We need to be happier a lot more

November 29, 2019

In one of my recent conversations with a friend, I asked him, “how many times he feels genuinely happy in a month?” He thought for a while and said probably two to three times. My response to this wasn’t very different either.

This low level of happiness experience made us worried, and rightly so. We deserve to be happier oftener than that. I have been thinking since then, and after some reflection make the following suggestions:

Convert smile into laughter

An old friend recently shared a joke. It made me smile. First, I thought of sending a typical – LOL (laugh out loud) – response on WhatsApp. But then I called him and we had a good laugh together. This is one example. We can do anything like watching a funny movie, a comedy scene, or laughing over funny instances in our life. Do it as often as possible with family and friends.

Talk to close friends as often as possible

Spending time with close friends makes us happy but we don’t seem to find time for this. Keeping in touch through WhatsApp messages or Facebook gives us all a false sense of staying in touch. Don’t communicate through emoji signs. Talk as often as possible. Close friends may have moved to different places and would be busy with their lives. But they will welcome your call. And now we have several options to talk, including that of video calls. Make use of these. Talk with your close friends as often as possible.

Nurture relationships

Research shows that people who manage to maintain good relationships live longer, happier and healthier. Relationships are built on trust, care and consideration. True, you can’t erase the wrongs of the past but can certainly decide what to do next to improve your relationships.

Forgive people

Life is imperfect and full of bumpy roads. We come across people who make us unhappy, hurt us, and trouble us. We remain sad thinking about their behaviour towards us. We need to forget and forgive. We realize it or not, we feel happy when we forgive someone.

It might be a good idea to set up weekly happiness goals, which are nothing but a set of simple, doable tasks which make us happy. We certainly need to be happier than we are.

Five ways to self-care

February 25, 2017

Why did you see your doctor last time? I asked this questions to some of my friends recently. Most of them said it was when they fell sick or followed up on a known health condition such as diabetes or hypertension. Very few said it was for general health check-up.

The age-old wisdom ‘health is wealth’ is known to all but still we don’t take care of our health. Most of the diseases are curable or at least treatable if diagnosed on time. Yet, people show up at hospitals during advanced stage of illnesses.

We must prioritise self-care. I would propose the following five ideas:

• Do you have a condition that is unusual even though it is not causing much discomfort? If yes, don’t ignore. See a doctor. Every disease takes time to manifest itself in its rigour. This is the time when it should be worked upon. Early detection results in effective treatment.

• You don’t have to be sick to take a diagnostic test. Several diseases go through an asymptomatic phase with no apparent signs or symptoms. Talk to your doctor and discuss if there are any diagnostic tests you must take depending upon your age and health status.

• Create ‘happy hours’ in your life. You often find them in restaurants or shops when betters deals are offered. Can we not introduce the concept in our life? It would mean finding time to meet with friends, family or doing things that make you happy. It won’t happen unless you pen it in your diary. This will be a way to nurture relationships. Good relationships keep us happier and healthier as I wrote in an earlier post: Bonding with Happiness.

• Everyone knows the important of ‘being in shape’ through exercises, brisk walks, swimming etc. but few do it. Most of the diseases are life-style related and can be prevented. Make a realistic plan that fits in your schedule. Having a goal like losing 3 kilos weight in a month does not work. It frustrates people when it is not achieved. It will be better to have a process-oriented goal like doing 30 minutes of brisk walk five times a week. If you do it consistently, results will follow on their own.

• Life keeps presenting challenging situations. While we must strive for the best, results are not always in our control. Be positive always! Our social network helps here as well. And, yes, surround yourself with positive people.

Bonding with Happiness

January 30, 2016

My first post of the year 2016 is an attempt to explore answers to the question: ‘What leads to happiness in life?’. I recently came across two studies on this subject. It was interesting to see the emergence of a common conclusion.

The first study — Can money buy you happiness? — tells us that beyond meeting the essential needs, money plays little role in making us happy. The study stresses that ‘feeling connected to loved ones’ is an essential ingredient of happiness.

To understand the second study, it is worth listening to Robert Waldinger on TED talks where he shares relevant insights on happiness, based on the Harvard Study of Adult Development. This seems to be the longest study on adult life. The study tracked lives of 724 men for 75 years— exploring answers to—’What keeps us healthy and happy as we go through life?’. Two groups of men were constantly studied from their teenage to their old age. The first group comprised Harvard College students; while the second comprised a group of boys from the poorest areas of Boston.

According to Robert Waldinger, “The clearest message that we get from this 75-year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier.”

The connection between happiness and health comes out clearly. Robert said on TED talks, “The people who were the most satisfied in their relationships at age 50 were the healthiest at age 80.”photo

It is good to note that you don’t have to be rich to be happy. The poor and not-so-affluent can also be happy. In fact, they generally are!

