Think of the last time you became upset about something trivial. You locked yourself out of your house and battered your fist vainly on the door. They announced that your plane would be delayed for three hours due to a mechanical failure and you missed an appointment. You changed to a shorter queue in the supermarket and the person at the cash register in front of you decided to pay his gas, electricity and water bills. The traffic was bad so you decided to take your favorite shortcut, only to find it much worse than the road you had been on. Our lives are populated by many such unforeseen events that come as challenges to sense of well being. We surrender our happiness to them for nothing. The only return for getting upset is a headache. If this becomes chronic we may possibly be candidates for a shorter life.
Once I was driving in Buenos Aires with a friend. When the traffic lights turned green, the car stalled and I took a few seconds to sort it out. Suddenly, I heard a taxi driver flying past on my right shouting the word 'mongólico' at me. He actually wasted his fury because, as I was still learning Spanish, I didn't understand the expression. My friend told me that he had just called me an imbecile. Later on, I made a quick calculation. If he was able to gain five seconds at every traffic light, at the end of the day, he would have earned around 10 minutes of 'extra' time. In my mind I created a caricature of a an anger-fed traffic-light terror shouting 'mongólico' to everyone who dared to impede his progress. Driving six days a week for 30 years and tearing off at every traffic light comes to about 2 months extra time! But how much shorter would his life be living in such a permanent state of anxiety?
Recently in a talk in Orlando I asked the audience if their lives were comfortable. On the highway from Tampa, I had seen an immense RV towing both a golf cart and a car - a perfect combination for the itinerant comfort-lover. The great majority said yes. Then I asked them if they were happy, no matter what happened. They said that they could remain more or less happy only until the next test came along like the ones above - a lost key, a delayed plane, a slow queue or a clogged up shortcut. These are only trivial tests. Imagine how we lose it when the tests are really important like our house burning down or a loved one diagnosed with malignant cancer. The fact is we need a bigger stock of understanding and spiritual power to get us through the chaos of each day.
The secrets that I have learnedmainly through my connection to the teachings of the Brahma Kumaris, that have helped me over the years to deal with situations and remain happy:
1) Be a detached observerThis means to keep a broad view of whatever is going on. All events are part of an incredibly vast play, with scenes and scenery. Every single person has a role to play. I just have to concentrate on my role and play it to the best of my ability. Everyone is under the influence of their own past and present circumstances. People just really want to be happy and avoid sorrow if possible. They want to understand things and be understood. They want to love and to be loved. That's it. Let the show go on.
2) Happiness is in givingThe flow of happiness is one way, from the inside out. In a sense I cannot take happiness from others or things. I can only really give it. It's the sort of thing that in giving it actually increases. Therefore, I have to learn to activate it and find something or someone to direct it towards.
3) The other half of me is myselfThe endless search for fulfilment through material objects and relationships comes to an end when we realise that we will never find ourselves in other people or in physical things. Someone else, no matter how great they are, or how poetic I am, can't jump into my soul and transform my feelings. Things and people can inspire me but what and how I feel, depends on me. Matter of course is something that satisfies the physical senses, but it cannot fit in the soul. The very search for fulfillment starts with an inner voice crying to be found. The famous other half of the orange is me!
4) I am responsibleI am responsible for my spiritual and emotional state. There are present and past influences of course, but I cannot say, "I am like this because of someone els or because I was ill-treated 20 years ago." Life is full of situations and tests, but unless I assume responsibility for my state of mind and spirit, I will always be at the mercy of them.
5) Sense stimulation is not happinessThe world provides an endless supply of sense stimulation. Tossed between movies, mp3s, video games and deliberating enticing advertisements, I can unthinkingly relinquish the simple things that surround me and be thrust into a world that is someone else's creation. I forget to be the author of my own.
No matter how beautiful the scene, how melodious the music or how tasty the food, my sense organs are not the deeper me nor do they feed the deepest of all desires - to understand life and my real role in it.
6) Don't create and sustain unreal expectationsJust as I have my limitations, everyone else also has. It is unreal to expect someone to be constantly loveful, respectful and honest with me, when I am often not able to do this for myself. I cannot use someone else's respect to compensate for my own lack of self-respect. If I feel someone has betrayed me it's because I betrayed myself first. It's like betting on a horse-race. My horse didn't win. I just tear up the ticket and carry on.
7) Happiness has the same size as my potential for goodAll of us has a vocation for serving others. If I can the world of needs and the needy beyond my own ego, I can begin the work of liberating what is potentially good in me from the prison of my ignorance. Being truly generous and gracious with others, no matter how they behave, is the beginning of being able to help them. Helping others to be happier than they have been able to, is the greatest charity. My potential for serving others and my possible happiness, have the same size.
8) Learn to be presentHappiness can only be experienced in the present. I can remember that I was happy yesterday, but I can't re-experience it now. If I am always looking backwards trying to extract happiness from the past or looking forward th the happiness that I may have this evening, or on the weekend, or when I am on vacation, the present opportunities slip away. If I go for a walk, let me appreciate the sky, the trees and the day. If I am with other people, let me appreciate them as they are. Let me savor the food, enjoy the music, feel the breeze without depending on them. I will many new reasons to be happy in the simple things.
9) Meditate daily to increase the stock of understanding and spiritual powerUnhappiness is all about a lack of spiritual power. If I spend more money than I earn over a long period of time, I can become bankrupt. If I go on spending more spiritual power than I can replenish daily, then I become spiritually bankrupt. The trick therefore is to build up stock through the daily practice of meditation. If I can meditate well for 20-30 minutes first thing in the morning, for 2-3 minutes now and then during the day and another 20-30 minutes in the evening, my stock of spiritual power should be enough to get me through most situations. This power tends to accumulate as I learn to think better. When major hurdles appear there should be enough to pass over them also.
See the post on meditation practice on this same blog (Think less, think better - Learn to meditate).