinity. A single thing, a single Life.” Typically he would paint around 400 figures a day. Brush and paint never varied. His figures were roughly a centimetre tall, most made with two deliberate strokes of the brush, and allowed to fade away as his paint ran out. Over the years there were changes to the ritual. In Opałka’s first details he painted white numbers onto a black background. In 1968 he changed to a grey background ‘because it’s not a symbolic color, nor an emotional one’, and in 1972 he decided he would gradually lighten this grey background by adding 1 per cent more white to the ground with each passing ‘detail’. He expected to be painting virtually in white on white by the time he reached 7 777 777: “My objective is to get up to the white on white and still be alive.’” He never got to that number. But what the heck, he lived a full Life doing what he loved doing!


The reason why we don’t often make the right choice to only do what we love doing is because we relate to reference points other than ourselves. Oh, what will the world say if I just painted numbers? What will I do for an income? What will happen if 10 years from now I don’t like what I have chosen? Instead of torturing yourself with external reference points, instead of dying every moment that you live, live for yourself, for your inner joy! This is what they call bliss! And it’s inside you. And it is waiting for you to anchor within. Go find your bliss, start loving it and then __ you will never have to work again! 

Khudi Ko Kar Buland Itna…The Kalam Way!

Sigh, I have never met Dr.Abdul Kalam! So I don’t have a picture of mine with him to post here. I don’t also have anything to say of him which hasn’t been said already.

As my fellow Indians celebrate his Life by sharing what they think of him, I feel deeply too. But words cannot express what I feel about him. His presence, his Life and now his absence in a physical form can best be described as an eternal inspiration.

Cartoon Courtesy: Internet
Copyright rests with cartoon’s original creator
Last night as the NDTV newsbreak notification appeared on my phone, I was reminded of the lines that Mohd.Iqbal, a Pakistani poet and philosopher (1877~1938), also famously known as Allama Iqbal, gave the world to live by: “Khudi ko kar buland itna, ke har taqder se pehle, Khuda bande se ye poche, bata teri raza kya hai.” This roughly translated in a practical sense (there are a few exalted interpretations too) means, “Make your self-will so strong, your contribution to this Universe, therefore, so unputdownable, that before making your next destiny, the Creator will ask you for your preference of what you want to be created as.”  

We hope the Creator will ask this of Dr.Kalam. And we hope Dr.Kalam will ask to be created, yet again, as himself, as the most devoted, committed, true Indian that ever lived.


Dr.Kalam inspired us to believe that this Life is unlived and incomplete, if you have not touched lives. He lived this way to make his Life his message. In celebration of his Life, let us live that spirit of humility and selfless service – today and always…

Let people and their opinions just be – you carry on living the Life that you love living

Don’t measure your Life in terms of success or defeat, asset value and brand value or on what people – including the media – have to say. Nothing matters in the end; except whether you lived each of the moments you were alive and except the lives you touched!    

This morning’s Economic Times had a story on Indian cricket’s most successful captain, Mahendra Singh Dhoni. Written by Ratna Bhushan and Ravi Teja Sharma, the story (“Is Brand Dhoni on the wane?”) seeks to analyze if Dhoni’s appeal as a brand endorser is under threat and if it is worth betting on post the ban on Chennai Super Kings’ from the IPL. Nothing wrong with the story per se given that ET is a business paper and they have the need to comment on subjects such as brand value and asset value. But there’s a naïve perspective, in fact an avoidable opinion, that the story plays up. It reads: Dhoni was listed by Forbes in 2014 as the world’s fifth most valuable sportsperson brand, valued at $ 20 million. And only last week, he was named as the world’s ninth most marketable in a study by London School of Marketing. But can this change? It can.”  I infer the statement to mean that if you thought Dhoni was invincible, infallible, indispensable, think again; because his brand aura is waning with his poor ODI performance as captain, with CSK in trouble and with his retirement from Test cricket. My point is – whether any of the reasons Bhushan and Sharma attribute to Dhoni’s dropping brand value are relevant or not, the irrefutable truth about Life is that what goes up has to come down. Such is the nature of Life. The question whether someone’s position in a given context (in Dhoni’s case it is his supremacy in the game) can change or not is both irrelevant and naïve at the same time. Of course, all Life is about change. And nothing lasts forever – including the social definitions of success or failure.
Mercifully, the Dhoni we know is the man he is. He is unlikely to be bothered by the ETanalysis. 

