Have you discovered happiness?

December 30, 2020

A radio jockey once had a millionaire as his guest. He asked him, “What made you most happy in life?”  The millionaire said, “I have gone through four stages in life to finally discover the true happiness.

The first stage was to accumulate wealth and means. But at this stage I did not get the happiness.

The second stage was of collecting valuable items. But I realized that the effect of this is also temporary and the lustre of valuable things didn’t last long.

The third stage was of getting big projects. Like buying a football team, buying a tourist resort, etc. But even here I did not get the happiness, which I had imagined.

The fourth stage came when a friend of mine asked me to buy wheelchairs for disabled. My friend insisted that I accompany him to hand over the wheelchairs to the disabled children. As I did that, I saw the strange glow of happiness on the faces. I saw them all sitting on chairs, moving around and having fun. One of the kids grabbed my legs while I was leaving the place. I gently tried to free my legs but the child stared at my face. I bent down and asked the child: Do you need anything else?

The answer of the child not only made me happy but also changed my life completely. The child said “I want to remember your face so that when I meet you in heaven, I will be able to recognize you and thank you once again.”

This story is about a rich man’s pursuit to happiness. This reiterates and confirms the research on happiness conducted by Richard Davidson, the neuroscientist, which I briefly captured in my previous post.

The acts of generosity, whether small or big, make us happy.  

Research has also shown that poor people do more charity than the rich. No wonder they are happier. They don’t discover happiness at the fourth stage.  

You don’t have to be rich to be generous.  Do whatever you can. If you can’t donate a wheel chair, buy a meal to someone. If that is also not possible, just speak nicely to someone and make him/her feel good.     


Be compassionate, be happy

November 29, 2020

A few days ago, I read an inspiring news about villagers in Sri Lanka who joined the Sri Lankan navy in rescuing more than 100 stranded whales. Villagers defied the corona-virus curfew to support the navy, and pushed the whales back into the sea from the beach at Panadura, south of the capital, Colombo.

The phenomenon of whales and dolphins getting stranded on beaches, commonly referred to as beaching, remains largely a mystery to scientists.  There are around 2,000 strandings each year worldwide, with most resulting in the death of the animal.

As I read about the heroics of Sri Lankan villagers, I wondered why they would have done it. They risked their own life in order to save whales, particularly when they were supposed to be home bound due to COVID-19.  

Helping people is always the right thing to do, even if it comes with some inconvenience or risk. COVID-19 has shown it in so many ways. The way doctors and nurses took care of patients demonstrates that compassion is in human nature and COVID-19 just can’t take that away.

However, there is another benefit of compassion. Researchers have found a connection between happiness and the performance of selfless acts.

Richard Davidson, a famous neuroscientist, has researched happiness extensively. He explains there are four independent brain circuits that influence our happiness and well-being:

  1. Ability to stay positive: People who think positive are always happy. We need to change our outlook and develop the ability to see positive in others, in different situations and experiences.  
  2. Resilience or our ability to recover from adversity: Merely thinking positive is not enough. We need to develop the ability to come out of negative situations as quickly as positive.
  3. Ability of focus: A person who has a wandering mind is never happy. Inability to focus leads to inaction and dejection. People whose mind is preoccupied with different thoughts fail to take action on things which are in their control. We need to train our mind to stay focussed.   
  4. Generosity: Our brain feels good when we help others. So, the principle is simple: make others happy in order to be happy. This is where compassion and the acts of generosity help.

The good news is that we can train our brains to improve on these four fundamental areas and be happier than we generally are.

 


How can we be happy during a crisis?

October 31, 2020

We should identify moments of joy in the present was the main message of my previous post.

The COVID-19 situation has worsened since then.  Several countries have re-imposed strict measures after seeing an upsurge of new infections, hospitalizations and deaths.  This raises a question.

How can we be happy during a crisis?

Happiness and sadness both are temporary feelings. It is difficult to stay in one state for too long. Staying positive and seeking moments of joy need to be explored in all situations.

