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Tag: happiness

Drive thru

A study recently found that the most stressful city in the world for driving is… you guessed it or maybe not… Mumbai!

Given that I’ve been living and driving here for years, I can only agree, somewhat. Only ‘somewhat’, because Mumbai is very stressful to drive in, but all of India can be really stressful to drive in too.

There’s just so many people, everyone as if waiting to just jump in front of your vehicle when you least expect it. There is also massive congestion, unexpected bovinity in the middle of highways, zero wiggle room, no rules, no lane discipline, no lanes, no signals and in general a lot of peril.

However, there are two things in my humble observation that keeps all this driving insanity remarkably orderly.

  1. Go slow (no scope for autobahn here!)
  2. But keep moving.

Going slow means you get to stop when required and not worry about hitting someone who unexpectedly shows up. By keeping on moving, you ensure that you get to where you want, slowly but surely.

In this hyper-fast age of advancement and spectacular wins and stress and everyone rubbing their own successes in everyone else’s faces, following these two maxims for life in general, could be really really rewarding.

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Running for what?

A podcast I was listening to recently had Allyson Felix as the guest of honour. I had not heard of her before, but she came across as a really nice human being. And that is not to say she’s not famous – she’s the most decorated US track athlete in Olympic history, having won 11 medals – breaking Carl Lewis’ record of 10.

What really struck me was how she found her passion. Most Olympians and sportspersons we meet seem to be born into their sport. Of course there will be a few exceptions (like Allyson), but by and large, it would appear like these exceptionally talented people found their calling very early on, like in their early school days.

And this is something many of us struggle with on a daily basis. We see start-up founders make hundreds of millions, while we feel aimless and lost. We see people who’ve found their calling, while all we seem to end up with are calls from spammers. How to find this passion then? Should we give up?

Here’s what Allyson said that I really liked. She said that most of her peers who found their passions early on, became such hardcore specialists (in a specific sport or activity), that by the time they turned 30, they were already burned out. Whereas in her own experience as a 35 year old medallist, she only entered her sport well into college! Till then, she was just enjoying other sports like basketball that she really liked, but was nowhere near good as in running. I think this is a great lesson for me – no need to struggle to find a passion and get burned out or stay dejected. Instead just enjoy the work I am doing, and live in the now, today, forever happy.

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The happiest animal

In the much acclaimed TV show called Ted Lasso, there’s an amazing scene. Nay there are many many amazing scenes, and dialogues.

In one, a soccer player falls to the ground, is tackled and beaten, and then booed by the rest of the players. Clearly something isn’t right. The player on the ground is dejected. Coach Ted calls him to the side line, and asks him, “Do you know what the happiest animal in the world is?”

“What?!”, exclaims the player in disbelief, little expecting such trivia when there’s so much going on in his head already.

“A goldfish”, comes the answer from coach Ted, “Because it only has a 10 second memory. Be a goldfish.”

Had a bad day today? No problem, be a goldfish.
Had a good day today? Also no problem, be a goldfish.

Only then can we live in the moment.

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Delightful

Have you come across people who are always happy no matter what? Like if you just see them, you feel like smiling too?

Yes, I know, hardly anyone like that nowadays. Not all the time anyway.

One guy though is always happy. His name in fact has happiness inbuilt – one Mr. Ross Gay.

He did something called a Delight project, which was his own idea.

He made it his life’s objective to look for and document, daily moments of delight. He later wrote a book chronicling his experiences called The Book of Delights. You hear him on a podcast like I did here, you’ll immediately see how happy and delighted he sounds!

So where does delight come from? You go looking for it, and it appears in the most mundane of areas. Like our bodies functioning normally; seeing those around us happy; participating in social activities; spending time with loved ones; playing with pets, or babies; just breathing-in the cool morning air; feeling the breeze on our faces… and you get the drift.

It could be anything. One thing for each day. Just soaking in the delight. Feeling it for every single second of that experience. Feeling alive. And feeling deep amounts of gratitude, for even just having the ability to feel that delight. Wow!

