By Ritu Khanna
It is easy to play, for the rules are simple. The game teaches you the properties of happiness. The goal is to reach home, happy. Yet, the stakes are high as you are playing with your own life. Are you ready to roll the dice and begin your quest for a new age of happiness?
It slipped into our lives silently and became a part of our being before we even realized what had happened. There was no fanfare, no banner headlines heralding the Return of Happiness. In fact, there are many of us who would probably say that this is no big deal, for happiness has always been a part of our vocabulary and mental make-up.
True, but the difference is that happiness is now playing a leading role, it is occupying the centerstage Just try this simple experiment. Take a day in your life. Keep your senses on red alert and look around for happiness. And suddenly it is everywhere. In the morning newspapers (my horoscope for the day reads: ‘Don’t bury disturbing emotions. Work through them. That’s the astro way to be happy’). In the music you hear (Sting is soulfully singing in Mercury Falling: ‘I’m so happy, I can’t stop s crying’).
In the book you are reading (in my case, A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry, where one of its protagonists, Om, a poor tailor sewed in the politics of the Emergency, observes: ‘If time was a bolt of cloth, I would cut out all the a bad parts. Snip out the scary nights and stitch together the good parts, to make time bearable. Then I would wear it like a coat, always live happily’). In the copy of advertisements: ‘Good morning happiness!’ exclaims a recent advertisement for a a cooking range.
Coincidences? Unlikely, for it is a given that we all want to live happily—the reason that, unlike most sequels, the Return of Happiness is running to full houses. It is no longer considered fashionable to wallow in unfathomable depths of despair and melancholy. A morose Meena Kumari is not worth mentioning, but, tell me, have you seen any pictures of hers laughing? Ditto for Dilip Kumar, Rajendra Kumar and other tragic heroes of the era gone by. Of the days when we went to the movies equipped 9 with our fathers’ largest handkerchiefs.
Now we would rather opt for heroes who sing and dance, lustfully, joyfully, and sell us happy dreams. But, and here comes the first sad note of this story, happiness cannot be bought. Drugs such as Ecstasy (hailed as the LSD of the ’90s and fortunately not yet officially available in India), Prozac, so-called uppers, downers and alcohol may give you a high, a fleeting moment of feeling euphoric, but the side effects spell disaster.
The user has to pay the price; he will have to cope with the nasty hangover of toxic happiness. Explains Dr Achal Bhagat, a senior consultant psychiatrist and psychotherapist at Delhi’s Apollo Hospital: ‘Taken over a period of time, these drugs make you pretty sad. They affect the serotonin cells, and lead to acute depression.’ That rules out all these quick fixes, the negative shortcuts to feeling happy. But if happiness is corning out for a rerun, where are we to find it? Or, who is there to help us find it?
Well, have you tried playing the Game of Happiness? Modeled on the lines of Monopoly, it is a boardgame with a difference.
For starters, you can play it alone. It is a game of the mind, it aims to alter your attitude. No trivial pursuit this, it leads you on through teaching stories on happiness, inspiring tips, and examples from the lives of others who have gone in search of happiness. Unlike Monopoly, there is no paper money here. Instead, you learn that true happiness lies beyond wealth.
Pick a card from the Pleasure Chest—you’ll find different viewpoints on the subject. Each time you pass Go, you are rewarded with a teaching story and an easy D-I-Y solution to being happy from the Bank of Joy. Refusing to play the game in the right spirit? Miss three chances, and Go to Jail. And when do you reach the Goal, the winning post? Don’t worry, give happiness a chance, and you will, almost instinctively, find out when you are home, happy.
Are you ready to begin the first round? Roll the dice… A teaching story awaits you. According to an old Hindu legend, there was a time when all men were happy, but they misused happiness. Brahma decided to take it away and hide it where no one could possibly find it. There were many suggestions-bury it deep in the earth, sink it into the ocean—but it appeared there was no place that man could not reach.
