The Shortcut to Happiness

Om Swami

“Is there a shortcut to happiness?” Narayani Ganesh asked me last week, when I was speaking at the Bangalore Lit Fest.
“Oh,” I said, “you mean a jugaad for happiness?”

She and the audience chuckled with me. Jugaad means finding some innovative solution, some kind of a workaround to a problem which otherwise might require a lot more resources. The Oxford English dictionary officially inducted this word in 2017. A jugaad may not always be a shortcut, but a shortcut almost always is a jugaad. And here is the thing: any solution found through a shortcut is usually cut short quickly. You can’t afford shortcuts if you are serious about finding resilient solutions.

Lasting fulfillment comes from the quality of our vision, understanding and execution, it comes from our temperament and our values.

A rich man was breathing his last when he was surrounded by his family members. A bitter argument had been going on about who would get what, how his assets and wealth would be distributed and so on. In the present moment, the so-called loved ones were quiet, some standing with their arms crossed, some with a frown, others a bit more solemn. All waiting for the old man to die so the meeting with their lawyer could begin.

In the same room, in a corner stood three important aspects of his life. Wealth, Love and Trust. Wealth was all decked up in fineries, Love was bubbling with energy, but Trust was standing quietly. It was his usual style, to not make noise. After all, trust is a silent emotion. You can assure someone with your words but only your actions can build it.

“What are you going to do, Wealth?” Love asked her. “Looks like you are all set to leave the dying man.”
“Kind of,” Wealth said nonchalantly. “I mean, it’s not like I belong to him. I’ll divide myself and go to live in his properties, shares, bank accounts and balance sheets. And, if his heirs make smart choices and take care of me, I’ll be happy to come back even more than ever before.”

“What about you, Love?” Wealth questioned in return, while Trust stood there and nodded introspectively.
“I’m a lot more flexible,” Love said. “Right now though, I must leave because I feel suffocated in this toxic and acrimonious environment. They are all focused on you and I don’t live where I am not wanted.”
“So, are you leaving them forever?”
“No, not necessarily so. If they develop feelings of care, respect and compassion towards each other, I’ll happily come back. It’s been great being here and I’ll leave once the rich man takes his last breath.”

Realizing that throughout Trust had been completely quiet, they turned to him and asked together, “Are you going too?”
“I am left with no other choice.”
“So, how or when will you come back? It’ll be lovely to see you again here.”
“Sorry, my friends, but I work somewhat differently.”
“How?”
“I don’t come back,” Trust said, shaking his head. “Once I leave, I leave forever.”

Happiness, in my view, is a sense of fulfillment which comes from three things:

1. Purpose

Unless you have a purpose in life, it’ll be extremely hard to put your energies into anything creative. Mind is a baffling phenomenon of human existence. I’ve observed that if you have everything you could ever want but you don’t have something meaningful to do, you will be more depressed and lost than I could put in words. Privileged people, whom I meet all the time, can get so self-absorbed and sad that life to them feels like a constant burden.

Loneliness, non-clinical depression, bouts of anxiety, persistent sadness, a nagging emptiness, they all stem from the same thing: a purposeless life.

Purpose doesn’t mean that you’ll have plenty of fun doing what you do. Most of the time, your to-do list will consist of boring action items you’d rather not do. And that’s the thing: to have the discipline of ticking off the mundane knowing it’s leading you to your end goal.  Purpose means you have undertaken something that makes you feel you are sharing your talents with the world. It makes your existence worthwhile.

2. Love

It’s incredibly hard to remain motivated without loving what you do. Without that love and motivation, self-discipline becomes even harder. And one way of loving something is to look at the brighter side of life, it is to find those little gems of joy that lie scattered on the path under the rustling leaves of self-doubt and desires. In other words, it is to enjoy the journey and earning that sense of triumph. When you receive something after working towards it, your joy multiplies automatically. To eat a good meal after an intense workout or to stand under the shower after a long and tiring day, exponentially increases the joy of doing so.

To be in love with what you do comes from the understanding that my life must have a careful balance between things-I-want-to-do versus things-I-have-to-do. The more I learn to accept and enjoy the latter, the more opportunities I’ll have to do the former. If you wish to do the things you want to do in life, then learn to enjoy the things you have to do. As they say, “either do what you love or love what you do.”

3. Trust

Trust is not just protecting the trust other people have placed in you, but also self-trust which is equally, if not more important. Self-trust grows when you do what you say you will do. When you resolve to do something or make promises to yourself (e.g. I’ll quit smoking or I’ll exercise 5-days-a-week etc.) and don’t honor them, your self-esteem takes a big hit. And, every time that happens, you lose a bit of faith in yourself gradually reaching a point where you no longer trust yourself. Now, if you can’t trust yourself, how can others or the world trust you?

Without trust, there’s no security, lack of which in turn leads to a defensive attitude, bloated ego andindecisiveness.

On a beautiful evening, Mulla Nasrudin was enjoying the company of his wife, Arabian coffee and dates. Recounting his days of courtship, he said, “Begum, you were drop dead gorgeous and I know that you knew it too.”
She smiled, her face blushing, and said, “I was also quite smitten by you.”
“How come you never showed it back then? In fact, why is it that you never hear a beautiful woman courting a man but it’s always the other way around?”
“Ever seen a mousetrap running after the mouse?” she said victoriously, putting the sumptuous date in her mouth and sipping her coffee.

In the absence of any comeback, Mulla became silent and pretended to be busy picking the best date from the plate.

“You were also quite handsome and caring,” she said in an effort to continue, “but you have really changed now.”
“How?”
“Well, you used to bring me so many clothes, jewellery, utensils and what not, but now you do nothing of that sort.”
“Oh Begum, you are so innocent, after all,” Mulla said. “Who needs a bait for the fish that’s already in the bucket!”

Love or trust, however, is not about trapping or baiting, it is about mutual care and appreciation, about mutual respect and purpose.

Here’s the secret to happiness: protect trust (self-trust and others’) at all costs; love and purpose will walk into your life on their own. Together they make up happiness.

It’s that simple, really.

Peace.
Om Swami

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