We should not feel guilty exploring happiness in a time of crisis. This does not mean undermining the gravity of the situation or not feeling the pain of others. It simply shows a positive attitude towards a situation.

Difficult situations and crises cause stress, depression and hurt. In one of my earlier posts – when you are two down – I suggested we should find ways of easing out the pressure and stress. This is necessary in order to get the best out of us.

Attitude matters a lot

Happiness is an attitude. Some people are never happy even when the have everything, whereas some are happy even when they are not sure where is their next meal going to come from. True, we choose happiness.

Take action

Sitting idle and doing nothing help no one. The attitude – I will do my best – helps a lot in dealing with the pressure or stress during difficult times such as COVID-19.  Everyone’s situation is different but each one of us can do something. Just do it, even if it is as small as doing grocery shopping for someone, talking to someone who is sick or keeping in touch with families who need help. Every such act will make you feel good and create a moment of joy for you and others. Difficult times knit communities together and create opportunities for the humanity to shine.

I would fail in my duty if I don’t reiterate our role in prevention of COVID-19. Each one of us has to practice proper hygiene and observe social distancing. Our actions will protect us, protect others and will reduce the pressure on already stretched health systems.

Be hopeful

Hope makes us take actions that bring happiness. A pregnant mother hopes she will have a healthy baby and therefore eats well, sleeps well, does her exercises and everything else possible in her control.  A student works hard hoping he will have a good result. Mother or the student will not put in their effort if they are not hopeful of a good outcome. So, let’s stay hopeful.

I have already written no matter how difficult a situation might appear, there is always a way out. Like all, I do watch the news every day but I purposely search for, and share, what are the positive trends/ successes in the COVID-19 response; and inspiring human stories of care and resilience.

It is just a matter of time that we will have a vaccine against COVID-19.  True, COVID-19 has killed a large number of people but a much larger number has recovered.

Aren’t these enough to be hopeful?


Look for the moments of joy around you, not in the future

September 29, 2020

Buddha once met a young man walking along the bank of a river. The man was smiling and looked happy. Buddha asked him the reason for his smile. He said, “I am thinking of a wonderful life,” Buddha asked again what he meant by a wonderful life.  The young man said; “One day I will be rich. I will marry a beautiful woman. I will then get a dog and come here for walks. I will enjoy the scenery.  It will be a wonderful life.” The Buddha then asked, “Haven’t you got it already?”

Let us pause and think.  Joy is around us. However, like the young man, we don’t identify it.

Joy means feeling good in a moment. It is in what we see, hear or experience in our daily life. But we often overlook it as we are busy making long term happiness goals.

How can we develop the attitude of embracing joy in our daily life?

Develop an attitude of gratitude

There is no harm in seeking more but we need to be thankful for what we already have. Remember, the time when we bought something new, for example a smart phone. How happy we were. But, as time passed by, the sense of joy diminished even if we still use it. Why? Because now we take it for granted and aspire for a different model. The lesson, therefore, is when we take things for granted, we let pass the opportunities of being joyful. Practice thankfulness every day. This will increase happiness and decrease depression.

Celebrate little successes

Just like there are milestones on highways, our life goals need to be broken into small achievable targets. Reward yourself when you achieve these targets. Achievements create joy, no matter how little they appear. Wish people well and celebrate their achievements as well.

Explore joy in your daily chores

We do a number of activities at home, at work, with friends/colleagues or alone. We like some of them and some we don’t.  Select at least one activity that you do every day and make it more enjoyable for you.  For example, I changed my coffee cup and the experience of coffee changed. Similarly, if you are into walking, try taking a different route sometime for the fun of it.  If you are into sports, play with the intention of enjoying the game rather than winning because the pressure of winning gets the pleasure out of sports. If you like solitude, find time for yourself and do what you like. If you like meeting people, meet those you like, as often as possible.

Be a source of joy to others

This is the most powerful of all techniques. Spread joy to others. Think what you can do to make someone happy. It can be a small thing like a phone call to a friend, a visit to someone, or sharing a decent joke. Let go of anger and grudges. Forgive others and seek forgiveness.

