How to be happy

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I know this is a vast topic. But it will definitely be an interesting idea to investigate. What makes someone happy? Why is happiness not the same for everybody? More importantly what is happiness? In this post I will try to explore in depth on how to be happy and try to answer many such questions.

At the onset, please accept my apologies for the length of the post. I had intended it to be the usual 750+ words post but ended up going into ~2500 words. I have tried to include a lot of references and links to present my ideas in a detailed way.

My request to you is that, please do read it. 🙂

During my last 3 months in Indiblogger I have come across some wonderful writers. In this article, I have also referenced the works of 3 individuals who have shared their opinion on “happiness”. They are

  • Lata of Lata Wonders. You can read more about her here.
  • Alok Singhal of The Learning Curve. You can read about him here.
  • Somali Chakrabarti of Scribble and Scrawl. You can read more about her here.

And please read this post slowly. Take each part separately, and do share your comments and views and opinions.

What is happiness?

Different people have different definitions of happiness

  • Happiness, gladness or joy is a mental or emotional state of well-being defined by positive or pleasant emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy. Wikipedia.
  • Happiness emerges from Self-respect. (Lata) 
  • Evolutionary psychologists Leda Cosmides and John Tooby say that happiness comes from “encountering unexpected positive events”.
  • Advaitins (the follower of Advaita Vedanta as propounded by Adi Shankarcharya) believe that true happiness is achieved when a person become One with Brahman (the Supreme Principle) or to put it technically sat-chit-ananda is possible when one realizes the non-duality of our existence.

How to be Happy - Smiley

Henry David Thoreau one said, “Happiness is like a butterfly: the more you chase it, the more it will elude you, but if you turn your attention to other things, it will come and sit softly on your shoulder.

But is that really so? Ancient Indian texts categorically state that one CAN CHOOSE and in fact SHOULD BECOME happy.

Modern day psychologists say that one can choose to be happy. Here is what Tom Valeo says in “Choosing To Be Happy Strategies for Happiness: 7 Steps to Becoming a Happier Person“.

” … psychologists who study happiness … believe we can pursue happiness. We can do this by thwarting negative emotions such as pessimism, resentment, and anger. And we can foster positive emotions, such as empathy, serenity, and especially gratitude.”

Stress is the opposite of happiness. As William James says, “The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.

Step 1 of How to be Happy : Ask yourself “What do I want from life?”

I think this is pretty much the starting point of our journey towards happiness. When someone sits alone and asks herself, “What do I want from life? What is really my purpose?”, rest assured that that is the very first step on the road to self-realization. Without self-realization there can be no real happiness. It will be fleeting and momentary.

Here is what Gretchen Rubin says in her wonderful article “10 Ways to Be Happier – How happy are you―really? If there’s room for improvement, try one of these suggestions.

A few years ago, on a morning like any other, I had a sudden realization: I was in danger of wasting my life. As I stared out the rain-spattered window of a New York City bus, I saw that the years were slipping by.

“What do I want from life?” I asked myself. “Well…I want to be happy.” I had many reasons to be happy: My husband was the tall, dark, handsome love of my life; we had two delightful girls; I was a writer, living in my favorite city. I had friends; I had my health; I didn’t have to color my hair. But too often I sniped at my husband or the drugstore clerk. I felt dejected after even a minor professional setback. I lost my temper easily. Is that how a happy person would act?

Lata in her wonderful post “In search of happiness” makes the following observation.

“This may sound contradictory but the truth is I found happiness the day I gave up the notion of happiness.”

Mostly, we tend to define our happiness by our success in various aspects of life – material possessions, imagined status, popularity, a desire for one particular love fulfilled et.al.

When we don’t achieve our desires, we live in a constant state of discontent and unhappiness.

I was no different.”

And finally when your’s truly looks back at his  older post, “The way to Happiness – The Three Stages” , here is what he had to say then, and it pretty much holds true now, except that things have improved for the better.

“I am 32 years now.

My hair has streaks of gray, there are bags under my eyes and my trouser waists have kept on shrinking. Or more probably I have gained weight and my waistline has expanded :). Anyway I digress.

Earlier I could walk 2-3 kms per day and climb 4-5 floors easily – now I use an elevator to go from 1st floor to the second floor. Plus I feel tensed all the time, I cannot relax and feel dissatisfied at work. In fact, I am a true corporate manager.

