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!
In this Vlog, I talk about why I do what I do, why I share learnings from Life daily through my Blogposts, Podcasts and Vlogs!
View time: 2:28 minutes
Today’s Podcast invites us to pause and reflect. Do we really need external gratification? How about doing whatever we love doing for our own inner joy?
Listen time: 6:32 minutes
My conversation with poet and writer Arundhathi Subramaniam for my ‘The Happiness Road’ Series that appears in DT Next every Sunday. Read the conversation on the DT Next page here. ‘The Happiness Road’ is also my next Book. Photo Credit: Vinodh Velayudhan
“I am experiencing complete freedom”
“Happiness”, says Arundhathi Subramaniam, “is an understanding. It is being in a state of wonder at one level and being deeply who you are at another level.”
This understanding for Arundhathi has come about through an on-going, evolutionary journey. As a child she was wonder-struck when she first came into contact with poetry through one of T.S.Eliot’s poems, “The Love Song of J Alfred Prukfrock”. “There was music, there was dance and there was a sense of total amazement that the words in the poem invoked in me. When I relate back to that encounter I can only describe it as happiness,” she recalls. She says, years later, when as an adult she sought to find out the meaning of Life, she found more meaning in that feeling of being wonder-struck by poetry, in the happiness of that memory, than in anything else. “I believe we become unhappy the moment that sense of wonder is replaced by cleverness, by worldly desire and logic.” I ask her how she stays clear of such ‘real world’ demands. Her reply: “After my Master’s degree I was almost tempted to pursue a doctorate program. But my inner voice spoke up. It reminded me that poetry is primary to my Life. So, within 45 days of being a college lecturer, I quit. My decision has meant less stability, lesser money, but it has meant more happiness being a poet.”
But does following your bliss make Life less challenging? Surely, there’s no such guarantee clarifies Arundhathi. She recounts how, in 1997, she “tumbled into a dark space where no language, no poetry, no love, nothing, could enter.” That phase led her onward to be a seeker. “I discovered that any authentic spiritual journey involves knowing that you will sometimes be on terra firma, with free-flowing traffic, or you will encounter potholes. Happiness, I have realized, is the ability to be deeply present in both realities and know that you have been given the shock absorbers to deal with any upheavals,” she explains.
Arundhathi says that in her world, a sense of cluelessness while dealing with the pulls and pressures of everyday living, and the joy of expressing through words and silence, through her poetry, co-exist. “I have learnt to enjoy the ride for the way it is. So I am experiencing complete freedom – in a heightened, alive, state.”
That’s a truly unputdownable state. It is a.k.a happiness!
Do what you love for your sake, it seriously doesn’t matter if others value what you are doing or not!
Last evening we were at a book launch event. The event had three parts – a formal part with speeches, a music concert by a young band and cocktails/dinner. Once the formal part was over, the master of ceremonies invited everyone to stay on for a musical treat. The refreshments, we understood, would be served after the concert.
The band was introduced: Baradwaj Raman on the Veena, Sabi on the Blues Guitar and Vetri on a unique Peruvian percussion instrument called Cajon (pronounced kahon). The trio were awesome. They fused classical Carnatic compositions on the Veena with blues rhythm on the guitar and the Cajon’s Afro-Peruvian beats. Unfortunately, someone seems to have whispered that the bar was open and slowly, over one song, many members of the audience slinked away to an adjoining hall. We were just a few left in the audience now. And one of the organizers gestured to the band to wind up after playing one last number. But the band pressed on. They enjoyed the process thoroughly – of playing together, being immersed in their music, even as some of us – the few who were still in the audience – soaked in some fantastic renditions of great classical compositions! Baradwaj (he’s the grandson of Veena legend S.Balachander) is an upcoming artist, just as Sabi (he’s the official blues guitarist for composer G.V.Prakash) and Vetri (he’s a disciple of Drums Shivamani) are. But by no means was their performance amateurish. So, those in the audience who preferred Johnnie Walker over the concert did so because of their lack of courtesy to the performing artists than anything else.