Brahma’s decision: ‘We will hide it deep down in man himself, for he will never think to look for it there.’ And man goes looking for happiness in all unlikely places, circumstances or people, neglecting to look within. ‘If it was true that happiness lies in an object, then more of that object would bring more happiness,’ argues Rishi Prabhakar, a Bangalore-based guru who teaches Siddha Samadhi Yoga (SSY). He gives a simple example: If sugar makes you happy, then more sugar should make you even more happy. But that is not the case. One laddoo is fine, but the third one won’t taste so good. So where is happiness?
The laddoo is the same, but your body’s craving for sweets is satiated, you need no more sugar. You are now refusing the same object (you can replace the laddoo with a car, color television, music system, designer outfit, whatever) that you thought was making you happy. ‘Happiness is non-doing, it is a state of mind,’ adds Rishi Prabhakar, who recommends yoga and meditation as ways to happiness which he defines as ‘being with the present just the way it is, being happy with whatever there is right now’.
To return to our present, the Game of Happiness, and a tip given by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, the founder of the Art of Living courses that help bring harmony and joy to your life by transforming your physical, emotional and mental state of being: ‘If you are unhappy, go out and serve. You will become happy…Unhappiness comes when you sit and think about yourself and brood about yourself and worry about yourself. The candle is burning for you, you don’t have to do anything. The sun is shining for you, there is nothing to do. You have to be grateful, sit below it and serve. Be in love. It’s as simple as that.’
Ravi Shankar finds that laughter comes from the center of our being, from the core of our heart. For him, ‘true laughter is true prayer’. He adds: ‘In nature everything is just waiting for you to laugh. When you laugh, the whole of nature laughs with you. It echoes and resounds and that is re- ally the birth oflife…Just laugh, smile. Life has no purpose, no mission. It is a game. It’s a play. Life has no message. Life itself is an expression of joy. There is nothing you have to do. Every- thing is being done by the Big Mind. ‘
Here’s another teaching story, written by Dr Wayne W. Dyer in You See It When You Believe It: Imagine yourself going to your local grocery store and buying ing a package of frozen broccoli because you are attracted by the beautiful picture on the wrapper. When you get the broccoli home you are still so attracted to the picture that you empty the contents into the garbage and proceed to prepare the wrapper for dinner. As you put the picture of the broccoli on your plate, you suddenly realize that you are going to be very hungry if is all you have is the packaging. The container cannot give you the pleasure and the satisfaction and nourishment that the contents do.
A lifetime of focusing exclusively on the package will result in a spiritually undernourished and quite unhappy YOU. A tip, also provided by Dr Dyer: Work each day to clear yourself of the two factors that do the most to inhibit your personal transformation: negativity and judgment. For when you are filled with negativity, you are kept from attaining higher and more bountiful levels of happiness.
And the inclination to judge others also serves as a gigantic inhibitor to your growth. Getting rid of thinking and behaving in negative or judgmental terms leads to a happier you. Expect happiness and you ‘ll find it’s there for the asking. ‘If you believe in happiness and abundance, think only about them, talk about them with others, and act on your belief in them, it is a very good bet that you are seeing what you believe,’ writes Dr Dyer. We tend to smile and laugh when we are happy; depression fills us with remorseful thoughts.
But try smiling and laughing in the midst of a dark mood. You ‘ll find your spirits soar, you will soon be what you believe. Physical work ( cooking, cleaning, gardening) also often serves as a catalyst and is recommended as a mood changer. Back to our game, and the first stop, the New Age Serenity Square. Every ideology, from Hinduism to New Age, seeks its own avenues to happiness.
In fact, the New Age concept has probably come about to find new ways to reach a state of mental well-being. New Agers tend to accept happiness as something within, they look inwards, embracing techniques old and new— yoga and meditation, creative visualization, aromatherapy. They listen to subliminal tapes, repeat positive affirmations, read self-help books, attend personal growth workshops. They advocate a positive attitude as a way to being happy, quoting Dale Carnegie (‘if we think happy thoughts, we will be happy’), Norman Vincent Peale (‘you are not what you think you are, but what you think, you are’) and the like.
