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Happy And How!
Being My Best Self | Wisdom Letter 16
Are you happy?
What is happiness to you?
Its a loaded word. It often means different things to different people.
For some its money, for some its fame, for others its power or achievement or ambition. Its also contentment for some and for some its deep intimate relationships. Its also gratitude sometimes. If you’re lucky then happiness for you is some combination of all these factors, but if you’re unlucky then you can have all of it and yet not have happiness. Then the pursuit of happiness becomes like trying to grab sand in your fist. The harder you try the more it slips away. In that sense, happiness is just luck of the draw.
One more way to look at happiness is through the lens of pursuing pleasure. More pleasure gives us more happiness right? In fact, some would say that acquiring pleasure at every situation is what happiness is all about.
What do you think? Pleasure equals happiness?
There’s a school of thought called Hedonism that says that life is about the continuous pursuit of pleasure. Maximising pleasure and minimising pain at every juncture is the ultimate goal of life. Basically YOLO in millennial-speak.
If that’s true then how do you explain the fulfilment and happiness a marathoner feels after completing a gruelling 42km run. Going through hours of bone-crushing pain. Preparing for months in advance and often picking up chronic injuries.
Or how do you explain the happiness of a parent. A parent who has spent years full of painfully sleepless nights changing diapers, spending evenings and weekends doing home assignments, or dealing with her child’s teenage angst and anxiety along with her own career, guiding the child through the messiness of adolescence while navigating through her own mid-life crisis. How do you explain the joy she feels when her child finally graduates from college and enters the world as a responsible adult.
Happiness then, is not the mere absence of pain or the accrual of pleasure. But its the journey one makes out of pain and into pleasure, into fulfilment and satisfaction. The satisfaction of having achieved something larger than themselves, something much above and beyond material pleasure.
The pain gives meaning to the journey. The meaning gives purpose to our lives, and dare I say, the purpose gives happiness to our being.
This is still, just one interpretation of happiness. And I’m sure its coloured with my own experiences and biases. Happiness is very personal and very individualistic. Each one of us pursues it in our own way and has our own unique interpretation of the word.
Its obvious then, that there can’t be a single recipe for happiness. But there are certain ingredients that can help most of us live a life of fulfilment and happiness.
Today, we look at some of those ingredients to make our own recipe for happiness.
Humans can get used to anything.
Believe me, be it the Nazi concentration camps in Auschwitz or the most luxurious apartment in the world. We can manage both the extremes. Thanks to evolution, we are survival masters.
But that has its own problems.
A promotion at work, or the loss of a loved one. Our happiness levels do rise or dip for some time while we are going through a particular experience. But in due course we get back to our happiness set point— our base level happiness. This idea is called hedonic adaptation.
This tendency causes us to always rate our current levels of happiness as “average”. Which soon turns into a nagging feeling at the back of our minds that we are somehow missing something in life. That somehow we have the potential to be a lot more happier but we are just not doing some X activity to get there.
This thought gnaws at us all the time and leads to growing resentment with the status quo. We aspire for some future version of ourselves who is happy and satisfied and free of this gnawing feeling of unhappiness.
Of course, there is no such future version.
Life is lived in the present, right at this moment, as you are reading this and I am writing this, we are experiencing life. And if we can’t live this moment fully then we can’t find happiness.
Tim Urban of WaitButWhy wrote about this idea 6 years ago in a blog post. He has written in his usual light-hearted manner, full of funny stick figures and humorous analogies. It’s a funny but thought provoking post. Check it out—
The 4 Pillars
Have you looked at Buddhist monks in a monastery? There’s a steely calm on their faces. They give a vibe that they have life figured out. They have outgrown the silly pursuit of happiness and living a life of meaning.
This you can witness in elite athletes performing at the peak of their game as well. Virat Kohli can be all aggressive and animated on the field when he’s celebrating a milestone. But when the bowler is running in to bowl, under the helmet Kohli is as still and calm as a monk. Eyes locked into the ball, if the bowler over-pitches slightly, Kohli’s eyes light up, front foot goes forward, he pounces on the ball and he drives it through the covers for four. Take a look. Even if you’re not a cricket fan you can observe his intensity in the video.
In that moment, for that microsecond, you know he is living life to the fullest. He is the happiest man in the world, he is in a state of Flow.
According to writer Emily Esfahani Smith, achieving a state of Flow is an important pillar of a meaningful life.
In her Ted Talk, she discusses the idea that life is more than just the pursuit of happiness.
Life is about meaning.
She describes the 4 pillars of a meaningful life as follows —
Belonging — the relationships in our life.
Purpose — A sense of service towards the world
Transcendence or Flow, the idea of being in the Zone.
Storytelling — The narratives we tell ourselves about our own life.
