Only you can decide what makes you happy!
We bumped into a young friend at a coffee shop yesterday. She is a qualified architect but is taking a gap year in her academics.
She asked us: “Is it okay to not feel like doing anything in Life? I mean, is it seriously okay? I feel everyone around me is chasing their tail and here I am…completely clueless about my future and blundering along…I am still unsure if I want to study further or if I want to practice or be a writer or just travel the world. Everyone is forcing me to decide and go do ‘something’. But I don’t want to commit to doing something that my heart isn’t agreeing to.”
Vaani, in turn, asked her this question: “What makes you happy?”
And the young lady replied: “I am still figuring out what makes me happy. But I am sure none of the things my family or friends want me to do, like do a desk job to earn an income and gain experience, or a do a Masters Program so that the tag of a graduate can be acquired, will make me happy.”
The lady, in our opinion, has her priorities clearly in place.
Even as she is figuring out what will quench her soul, what will make her intrinsically happy, she’s sure about what she does not want to do. And there’s no confusion in her mind there. Now, that’s a wonderful state to be in.
You see, the whole world is running amuck – everyone is trying to become something, become someone else that they really are not. Worse, almost everyone else seems to have an opinion about what you must do and how you must live your Life. Sometimes, this cacophony can be deafening. If you capitulate and sign up for what the world wants you to do, at the cost of your own inner peace and joy, then don’t complain about your Life being listless and meaningless. Because that’s really what Life will be when you live it for someone else’s sake! But, if you want your Life to be exciting, if you want to wake up each morning loving the opportunity to go do what you love doing, then you have to pause and reflect.
Ask yourself important, fundamental, questions: 1. What makes me happy? 2. What makes me feel grateful for this gift called Life? 3. Doing what makes me lose myself completely so that I forget all my worries and even lose track of time? 4. What do I want to keep doing again and again and again – all my Life?
Well, you know what you answered for those four questions. Now, just go do it. Simple. And if figuring this out takes a year or two, or even more, well, so be it.
Life is a precious, one-time, limited-period offer. The most intelligent way to live it is to only do what makes you happy. And no one but you can make that choice – only you can decide what makes you happy. When you do live a Life, doing what you love, everything you need arrives in your Life – at its own time and pace. If there ever is a secret to living a Life of happiness and contentment – this, absolutely, is it!
If you don’t know how to deal with sadness, you can never be happy.
Someone I met yesterday wanted to know if there is a way to avoid sadness. I asked her why she wanted to avoid sadness. “Because I intensely dislike being sad,” she replied. “Then”, I replied, “What you can do is to examine the futility of sadness and drop it, let it go. You can’t avoid sadness. But you can let it go.”
Nobody wants to be sad. Yet sadness is unavoidable. It is a natural human state, that’s how you will feel when you don’t like what is happening to you. Life is not in your control. So there will be times when you will feel sad. When you feel that way, hold that feeling close to you. Examine it. Dissect it – who or what is causing your sadness? Is there anything you can do about it? If you can, fine, go ahead, do it. If you can’t, ask yourself, is there any point in continuing to feel sad? The moment you come to this level of clarity over whatever’s making you sad and what you can do about it, your sadness will disappear. This is how you deal with sadness – simply be willing to accept it for what it is and move on! This is what is called ‘celebrating sadness’!
Celebrating happiness is easy. We all know how to do it. We share. We radiate positivity. We spread cheer and goodwill. Sometimes, we party. Interestingly, the same approach will work for sadness as well. Surely, a party to share your sadness will work as well as a party to share your joy! We don’t know it works because we have not tried it. Why? Because society has conditioned us to restrict celebrations to happiness and has associated sadness with a state of mourning. The truth about Life is that unless you have learnt to accept and experience sadness fully, you can’t experience happiness! Osho, the Master, has a beautiful perspective to offer here: “Celebration is unconditional; I celebrate Life. It brings unhappiness – good, I celebrate it. It brings happiness – good, I celebrate it. Celebration is my attitude, unconditional to what Life brings.”
Life’s really about experiencing what comes your way. And over what comes your way, you – and I – have no control. The real question is, how do you want to live your Life? Do you want to live it lamenting that nothing’s in your control? Or do you want to celebrate the fact that because you are not in control, because you don’t have to control, because you have nothing to control, you are free?