Yet, I find so many people grieving over what other people have to say about their lives. They put on a mask and pretend to be living a Life to contend with social and peer expectations than to live fuller, wholesome lives. They work overtime on how they are perceived than how they simply are. So people suffer bad marriages because they have to protect their social identities. They get stuck in lousy careers because the money is more important than the quality of work they do. They work overtime, often vainly, to look presentable and appear good on Page 3 or on TV, while within them they are rotting – feeling empty, lost and unwanted by their immediate circle of friends and family. All of this is wasted, misplaced effort that only accentuates personal suffering.

Remember this: your Life will mean nothing to you when you are gone. You can’t take anything with you when your time here runs out – not your money, not your assets, not your memories, not your family and definitely not your rewards, recognitions, media stories and public opinion. What really matters are two things – First, how did you live your Life? Did you live it fully or did you merely exist? And second, did you do work that touched people’s lives and made a difference? When you believe you lived all the moments of your Life fully, when you believe you touched even one Life in your lifetime, then, you can say your stay here has been meaningful. Only then you can say your lifetime mattered. Else, it was all fluff. Before you know it, it’s gone with the wind! Pooh!  

So, drop all pretentions. Get real. Let people say what they want to and let their opinions be where they are. You simply carry on living – being who you are and living the Life you love living! 

Feeling confused and lost in Life? Relax, if you are willing, you will find your way and light!

Only when you lose yourself, can you find your true Self. Only through a confusion can you gain clarity. Only when you deal with a crisis, will you awaken to realize yourself.   

There will often be times in Life when you don’t know what you are doing. Or you will not know whether you are doing the right thing or not. You seem to be lost. With no sense of direction. Every aspect of your Life seems broke and broken. It appears that no one wants you, no one loves you and nothing that you want to work ever works. In such situations, it is not unusual to feel an emptiness – along with self-pity, guilt, anger, depression and a sense of dreariness, purposelessness.

I have been through a similar situation in Life. When my Firm went bankrupt and we were plunged into a dark, hopeless, penniless phase in Life as a family, one night, I sat in my living room and was trying to swap channels. I was so disturbed that I was not able to attend to what I was doing. I was swapping the channels aimlessly not even knowing if I was understanding what was playing on any of them. At hand, apart from the TV remote, was a glass of whisky – a friend visiting us from overseas had brought a bottle of Glenfiddich some days ago. But while I drank my favorite Single Malt, I didn’t relish it either. Both the channel-swapping and the whisky-sipping were involuntary actions. I was not mindful of either. That’s when I turned to my bookshelf which was at arm’s length from where I sat that night in my living room. Almost involuntarily, I reached out to the Sai Satcharita (a book dedicated to extolling the Life and teachings of Shirdi Sai Baba). The book had been on my bookshelf for several years then. But not once had I had the urge to pick it up, or even read it. But that night I did both – without much thought or desire, I must quickly confess. I soon found the book ‘unreadable’ – the English translation is pathetic and getting past each page is sure to accentuate your suffering, especially if you love English as a language.

But two words stood out. And in the context in which my Life was placed then, they made imminent sense. Shraddha and Saburi – Faith and Patience. These two words form the cornerstones of Shirdi Sai Baba’s teachings and in a way hold the key to facing, dealing with, and living Life. Which is, keep the Faith – that is you have been created, you will be looked after, cared for and provided for. And while you keep the Faith, learn to be patient with Life – with people, circumstances and events.

Inspired by my “discovery” that night, I began to delve deeper. I embraced a form of meditation called mouna, meaning silence, where you practice daily silence periods. Through your remaining silent you train your mind to stay calm, anchored and focused. Along the way, I also turned to Osho, the Master. I found great value in what he had to say. His teachings pointed me in the direction of Zen Buddhism – I loved Osho’s practical, real-world, in-the-face approach. He always managed to distill the essence of Zen in the context of everyday living. That was indeed useful. As I explored Osho’s teachings further, and as I hung on to Baba’s two magical words, Faith and Patience, I found my Life transforming. My problems didn’t go away (they still are where they were 8 years ago) but my ability to deal with them improved greatly. Simply, I have learnt to accept my Life and whatever it brings my way, while making my efforts daily to do whatever is within my control to change my Life. But when my efforts don’t yield results, I don’t panic, I don’t grieve, I just try harder the next day. So, in a way, from being totally lost and confused in Life, I must say, I have found my true Self and have learnt that it is possible to be happy despiteyour circumstances.

The Venerable Subul Sunim
Abbot of the Beomeosa Monastery in Korea
Yesterday, we attended a Talk on Mindfulness at the InKo Centre by The Venerable Subul Sunim, the Abbot of the Beomeosa Temple in Korea, who is currently visiting Chennai. The Abbot made a very important point in his Talk which has great relevance to what I have shared here today: “Meditation can be compared to allowing the sediments in muddy water to settle, while Zen attempts to eradicate the sediments themselves.”