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Inheritense

Had a client meeting recently after ages. It was an in-person meeting, at a café. And my word was the café full! Absolutely jam packed, teeming with people. Open air, yes, but still, hard to believe that just a few months ago, people were scared to so much as just get out of their homes, for fear of an invisible killer. Such is human memory. So short, not necessarily so sweet.

Another thing that we don’t remember too well? The price paid for luxury. The price paid for money. “For”, not “with”.

My client had this to say. He has 2 brothers. And his dad died some time back. Did the 3 brothers get an inheritance? Not even a dollar. Instead, it was the other way around. He had left some overdrafts and other dues which the 3 men only discovered after the man’s passing. They got together and paid off the balances.

Here’s my client’s thoughts after he recounted this. “I’m really thankful that my dad did not leave us any inheritance. Because if he did, then we brothers would have squabbled over who gets what. And no matter how fairly we tried to divide it, we’d still have ended up unhappy, and this would have broken the family. I’ve seen this in the case of so many families it’s not funny. I’m really glad we got nothing, because having money is a curse.”

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Fleeting

Here’s a Chinese proverb I came across:

1. If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap.
2. If you want happiness for a day, go fishing.
3. If you want happiness for a month, get married.
4. If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune.
5. If you want happiness for a lifetime, help somebody else. 

All of these are true. Point 3 is funny even. And these must be taken in the right spirit. It is not about the activities, but rather about the fleeting nature of happiness. This has even been studied by scientists, including the various chemicals released by the brain (endorphins, dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin etc.).

The winner is always the last one. Point 5. Do more for others. In fact, do everything for others only. Because there is no difference deep down, from a spiritual point of view. Our scriptures say that if we do for ourselves only, we are only adding fuel to the fire which is our ego.

The challenge is, that even doing point 5 well is hard, because we look for some signs of acknowledgement from the people who have just benefitted from our help. When they don’t even say a thank you, that can get us really riled up. The real test of spiritual progress is how little such feelings impact us.

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Luck returns – part 2

Now that we know how to define luck, what can we do with it?

Said definition was pivotal in JimC’s research of companies that apparently “got lucky”. Even when we look at the most successful companies today, one might be forgiven if they jumped to such a conclusion. Oh Google? “Damn they got lucky when they started off. Imagine if they had to start today. They were first movers back then, and that makes them super lucky.” Or Microsoft. “They got so lucky to do some amazing deals in their early days, like with IBM – which completely changed their course.”

But is this true? You decide after reading their story. Back in the 1980s, IBM was looking for an Operating System (OS). They approached two companies – Digital Research, and Microsoft. The former already had an OS, the latter didn’t. But the outcome of the meetings? The meeting with DR was apparently handled in such a (bad) way that IBM preferred to work with Microsoft instead. Now what is the role of luck here? Did MS get luckier than DR? Not really. Both companies were presented with the exact same situations, or luck events, and it would appear DR actually had a leg up, given their ready OS. Yet, the outcomes were materially different.

The conclusion is this. And this applies in our personal lives too, once we accept it and open our eyes to it. Luck doesn’t matter. But ‘return on luck’ matters! MS’ return on luck was way more elevated than DR’s. What we do with the luck we get, the opportunities we get, that’s the only thing that matters. And this is true for bad luck and good luck both. In fact, the luck itself is perhaps hard to categorize as either good or bad. What we do with that opportunity, how we use that to our advantage (or not), is what would likely brand it as either good or bad. Interesting isn’t it?

