Sunday, September 20, 2015

Misery can’t buy you happiness

Telling a relative or a friend "Don't worry, be happy" is as trite as telling them to "take care" at the end of a text message or email. You mean well even if your sentiment means little for the person it was intended for—the truth is it doesn't make that person any less worried or unhappy.

Let's face it. Most of us are discontented with our lot. Even when we have everything going for us—family, health, job, assets, and 
ambition. We are forever chasing something even though half the time we are not sure just what that is.

Picture this. The doorbell rings and standing outside your door are two very old friends—Happiness and Misery. You invited the first, the other tagged along. While they dislike each other, they both crave your attention.

Happiness walks in and you are about to shut the door when Misery puts his foot in the doorway. “Can’t I come in too? You have known me as long as you have known him,” he points a finger at his rival. “You like my company more than you do his. You said that yourself.”

You look over your shoulder and find Happiness glaring at Misery. “If he comes in, I walk out.” And usually, you let him walk.

At heart, you know Happiness is right for you. By habit, you feel good being with Misery. And so you let him into your home and into your life—where, in a twist of irony, you rest content in the false sense of security he offers you. A paradox of life, isn't it?

When they say “Misery loves company,” they mean your company.

In reality, misery is like dreadful vice. The more you know it’s bad for you, the more you want it, and the less likely you are to shake it off and embrace happiness.

But there are literally hundreds of ways you can avoid being miserable. I discovered four the steadfast practice of which should make anyone happy, or, at the very least, pleased with themselves.

Anticipation is a twelve-letter synonym for misery and one of the main causes of our unhappiness. The moment we anticipate something, we invite uncertainty into our lives, and with uncertainty comes worry and fear of the nonexistent. The moment we stop anticipating this, that and the other, we experience a calmness that gives us a sense of wellbeing. Today, one of the chief causes of generalised anxiety and panic attacks is anticipation of the worst. Nothing bad ever happens. The less we anticipate, the lower our anxiety. Therein lies a simple but effective remedy to a malady that isn't one.

Mystics have long been telling us that slowing down, in thought, word, and action, creates a sense of balance in our life. It helps us to think straight, talk less and listen more, and do all our activities at an unhurried pace. According to the renowned spiritual teacher, Eknath Easwaran, when we give our undivided attention to someone or something, “We enrich our life moment by moment.” Don’t let your life be a roller-coaster ride of meaningless deception. Learn to take things easy, learn to take situations in your stride. Apply the brakes now and cruise along slowly. What’s the hurry?

Thinking too much about everything we see and hear often results in our overreaction to situations. It gets us nowhere. In fact, overthinking drains our mental and physical energies and affects our power of reason—we fail to make the right inferences and decisions and reach hasty and improper solutions or judgements. Just as we look before we leap, we need to think before we speak. When we think too much, we are more likely to say something banal and useless or say things that should have been left unsaid. Taking off our thinking cap helps us to collect our thoughts and say the right thing at the right time. When we think less, we speak less, and when we speak less, we become wiser and more receptive to others. A mind in overdrive is an accident waiting to happen.

No one is without expectation and, naturally, no one is without disappointment. A life based on the principle of no expectations, no disappointments is a life well-lived. Often, when we wait with excitement for something to happen, and it doesn’t happen, we end up disappointed. And when our hopes—usually as high as the Himalayas—are dashed, we become disillusioned and bitter, which gives rise to other problems, like low self-worth. While there is no harm in having expectations, it is important to ensure they are realistic and doable. Expect, but not before a little introspection.

Being miserable is like having pebbles in our shoes. Just as pebbles slow down our walk, misery retards our progress in life—and prevents us from being carefree and happy. In the end, each one of us is responsible for our own happiness or misery. It’s up to us which one we choose.