In this Podcast I make a case for how you are the happiness you seek.
Listen time: 3:46 minutes
Live as if money were not an object. And you will live a fuller, happier Life!
The hope among Indians is palpable.
For the first time, the generations that were born after Independence, appear to nurture hope that ‘something worthwhile to seriously cleanse India’ is being attempted. That includes people like me who have been critical of Modi and skeptical about his promise of ‘achche din’. I am not rubbishing his leadership and the efforts of his team over the last 30 months. But I did not see anything worthwhile being done by his government. There was a lot of drama, PR and optics over all his utterances and policies, but it seemed nothing would crack open Indian culture, stamp out its crab mentality and build an ethos of co-ownership and pride in building a clean, efficient nation. To be sure, I liked the Modi idea of a Swach Bharat – but I know it will never be an immediate reality because for that to happen, every Indian must transform. And that is asking way for too much from our aam aadmi! But the idea to demonetize the Rs.500 and Rs.1000 notes and strangulate the parallel economy, theoretically, holds out hope. Yesterday, while traveling in Uber cars, at coffee shops, talking to rank strangers on the street and going by the conversations on social media and WhatsApp, I got the sense that India is hopeful of this progressive step helping us cleanse her of corruption! Even if this new system does not sound fool-proof – in that corrupt officials and dishonest citizens, unscrupulous politicians and wily black money hoarders will surely do jugaad to work around and through the system – at least, existing stockpiles of ill-gotten money has been reduced to nothing and the so-called rich, notorious and powerful have been rendered momentarily powerless. So, theoretically, the political and governance aspects of this demonetization move appears worthwhile.
But I also see a human dimension playing out across India over the last 24+ hours. Indeed people are helping each other with methods and means to survive the ‘unsettled’ phase till normalcy in cash-based transactions is achieved. A small-time bangle seller in Hyderabad, reports today’s Hindu, gave away a pair of bangles worth Rs.50/- to a bride-to-be because her family did not have change and had only Rs.500/- to transact. People have been reporting of a new ‘way of living’ where they have the money but not the currency to transact. Friends have been talking of ‘feeling lighter and liberated’. And several people have been reaching out and helping the less educated, daily wage earners, get food and basic supplies till they start re-earning a livelihood. It is heart-warming to see humanity thrive in these apparently cold, material, insensitive times.
Living without money is not new to Vaani and me. Over the last 9+ years, we are only too familiar with this ‘way of Life’. In fact, my Book Fall Like A Rose Petal talks about how we were left with just Rs.2000 on 31st December 2007 and the film Rise In Love shows the last Rs.80 we had in April 2014 that we gave away to an auto-rickshaw driver. After that incident, for 70 days, over four months, we lived penniless in Chennai. In this time most devices and appliances at home also broke down. So we had no money, no washing machine, no TV, no micro-wave, no mixer. Besides, my mobile phone and Vaani’s laptop crashed too. But Vaani and I never let all this material dysfunctionality affect our spirit. We had no work, no money and no car. So spent a lot of time speaking to each other about our Life, our experiences, our learnings, our love for each other….we went on long walks, for 10 kms, often for over 2~3 hours daily….our walking shoes wore out in this time and we didn’t have money to buy new ones! But we kept walking – literally, figuratively. There was a lot of pain, but we don’t remember suffering!
One day, Vaani discovered that she had only one onion at home. No other vegetables were there. There was no money to buy fresh veggies. So she made khichdi and onion raita. It was a beautiful meal. We focused on the joy of being able to eat the meal together and not on what it comprised of. On another occasion, we suddenly realized we had Rs.236 available in a bank account that we were not using anymore. We felt we could do well with that cash. So we walked a long way to that bank’s ATM to try our luck on whether the account was a. functional and b. if it would allow us to withdraw Rs.200. Our effort paid off on both counts. There was so much joy when the ATM spat out two hundred rupee notes. We both observed that while it seemed so bizarre that we had come to such a level of abject penury, we were grateful for the miracle of that Rs.200 in our hands that evening. We celebrated our fortune by treating ourselves to Rs.5 worth of roasted and salted peanuts we bought from a roadside thelawala. It was an unforgettable, magical experience.