In short, Identify the moments of joy. They are around you, not in the future.


Reflect over the purpose of your life

August 17, 2020

A baby camel asked his mother, “Why do camels have humps?” The mother said, “We are desert animals. We have the humps to store water so we can survive for a long time without needing to drink.” The baby camel asked again, “Why our legs are long and our feet round?” The mother replied, “They are suited for walking long distances in the desert.”

The baby then asked, “Why are our eyelashes long?” The mother responded, “Those long thick eyelashes protect our eyes from the harsh desert sand when it blows in the wind.”

The baby thought and then said, “I see. So the hump is to store water when we are in the desert, the legs are for walking through the desert and these eye lashes protect my eyes from the desert sand.  Then why do we live in the zoo?”

This is the question we all need to ask ourselves. We all are gifted with skills and abilities that make us suitable for a specific purpose. This will help us find or rediscover the purpose of our life.

A study by the Harvard School of Public Health researchers revealed  that if you have a higher sense of purpose in life — defined as having meaning, a sense of direction and goals — you are more likely to remain healthy and physically strong as you grow older.

Even though the purpose of life is different for each one of us, one common thread that comes across from a study of life of thinkers, philosophers and religious texts is that the purpose of life should be to help others.

We can identify the purpose of our life by asking ourselves three questions.

Am I making use of my skills and abilities?

This is the first question that we must ask ourselves like the baby camel. Think about what people appreciate you for, what you like to do, read or talk about. There is a possibility that you will find something you have the ability for but you never got the time to develop it or make use of it. During COVID-19 lockdown, we saw several people doing this.

Am I doing something that make me and others happy?

We need to do something regularly that makes us happy. I have made a few suggestions in one of my earlier posts: We need to be happy a lot more. We must set up our happiness goals and work on them. The key is in creating happiness in the present rather than seeing it as a future goal.

Am I living a life that is useful for others?

This is a bigger level purpose that gives meaning to our life. Human beings are blessed with the power to think. We must make use of this to go beyond our own lives and think how can we be useful to others. This is also linked to the previous two questions. How we use our skills for the benefit of others, how we make others happy and how we contribute towards making the world a better place are key determinants of a purposeful life.

A reflection to the above might make us realize that we are not at the right place yet. May be we are meant to be doing something that we are not doing as yet. It is never too late to make a change. We don’t want to be caged in a zoo. Don’t we?

 


There is always a way out

July 31, 2020

Stephen Hawking, known for his work on relativity and black holes, when asked about his personal struggle with Motor Neuron Disease, said the following:

“I think my work and sense of humour have kept me going. When I turned 21, my expectations were reduced to zero. In this situation, it was important that I came to appreciate what I did have. Although I was unfortunate to get motor neurone disease, I have been very fortunate in almost everything else. I have been lucky to work in theoretical physics at a fascinating time, and it’s one of the few areas in which my disability was not a serious handicap. It’s also important not to become angry, no matter how difficult life may seem, because you can lose all hope if you can’t laugh at yourself and life in general.”

Hawking’s answer has great insights on finding a way out of crises and difficult times.

  • Be passionate: Our passion gets the best out of us in whatever we do. Passion keeps us focused on goals. Passion stops us from giving up. How do we identify if we are passionate about what we do? To me, it is directly linked to enthusiasm. How enthusiastically we do something shows how passionate we are.

 

  • Appreciate what we have: During difficult times such as the COVID-19, loss of jobs/livelihoods, deaths of people close to us, not getting what we want most, we tend to forget what we still have. Depression and mental illnesses increase, some even commit suicide.  We should continue to count our blessings and never lose sight of what we still have.

 

  • Learn to manage anger: We all need to learn to cope with anger. And, it can be learnt. There are experts who can offer personalized help. My only advice is to defer all decisions when we  are angry.  Taking time and coming back to the problem always helps.