They talk about tapping the divine energy, of feeling a sense of oneness with the universe, and are quite convinced that the mind matters, that spiritual riches lead to happiness. For a New Ager, happiness lies both outside (and can be tapped through the fulfillment of desires and inside. But they want it now, and in abundance. New Agers believe that a lot it of unhappiness can be avoided if we understand that there is no absolute right or wrong.
Similarly, The Forum teaches that there is no meaning to life per se. So if things don’t go your way, don’t worry. It is up to you to give meaning to whatever does come your way. This ‘choose what you get’ approach is a subtle way of eliminating disappointments and dejection. Another New Age approach: Look at yourself from the cosmic angle. You’ll find you are no more than a speck of dust on this planet, which is a mere speck in this galaxy, which, in turn, is a speck in this universe.
Putting yourself in this perspective in the overall design of things is indeed a humbling experience and helps get rid of feelings of self-importance and unhappiness which can be traced to the ego. Says Fali Kumana, who has been attending personal growth courses and workshops for the last 15 years: ‘Happiness is something you cannot find, you have to create it moment by moment. Some of the courses help make you happier, but, even more important, they give you a sense of freedom. And that gives you a feeling of equanimity, you obviously cannot be happy unless you are in that state.’
The 19th century Polish poet Cyprian Norwid wrote: ‘To be what is called happy, one should have something to live on, some- thing to live for, something to die for. The lack of one of these results in drama. The lack of two results in tragedy.’ New Agers realize that a life without a sense of direction is meaningless. Happiness, for them, is not a selfish, self-indulgent aim. A happy life is a better life; and, it follows, a happy person is a more caring and concerned individual.
You have now reached Happen Chance, which allows you to take your chance, literally, with happiness. Pick up a pink rectangular card from the pile. It reads: Create Your Happiness. Writer Shakti Gawain uses creative visualization techniques to help you get what you desire. She explains it as a method of using your imagination to create what you want in your life. Your goal may be on any level—physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual.
Her step-by-step instructions, given here in brief: First, think of something you would like. Now get in a comfortable position, either sitting or lying down, in a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed. Relax your body completely, using simple breathing exercises. When deeply relaxed, imagine what you want exactly as you would like it. You may take a relatively short time or quite a few minutes to imagine this. Have fun with it. Now, keeping the idea or image still in your mind, mentally make some very positive statement, known as an affirmation, to yourself. You could try: ‘I feel happy and blissful just being alive.’
Always end your visualization with a firm statement to yourself, advises Gawain: ‘This, or something better now manifests for me in totally satisfying and harmonious ways, for the highest good of all concerned.’ Do this as long as you find it enjoyable and interesting-five minutes or half-an-hour. Repeat every day. Choose Happiness This card is based on tips from Norman Vincent Peale’s inspirational bestseller, The Power of Positive Thinking.
Peale gives the example of an old man who was interviewed by a television celebrity on his talk show. When asked why he was so happy, the old man replied: ‘When I get up in the morning, I have two choices—either to be happy or unhappy, and what do you think I do? I just choose to be happy, and that’s all there is to it.’ Most of us manufacture our own happiness, elaborates Peale, observing that it is foolish to manufacture personal unhappiness to add to all the other difficulties over which you have little or no control.
Says he: ‘The happiness habit is developed by simply practicing happy thinking. Make a mental list of happy thoughts and pass them through your mind several times every day. If an unhappiness thought should enter your mind, immediately stop, consciously eject it, and substitute a happiness thought. Every morning before arising, lie relaxed in bed and deliberately drop happy thoughts into your conscious mind. Let a series of pictures pass across your mind of each happy experience you expect to have during the day. Savor their joy. Such thoughts will help cause events to turn out that way.’
Peale’s viewpoint reverberates in the teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda who said: ‘If you want to be unhappy, no one in the world can make you happy. And if you determine to be happy, no one in the world will be able to make you unhappy.’ Another example from Peale: His friend, H.C. Mattern, carries a business card on the reverse side of which is stated the philosophy that has brought happiness to him and others. The card reads: ‘The way to happiness: keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry. Live simply, expect little, give much. Fill your life with love. Scatter sunshine. Forget self, think of others. Do as you would be done by. Try this for a week and you will be surprised.’ Echoes of Yogananda: ‘Your desire to be happy must include others’ happiness.’