And I have begun to realize how bad things have become. Must go to back to first principles.”

How to be Happy - Life

Image Courtesy: Matthewmorris

I daresay that pretty much sums up what many of us feel. If you have any similar life experiences please do share, so that they may added to this post.

Will a foreign trip really make me happy? Will a new SurfacePro really make me happy? Once we start asking ourselves these questions, we start going inwards into our Inner Self.

As the Wise Men of the Old say, The Answer Lies Within. But how do we get to that answer? I have talked about this briefly in one of my earlier articles “The Answer Lies Within“.

However the way to self-realization is not easy. Looking inwards is a science that cannot be mastered in a day. One cannot simply sit one fine day in padmasana and introspect and become self-realized. Even a gigantic soul like the Lord Buddha took many years to gain self-realization. That’s why Sadhana or intense practice is such a important concept in Indian thought.

Having said that we can start with small steps. Real baby steps. But over time these small steps add up like a compounding machine and give you results you never imagined before.

Step 2 of How to be Happy : I intend to be happy

Once we are done with the first step, we need to make a promise to ourself. I intend to be happy. I shall stay happy no matter what.

Philosopher Bertrand Russel in his book “The Conquest of Happiness” says, “Happiness is not, except in very rare cases, something that drops into the mouth, like a ripe fruit. … Happiness must be, for most men and women, an achievement rather than a gift of the gods, and in this achievement, effort, both inward and outward, must play a great part.”

Tom G Stevens in his book You Can Choose to Be Happy, categorically states, “Choose to make happiness a top goal“.

Alok Singhal (of The Learning Curve fame) sums it up very nicely in his post “Secret to Happiness

“Many of us get angry at people when we don’t hear what we want to hear. It is a very common reaction! This response of ours has built over the years, maybe because of the way we were brought up or just something that we adapted from our environment.

But then, we would agree this reaction doesn’t do any good to us; rather, we end up doing terrible to ourselves and those around, even taking an extreme step in some cases. And, most of the times, it cannot change the situation also that led to the reaction in the first place. So why not behave in a way which doesn’t do any harm (mentally or physically) to us or those around? What if we train ourselves to be happy irrespective or at least don’t become red-faced?”

Step 3 of How to be Happy : Identify the pre-requisite steps

How to be Happy Baby Steps

Image Courtesy: Advisoranalyst

Now that you have set yourself a goal to be happy, you should first teach yourself how to examine yourself and fix your issues. You need to figure out the tools and methodologies for introspection and self-examination.

As our Ancient Texts say, the key to a happy life is 3 pronged.
1. Physical fitness
2. Mental fitness
3. Spiritual fitness

Unless we are fit at all these levels, we cannot be truly happy. Having said that, as and when we start tackling these 3 items, we will see DEFINITE and POSITIVE changes in our life.

Step 4 of How to be Happy : Physical Fitness

I have talked about this in one of my previous posts and I shall be sharing a modified version of the same write-up here.

Physical fitness is easier said than done. Many people join gyms as part of their new year resolutions, but then quit after a month or so. So a different solution is required.

We should not forget that we humans are ultimately animals, social or not is not relevant. Animals need to stay fit to survive and thrive – it is coded in our genes “Survival of the fittest”.

For Indians, the best options to stay physically fit are brisk walking and Yoga.

Walking

I am a big fan of walking and in this post have given many reasons on why you should walk.

Walking is perhaps the easiest fitness technique that Nature has naturally equipped us with. Walking does not require any special athletic talent or fancy equipment’s.

Walking is especially important for people like us who work in human capital intensive jobs like software or banking, where we spend a major part of our day sitting and essentially leading a sedentary life.

At least 20-30 minutes of walking is required to stay fit. But the walk must be brisk and sweat-inducing, else there would be limited benefits. It is better to walk if the distance involved is less than 1 km. It is useful to take the stairs whenever possible, instead of taking the elevator.

Yoga

How to be Happy - Cats doing Yoga

Image Courtesy: pinterest

Yoga literally means the union of One’s Self with the Universe. Physical exercises (asanas) are a small part of it.

Some asanas are very easy and have a lot of benefits and also help to calm and relax the mind. I have been doing padmasana (for my spine), vrikshasana (improves balance) andvajrasana (for digestion, what else).