The lessons we have learnt from living without money are invaluable. We have learnt to celebrate Life. We have discovered that watching sunrises and sunsets costs nothing. We have felt magic and beauty in hearing the birds chirp and seeing the trees sway in the breeze. We have learnt to value conversations between ourselves, with our children and among our friends. We find the joy of our companionship priceless. There’s bliss in walking together, through treacherous terrain, even when we are penniless, when we are virtually check-mated legally and financially. All the expensive, candle-lit dinners that we have had in the past, in the most exotic locations across the world, pale in significance and comparison! And we have found great inner peace in giving our time and in sharing our Life learnings, with all those who care to pause and reflect. In fact, we have now understood that while money is very important, money is just a resource. It must be used. And we must never get used, or consumed, by it, by clinging on to it. The real opportunity of happiness, being available free, and 24×7, became visible to us only when money ceased to be an object in our Life. For this realization, we will remain ever grateful to our enduring bankruptcy that truly demonetized our Life. Which is why, I see this 24+-hour currency demonetization experience in India as an opportunity for everyone here to learn to live happily ever after!
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Don’t mourn the dead, celebrate their Life instead!
An elderly resident in our apartment block has had a bereavement in her family. Normally, she leads the community navarathri celebrations in the building. But she cried out this year saying she was in mourning. Her choice made me wonder if we should at all mourn our dead.
I often hear people say that when someone passes away, you should not offer prayers for three to 10 days, depending on your closeness to the departed; you should not celebrate festivals, birthdays and anniversaries for a full year and, in some cases, I have noticed people even abstain from visiting ‘big’ temples like Tirupathi or their native shrines. Now, my perspective on this is limited to the way Hindus, particularly TamBrahms, mourn as I am exposed primarily to this culture. I must add here that my views on God and religion are significantly skewed to the journey within, to Godliness and to the religion of humanity. Even so, this is not even about God or religion. This is about, as I see it, the wasted, often dramatic, practice of mourning.
Yes, when someone you know and love dies, you will feel sad. And you can’t and you should not avoid that grief. Hold it and allow it to hold you. It will last for a while. But as it wears off after some time, and it will, let it go. By imposing socially – as dictated by the high-priests of religion – prescribed mourning norms, you are missing the big picture. Death is not a dark, monstrous ‘something’ that must be feared and abhorred. In fact, death is the only constant about Life. It is the inevitable. It is the only certainty you have in Life: if you are born, you will die! And as long as you live, death is your constant companion. It travels with you along the course of your entire lifetime, as a shadow will.
I learnt an important Life lesson from a slum dweller several years ago. One afternoon, I found traffic slowing down on Greenways Road. This was surprising because this is one of the freer thoroughfares in Chennai. In some time, the traffic came to a grinding halt. I stepped out of my car and walked a few metres ahead to find that a funeral procession was winging its way out of the Sathya Nagar slum in the area. As the flower-bedecked cortege of an old man snaked forward, I noticed several people, young and old, mostly men, dancing to the beats to a drum. They were leading the cortege. They danced furiously. And I could make out that several of them were drunk. I had seen this happen on the streets of Chennai many, many times before this one. But this time I was keen to understand why slum dwellers acted in such drunken frenzy while seeing off their dead. So I asked an elderly member of the procession if he could tell me what was going on. He reeked of cheap sarakku (liquor) and was probably in his 70s. He was not dancing; but he was swaying to the drum beats and the effect of alcohol nonetheless. He paused though and answered my question: “Saar, we are celebrating that our man is dead. That he has found viduthalai, freedom, from this earthly existence. He’s gone to a happier, prosperous place. We are happy for him. In celebrating his death, his freedom, we know, ours will come too. Soon!”
I found the man’s perspective to be a revelation. I had not thought of death from that point of view ever.
It is so simple. Celebrate the departed’s opportunity to be free from real world issues, challenges, attachments, bondages, whatever! I extended the thought and have since held the view that our dead must not be mourned but their lives must be celebrated. On the night when my father-in-law died, two years ago, I sat quietly and drank all by myself. I recalled how much I had learned from him and thanked him for his compassion and trust in me – beginning, of course, with his choice to let me marry Vaani, way back in the late ‘80s, even when I was barely out of college, and unemployed! It was a quiet communion and a personal celebration!
As I grow older, I find the rituals that impose mourning very meaningless, in fact, stifling. On the contrary, I find the slum-dwellers’ practice of dancing for their dead, of celebrating their dead, deeply spiritual. Many of them may well be uneducated. But perhaps they are more evolved than us. They surely know what it means to celebrate the lives of those who are gone. So, I believe mourning as a practice must be expunged. Instead we must do all the stuff that our dead would have loved. And through doing all of that, let’s celebrate their Life. As for me, I have advised Vaani and my children to abstain from all rituals and instead host my Death-Day party! I have asked them to play RD Burman-Gulzar-Kishore Kumar songs and hold a toast with the finest whiskeys as my celebration at my death!!!
PS: The image in this Blogpost has been updated in 2020.
You can’t attain a problem-free state in Life. So, don’t postpone your happiness!
