In all human endeavors, in everything that we do, often our real goal is to eventually experience happiness. Which, at times, we mistake for fireworks and spurts of energy in the form of pleasures. When you are really unhappy though, even pleasures hold little meaning. You can’t enjoy food when you are unwell, for example. So, is there a secret to happiness? Yes, there is.

The secret of happiness is that there is no secret. It’s all out in the open. You think, speak and act in a manner that fosters happiness and you’ll be increasingly happy.

When we search for happiness in mysticism, meditation, chanting and so on, we are bound to be disappointed ultimately. For, these things are merely designed to raise our awareness and make us more adaptive, which in turn helps us to be more at peace. To expect that some cherry of happiness will drop from the sky while you are meditating is simply absurd. Unless of course, there’s a crow flying overhead with a little something in its mouth (which won’t be the cherry of happiness, I can tell you. Maybe for the crow…)

Happiness is a skill. It is something one has to acquire and cultivate. If you put in the hard work, you will see the results.

So, while there’s no secret of happiness, there are some guidelines. Here’s my two cents’ worth; five principles of happiness:

1. Be Sincere

Whether you are dealing with yourself or others, just be sincere. Falsities or ostentatiousness of speech and conduct will rob you of your peace and the other person will see through it anyway. Just be normal, be real. To behave in an artificial manner is the most burdensome thing you can do. It’s even more tragic when we start mistaking our own false behavior as genuine.

A blind man who lived near the Zen master Bankei heaped praises on him after Bankei had died. He spoke volumes about his personality, character and charisma.

“But, forgive me for saying this,” his friend questioned. “You are blind. You couldn’t even see what all he might be doing or how he was acting?”
“Sincerity, my friend, it’s sincerity,” the blind man answered. “I judge a man’s character by the sound of his voice. Ordinarily when I hear someone congratulate another upon his happiness or success, I also hear a secret tone of envy. When condolence is expressed for the misfortune of another, I hear pleasure and satisfaction. In my experience, however, Bankei’s voice was always sincere. Whenever he expressed happiness, I heard nothing but happiness, and whenever he expressed sorrow, sorrow was all I heard.”

When you are sincere you are strong and dependable naturally. When your actions, thoughts and words are in sync with your intentions, you are being sincere.

Mean what you say and say what you mean. Your words will carry lot more weight. The Universe will take you more seriously then.

2. Read

Except when in intense solitude or sadhana, I don’t recall a time when I went to bed without reading something. No matter, how tiring my day might have been, I may just read only one page, but I make sure that I do it. Reading is like traveling the world without spending as much time or money. When you read a book, you are not just reading the work of someone who put it together in a few hundred hours. Instead, you are getting a lifetime’s worth of wisdom in a little package. Even if you chance upon just one thought-provoking sentence in a good book, the way I see it, it’s paid for the whole book.

What is quite important though is the kind of literature you read. Read good stuff. Works that inspire you and help you grow as a person. Surfing the web or browsing articles online before you go to bed does not count. Web browsing is like being in your dinghy in the middle of a choppy ocean in pitch dark while reading a book is more like walking the quiet countryside with a little lamp in your hand.

Ideally, the last activity before you fall asleep should be a soothing, distraction free and relaxing activity. You can meditate too but reading has its own charm.

I have observed that kids who are introduced to reading good books, even as a matter of discipline at an early age, grow into mature thinkers and confident adults.

Take up reading. You will never regret it. Read good literature.

3. Exercise

This is self-explanatory. Exercise every day or 6 days in a week. Maybe 3 days followed by a gap of one day and then another 3 days. Either you do it in an intense burst of 15 min or you do it over 30 min gently until you see beads of sweat on your body, research shows both methods are equally effective.

Exercising leads to better physical and emotional fitness. When we exercise, our brain releases many neurotransmitters that help us feel light, happy and stress-free. Most notably, norepinephrine, serotonin and, briefly dopamine too. These are the same happy chemicals our brain releases in many other pleasurable activities.  Exercising slows down ageing, it stops your muscles from wasting away and grants you longevity.

Whether you do yoga, running, aerobics, cycling, weights or any other kind, just make sure you sweat a bit (sitting in front of your TV with air-conditioning turned off or eating Thai red curry to sweat won’t work). Even athletes who play demanding sports are prescribed exercise to build endurance and strength. What exercise does, only exercise can do. There’s no substitute. Get up, breathe, stretch.

Start exercising. Build it into your routine. Just do it. Sweat.