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Astral planes – part 3

  1. What then, about the patal lok, narak lok, various layers of hell, lower worlds, upper worlds, 14 worlds etc.? Maybe they exist, we can never know for sure. But for sure these are all also states of mind. When something nice happens, we are quickly transported to cloud 9, while we would like nothing more than to bury ourselves deep underground if we encounter failure.
  2. Even heaven is said to have an end date. To get moksha, our scriptures tell us we need to come back to human form, so we will have to leave heaven and thus: end date.
  3. Heaven is the greatest place ever no? But then even Indra, the king of heaven, is not one person, but just a position. There are stories of millions like him who have come and gone. So is heaven really the place of all awesomeness that we are thinking of?
  4. Even in said perfect heaven, there will be jealousy and promotions and favourites no? Because not all citizens of heaven are Indra or his consort. There will be people who work for them, and those who work for them and so on. Is it logically possible for everyone in heaven to be always happy? Then is this really a heaven?
  5. My Guruji’s point is very clear. We have to go beyond all this heaven/hell/duality/dwandvas. Krishna is very clear too, that if dwandvas exists, then there is no moksha there.
  6. The very fact that heaven and hell might exist at opposite ends of the spectrum means that dwandvas exists.
  7. The ‘desire’ to get the answer to such questions on astral planes is also a form of desire only. The ‘attachment’ to this very body, and to think whether this astral body will enjoy/struggle in heave/hell, that is also attachment only. So Guruji says we need to break out of the shackles of all our desires and attachments, as this is the only way to break out of this cycle of samsara.

Your thoughts please?

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In the well

Many conversations today go like this.

“Hey man. All well?”
“Yes, all well. And you, all well?”
“Yes, yes, all well here too.”

Could there be a more banal way to communicate? I’m probably the guilty-est of such conversations. Even just calling these ‘conversations’ itself is doing the word a disservice. 🙂

As anyone who has mastered the art of forging deep connections will tell you, the trick lies entirely in asking the right questions, and then sitting back and listening. That’s what makes an outstanding conversationalist. The ability to ask and listen, and not the ability to speak. Counterintuitive, isn’t it?

That is indeed the true power of questions. As Dale Carnegie famously said, “Don’t try to be interesting, try to be interested instead.”

Can we perhaps substitute “All well?” with: “How are you?”, “Where are you from?” (nice and open ended!), “What are you working on these days” (everyone is working on something), “What’s changing in your life?”, or “What are you learning these days?”. So many options!

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Hair pulling

A very chubby baby I came across recently had the cutest baby laugh. Gurgling and chirping, it was just a joy to be around. Except when it would pull its own hair. Babies, as we know, do funny things sometimes. They don’t know the exact cause of pain, and because they tend to be fairly (very) uncoordinated, pulling their own hair with one hand satisfies the requirement of the hand to grab onto something. But it also simultaneously causes immense pain.

Now what to do? The only way is for the baby to leave its own hair alone. Even it’s parents can’t do anything at that point, because the grip of the baby is too tight. But it’s a matter of time, and the baby loosens the grip on its own.

Such is also our plight often in life. By keeping gargantuan expectations, we often invite misfortune into our lives. This self-inflicted pain is no different from the baby pulling its hair. And these expectations are not just milestones in professional setups, “achieve sales of x%”, or “drive costs down by y%”, but also expectations related to when happiness should be allowed to flow. It’s almost like we have a stop button inside us. “No, today I have a lot of work, and hence I will not smile even once.” Surely I’m guilty of that many times!

Taking myself too seriously can only end badly. It’s better to be sincere, than serious. As Swami Paramarthananda says, the disciple needs to first identify that a problem exists (with themselves). The Guru thereafter, needs to not only know the remedy, but also be free of the problem!

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I swear

Here’s a cute scene on TV I saw recently.

A table had a small glass jar with a few coins in it. A label ‘Swear Jar’ is pasted across it. A mother is seen berating her 5 year old daughter’s use of swear words. Every time she says a bad word, the kid needs to put a dollar from her pocket money into the ‘swear jar’.

Like all kids, this one too tries to find loopholes, asking her teacher to “go to shell” and “what the muck” among other such cleverly hidden expletives.

The mother is initially irritated by this behaviour. But it dawns on her that the “swear jar” is not the right approach. If one were to create a rule such that the target person (the 5 yo) can’t even understand (because she is too young to), then of course said target would try to break the rule!