And another card comes with the message: The Spirit of Happiness. Based on advice given by Hazrat Inayat Khan, it teaches us to nurture the right attitude. ‘Life is the same for the saint and for Satan; and if their lives are different it is only because of their outlook on life. The same life is turned by the one into heaven and by the other into hell. ‘Happiness consists of one thing only: the realization of God,’ concluded the Sufi teacher, ‘and to realize God means to lose one’s self. No doubt as in the light of the sun the dim candlelight fades, so in the happiness of God-consciousness the longing for minor pleasures falls away.’
Spiritual happiness is certainly perched on a higher plane than, say, sensual happiness. A happy person is not necessarily a good person, but the odds in his favor are certainly loaded. Next, Yoga for Happiness. Says B.K.S. Iyengar, shedding light on yoga’s effect on your state of mind: ‘Yogic practice and mental happiness are like two sides of a coin.’
Referring to the mind-body connection in promoting happiness, he says: ‘We have to keep the house—the body—tidy and healthy, so that the dweller who lives in this house—the mind—stays happily with the surroundings of the body.’ He recommends a daily 45-minute practice of uttanasana, adhomukha shavasana, shirshasana, dwipada viparita dandasana and sarvangasana for those seeking happiness.
BUILDING HAPPINESS WITH VAASTU SHASTRA
The details, given by a vaastu expert, Rajesh Kant: ‘You cannot be happy without a positive energy field. Vaastu helps increase happiness, and is long-lasting, for it does not aim at giving happiness in short spurts. The effect of a havan, mantrasrecited over the fire, may last a couple of days to weeks, it then wanes.’
Kant is convinced that the quality of your life is enhanced by a positive vaastu. He points to the southwest as the direction in which most happiness lies.
Says Blossom Kochhar, who has written a book on aromatherapy: ‘I have this mood oil called Happiness. It was while walking in a rose garden, that this idea came to me because the smell of the roses made my spirits lift, I felt happy.’
The ingredients: pure natural oils, almond, grapeseed, apricot, wheatgerm, tangerine and, of course, roses. Kochhar suggests we use it on light bulbs, airconditioner ducts, or put a few drops in our bathwater, mix it with massage oil or apply it on our wrists’ the aroma pervades everywhere, its effect lasts for ages, it makes me happy, and a lot of people happy’.
Raj Bapna in Udaipur recommends the use of a Mind Machine for altering the state of your mind. You sit comfortably, put on the electronic headgear (complete with special eye glasses), close your eyes, using the headphones to listen to special sound patterns, and sink , into a state of deep relaxation.
The Mind Machine program audio cassettes include one that promises you peace and happiness. Elaborates Vandana Rathore, manager, Mind Power Research Institute: ‘It has good results, listening to the cassette gives you a happy feeling. When my mind is under pressure, I hear it to avoid depression and tension. Happiness always follows.’
More cards await you when you reach Pleasure Chest. Each of these yellow cards carries a maxim on the subject. Some examples, chosen at random.
To me laughter is the essential religion: Osho
Nothing makes you happier than when you really reach out in mercy to someone who is badly hurt: Mother Teresa
A happy life must be to a great extent a quiet life, for it is only in an atmosphere of quiet that true joy can live: Bertrand Russell
THE CONQUEST OF HAPPINESS
We have no more right to consume happiness without producing it than to consume wealth without producing it: George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman. The next stop is Love Street. Fali Kumana defines happiness as ‘the state of being in love with love’. Writes American psychologist David G. Myers in The Pursuit of Happiness: ‘Four in Five adults-adults of all ages—rate love as important to their happiness. And they are right. ‘
Dr Bhagat would agree. Says he: ‘The parallel concept to happiness is love and important in love are—and here I a quote from Erich Fromm’s The Art of Loving—care, respect, responsibility and knowledge. Love yourself, and others too, and you will be happy.’