I choose to celebrate this freedom every day. I ask myself when I am confronted with a situation, and an emotion connected with that situation: is there anything I can do about this? If I can, I go do whatever I can to fix the situation. If I can’t, I let it – the way I feel about the situation – go. And I remind myself, in either context, not to sweat over the situation or the emotion it brings along with it! This is my learning from Life: celebrate it for what it is, the way it is, as it comes!
Embrace the suchness of Life!
I read a report in The Hindu the other day where former McKinsey CEO Rajat Gupta, charged for insider trading in the US, described his 19-month prison term as far more positive than he had imagined. The Hindu’s Vikas Dhoot carried a letter, verbatim, that Rajat had written to his friends on January 1, 2016, four days before his prison term ended. To me, the most important line came at the end of the letter when Rajat writes: “…As they say, Life is a series of experiences. None is inherently good or bad. It is what you make of it….”
This perspective is so ordinary at one level – we all have heard it so many, many, times in so many, many contexts. Perhaps, its ordinariness kills its value. Yet, nothing is more true about Life. It is a series of happenings, experiences. And whatever you have to go through, however tough a phase may be, even if it is a Life-threatening crisis, only makes you stronger, wiser and happier.
People ask me if I have any regrets about my Life. And I always say, only half in jest, yes, I wish my bankruptcy (Read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal) had arrived 10 years earlier in my Life. I would have saved 10 years of living in stupor, chasing success, I would have lived 10 more years with awareness and lived them happily too.
I always tell people now, embrace your challenges. Welcome them. They are here to teach you how to live more meaningfully. The untrained mind will kick around in frustration. It will instill fear in you, it will make you believe that a crisis will kill you. But if you can get past your mind’s antics, and see the truth about your Life you will realize that all the choices of your past have brought you to your present. And what you do now will seed your future. So, you can either continue to be a victim of your crisis or you can be its student. I suffered as long as I was in victim mode. But the moment I chose to learn from my experience, my suffering stopped. To be sure, there is enormous pain. But no suffering. I am only stronger, a trifle more wiser and a lot, lot more, happier from what I am going through. This is the suchness of Life. So, embrace it for what it is, the way it is. This is what makes it magical, mystical, beautiful – and inscrutable!
Learn to be patient with Life. It happens at its own pace and in its own time.
A friend wrote to me after a long time and wondered if my “Life’s troubles were over”! I replied saying while we are still enduring the crisis, we are not troubled by it anymore. This doesn’t mean we are accustomed to or resigned to our “comfort zone”. To be sure, you can never be comfortable in pain. Yet you can avoid suffering if you are in a state of acceptance of your current reality and have learnt to be patient with Life.
All of us are products of the time that we go through. Initially, when I was much younger, less wiser, and more impatient, I pooh-poohed this theory. Now, when I look back, I realize that my academic education – which encouraged me to think logically, rationally – had made me arrogant. I wanted to be the master of my Life. I imagined then that I could make my own destiny. I seriously believed that success – fame and money – are all that mattered in Life. But then, when I started noticing, both through my own Life experience and through those of others around me, that having talent and integrity alone can’t make your plans work for you, I came to accept that you also need time on your side.
The time I refer to here does not mean the 24-hour construct. It means the phases of time that your lifespan goes through. I soon discovered that through the passage of time, what goes up comes down, to go back up again and to come down yet again! I recognized therefore that nothing is permanent – not even Life; that death is inevitable! So, I realized, the best way to live is to be available to, and accepting of, whatever’s happening to you, even if it is not something that you want or ordered into your Life. This way you will not suffer in Life; nothing can trouble you!
I have also understood that there is no concept of good time or bad time in Life. Time, like Life itself, is neutral. In fact, every event in your Life, happens for a reason. Even stuff that you classify as ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’ – events that you dislike – happen at the ‘right’ time! And whatever happens in your Life, is happening to make you humble, strong, peaceful and happy! This understanding has helped me immensely. I wake up to face each day with great enthusiasm. I put in my best efforts. And I take whatever comes my way – acceptance, rejection, compassion, hatred, praise, ridicule – without judging it and without resisting it. About 10 years ago, I was indeed troubled and unhappy with my Life. My material context and physical situation have not changed. But I have learnt now to be untroubled by what’s happening to me and to be happy despite the circumstances I am placed in!
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!