 

  • Have a sense of humour: We can never underestimate the role that humour plays in keeping us healthy, happy and positive. This is much more important in times of crises such as COVID-19. It helps us cope better with stress and tension. One good laugh a day is something we all must aim for. It saves us from popping in a number of pills. Laugh and make others laugh. In one of my earlier posts – we need to be happier a lot more – I have made a few suggestions.

 

The lesson is clear: No matter how difficult a situation may appear, we have not lost everything. There is always a way out.

‘There is always a way out’ is an attitude that we all must develop. Being passionate; appreciating what we have; managing anger and frustrations; and having a sense of humour help a lot in developing this critical attitude.

 


Three ways to identify an opportunity

June 28, 2020

Years ago, two salesmen were sent by a British shoe manufacturer to Africa to investigate and report back on market potential. The first salesman reported back, “There is no potential here – nobody wears shoes.”

The second salesman reported back, “There is massive potential here – nobody wears shoes.”

A situation may be viewed in two extremely different ways – negatively or positively. This is the reason why most of us do not identify an opportunity.

How can we identify an opportunity?

  • Think positive: Our thoughts matter a lot. This is what I alluded to in my previous post. Positive thinking helps us seize the opportunities that come our way. Even in the current times of COVID-19, an unprecedented health and economic crisis, people have managed to explore opportunities. We see plenty of examples during lock downs – learning on line, sharing skills on line, working on line as well as helping others – that are truly inspirational. Even people not comfortable in using technology have managed to learn and use it. This proves the immense potential of human beings to learn and adapt.

 

  • Take action: Do what you can in a given situation, no matter how complex it is. This however happens only if we think positive. Staying positive and focused, enables us to take action whereas negativity brings in despair and inaction. No matter how strong the winds are, a skilful sailor keeps his destination in mind or changes the destination to sail towards a new horizon.

 

  • Seek help: It may be difficult to handle a complex situation alone. Rather than feeling frustrated with a problem and giving up, talk to people and seek help. Richard Branson has advised well, “ If someone offers you an amazing opportunity and you are not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later.

Together, we shall overcome COVID-19

May 31, 2020

Are we going to live with COVID-19 for ever? Has the COVID-19 caused the worst economic recession of our times? Will the life be same ever again? Will there be a second wave of COVID-19?

Allow me to first share the following story:

An Indian used to sell samosas (fried patties with potatoes filling inside). His samosas were delicious and in great demand. He would sell all he produced in a couple of hours.. He earned so much that he could send his son to a prestigious business management school.

The son returned with his degree. He advised his father to start thinking of an alternative as people have become more conscious about their health and want to avoid eating fried snacks.

The man thought about the ways of reducing the cost of production, so that he does not incur losses if there were less buyers.  First, he changed the quality of the oil he was using. After a week, he observed that there was a decline in the sale. His son’s words echoed in his mind and he thought people are actually not interested in fried potato-filled snacks. He then reduced the quantity of potatoes inside the samosas. The sale declined even further. He believed that his son was actually right. Peoples’ eating choices had changed. He made a few more similar efforts until he found that there was no sale at all. Finally, he had to shut his business.    

The answers to the COVID-19 questions and concerns that I started with must be seen in the context of this story that offers important lessons:

  • Pondering over his son’s advice, the samosa seller thought his sales were declining when actually they were not. A hypothetical situation made him worried and he ended up taking wrong decisions, one after the other.
  • The son was cautioning his father about a change in eating habits of people, and preference towards non-fried healthier snacks. The samosa seller could have tried of a healthier substitute, such as baking instead of frying. But he missed the point, and started cost saving measures that affected the quality of his product and reduced the sale.

What we think about COVID-19 is key. Of course, we have to deal with the crisis and its impact but let’s not allow the hypothetical fears overwhelm us. 

Scientists, doctors, governments, NGOs and international organizations are doing their best. Besides, there are inspiring stories of peoples’ action of kindness and support for those who are affected the most. There are already stories of flattening the COVID curve; of success; of positive effects of social distancing; and a gradual return to normalcy.

