Key to Happiness
By Aliya Agha
One day the sun and a cave struck up a conversation. The sun had trouble understanding what “dark” and “damp” meant and the cave didn’t quite get the hang of “light and clear” so they decided to change places. The cave went up to the sun and said, “Ah, I see, this is beyond wonderful. Now come down and see where I have been living.” The sun went down to the cave and said, “Gee, I don’t see any difference.”
Just as light is the nature of the sun, enlightenment is human nature. Enlightened minds exude wisdom, joy & happiness anywhere despite being surrounded by exploitative social order. Research shows that when employees have a positive mind-set, their productivity and creativity improves many folds. Professor Tal Ben-Shahar teaches a unique course on science of happiness at Harvard University. The course propagates new habits that rewire the brain leading us to be happier.
Undoubtedly, the eternal quest of the mind is to attain success and happiness. Although, there is no correlation between the two as not all successful people are happy and not all happy people are successful. But due to lack of understanding of our internal landscapes, we often confuse happiness with momentary thrill and dependant on other factors; I will be happy when I will get a degree, or married, or have children, or get a particular job or retirement. Ancient wisdom calls happiness a mirage or an illusion that the mind creates. There is a tendency of human mind to shift responsibility for ones’ actions to external forces and feel helpless when such forces control us.
Ben-Shahar gives a more instant solution to happiness with his famous 14 tips; which includes exercise on a regular basis, to be grateful, to switch off and disconnect. According to Ben-Shahar, happiness is determined by our choices and upto 40 per cent of happiness is derived from mini choices that we make.
On the other hand, the ancient wisdom teaches the art of happiness on long term and sustainable basis. It identifies a pre-requisite which is the absence of sorrow. If there is sorrow there is no happiness and vice versa. According to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, there are the five “kleshas” (CLAY-shas), a word meaning “pain, affliction, distress” and must be removed to be happy. The five main kleshas vary in intensity on our psyche, from being inconsequential in their effect to utter blindness.
First Klesha or cause of human suffering is ignorance or wrong knowledge. Ignorance is when we think of something as permanent whereas it is transitional or belief in social rituals as right even though it causes injustice. Second cause of suffering is a fuelled ego, where the self becomes the blinding object for gain and manipulation. The third cause of suffering is hatred due to unfulfilled desires; this erupts feelings of aversion and constant frustration. Fourth cause of suffering is fear of death. Patanjali explains that attachments in this lifetime to our bodies, material possessions and identities are compelling us to fear death. Lastly, the fifth cause of suffering is obsession to acquire more worldly possessions. Once we realize any one of these as the primary impediment in daily life, the process of happiness begins.
This reminds me of the whirling dance of Sufi dervish as they ruminate on the abandonment of personal desire. Raising the right hand towards the heavens and lowering the left hand towards the earth is manifestation of receiving and letting go. For a common man, hindrances can be identified through self-awareness, self-understanding and self-knowledge. Only then the klashas will reveal their roots.
As Ben Shahar says, “happiness is the overall experience of pleasure and meaning”. A good deed is only meaningful when we don’t have expectation of its outcome. Yoga by action (Karma Yoga) stresses, “never let the fruits of action be your motive and never cease to work”. This requires revisiting your habits, including letting go of expectations from others. Non- attachment helps in making a healthy distinction between what you can and cannot control.
However, all deeds and actions must begin with gratitude. Studies have shown that gratitude is a powerful technique for creating sustainable happiness by raising the oxytocin levels. Think of five or 10 best things happened everyday for gratitude. Waking up alive must be one of them.
Dia Lama brilliantly sums up the essence of happiness, “When we develop the right attitude of compassion and gratitude, we take a giant step towards solving our personal and international problems”.
Author is a Wellness & Yoga Expert