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The cost of happiness, breaking the illusion of external gratification and creating cheerfulness from within

By Aditi Raman Shridhar
I want to laugh. Hysterically,” said my friend Cherry. “I am so tired of being sad. I want to be happy without getting affected by my surroundings.”

Cherry and I were sitting opposite each other in my garden and sipping ice tea last Sunday afternoon. The giant curry tree behind her was offering us a partial shade from the sun and the velvety soft mat we were sitting on was also accommodating a lazy baby squirrel on a corner. The warm breeze was refreshing and the energy pleasing.

Cherry is from Lebanon and we had met each other in a gym in Akure. We had become close friends over our joint interest in fitness, cooking, gardening and travelling and we provided each other the much-needed newness in social company. Cherry was simple in her ways of living life, sweet spoken, happy and beautiful. It was refreshing to spend some time with someone so carefree, pleasing and non-judgmental. However, this Sunday she seemed very uncomfortable. I am not sure what triggered this change but she looked sad and her eyes spoke volumes of some deeply suppressed pain. For the first time she told me she had lost her mother to cancer when she was two years old. Her father, unable to provide for her, had put her up for adoption in an orphanage and never met her again. When she grew up in a new family, her life was smooth but she couldn’t accept it whole-heartedly. Her husband loved her, she said, but they weren’t spending as much time together as she hoped. He was continuously buried in his work. And most of her old friends, she said, were not really her well-wishers. She had become a butt of their jokes and she didn’t know how.

Cherry is only 29. We had celebrated her birthday a week ago. As she told me her story, in her usual style – few sentences, softly and without exaggerating – I noticed her feeling lighter. “I want to laugh. Just laugh. Hysterically. I am so tired of being sad,” she said. “I don’t want to remove the people in my life but I want to be a new me.”

We were getting deep into the conversation, brain-storming to find ways of bringing about this transformation in Cherry’s life, when suddenly out of nowhere – the brown and white stripped baby squirrel leaped on Cherry’s chest, making us shriek with fear, and toppling our glasses of ice-tea in the process. Cherry’s ice tea spilled on her face and her tee shirt and just when we could understand what happened, the squirrel took an even bigger leap towards the snack plate full of peanuts kept near her and started nibbling them. Those big eyes looked relieved, happy and so adorable. A pause later, we burst out laughing. Our thunderous laugh echoed in my garden and my husband came out to ask if everything was okay.

Cherry was rolling on the mat, clutching her tummy and laughing. And the baby squirrel was most content.

“How did we take life so seriously,” she squealed.

                Laugh it off

There is really nothing so big, so serious or painful that we as human beings cannot endure or conquer. In fact, the very opportunity in facing an apparently serious situation is to laugh and find a solution to the problem without bringing down your peace and happiness.

Laughter is the best medicine for relieving any sort of pain or anger and I have experimented in many of my own difficult moments in life. It makes you accept the situation for what it is and makes you see through the garb of pain and pleasure hidden in that moment. Of course there are many people I know who are experts at deflating potentially difficult circumstances with a stroke of smile and laughter. But it is a skill that is inborn or one acquires it over time. But it is definitely a trait we should learn and master. When you laugh, your heart becomes lighter, your mind sees the truth and chances are you won’t be stuck in the falseness of ego and pain anymore. Instead every situation seems small and easy to glide through. The various moments of life that appear in front of us are meant to test us and shake us from our peaceful state. But every such situation also gives us a chance to become a conqueror and rise above. Laughter and happiness, sweetness and silence, and thankfulness and gratitude helps you conquer situations. The biggest illusion that laughter breaks down in a matter of seconds is the seriousness we attach to ourselves and our lives.

The illusion of external gratification

Ever since we are born, we are blessed by our parents and society to be happy. Unfortunately, no adult teaches their child how to be happy when circumstances are not in your favour. When you slipped from a chair, they hit the chair and made you stop crying. When you wanted that toy and shrieked and yelled for it, they gave it to you to make you happy. When you became sad, they gave you something to cheer you up. When you felt low your mom made you something special to eat and cheer you up. When you grow up you imitate the same pattern in adult life. When things don’t go your way or you make mistakes and everyone disrespects you, you probably apologize and learn from it and bounce back but you don’t know how to maintain the steady feeling of happiness. Instead you require things externally to maintain the buoyant feeling of happiness. A pat on your back from someone, a word of appreciation or simply love.

Some parents taught their kids that happiness is being content for who you are. While being happy and content for being you is absolutely correct, it often gets mistaken for being lazy and not striving to do anything better. Most of these kids grow up to become irresponsible adults. They refrain from doing anything extraordinary because their excuse is, “I am happy… so I don’t need to do anything.” We have too many average-level human beings who are simply wasting their life away and not doing anything productive in this world.

The rest of the parents taught their kids that happiness is when you achieve something, which means when you become good enough and worthy of some praise and respect. When you get good grades then you can be happy, otherwise your parents won’t let you be so. Or if you become a doctor, then you can be happy. Or when you find your perfect partner and settle down then you can be happy. This relentless chase for becoming happy by striving to become a better person is also a trap because this chase is never ending and it will only leave you exhausted.

The biggest illusion behind happiness is that it is externally acquired. You feel happy when you gain acceptance, when you achieve something and when you feel good enough by doing some deeds. However, none of these provide happiness permanently. They are just fleeting moments of assurances which will fly away the moment you make another mistake or lose face in front of someone.

Cost of creating happiness and bouncing back from mistakes

The cost of being permanently happy is high and difficult at first to follow. But it is a guaranteed solution. The answer lies in becoming completely independent of anything or anyone outside of you to be peaceful and happy.

I want to offer a tiny experience to you right now. I want you to press your nose and hold your breath for one minute. I also want you to think of all the pleasurable and painful moments in this minute. Everything that comes to your mind – may be your horrible boss who taunts you too much or your parent who is nagging you too muchor the beautiful moment you spent with your beloved recently. Bring them all up. Now hold your breath a little longer. Don’t give up!

Chances are if you did this exercise, there must have come a point when you felt dizzy and couldn’t hold your breath any longer. The moment you let go and took in a deep inhale, you might have also forgotten all those good and bad moments and come into the present. The value of everything you were thinking suddenly went down to zero and you could see that what only mattered was your breath and the feeling of relief upon breathing.

The answer is that nothing in this world is so serious or so big that can bring you down, unless you let it. The trick is in not giving too much value to anything you do and the emotions you experience. Not even the happy moments – because they are deceptive. Happy or sad, the moments are forever changing and basing your peace of mind on it is the stupidest thing to do.

Being happy all the time requires great skill. First it requires you to do all the actions necessary for you to feel happy, then it requires you to speak and listen to everything that makes you happy, and third is to slowly keep detaching yourself from actions and results and internally creating a peaceful world of your own. Jumping straightaway on trying to be independent is impossible and frankly, unnecessary. And it won’t help.

Stay pleasant, happy and peaceful from within. Everything you require in order to stay happy and conquer life is within you. Until next week.

Aditi Raman Shridhar is an Indian journalist, therapist and health instructor.

Owena Press Limited (Publisher of The Hope Newspaper), Akure

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