Insights: How Are Your New Year’s Resolutions Coming?
Here are two insightful perspectives, one that explores what is true happiness, and the other on how to go about achieving goals that are in line with such true, enduring happiness.
For something that has been pursued by all of humanity through all of time, happiness—true, lasting happiness—has proven to be mystically elusive. It still manages to elude the vast majority of humans, even those who are pursuing it 24/7 through one indulgence or another.
Everyone wants to be happy! From a toddler to a teen, and from teen to an adult, young or old—the search for happiness continues through all the stages from birth to death.
However, what is happiness? Can it really be “pursued”? Is “happiness” something—as in a “thing”—to be attained? Can money, and the things it can buy—a luxury car, a fancy mansion, material goods, vacations, etc.—give us lasting happiness? If so, how come some of the richest people on the planet are also the most unhappy?
Is happiness related to acquiring some super power, position, name and fame, rewards, awards, success, or any such ego-satisfying achievement in the eyes of the world? Does happiness lie in the gratification of your sense pleasures, such as food, sex, and alcohol? Or in the fulfillment of your wildest dreams or ambitions?
Well, all of the above can make a person happy, but the question is for how long! Happiness is a mistress with a beautiful face but an iron heart!
What if your happiness is not invested in things but in persons and relationships? You may say you love somebody to death, someone special—your lover or spouse, your children, grandchildren, parents, or your friend. Is happiness not all about giving and receiving love? Yes, but love can change, too, and feelings are not always lasting. When that once sizzling romantic love turns icy cold, when feelings are not reciprocated, or when a friend becomes a foe, can you be happy?
If things and relationships fail to give you lasting happiness, who can you turn to for being happy but to your own physique—your beautiful body, your youthful vitality and muscle power, your gymnastic prowess, your current perfect state of health, strength, and stamina! But even the best athlete in the world is not immune to disease, nor can youth last forever! Old age, diminishing energy, illnesses, and disease can strike anyone, anytime, and thus rob you of your body-based and sense-oriented sense of happiness.
All the above “generators” of happiness will prove dysfunctional if also not disappointing sooner or later. Why? Because (1) they are oriented outward in search of happiness; (2) they are transient and constantly changing; (3) they are not in your control or within your power; (4) not only the external conditions, but even you change over time and so do your interests, likes, and dislikes at different stages of life. What gave you happiness ten years ago may no longer do so.
It is clear, happiness cannot be “pursued,” nor can it be acquired from outside.
To be truly happy, one must turn inward, not outward. No amount of material objects, possessions, wealth, power, position, worldly success or prestige, and not even your own physical strength or health can make you truly happy. Only by diving deep into one’s innermost Self, can one find that eternal ocean of joy, peace, and bliss—which Indian mystics called Atman. “Every soul is potentially divine,” said Swami Vivekananda; one need only reconnect to that higher power within, to that eternal source of Sat-Chit-Ananda (Truth-Consciousness-Bliss). A truly happy person is “one who is satisfied in the Self by the Self,” says Shri Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita (chapter 2:55), and that person is called a sthitaprajna or “one of steady wisdom.”
Although everyone possesses that inner reservoir of pure joy, wisdom, and balance within, one goes off balance and gets lured by the more glittery, glamorous things of the outer world. Still one can make a U-turn, and uncover that infinite source of happiness lying within. How? Through meditation, through selfless acts of love, kindness, and service, through art, literature, and nature, through soul-stirring music, or through whatever it is that reconnects you to your real, pure, unadulterated source of joy within.
Uma Majmudar has a doctorate from the Institute of Liberal Arts, Emory University, where she later taught in the Religion department. Currently, she is an Adjunct Lecturer in the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies of Spelman College. She has also authored the book, Gandhi’s Pilgrimage of Faith: From Darkness to Light, published by State University of New York Press.
SILENCE AND GRATITUDE: Tools to Achieve Happiness The power of these two seemingly passive traits can reveal the magic of life. By GEETA MEHROTRA
The New Year brings with it new hopes, and new resolutions! But why do these resolutions so often fizzle out in a matter of days, weeks, or months?
On one hand we want change, and on the other hand we are afraid of it. We get frustrated when we are unable to let go of old habits and patterns in spite of our intention to let go of them. We read motivational books, attend seminars, work hard, but we fail to understand the patterns that are sabotaging our efforts. How do we recognize these patterns?
Take time to be still and to express gratitude.
How do silence and stillness help me achieve my goals? They provide you the time and space to see yourself and know yourself. As you know your strengths and weaknesses, you know whether you are following your authentic Self or succumbing to social conditioning. Meditative stillness helps you recognize patterns of self-sabotage. You become more accepting of yourself and stop seeking approval from others. The yo-yo of praise and censure of other people loses its grip on you. Your motivation remains steady, despite ups and downs. You gain clarity, and that helps align your actions to your vision. You dissolve self-limiting images. You no longer see yourself through the lens of your parents, family, friends, and society. Nor do you see yourself as being better than others.
Know thy self! It’s an age-old adage of spiritual masters. And it is silence that helps us know ourselves. It helps us listen to our inner voice, our heart and intuition. They somehow already know what we truly want and need.
How to cultivate silence?
Spiritual luminary Dada J.P. Vaswani suggests to start your day with 5 minutes of silence and go within. Choose a time and place where you will keep the appointment with your Self. This space is a sacred space in any corner of a room. If there is an extra room, you can create an altar and designate that room as your meditation room.
In the beginning as you sit in silence, you will notice your mind wandering, and there may be days you will not like what you see; just observe, don’t judge or criticize, but just pay attention to the space between thoughts. As one sits in silence regularly as witness, we start seeing our patterns and see the reason why we repeat mistakes. With clarity one grows in discipline and dedication.
Gratitude helps us to accept and acknowledge our strength and weakness. Focus on your strength and not on your weakness. As one starts maintaining silence one realizes that a hyperfocus on goals stems from a feeling of lack: “I am not this.” “I need to be that.” Seeing from such a lens of lack we always run short. With gratitude you acknowledge both your strength and weakness, which helps you grow in self-acceptance, which helps build the self-worth from within and not from external achievements and recognition. This fuels motivation, for you are purpose-driven.
How to nurture gratitude?
Simple practices are to appreciate someone every day, see virtues and values rather than finding fault, journal everyday what you are grateful for, count your blessings, and express your appreciation. Gradually the focus will shift from lack to abundance.
Gratitude and Silence are the weft and warp to weave a beautiful life. From them come patterns of contentment, peace, love, and happiness, which become a way of life, no matter where and how you are placed. Once Dada J. P. Vaswani was asked, in spite of my best efforts I am not able to achieve anything in life—what should I do? Dada answered, “In spite of it, we still have to do our best because that is our offering to the Lord.”
Geeta Mehrotra is a life and leadership coach, motivational speaker, and freelance writer.
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