The mother then changes tactics and says something beautiful. “Baby, no more swear-jar okay? That is pointless. But I want you to understand why bad words are not okay. And that’s because bad words make other people feel bad. Now you are such a good girl – surely you don’t want other people feeling bad because of what you say do you?”

“No mommy.”

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Securing the crown – part 2

We all speak about happiness. Because we all want it. And we’re perennially looking for it – high and low.

And it’s relative too. What does that mean? Queen Elizabeth played by a brilliant Claire Foy in The Crown shares her take on… unhappiness, not happiness.

And what a lovely line it is.

That's the thing about unhappiness. All it takes is for something worse to come along and you realize what you were experiencing was actually happiness after all.

Much like man’s search for heaven up there in the skies. When he dies here on earth and goes up, God asks him, “So, how did you like your stay on heaven?”

We already have everything, if we choose to look within. If we stubbornly look outside only, constantly comparing and recognizing apparent gaps and holes, then we will be left with nothing. Years later, maybe we will realize that that state too was actually happiness – but it may be too late to realize it.

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Metabolic reversal

There are only two things we need to do to be happy.

  1. Have a fit body.
  2. Have a fit mind.

Indeed this sounds very simple. It is, but it is not easy to achieve.

A fit body requires being active throughout the day. “Oh how I wish my metabolism would be better!” Contrary to popular perception, we do not move less because of low metabolism. We move less to begin with, and that leads to low metabolism!

A fit mind on the other hand, requires lesser movement and more stability. Meditation, or the ability to focus and concentrate is key. And this comes only with practice.

How contradictory! The body needs movement, while the mind needs stability.

For many of us, given all the developments in technology and instant deliveries, our bodies are mostly resting, while our minds are mostly exercising. Just reversing that, will make our lives infinitely better.

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Reply

Is there a way to make someone happy and praise them while also keeping the bar high? Here’s how my Guru did it once.

Many years ago, one of the satsangis went to him for advice. The satsangi was a bit nervous, as he told Guruji that this was his first time speaking in public on the Gita, and that he was a little scared. Guruji asked him which chapter was assigned to him. He said, “Chapter 7, Guruji.”

Guruji replied thus:
1. Wow, chapter 7, such a beautiful chapter, I’m so happy you got it! [infusing happiness]
2. You know what? My first talk too was on chapter 7. It is easy, and I know your capability, you can do it. [genuine praise]
3. I also prepared hard for it – I had read the chapter over 500 times, so that my session is worth my audience’s time. [setting the bar high]

Isn’t this such an inspiring reply, and something for us to learn?

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Right arrows

The relationship we are all used to:

Hard work   ---->   Success   ---->   Happiness

The relationship suggested in our scriptures:

Gratitude   ---->   Happiness   ---->  Hard work   ---->   Success

Which of these do you feel is more sustainable? Which is easier to practise?

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Running for your life

Life is like a treadmill. We just keep running all the time. But we never get anywhere, in the ‘real’ and ‘long-term’ sense. And what if we stop? Try stopping on a treadmill that is rolling fast!

There is a concept called hedonistic adaptation. It too looks at life like a treadmill, and is in fact also called the hedonic treadmill. But not just life, but rather more the mind. That the mind is non-stop running after something or the other. Hedonistic refers to sense pleasures. ‘Adaptation‘ captures the fact that our happiness spikes when something we have been craving for is achieved or presented to us. This happy-spike though, is not permanent. It quickly begins to reduce, and soon disappears, i.e. the mind has already adapted to this new achievement/pleasure and that has suddenly become the new normal.

A key reason why this happens is because our desires are not absolute, but relative. I know a recent billionaire-club entrant, who has now started worrying about how her peers are in the multi-billions.

The ancients tell us that if we want to be happy, we just need to seek refuge in the consciousness seated deep within each of us. But that’s not what appeals to us. We don’t know to be happy, as we only seek to be happier than yesterday. That’s why despite having all the luxuries of life that even kings of yore couldn’t dream of, we are still left wanting.

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Green and brown

Since time immemorial, man has searched high and low, for the promised land, also known as heaven, paradise, swarga or elysium.

