Are we not all in the pursuit of happiness? But what does happiness mean to you? “I wish there was a pill for it,” I’ve heard some people say. I gently remind them, “Happiness is an internal process, friends. The sooner you realize this truth, the happier you will be.”
When my mother was alive, she would find happiness in friends and extended family praising my brother and me. “This aunty/uncle said good things about you.” Her face would light up.
“That’s so nice. See, I taught you right,” she would say.
I asked her once how she responded or what were her feelings when someone criticized her or us? Did she experience the opposite of “gloating?” Did it bother her? How did the negativity influence her mood? Did she then blame others for her unhappiness?
My mother wasn’t an exception. Most cultures, especially in the subcontinent, teach humans to rely on people, places, things, situations, circumstances etc. for their happiness. We leave our lives and emotional wellness in the hands of others and then feel disappointed when they don’t meet our expectations.
Yoga has trained me to stop outsourcing my happiness.
What do I mean by that?
The same aunty/uncle who loved my samosa or behavior and could not stop raving about me to my mother might be in a different mind space tomorrow and not appreciate me or my actions. Then what? Should their lack of recognition impact my sense of self or how I feel on the inside? Should I hold them responsible for “causing” me unhappiness? If I stay chained to other people’s opinion of me for my happiness, I will forever become a slave to their feelings. Can you imagine how unstable I would feel? Not just people, the same holds true for life and moments. Be it a dinner plan cancellation or not being able to buy a particular dress or a vacation falling through, can we hold these external factors responsible for making us miserable?
Yoga reminds us that it is how we respond, not what is happening that determines whether we are happy or not happy. In this past year and more, the pandemic has unleashed havoc in our lives. There has been no dearth of suffering. Research tells us that many adults are reporting specific negative impacts on their mental health and well-being, such as difficulty sleeping or eating, increases in alcohol consumption or substance use, and worsening chronic conditions, due to worry and stress over the coronavirus. The distance between happiness and humans seems to be increasing, especially for those who have always relied on external factors for mental peace and bliss.
“In these unprecedented times, I think it is extremely important to become emotionally self-reliant. Too much dependency on others makes people vulnerable. Often people become ignorant of their own happiness and life because they are too busy seeking validation from others and fulfilling the expectation of others,” says Monika Aggarwal, a healthcare professional and poet at heart, from Calgary, Canada.
Aggarwal, who is also a very dear friend (in this happy picture, Monika and I were hanging out in Las Vegas) reiterates that when a person is happy, all other things coexist peacefully and beautifully. In this space, one begins to embrace solitude and have more positive outlook towards life. She is right. Research shows that much of happiness is under personal control.
I reached out to three of my best friends from when I was growing up — Arti Gupta, Gayatri Kumar, and Jaya Sharan — and asked them what happiness means to them. In this picture, we were in our college dormitory. Happiness in our teenage years was hanging out with our buddies, sharing stories, and experiencing gastronomic onslaught brought upon by street foods.
Arti Gupta says, “Happiness to me would mean my mom recovering and coming home.”
Gayatri Kumar puts it differently: “Happiness is said to be both internal and external. But everyone seems to be searching for happiness. It is second in the list of priorities, after peace of mind. It is one of the things we want most in life, and at the same time one of the things we have the least amount of and hence keep looking for it. For me, happiness is a state of mind, in which I experience complete inner peace, stillness, and calm. Happiness is definitely an internal process.”
According to Jaya Sharan, “Happiness to me is a state of mind, an internal process. Where there is a sense of fulfillment, peace, love, warmth, security and achievement. Be it for self or for loved ones…happiness therefore can be momentary or long lasting. It is a continuous work in process. Achieving any one or two things listed at a given time makes me happy. Happiness sometimes to me is also letting it be and going with the flow.”
May is mental health awareness month. The wise will remind us to stop attributing our happiness to what’s going on externally. It takes daily practice to find the power within. Happiness and unhappiness are states of mind and therefore their real causes cannot be found outside the mind. Life will always be filled with ebbs and flows. Relationships, money, health, people… they are all transient. The only thing constant is change. The sooner we accept this hard fact, the better will be the state of our emotional wellness.
“Happiness is not something ready-made. It comes from your own actions.” ~ Dalai Lama