Even so, the bigger, spiritual, learning for me, came from the reaction of the three members of the band. They were unmindful of who left or who stayed, they played for the joy of music, for their inner joy and for the joy of their being who they are.
This is a great spiritual quality. If you examine your Life objectively, you will realize that most of the time, a lot of what you do is dictated by what you think others (will) think about you. While social niceties are important, you don’t need to strive to be gratified by fulfilling them alone. In fact, nothing other than your inner joy can truly gratify you. So, when something like what happened yesterday happens, well, you just carry on, you just go on playing. Simply, you can’t control the maturity levels of the people around you. You can’t demand they do what you believe they must do. All you can and must do, in any situation or context in Life, is do what you have to do while choosing to be unruffled and unfrustrated by what’s going on.
To follow your bliss, all you need is to decide what you want from your Life. Nothing else is either necessary or matters!
I curate a monthly Event Series at the Odyssey Bookstore in Chennai called The Bliss CatchersTM. Each month I invite guests who have gone on to do what they love doing. I talk to them to understand how they have followed their bliss. Last evening, as the June edition of the Series wound down, a member in the audience asked me if following your bliss was really possible when one had financial and familial responsibilities and commitments? Besides, he added, if someone’s bliss – like traveling – required money, won’t it be important for that person to first save up that amount and then follow their bliss? Which means, is following one’s bliss then the exclusive privilege of a select few?
I am often asked this question. So, I was hardly surprised when it came up again.
First let us understand what bliss really is. In recent times, American mythologist and author Joseph Campbell (1904~1987) has demystified bliss and has made it both understandable and accessible to those who are ready and willing to follow what they truly believe in and come alive with. Bliss is definitely not what you attain sitting under a tree. It is who you are. It is what makes you come alive. Which is why Campbell says follow your bliss. So to someone it may mean cooking, to someone else it may be gardening, to another it may be traveling and so on. Another way to know what your bliss is, is to ask yourself what would you like to be doing in your Life if money were no object. If you didn’t have to worry about earning money or paying your bills, what would you want to do? That which you so absolutely love doing is then your bliss.
However, in the real world, you can’t escape money or materialism. So, how then can we pursue what we love doing without upsetting our material ecosystem? There is no straightforward method or answer available here. Just as bliss is uniquely personal, so is the way to follow it. To each one their own. So, at best, we can try to follow a simple thumb rule though.
Decide what you want from your Life. First understand what your bliss is by asking what you would be doing if you didn’t have to earn money. Then, examine your current reality and ask yourself: Are you working for joy? Or are you working for joy and profit? Or are you working only for profit, only for money?
In any context and in anyone’s Life, all three scenarios are possible. You must address all three before you decide which one you prefer. Obviously, a no-brainer is that the best scenario is when we can get both joy and profit from the work we do, from the bliss we (wish to) follow. But if you are stuck in a job or business that gives you only profit and money, and if you want the money more than your inner joy, then there is no point grieving over the lack of joy in your Life! And if you are experiencing joy doing the work you are doing, and are not making enough money from it, then don’t grieve the lack of money in your Life! Either you can try and bring joy into your Life if you have only money or bring money in your Life if you have only joy! Be clear. Be decisive. If you want a different scenario from what you currently have, remember you have to change your Life! Be clear about what you want, and go for it. Please don’t complain, please don’t whine, pine or grieve. So, really, following your bliss is not a limiting philosophy or idea. You limit yourself with your thinking, with your arguments, with your logic, fear and insecurities. Period.
If you examine your Life, all your unhappiness comes from not doing what you want to do or from doing what you don’t want to do. So, to do what you love doing, you must decide what you want from Life. Like so many, many others have done. Look around you. You will discover that almost every story of world-class performance and success (in purely real-world, material terms), in any field, conforms to this philosophy. Simply then, if you want to be happy, if you want lasting inner joy, go be the best at whatever you love doing. Money will always follow.