This search is no different from that suggested by the proverb “the grass seems greener elsewhere”. We are all looking for a heaven to go to, where our problems will be magically transformed into soft fragrant rose petals. But what if the grass were not green, but actually brown and dying weeds.

What if we were born in a country with no freedom, no rights and no voice? Or born in a concentration camp or a prison? What if we were age 1 and the only survivor in a plane crash that decimates an extended family of 12, all returning from an overseas vacation? What if we were age 4 and told that a rare medial condition would give us just 1 year to live? There are millions of kids with such conditions! What if we had no limbs, or had no eyesight? What if we were not born a human, but as an animal? No, not the pampered pets on Instagram – but those that have to be culled after suspected exposure to a virus?

We could have easily been any of the above, but by some quirk of fate, we are not. Is that not something to rejoice over and over? Even living beings put through the hardest and harshest of conditions, find a way to be happy. So why are we sad? Why are we constantly looking for a mythical land of magic and perfection?

We are already in heaven. We have the power to make our own heaven. Right here right now. We must open our minds and embrace it.

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Living optimally

Ask any scientist about the universe(s). S/he will tell you it is all based on the space time continuum. This term has also been made famous by sci-fi Hollywood movies.

The space-time continuum simply describes how space and time are relative and how objects that move at higher speeds experience time more slowly. That level of detail doesn’t matter much to most of us, as we are rarely going to be travelling at anything remotely close to the speed of light.

What is nice though, is that our ancients had this all figured out. They realised that our lives are impacted by these two critical aspects, i.e. time and space. They figured, that if we could optimise both time and space, then we could live our lives to our fullest potential.

How did they do this?

To optimise time, they used Jyotish (i.e. Vedic Astrology) to answer what the good and bad periods in one’s life were, which specific areas of life would be most impacted, and how one could make crucial decision using all this information.

To optimise space, they used Vaastu, i.e. the science of space, light, flow, architecture etc. to design ideal living spaces / homes.

The level of detail (available to anyone who is interested, please google!) in these sciences is unfathomable. Most people today unfortunately use these for fear mongering, as superstition or to make money unlawfully. These traditional sciences need to be revived and their benefits shared with everyone.

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Grace anatomy

‘Divine grace’ is often considered some kind of magical interference that will make problems go away. It is also viewed as something only a select group of people are bestowed with. But the reality is, that grace is there for everyone to tap into.

If we want to let the breeze in, we need to open the windows first.

Around 150,000 people died yesterday, and the day before, and each day before that, but not us. We are alive and well today. That is grace. Each step – one could be crushed by a falling object, swept away by a current, electrocuted by a live wire and what not. There are so many mishaps, so much uncertainty, and no idea if we will reach our destinations when we set off on our journeys. A few years ago, the local met department chief’s own daughter got stuck in the city’s rains-induced floods – so we can’t even predict the weather properly!

We only have an illusion of control of our lives – but in reality have no control at all.

Even so, we have managed to sidestep all of these disasters, for all these years. That is divine grace.

How do we open the windows? True grace, is not some materialistic miracle, but the dispelling of our ignorance. Ignorance that we are the body and the mind – which is the cause of all sorrow and suffering. The divine truth we seek is embedded deep inside each one of us. To seek it actively, to become aware of it, to be grateful to it, is a reflection of divine grace.

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In reverse

Enjoy your work, then you will love your job
Enjoy your workout, then you will love your body
Enjoy your food habits, then you will love your food
Enjoy your own company, then you will love your partner
Enjoy your moments, then you will love your day
Enjoy your connection, then you will love your family and friends
Enjoy your lifestyle, then you will love your life
Enjoy your happiness, then you will love your success

But we usually have all these backwards. We do! Check again. For instance, we let our jobs decide if we will enjoy our work. Or we look at our unshapely bodies and end up despising workouts. And so on.

Thus there is no happiness.

In reality, we already have everything we need. We just need to bring the enjoyment to the here and now. It is only a mindset shift.

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