‘Neopuritan perhaps I am also a joy freak,’ admits psychiatrist Dr M. Scott Peck whose The Road Less Traveled took millions of readers on a spiritual walkabout. ‘I am a totally selfish human being. I never do something for somebody else but that I do it for myself. And as I grow through love, so grows my joy, ever more present, ever more constant.’
A discussion on happiness is underway at the Hope Club. The members have conflicting viewpoints, each is trying to identify what makes him happy, and its converse. You can an take a short break here to listen to the diverse voices. Two IIT students from Kanpur are in earnest conversation. Says K.M. Shirali, 21: ‘I can live without happiness because it is a desire not a need.’
Counters Prateek Chakraborty, 22: ‘I cannot do without happiness, it is as important as breath.’ Shirali: ‘The stimuli for happiness is external, but it comes from within.’ Chakraborty: ‘When you are unhappy or happy, I don’t think is distinguishable whether it is from outside or within, both merge into the feeling, ‘
Says Sumita Basu, 24: ‘I don’t think that anybody can live without happiness, It would drive a person crazy, Our lives are a search for happiness.’ A 30-something entrepreneur experiences a difficulty in articulating his thoughts: ‘I don’t know, happiness is something very elusive. I’m mostly happy, but I haven’t yet reached the peak of happiness. ‘
On the other hand, he is very sure of what causes him unhappiness: ‘Rude behavior, uncivil behavior towards me, or someone else; suffering; physical pain.’
Javid Abidi, who heads disability unit of the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation and is confined to a life on a wheelchair, finds his happiness in ‘little things-giving someone a lift, presenting flowers’, Abidi does not allow his own disability to be a cause of sorrow: ‘I see my condition as an asset not a handicap so it cannot and does not make me unhappy.’
Others get their moments of fleeting happiness in rainbows, walks in the rain, in receiving compliments, in work, in joy in making love or due to no special reason at all. Partings, misunderstandings and most of all, the death of someone close to you are some catalysts of unhappiness. But all is not lost-take the example of Mozart.
In a letter to his father, Mozart referred to death as ‘the true and best friend of humanity…the key which unlocks the door to our true state of happiness’. To feel good, human beings are said to have an optimum level of stimulation of the brain. But this level has been going up in recent years. Today we need stronger stimuli—louder music, faster cars, more adventure-making happiness all the more difficult to attain. Consciously reverse these, and you’ll find pleasure even in the simple things of life. The distinction between material and spiritual happiness does not really exist, writes Chinese philosopher Lin Yutang in The Importance of Living.
He advises us to create our moments of happiness in this life and now: ‘Let us not lose ourselves in the abstract when we talk of happiness, but get down to facts and analyze for ourselves what are the truly happy moments of our life. In this world of ours, happiness is very often negative, the complete absence of sorrow or mortification or bodily ailment. But happiness can also be positive, and then we call it joy.’
Giving the example of Byron who at his deathbed told his friend that he had only known three happy hours during his whole life, Lin Yutang proceeds to list the 17th century impressionist critic Chin Shengt’an’s 33 happy moments. These include sunsets, a successful session of haggling, getting to be debt-free, and so on. Each ends with a simple query: ‘Ah, is this not happiness?’
But then what makes you happy? A sound digestion, as Lin Yutang replies (‘Happiness for me is largely a matter of digestion’) or something more psychological? To understand more about the state of your mind and how it leads to both happiness and unhappiness, take a short stopover at the Clinic of Joy. Though everyone concedes that physical and material well-being contribute to overall happiness, they are not the only factors. A rich, healthy person is not necessarily happy.
Henry D. Thoreau retreated to Walden Pond for two years, two months and two days and discovered that happiness lies in nature, in simple living. Tibetan Buddhists down the centuries have found happiness in bringing the mind home through meditation. They believe that true joy and bliss arise from the realization of your nature. If you were to gather all the glory, enjoyment, pleasure and happiness in the world and put it all together, it would still not be the equivalent of even a tiny fraction of the bliss that you experience upon realizing the nature of the mind. As the eighth century Buddhist master Shantideva discovered: ‘If this elephant of mind is bound on all sides by the cord of mindfulness, All fear disappears and complete happiness comes.’
