When you simply are, you are happy!
Nona Walia asks a very important question in The Times of India yesterday: “Is the pressure to be happy making us sad?” She’s asking her question in the context of her article on how there is a fatigue around the Self Help industry. But I wish to examine the question for what it simply is.
To understand happiness, let us first understand sadness. You are sad when you don’t get what you want or when what you don’t want arrives in your Life. Sadness cannot be avoided. And you must not even try to run away from it. You can’t escape it. When sadness arrives, hold it, examine it, feel it. Ask yourself how you are feeling when you are sad. Ask yourself if your sadness is serving any purpose? When you answer these two questions, in your own way, you will discover that sadness is a debilitating, wasteful emotion. Then you will be compelled to let go of it, to drop it.
When you let go of sadness, you can only be happy.
Now, let us understand happiness. To do that, we must understand Life. What comes between you and your living your Life fully – for what it is – are your expectations. You expect that your Life must be this way or that way. But Life has a mind of its own. It happens no matter what you want or how you are feeling. So, when you understand the futility of expectations, you will drop them too. It is only your expectations that bring you agony, that cause your suffering.
Drop your expectations and you will be free, you will be happy.
Now, going back to Nona’s question, “Is the pressure to be happy making us sad?” – yes, absolutely! But, why allow a pressure to build up in the first place. Who do you have to prove anything to by being either happy or sad? If you like to be sad, if you like that dragging, melancholic, heavy, Guru Dutt-Meena Kumari-like feeling, keep holding on to it. If like to be happy, be happy. Where’s the pressure? I guess the pressure comes, when people know they can be happy but avoid being happy because they think that being happy is a selfish act – how can I be happy when everyone else around me is struggling, is sad or is suffering?
Which is why it is critical you understand happiness and define it appropriately.
To me, happiness is being non-worrying, non-frustrated and non-suffering. Non-worrying, because I understand the futility of worrying, so I don’t hold on to any worries, I watch them rise and ebb away. Non-frustrated, because I know I don’t and I can’t control the outcomes of my actions. So, I stay focused on only the actions, and accept, humbly without resisting, whatever results come my way. And non-suffering, because I don’t have any expectations from anyone or anything – I just take it as it comes. The key operative word in my definition of happiness is being – be happy being who you are, with what is! When you are just being, when you simply are, there is no pressure to become something. When there is no pressure – nothing to prove, nothing to claim, nothing to protect, nothing to escape, nothing to cling on to – you are happy!
Don’t nurture and cling on to expectations.
A young lady, who is a writer, met me at The Artist’s Soul event yesterday. She said she loves writing but she doesn’t write much. I asked her why it is so. “I have a fear that people may not read what I write,” she replied. I told her, “Write for yourself. If people read it, great. If people don’t read it, great. Write without expectations. The moment expectations come into your Life, you have invited agony too.”
The young lady is not alone in the way she feels. A majority of people base their actions on social expectations. Either they are expecting something from society. Or they are pandering to society’s expectations of them. So, nett nett they are not living their lives the way they ought to be living them. They are living incomplete, unfulfilled lives. They are suffering, and so, they are unhappy.
The key to happiness lies in dropping expectations. And you can do that by focusing on the process, the journey, than on the reward or the destination. The problem with obsessing over the reward is that you will be depressed if you don’t get it. And, as is true about Life, you don’t always get what you want. So, in the lady’s case, she has talent, a gift, to express herself with the written word. But she’s not using that talent. She imagines people will not read what she writes. So, she has allowed an expectation of a reward – that people must read and possibly like her writing – to come into the picture. With the expectation around, she is living an incomplete Life – she is not doing what she loves doing. When you are leading an incomplete Life, how can you be happy? This is how, the moment an expectation comes into your Life, it ruins your inner peace.
On the other side, when you forever try to meet and fulfill expectations that others have of you, your Life is again incomplete. Then, you are not living your Life – you are living it the way others want you to live it.
I have lived my Life both ways. And, surely, I have suffered until I dropped all expectations – of others and of me. I have learnt that the simplest way to inner peace is to do whatever you have to do, whatever you love doing, and offer it to Life, without expecting anything back in return. If you think about it deeply, Life itself is a gift. So is your talent. Isn’t expecting a return on what you have got free – your Life itself and your talent – possibly being avaricious? This doesn’t mean you should not ask for or accept a value that people may offer you. In a real world, where money is an integral measure of value and also a necessary resource of survival, you can’t avoid asking for and receiving a return. But don’t nurture and cling on to expectations. Beware, they only bring agony!
Life couldn’t care if you thought of it as unfair – or as benevolent!
At a dinner that I was invited to recently, I got talking with an acquaintance. We spoke about Life. He said a common pattern he had seen was that the “honest and hardworking folks always struggled more” and that, above all else, “Life is a game of luck”! I politely disagreed with him and said that there are no such patterns to Life. Luck was a matter of human perception and imagination, it never was an intrinsic flavor of Life, I added. The gentleman invited me to substantiate my point of view.
I believe that everyone has their fair share of struggles. Everyone. If we pause to listen to every story around us we will find that people are fighting their own battles. Those who are materially challenged look at the haves and imagine they have no problems. But the truth is that those people may have a different set of issues. They may have money, but they could be dealing with emotional challenges, with health problems or with identity crises. To be sure, there’s no one on the planet who is not dealing with at least one challenge at any given point in time.
Next, on the luck debate, I have to say that it is an avoidable one. I shared with the man a couple of instances from my Life’s story. I talked about how our son Aashirwad graduated from the University of Chicago even as Vaani and I battled our bankruptcy here. (Read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal) I told him how our daughter graduated from a college here in India and is taking up a Master’s Program overseas, even as we continue to endure our bankruptcy. In both instances, our children’s education has been provided for by the “benevolent Universe” despite our workless, often broke, situation. Our children’s education may have come to the edge of the precipice many a time but Life always bailed them out. Now, which part of our story is true? Is it that we are hardworking, honest people going through a trying, unlucky time? Or is it that despite our hardships, we are lucky enough that our children’s education has not been affected? The point I am making is simple – there is nothing really called luck. Life is just a series of happenings. When these happenings exceed your expectations, you exult and say you are lucky. And when they don’t, you complain that you are unlucky. Such labeling, and such definitions, serve no purpose. Life couldn’t really care if you think of it as benevolent or as unfair. So, by conjuring up and, worse, believing, in a factor called luck, you are quite unnecessarily complicating a simple process – the process of Life; where you only have one option, which is to flow with Life!
In almost 50 years of knowing Life, all I can say is that Life never promised any fair-play to anyone. It is only your expectations that bring you agony. Drop all expectations, suspend all judgments and don’t ever play up the luck theme. Then, you can only be at peace with yourself – no matter what your circumstances are!