On Happiness

I’ve heard Guruji (Sri Sri Ravi Shankar) often ask those he meets, “Are you happy?” For years I’ve heard it, and for me it has always been a powerful ‘back-to-basics’ moment of introspection, gratitude, and understanding.

Recently I listened to the NPR TED Radio Hour episode titled Simply Happy. It hit home because I’ve been ruminating on this topic for the last few months, ever since Guruji changed the name of the Art of Living course to the Happiness Program for audiences in North America. Shraddha and I were there in the room with Guruji along with some 200 other Art of Living teachers last December in Boone. Guruji simply said that in India, Art of Living is (formally or informally, I forget) being billed as the Happiness Program, since that name captures the essence of the course much better; were we doing that here in the US? No? Well, then let’s start! And that’s how quickly the name changed.

That really got me even more conscious of the idea of happiness, which is an integral part of the Art of Living course (of course). Time and again I’ve remembered in these past three months that happiness is really a choice I can make each day, each moment.

I’ve summarized below the big ideas from the NPR podcast, but you really should listen to the whole thing:

There’s a strong correlation between being present and being happy. No matter how dull or how exciting a task may be, being more present while doing it equates to being more happy. Apparently that applies to anything, from spending time with the family to hauling garbage. We can be in the most pleasant tropical island paradise surrounded by our loved ones… and if we’re not present, we won’t be happy. On the show, the host described a study that provided this correlation, and then asked the question, “So how do we become more present?” And the answer given on the radio by the expert was, “I don’t know.”

I actually yelled out a loud “aargh” when I heard that. I was driving and alone in my car so no one else heard me yell, but I wished I could correct the show host and tell him that there is an easy way. This is the essence of what we experience in the Art of Living. The answer is in the breath! In the rhythms of the sudarshan kriya our whole being comes alive and we learn how to be intensely present, not as a concept but as an experience. And time and again we come back to the breath, polish and polish, and the presence starts to grow in our life.

So, breathe.

The next big ideas was: slow down. Especially in the west we’re a chronically sleep-deprived overscheduled society, and slow is a dirty word. But the recipe for happiness is not more speed. So let’s slow down.

Once the basic needs are met, less stuff usually correlates to more happiness. More stuff equates to higher credit card debt, a larger environmental footprint, and more clutter that has spawned a multi-billion dollar storage industry in the west. Decluttering and reducing stuff is something I’ve been experimenting with for a while, but truth be told I’ve a long way to go. Sites like Leo Babauta’s mnmlist are amazing. Also the idea of 100 things.

The effects of a tragic life-event on our happiness are short-lived, usually about three months long. Yes that even includes major events like deaths in the family. This idea was really new to me, but also very reassuring. It’s never the end of the world.

Be grateful. If we look for reasons to complain, we’ll always find them, and that’s a sure way to drag ourselves down. If we look for reasons to be grateful, why yes we’ll find them too, and that’s a surefire way to uplift our consciousness and stay happy. If you’re reading this blog post of mine, chances are that you have plenty of reasons to be grateful, so be grateful. 🙂

There’s a cool game on the Art of Living course… oops, I meant to say the Happiness Program, that teaches the above idea. Get on a course and find out!

I’ve saved the best for the last. The final idea from the podcast is this: there’s no secret to being happy. So stop seeking happiness and start living it. It’s that simple. Yes it really is, though the mind wants to contradict and complicate things. Choose to be happy, agree to be happy, and the happiness just starts to take over.

There’s one more idea that the podcast did not cover that I think is essential to happiness: serve. If all that we’re engaged in is the pursuit of our own happiness, misery is usually the result. Every now and then, we need to stop thinking about ourselves and devote some time, effort, and energy to caring for those around us, in whatever small capacity we can. I consider service one of the essential needs of the human spirit, and one of the cornerstones of happiness.

Guruji says it’s both an order and a blessing… Be happy!

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