A friend has fallen out with his boss. But he’s past 50 and doesn’t want to leave Chennai. So, his career prospects are limited. He wants to find himself a new job, but given his self-imposed limitations and the lack of choices in the market around him, the process is taking longer. He wanted to know if it is possible for him to be happy while working with a boss who dislikes him intensely, and who he dislikes too, and when he’s (our friend) not getting what he wants – a job!
Basically, what our friend is wanting to know is if we can be happy while living with our problems? And the answer is, well, a resounding yes!!!
When you are in a problem situation, facing a challenge or solving something complicated or making sense of what has hit you and what’s going on, unhappiness is the first emotion that you experience. Because the very nature of a problem is that it is a problem only because you don’t want it. Yet because you now have it in your Life, without your wanting it, you plunge into unhappiness. When you are unhappy, dealing with anything becomes laborious, a drudgery! Then you stop living and merely exist. Everything becomes burdensome, every step you have to take is painful and you simply lose interest first, and sooner than later, you lose hope too. But just think – has your being unhappy really solved the problem? Or helped it in any manner? Well, surely, it hasn’t! So, of what use is it to display, or carry within you, an emotion which is completely useless?
The simplest, the most fundamental truth about Life is that happiness has nothing to do with the state in which you are. You can be happy despite your circumstances. Your circumstances __ health, relationship, heart-break, break-up, loss__don’t make you unhappy. It’s your desire, that the circumstances that are don’t exist, that makes you unhappy. In our friend’s case, his boss or his prolonged job search don’t make him unhappy. It is his desiring, that his boss must deal with him with dignity, that he must get a job faster, that makes him unhappy.
Surely, you will feel sad when you don’t get what you want. But you must learn to let go of the sadness. If you don’t and go on clinging to the sadness, you will end up leading an unhappy existence. When you feel unhappy about something, examine not just what or who is causing your unhappiness, but also examine what attitude of yours are you bringing to the situation. When you do that you will realize the futility of being unhappy. That’s how you start learning the art of being happy despite what’s going on with you. Soon, you will also realize that it is your happiness that will always help you deal with the situation much better.
You too can learn the fine art of living happily__despite your circumstances, in spite of your problems. Begin by choosing not to postpone being happy waiting for your problems to recede or go away. Perhaps they may. But know that newer ones will crop up. Because such is Life. So, you can either be alive and happy, while you still have and deal with your problems, or you can be dead while suffering from them.
There are no methods or formulae or mantras to be happy. You just have to be. Period.
A friend sent me a media story on an interesting venture that’s being set up at the IIT – Kharagpur. Supported by its alumnus Satinder Rekhi , the Rekhi Centre for Science of Happiness hopes to ‘research and help develop an ecosystem of happy people’. Although the story I read talked about the Centre actually being a ‘lab’ that attempts to ‘crack the code for happiness’, I don’t want to go by what the media says. I have no first hand knowledge of how the proposed Rekhi Centre plans to operate and what projects it initially will seed and develop. But I do know two things: 1. As a concept it is hugely relevant to help nurture an ecosystem of happy people 2. There is no code or formula or method or mantra for happiness – so if the people behind the Rekhi Centre really plan to go after these, then, sadly, they may well end up barking up the wrong tree.
In order to understand happiness, let us first know that it is like the breath we take; it is available 24×7 and free. So why then, for most of us, is happiness an elusive pursuit? It appears elusive because we are searching for something that is already there. What if something was available to you and you were searching for it? Like raising your spectacles over your forehead and searching for them all over the house. You will never find it unless you look at yourself and discover that it was all along on you. Similarly, you will never be happy unless you look within yourself. You are the happiness you seek. And this happiness is invisible to you because you have buried it under layers of wasteful emotions – fear, anxiety, worry, anger, hatred, jealousy and many, many more. Or simply, to be happy, you need to remove all those factors that exist around you, in you, that make you unhappy.
Learning to do this is possible. But you need to approach happiness with an open mind, with humility. You can’t just want to be happy. You must be ready and willing to be happy. Staying happy is a full-time job. It is really what living is all about.
So, I don’t know how the idea of a formula or a code can help anyone here. If you look at the body of work, research from the past, available over the centuries, almost everyone talks about happiness as just being. It is the ability to live with, love and celebrate whatever is, whatever is available in the present, in the now.
