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!
Loving, in the present continuous, is essential for a relationship to thrive despite all differences.
We watched Mani Ratnam’s new movie Katru Veliyidai last evening. Viewers have panned the film for many reasons. Principal among them is the view, held by many, that Dr.Leela (Aditi Rao Hydari) continues to accommodate, accept and love VC (Karthi) despite being “humiliated and trampled upon” by him. The question people are asking is: Why should a film portray a woman in such light; why can’t Dr.Leela have been a much stronger woman who slaps VC back, who tramples him back, who rightfully asserts herself and claims an equal place in their relationship?
I have three points to make about the movie. 1. I liked it a lot – for most parts. 2. Perhaps because the story-telling was not so linear, and perhaps people these days often rush to pronounce judgment on social media on people and events, viewers missed what Mani Ratnam so aesthetically communicated through the film. 3. And that is the fact that Dr.Leela is indeed a strong woman – who asserts herself from the first instance in the blizzard. But her assertion is never vitriolic. Her loving of VC (not just her love for him) is as powerful as her seeking her space, her dignity. Despite the way he treats her, she is still relating to him, so she continues loving him. Yet, when he refuses to have their baby, she decides to walk away from him – not quite walking out on him – while continuing to be loving. There is a present continuous state to her loving, just as there is a present continuous state to her asking to be treated with respect. And that’s why I say Mani Ratnam’s tried to convey his point very aesthetically – he’s not spelt it out, he’s not laid it all there in a linear sequence; you pick what you want, the way you want to.
There’s not just an aesthetic quality to the film visually, its very essence is so. This is what I gleaned from the movie – that when two people are loving, they may have their differences, they may have their own independent personas, but they will still be able to relate to each other in a special way! Now, this is not a filmy situation alone – this is so true about Life, and about so many of our stories out there. The problem with society is that we expect people to conform to stereotypes. But surely, there are as many different characterizations in personalities out there as there are people. And each one evolves and changes with time, through their experiences. This is what happens to VC through his reflection, through his incarceration in a Pakistani jail. I truly believe that loving is more important and more relevant than the singular act of falling in love. When there is loving, then there is a flow, there’s a freedom to be who you are. Then it is present continuous. Then there is a relating. And only when two people are relating to each other, despite their differences, can their relationship thrive. That’s really what happens in Mani Ratnam’s Katru Velyidai, to his Dr.Leela and VC.
To me the takeaway is deeply spiritual. It offers an aesthetic value that’s not commonly understood or appreciated. As social animals, and as social media content creators and consumers, we expect everything in a “black and white”, in a “my way or the highway” format. But Life doesn’t to conform to any formats, formulae or structures. Life’s creations – all of us included – are all at the same time unique, and flawed, just as VC and Dr.Leela are, who live and love on their own terms. The key is to celebrate everyone for who they are, while celebrating yourself, and to keep on loving, as undefineably, as expansively as the breeze (Katru Veliyidai), without expectations, without conditions, without limitations…And some day, the one who continues to relate to your loving, will find their way to you, no matter what – or who – comes in the way!
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!