But how do we find out when we are completely happy? Unfortunately, there is no blood test, no thermometer to judge your level of happiness. Says Dr Bhagat: ‘There are people who are happy-go-lucky by temperament, this is the cyclothymic personality. But this is more of a way of thinking, because even their moods keep changing:’ Elaborates the doctor: ‘Happiness is when you are able to accept yourself, your abilities, limitations, opportunities and circumstances. Happiness is a fluctuating moment, it is a process. It is normal to be unhappy sometimes.’
Smiley-face badges coexist with the belief that suffering is essential to creative and spiritual life. Contrary to popular belief, there is no pleasure center located in the brain: ‘There is an area called limbic cortex that is controlled by the hypothalamus, but it works for all our emotions, even hunger,’ says Dr Bhagat, adding in an aside: ‘Do not think of the brain as being like the Indian government where no department knows what the other is doing. In the brain there is interconnectedness. ‘
Explaining how each emotion prepares the body for a very different kind of response, Daniel Goleman writes in Emotional Intelligence: ‘Among the main biological changes in happiness is an increased activity in a brain center that inhibits negative feelings and fosters an increase in available energy, and a quieting of those that generate worrisome thought. But there is no particular shift in physiology save a quiescence, which makes the body recover more quickly the biological arousal of upsetting emotions. This configuration offers the body a general rest, as well as readiness and enthusiasm for whatever task is at hand and for striving towards a great variety of goals.’
‘A happy person lives longer,’ says Dr Bhagat. ‘There is enough research on that. Laugh, even in a contrived manner, and you lower your stress levels, there is less tension, less heart attacks, less accidents. You are less likely to be misunderstood when you are happy with yourself.’ Dr Bernie S. Siegel in Peace, Love and Healing: ‘Love, hope, joy and peace of mind have physiological consequences, just as depression and despair do. ‘ A happy person has a better chance of recovery for he is a fulfilled person, at peace with himself and his environs. Indeed, self-esteem, feeling good with yourself leads to lasting happiness.’
Happiness can come in fits and starts. It can be triggered off by stimuli, internal or external. It can be a constant backdrop in your life, a hum as it were. Or you can experience moments of emotional highs and lows—peak experiences, as American psychologist Dr Abraham H. Maslow called them. According to Dr Maslow, these are ‘transient moments of self-actualization. They are moments of ecstasy which cannot be bought, cannot be guaranteed, cannot even be sought… Practically everyone does have peak experiences, but not everyone knows it. Some people wave these small mystical experiences aside.’
But others reach this height of happiness, this moment of bliss, nirvana, heaven on earth, whatever they enthusiastically choose to call it, through many sources. A musician finds this high note in a song; a sportsman, in his game; the dancer in the frenzy and rhythm of the dance; a meditator in the feeling of connecting with the universe. In our Game of Happiness, these peak moments are the equivalent of hotels put up on the monopoly board. They are called High Rises, and each brings its owner closer to the winning post.
Observes Dr Bhagat: ‘These peak moments are a fulfillment of yourself ‘ But we also have our plateaus, comfortable moments of being plain happy, often for no reason at all without which we would not be able to experience or appreciate these heights. The essence of happiness lies in enjoying the present, in making every hour happy, instead of waiting in vain for that one hour of complete happiness said to be promised to each person. For happiness is not lurking somewhere in the distant future, nor is it for the chosen few. It is based on hope, faith and belief—and contrary to what you think, it is within your reach. Identify your concept of nirvana—playing golf, helping others, meditating, all three plus more. Live it now! But don’t forget to share it, to pass it on.
Happiness is free, after all.
Learnt the rules of the Game of Happiness? Play till you feel you are home, happy, You can stop at Happiness Station, Water Works ( yes, a good cry does lead to a feeling of happiness), Blues Avenue, and so on. ,
A teaching story awaits you… A father had taken his son to a pet shop to buy him a puppy for a birthday present. ‘Decided which one you want?’ he asked his son.
‘Sure!’ replied the boy, pointing to one puppy who was wagging his tail enthusiastically. “I want the one with the happy ending.’
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