Think positive. Our thoughts matter a lot. Psychologists have suggested not to watch and share depressing news all the time. It will cause stress and affect our mental health.

Don’t feel defeated. Let’s continue to remind ourselves: Together, we shall overcome COVID-19.


COVID-19 has taught us a new way of life

April 26, 2020

Are we getting closer to win over COVID-19? Not really.

While some governments are gradually relaxing their quarantine measures, some have extended the lockdown phase. Relaxations being announced should not mislead us. Given the huge economic impact, the pressure to get the economy moving again is the main compulsion behind these decisions. New cases are being reported every day. We can’t be complacent. The risk is still around.

There are several lessons that seem to be emerging.

First, COVID-19 has reminded us about the importance of personal and public hygiene. We can break the chain of infections by continuing with good hygienic practices. We should wash hands frequently and avoid touching eyes, mouth and nose. These measures adopted in past few weeks have shown a positive impact, not just on COVID-19, but on other infectious diseases as well. Let’s stay committed to these practices.

Second, COVID-19 has revived the humanity. Social distancing has enhanced social interaction. It has shown that we can be in touch with each other and take care of each other without actually meeting in person. We are touched by the amazing acts of kindness, care, and compassion that we are seeing in this time of crisis. Distributing food parcels to the needy; doing grocery for elderly neighbours; expressing gratitude to health care workers; and setting up online support groups are just some of the many acts we see around us. People are sharing whatever they can. Let this spirit continue.

Third, we can live with less. Being homebound for over six weeks now, we have realized that our basic needs are actually very few. We can stay without shopping for clothes, perfumes, watches, and other things that we keep buying even though we may not need them. We can cut short on expenses over marriages, birthdays and anniversaries. We must do this to be able to generate resources to help those who have lost their earnings during COVID-19. Can we not use some of these savings to help others?

 

 

 

 


Five things we can do during COVID-19 quarantine

March 30, 2020

We are in the midst of a huge crisis caused by COVID-19. Quarantine. Lockdown. Interruptions in sales, production and job losses.

I felt sad reading news about a migrant worker saying, “I will die of hunger earlier than COVID-19.” Equally frustrating is to notice someone sick with the virus and unable to get a bed in intensive care unit. Scientists, leaders and philanthropists are doing what they feel is best.

But what can we – the people who have a job, all meals to eat, a house to live in, and some money in banks – do?

I will propose the following five ideas:

  1. Embrace social distancing but keep in touch with each other: One of my friends told me that her physiotherapist regularly calls her and reminds her to continue with her exercises. My friend is touched by the gesture. Online/skype /zoom calls with family, colleagues and friends are a great way to keep in touch. Talk to people. This way, all will feel less isolated.

 

  1. Applaud health care workers but follow the instructions: Health care workers are at the front of the battle, risking their own life. It is a great idea to applaud them. But this is not enough. We need to reduce the burden on them. We can do this by changing behaviours and embracing safer practices such as washing hands, wearing masks, and social distancing.

  1. Do what you can: We can all do a few things to reduce the shock on people who are suffering the most. If God has made us the source of livelihood for some like drivers, domestic help etc. we need to pay them even if they can’t come to work.  Leaving all to the mercy of governments will not work.  We can use our networks and skills to do fund raising and support the work of NGOs. It is heartening to see great acts of solidarity, support, kindness, and care on social media.

 

  1. Don’t spread fake news: Social media is full of news. A friend sent a message on WhatsApp saying “I haven’t got any message on COVID-19 in last ten minutes. Am I the only one alive? We all need to be careful. To get factual information, use credible websites such as the World Health Organization, rather than forwarding unconfirmed sensational news.

 

  1. Take care of your health: In crisis situations like this, your own health can suffer. Stocking food and groceries may be necessary but do keep the medicines you/ your family needs. Continued teleworking can be stressful. Don’t forget to do your exercises. Realizing that I was not walking as much as I normally do in my office during the first week of teleworking, I have started talking some of my phone calls while walking in my room. It helps. I feel less tired and stressed of sitting in one place.