Unless one is physically fit, one cannot be mentally fit. No physical wellness, no mental wellness. No mental wellness, no happiness.

Step 5 of How to be Happy :  Mental Fitness

There are a number of small things which we can do to improve our mental fitness. By simply stating that we will not be bogged down by negativity, we start becoming positive and happier.

Positive Attitude

A positive attitude helps us to deal with be happy, peaceful, hopeful and to appreciate the positives in life, says Somali Chakrabarti of Scribble and Scrawl Fame in her wonderful post “Break the Worry before it breaks you” and she goes on to quote a number of very inspiring sayings.

Attitude is the difference between an ordeal and an adventure. – Bob Bitchin

Cultivate Gratitude

List down things that make you grateful. This will help you to move away from bitterness into happiness. Webmbd.

This has been beautifully capture by Somali in these two lines.

Count your blessings not your woes, count your friends not your foes. Image Courtesy.

How to be Happy - Scribble and Scrawl

Foster Forgiveness

Holding a grudge impacts us negatively by sapping oyr mental and physical energy. By fostering forgiveness one can convert the negativity of despair to the positivity of hope and happiness. Source: Michael McCullough and Robert Emmons, happiness researchers who edited The Psychology of Happiness.

Engage in Meaningful Activities

We must strive to engage in meaningful activities. It will make time fly, energize us and make us happier. Mundane and routine activities on the other hand will sap our energy and make us miserable. And idle brain (no work) as we all know is the worst, being the devil’s workshop.

Geroge Bernard Shaw once said: “The secret of being miserable is to have leisure to bother about whether you are happy or not. The cure for it is occupation, because occupation means pre-occupation; and the pre-occupied person is neither happy nor unhappy, but simply alive and active. That is why it is necessary to happiness that one should be tired.”

Pretend to by Happy

Remember what Alfred Pennyworth tells Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins “You start pretending to have fun, you might have a little by accident.”

Conclusion

I have shared some of my thoughts on how to be happy. I have liberally referenced the work and experience of many people, and can justifiably say that I can see further by standing on the shoulder of giants. Happiness is a multi-faceted emotion and a lot of things go into making one happy. The easiest way to be happy is to find out those negative things that are making us unhappy and dealing with them. That has worked for me. I won’t say I am the happiest person on earth, but I am better off than when I had started this happiness experiment in May 2015.

The last stage of happiness is obviously spiritual happiness. I have not discussed that as I do not believe that I am qualified enough to talk about spirituality in different faiths. However, perhaps in a future post I may talk about what our Vedas and Upanishads say about happiness or bliss.

— END —

That’s it. Hope you enjoyed reading about how to be happy.

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Thank you for reading “How to be happy”. I hope you enjoyed it. Please leave your comments in the comment box below and do share with your friends and family.

12 Comments

  • Subhodeep, you have attempted to write comprehensively on a very difficult subject and managed it. There are many unhappy people in this world of ours who will surely benefit from the wisdom here if only they take the trouble to fully read, understand and reflect on what you have said. But that’s the nub, isn’t it? The same people are probably waiting for a magic wand to drop happiness into their laps without realising that they have to work for it. Lastly, thank you for referencing my post on the subject. I am truly honoured:)

    • Subhodeep Mukhopadhyay

      Thanks a lot Lata! It is true that people are looking for magic pill and instant gratification.

      Glad you liked the post.

  • At the outset, let me congratulate you Subhodeep for structuring the post so well. Right from defining what is happiness, what do we want from life to the 3 pronged approach to happiness. Without the mental and spiritual element, we may find Happiness to be an elusive term for what we want from life is often relative to what we have at any moment and it changes with time. Last but not the least, thank you for the mention to my post. 🙂

  • This is such a comprehensive write-up on what was/is supposed to be a simple term, simple to implement in life…we humans have made it complicated for ourselves.

    Thank you very much for linking it to my work…appreciate it!

  • Whoa! That’s a comprehensive guide on how to be happy. It’s true, the most important question to ask ourselves is what we really want. If we can achieve what we want, we can find happiness. If not, we must let it go, else it would become hindrance in attaining happiness.

  • very informative and insightful post. the fact is that people in toady’s world get attracted by physically happiness which is stay for short period of time and have lack of inner peace. When we get the inner peace. Nothing can stop us to be happy.

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