4. Stop complaining

We have arrived at the most important point. Most of us are compulsive complainers. We complain about weather, food, economy, others, leaders, anything really. If we bang into a pole while walking carelessly or stub our toe against some lifeless piece of furniture, for a moment, we believe that it’s that pole or table that’s out of place. That, someone should have taken better care. What’s worse is that we are often complaining to people who can’t do anything about it. If your new washing machine is broken, complaining to your friend won’t fix it. It’s the vendor you have to deal with.

Within a span of just 24 hours, an average person eats three meals but complains at least thirty times. Weather is awful, food is not good, he never replies on time, my life sucks, she should know better, no one loves me or cares about me, I hate my job and so on.

It is extremely detrimental to our spiritual growth as well as emotional well-being. When complaining becomes a habit, everything just feels less. You want that little bit more, that little extra and the struggle starts.

When I was thinking of ways to be complaint-free, I had thought about maintaining a journal or setting a reminder somehow. That was until I read Rev. Will Bowen’s idea. Bowen is a pastor in a US church and he started this movement of not complaining for 21 straight days by wearing a purple bracelet. Once you go three weeks without complaining, he claims and research supports, it sort of becomes your habit, you start to be more positive and happy.

“Put a no-complaint bracelet on your wrist,” he said to his congregation, “and every time, you complain, simply take it off and put it on the other wrist.”

This builds incredible mindfulness. “Give it to the other person as well, you can also remind each other.” He adds that we should also avoid harsh criticism, gossiping and sarcasm beside not complaining.

You can buy any silicon or other bracelet online that’s easy to remove and put back on. It’ll cost you less than a cup of coffee but will do wonders to raise the baseline of your happiness and positivity overall.

So, next time the salt in your meal is less, don’t complain. Be grateful that you at least have food to eat. Grab that shaker and put some salt.
“Pass me the salt, please.” This is a good request. (Please, can you pass me the salt? is even better. Polite speech keeps you calm.)
“There’s no salt!” This is a complaint.

What you’re supposed to do when you don’t like a thing is change it. If you can’t change it, change the way you think about it. Don’t complain. ~Maya Angelou

5. The Fifth Principle

The fifth principle is something no one can tell you. It’s your personal guideline or commandment you set based on your own nature, circumstances and goal. Your fifth principle could be to pray, to meditate or go fishing, for example. Whatever it may be, it’s something you’ve discovered for yourself.

Write down your own principle.

Three construction workers always ate their lunch together. Each one of them brought from home the same lunch every day and they were getting sick and tired.

“If one more time, I’ve to eat the same sandwich,” the first one said one day, “I’m going to jump off this building.”
The next person opened his lunchbox and complained, “If tomorrow I’ve to eat this pasta again, I’ll kill myself.”
The third man saw his tiffin and yelled, “Oh for cryin’ out loud! If one more time I’ve to eat this salad, by God, I’m going to jump.”

The next day, they sat down for lunch as usual. The first worker opened his box and let out a big sigh. “Thank God, it’s rice today.”
The second one saw his lunchbox and exclaimed joyously, “Finally! I love these bread-rolls.”
“Damn it!” The third one said banging his box against his forehead. “Same old salad!”
Without another word, he jumped off the building and died.

Distraught, his friends confronted his wife at the funeral.
“Why couldn’t you just give him something else for lunch? Now look. The poor guy killed himself.”
“That’s what I don’t understand,” the wife said. “He always made his own lunch!”

Somewhere, we all pack our own lunch. It’s entirely in our hands to either be graceful about things we find disagreeable and look at the brighter side (and yet be industrious to bring change) or keep on complaining. Our happiness is in our hands and a lot of it depends on how and where we direct our time and energy. Excessive web surfing, social media or TV, and complaining are killers of happiness, as are the toxins of jealousy, envy, and hatred. Occasionally you may indulge in non-productive activities or just lazing around, for we all have known the joy of procrastination. Overall though, follow the five principles above and be your own witness to the transformation you’ll undergo within a matter of a few weeks. As with learning any other skill, if you are willing to put in the time with patience and determination, there’s no reason why happiness can’t be championed.

A post with practical tips as this is unlikely to leave you feeling as warm as would a philosophical one perhaps, but if happiness depended on philosophy alone, our history wouldn’t be full of depressed thinkers and philosophers. Hence, at the expense of an evocative and emotive read (which is not my specialization anyway), I chose to share my views on the practical aspects of happiness. It may seem trifling but I never forget that when you sit down to read my post, you are trusting me with 7 minutes of your time. I try my best to do justice to that faith you place in me as a reader.

Adopt these principles and you’ll find yourself smiling more often. If these don’t work, don’t worry, I have… let me see… 743 other principles of happiness in my diary that I’ll be happy to share (just kidding).

Oh, and get that bracelet.

Peace.
Swami
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