I can completely relate to the Abbot’s point of view. The muddy water is the confusion, that lack of clarity that haunts us when we feel our Life is listless or battle-weary through a crisis (a relationship break-down, health issues or even loss of a dear one). The sediments are the emotions we cling on to – pain, anger, jealousy, hatred, grief and such. So, in my case, while Baba’s two keywords, Faith and Patience, got me started and mouna helped me along, it was Osho’s teachings on Zen that helped me let go of all wasteful emotions.

To be sure, each of us is capable of reaching this state. But for that, you must let go of all those debilitating emotions that hold you hostage. Try Zen. It works. As the Abbot said yesterday, “The purpose of Zen is to awaken to the absolute and to enjoy mindful living perpetually.” But don’t rush to Zen as if it is a headache pill or because it’s a nice sounding word or the latest fad. Be hungry to explore and understand the true nature of Life. Be humble. Approach Life like a good student. As they say in Zen, when the student is ready – and willing – the teacher appears. And only a teacher, a guru, can dispel the darkness, clear the confusion and help you see your light – within!     

Our Life design, the Master Plan, is inscrutable – but has to be accepted and faced!

Anything, absolutely anything can happen in Life. You just have to learn to face it and deal with it.  

A couple of days ago I finished reading “Aarushi” (Penguin, 2015) by journalist Avirook Sen. The book obviously tells the story of the double murders (of 14-year-old Aarushi and the middle-aged housekeeper Hemraj) that shocked all of India in May 2008. But more important, the book tells us that Dr.Rajesh Talwar and Dr.Nupur Talwar, Aarushi’s parents, did not kill her.In telling us so, Sen makes few things very evident to the reader: how flawed our judicial system is, how there is a heartless, cold bureaucracy that thrives at our premier investigating agency, the CBI, and how lawyers, and their often flaky strategies, can ruin a good chance for a client. Sen does not make an explicit summary of these points. This is what you glean through reading his unputdownable book. But above all that is evident, there is also the implicit Life lesson that one picks up – anything, absolutely anything, can happen in Life; and all you can do is face Life and deal with it.

Sen quotes from Dr.Rajesh Talwar’s journal entries on the immediate few days/weeks the couple spent in Dasna jail after their conviction on 25 November 2013. I reproduce some of the quotes as they are:

3 Dec 2013: Still can’t understand how this happened to us. If only I would have gotten up….I could not even save my dear Aaru. Very difficult to live without her.

9 Dec 2013: Miss Aaru so much and that time and our Life. People talk about their children and what they are doing. They come and meet them in jail. But for us, nothing.

10 Dec 2013: Met Nupur in the afternoon. It’s really strange what Life has dealt us. But this is what it is.

18 Dec 2013: This is the 25th year of our marriage and we will celebrate 25 years on the 19th of January (2014). Could anybody imagine where we would be on our 25th anniversary? No Aaru, no house, no clinic, no money and sitting in jail for something we haven’t done.

Dr.Talwar’s journal entries gives us a peek into how we think through a cathartic time in Life. When you read “Aarushi” you will realize how the Talwars have been done in by Life. Yes, we can blame the investigators, the judicial system, the witnesses who were influenced or coerced and whoever else we want to; we can even blame the Talwars for sleeping through the most dramatic and gruesome night of their Life. But ultimately this is the design for the Talwars’ Life: No Aarushi, no house, no clinic, no money and sitting in jail for something they haven’t done. They simply can’t escape it.

This is the way all our lives are designed. We can’t escape that design. We can fret, fume, kick around, bawl in agony, fight, resist – we can do all we want and can do, but Life goes on happening to us. The way it wants to. The Life design we all have to face and deal with is inscrutable. Some call it karma. I believe it is a Master Plan. And as I have learnt from someone, and learnt from being through Life’s experiences, the Master Plan has no flaws. We may think it is flawed because we believe we don’t deserve what we get or what happens to us. But in the end, it all adds up, all of it makes sense. You do eventually realize that whatever happened, happened for a reason and, believe me, for the good!
Dr.Talwar runs a dental clinic inside the Dasna jail. Even as he and Nupur await their appeal for suspension of their sentence by the Ghaziabad CBI court to be heard by the Allahabad High Court. The truth is, reveals Sen, the Allahabad High Court is presently hearing appeals from the 1990s. So, you can imagine how long it can take for the Talwars’, who were convicted in November 2013, appeal to be heard.

That brings us to a key operative word, a killer App, if you will, to face and deal with Life stoically – that word is “acceptance”. You can’t control what is. You can’t create what is. And because it is what it is, you simply have to accept what is; while continuing to do your bit to make each day count, and keep on living the Life that you have!