It’s quite an enlightening talk. Check it out —
Do you think Happiness is something we can achieve?
There are people who say that happiness is like a skill or a habit. You get better at it with practice. Or it is like a muscle. It gets stronger with more training.
Mark Manson, author of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck says, happiness is not something you obtain, it’s something you inhabit.
From his blog post —
“Just as a confident man doesn’t wonder if he’s confident, a happy man does not wonder if he’s happy. He simply is.”
In his classic irreverent style, he has broken down every myth about happiness that we ever had.
He blames the marketing around happiness for turning it into a goal in itself. He argues that you get happy while you are focused on getting other parts of your life in order.
He takes on common misconceptions around happiness like “it is the lowering of expectations” or “it is the same as positivity”
We love this blog post because his main argument is that happiness is the process of becoming your best self. Something which we have been talking about a lot over the last month or so. This is an idea that we believe in very strongly.
Check it out, it’s a must read —
Get Some Headspace
"All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone”
— Blaise Pascal, French philosopher
Have you tried to sit quietly in a room alone by yourself?
Not just alone, but without your phone or headphones. Without even a book or a magazine. And you are not aloud to sleep!
Can you live a whole day like that? An hour? 10 minutes?
The pace of life we live today makes even 10 minutes of solitude a scary prospect.
But it may be the one activity that will benefit you the most. Just sitting quietly in a corner and observing your thoughts.
Yes, I am talking about mindfulness meditation.
Our mind is like a ticker you see at the bottom of a news channel’s screen. Just a lot more haphazard, and going at a rate of a new thought almost every second.
But there are no new thoughts, so our mind recycles them. We start having the same thoughts again and again. We get stuck in endless feedback loops that seem to have no outlet. Slowly leading to cognitive fatigue.
Our mind needs a break.
Mindfulness meditation requires us to just observe each thought on the ticker. See it objectively for what it is. Try to decode its origins, try to be more aware of from where the thought is coming.
Once we start to zoom out and take a bird’s eye view of our mind, the speed of the ticker starts to slow down. There’s more clarity of thought, and the mind is relaxed.
We strongly believe in the benefits of meditation to lead a healthy and happy life. And this has been backed by research as well.
We use an app called “Headspace” to practice mindfulness meditation. I know, using an app for meditation sounds ridiculous, but it’s guided meditation packs are excellent to help you build a meditation habit.(And yes you will need your phone and headphones :P)
Headspace’s founder Andy Puddicombe makes an excellent case for the need of meditation in our lives. Checkout his Ted Talk from 2013 —
All it takes is 10 mindful minutes | Andy Puddicombe
Find Your Ikigai
Okinawa is an island off the coast of Japan, its one of the four blue zones on the planet. Blue zones are regions where the people live much longer than the rest of the world. Often crossing the age of 100, they lead healthy, happy and fulfilling lives that the rest of us should aspire to.
The people of Okinawa attribute their longevity to an idea called Ikigai.
It roughly translates to ‘purpose for living'. They say its what gets you out of bed every morning.
Ikigai is defined as the combination of 4 factors--
What you love.
What you're good at.
What you can be paid for.
What the world needs.
For the Okinawans finding and following thir Ikigai is the secret to a long life of fulfillment, health and happiness.
Its fascinating that they never retire from their vocation. Often working beyond the ages of 90 and 100. And even when they stop doing “formal" jobs they stay involved in community activities in and around town, and personal projects such as tending to their gardens and growing their own food.
There are plenty of books on the idea of Ikigai. We like the one written by Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles, its a good primer on the topic.
They have interviewed hundreds of Okinawans and distilled their wisdom into practical approaches we can easily follow in our own lives.
Its a short and sweet book which amazes you with its simplicity and leaves a smile on your face.
Get the book--
Signing off for the weekend here’s a quote worth pondering—
Happiness is not a goal, its a byproduct of a life well lived.
-- Eleanor Roosevelt
Happiness is not the destination, its the joy of the journey. Its not the endless pursuit of material pleasure, its the beautiful process of finding meaning in something larger than ourselves. Its not getting stuck in the past or getting anxious about the future, its the about living every moment to the fullest.
You're not happy when you're trying to be somebody else. You're happy when you're the best You that you can be.
Think about it!
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Aditi & Ayush
This was the 4th post in a series we are calling ‘My Best Self’. In case you missed out last week, checkout last week’s wisdom letter, we spoke about Grit last Sunday — Passion, Perseverance and Practice
If you are not sure how to consume all of the content we have shared here, checkout the ‘how-to’ post we wrote — Navigating Rough Seas
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Books as Amazon Public Wish-list
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This was Wisdom Letter #16. In case you want to revisit any of the previous 15 letters, checkout our entire archive.
And if you’re wondering why we are doing this project, what is the point of it? checkout the intro post, it might make some sense!
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