This morning I am dealing with a grave crisis. It requires several practical steps to mitigate – a resolution itself will take months. And all the steps to be taken immediately require money. This is a resource that I don’t have. Yet, I have made my efforts, and continue to make them, seeking work and income, but in the absence of any tangible evidence of my efforts bearing fruit, I have still decided to continue to write my daily blogpost. I am not complaining. I am not angry. I am not fearful. I am not anxious or worried. I wrote this blogpost just as the way you are reading it now – by engaging with each word, sentence and idea. After posting this, I will go on to have lunch. Vaani’s made some methi parathas – my favorite – and I will relish each morsel of what I eat. And I will eat while being grateful to Vaani for making them and serving them with so much love, I will be grateful to whatever energy is making such a wonderful meal possible even in such inscrutable and painful times. To me, this ability to be immersed in the present – whatever be the circumstance – is happiness. So, how can any formula help here? Or which mantra? Where is the code? What method can be uniformly, universally adapted and championed?
I hope the formula-seeking aspect of the Rekhi Centre venture is just exaggeration – an outcome of the media’s, predictable, overindulgence. I wish Team IIT-Kharagpur/Rekhi Centre for Science of Happiness all the best. We definitely need the ecosystem they envision. We need champions like them. And I am willing to contribute to their endeavor by way of leading workshops and Talks to inspire people to be happy despite their circumstances; I will try and connect with them soon. But my humble prayer to everyone is let us not intellectualize happiness. Instead, let us employ commonsense and learn to just be. For when you simply are, you are happy!
You – and only you – are responsible for your happiness.
A recent discussion, of which I was a silent spectator, on what makes people happy or unhappy, depending on how you see it, caught my attention! One school of thought was that social media has become a necessary evil and that spending too much time on Facebook makes people depressed and unhappy. Another view was that because happiness is a ‘much marketed’ industry, more people are unhappy because they are unable to be happy despite their best efforts. A third perspective shared was that people who tend to be positive about Life, no matter how challenging their Life situations are, are normally those who are keeping “stuff bottled up within them” and that their “depression and suppressed negativity will soon explode”.
I found all three points of view absurd.
Let’s start with the third. Vaani and I are folks who are not just positive, we are enthusiastic about our Life despite whatever we are faced with. And we don’t have any bottled up feelings that are waiting to explode. There is no simmering anger, grief or guilt within us. As I write this, I honestly don’t know how we are going to survive – in a purely bill-paying sense – the month of June, but we are not pinned down by insecurity. Apart from our enduring financial crisis, we are also confronted with some serious health and professional challenges. But we are not moping over our fate. To be sure, we are also not the only ones who are upbeat about our Life. We know thousands of others like us, around us, just in the city of Chennai, who have learnt the art of being happy despite their circumstances. Someone is dealing with a child’s autism, someone’s lost her husband, someone’s teenaged son committed suicide, someone’s efforts to find love and companionship have failed more than three times, someone’s wife deserted him because they had a child that has cerebral palsy; so the man is a single parent even as he has a career as a master chef, someone’s walked out of a 28-year-old marriage and given up on her business career – both at the same time – and does not know how she will survive both in an economic and emotional sense…! Now, all these stories have one thing in common: all these people are, we know, immensely happy! And since Vaani and I know them personally, we can vouch for them; they are not putting up a “happy face”. The truth is you cannot fake happiness. You can put on a brave face, but never a happy one!
Now, let’s go to the second perspective. People may be marketing happiness. The peddlers of happiness as a concept may be profiting from selling the idea. But if you buy the happiness theory because someone hard-sold it you, then, seriously, honestly, you have lost the plot. Happiness is who you really are. And you will realize who you are only when you awaken to your real Self. That can happen through a friend or a family member holding up a mirror to you. That cannot happen because you were ‘sold the idea of happiness’. So, merely attending a retreat or a program, or reading a book or watching a movie, on happiness, cannot make you happier. Only you can and must help yourself to happiness. Nobody else can. And if they claim they can, then be sure it’s just a sales pitch. You may buy into it but you won’t benefit from it! Because you can and will never be happy waiting for someone or something to make you happy!!
And finally the first point. Think of your social media platforms as your living room. If you allow all kinds of people into your home, into your living room, be sure that they are going to ruin your inner peace. Who would you entertain or host at home? Only those whose company you enjoy, right? Only those whose value systems match yours, right? Only those who make you come alive, who inspire you, who complement your energies, right? So, why do you allow all kinds of people onto your timeline – on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and such platforms? And having allowed them, by your own choice and volition, why blame the medium and the platforms? Try weeding out all those whose presence you don’t enjoy from your social media connections and then see how you feel. I bet you will be a lot happier than you are presently!
Happiness is a personal choice, an individual responsibility. It is available 24×7 and is free. To be happy, you must simply be. Don’t complicate your Life by trying to understand how to be happy in today’s times. Spend that time and energy simply being. You will be happy!