The most important thing that enables us to keep good relationships is our ability to forgive. Many-a-time, by not forgiving, we let the opportunity to be happy pass us by. I would draw attention to a post I wrote in March last year, If you don’t forgive, you harm yourself.

Let’s pray that we learn to forget and forgive and keep alive the bonds with family and friends. All we need to do is to nurture and sustain relationships —happiness and health will follow suit.


If you don’t forgive, you harm yourself

August 29, 2015

Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, one of Jawaharlal Nehru’s sisters, went to meet Mahatma Gandhi before leaving for a conference in America. She was passing through a period of anguish after her husband’s death. As a widow without a son, she was denied the right to her husband’s property. She did not fight with her in-laws but felt cheated and was bitter towards them. Aware of the situation, asked Gandhi “Have you made peace with your relatives?” She replied, “I refuse to have anything to do with those who take advantage of an outworn law to create a difficult and humiliating situation for me.”

Gandhi advised her to say good-bye to her relatives because courtesy and decency demanded this. When she said she will not go to those who wish to harm her, Gandhi said, “No one can harm you except yourself.” And then, he added, “I see enough bitterness in your heart to cause you injury unless you check it. Can you escape from yourself? Will you find happiness outside when there is bitterness in your heart?”

After some days of severe struggle with herself, Mrs. Pandit met with her in laws, sought their blessings before leaving India and felt immensely relieved. She later wrote that ‘No one can harm you but yourself” was the best advice she had ever received from someone.

Everyone wants to be happy but most are not despite their wealth, possessions and achievements. This is primarily because they are bitter from inside. They remember all nasty things that people did to them. They hold on to their grudges, and don’t let them go. In the process, they only harm themselves as rightly pointed out by Gandhi.

How I wish we all adhere to Gandhi’s advice and make peace with the people we feel angry with. Developing an attitude of forgiveness will make us happy. Now, it is much simpler. It may just take a phone call, a short message or an email if personal meeting is not possible. We must act fast because life is short. We may not live another day to seek or give forgiveness. We must make the first move even if we know we have been right.  It is not a sign of weakness but strength of character. In Gandhi’s own words, “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”

How to be happy: Learn from kids

March 30, 2015

I often walk to my office and pass by a school. It is such a pleasure to see kids laughing, playing and having fun. I usually stop for a moment and observe them. One thing that strikes the most is that they are all happy. Even the kid who may be crying minutes earlier soon joins the gang. I wonder what makes them happy all the time. Are there some lessons that adults can learn from kids? Children may not have years of wisdom but they certainly know how to be happy. My analysis of children’s behaviour presents the following recipe of ‘how to be happy’:

Find happiness in the present:  

Life is a game for kids. They play and have fun. They don’t even need toys most of the time. Leave a few kids together and you will see them discovering new ways of playing together. They don’t need resources to be happy. They make the best of what is available. In contrast, most adults spend time reflecting over the past, thinking what is not well with them at present and worrying about the future. So, the first lesson is: we can’t plan happiness. We should find it in the present: at work, meeting people, exercise, sport, hobby, reading, etc. Important thing is to do at least one thing a day that makes you happy.

Be quick in forgetting what made you sad:

One thing that really impresses me about kids is that they quickly forget what hurts them or what makes them unhappy. Smile appears even when tears are not fully dried. Adults hold on to their sorrows and worries for too long, and that keeps happiness away.

Don’t judge people:

Have you ever heard a kid judging another kid?  They may fight but forget soon and start playing together again. They are too innocent to judge each other. How I wish we adults could learn to be like this. We may not like everyone we meet, work with or spend time with but it does not give us the right to criticize them. Keeping grudges against people affects our relationships and sore relationships make us unhappy. Mother Teresa said it well, “if you judge people, you have no time to love them.”

Happiness is an attitude

December 31, 2008


This is my last post for the year 2008. Few hours later, we shall be saying good bye to 2008 and welcoming 2009, wishing each other Happy New Year. So, I feel like writing on happiness. What should we do to be happy? Can happiness be created even though we may not have control over events that happen to us or around us?


No one is happy all the time. We all go through failures, setbacks, frustration that makes us feel low and unhappy. What is important is to be able to come out of such moments as quickly as possible. That is why I believe happiness is an attitude.


Let’s first believe that happiness can be created, if not always but most of the times. A two-pronged approach will help in developing an attitude of creating happiness.  


First, do things that make you happy. I used to enjoy playing Cricket with my friends. Even when we finished college and started working, we used to find time to play on weekends. It kept us in touch with each other, and made us all happy. Then, life took friends to different places, making it difficult for us to meet so regularly. Now I play with my children and their friends on weekends. A short game with them gives me the same amount of pleasure as it does to them. This is just one example. We can pursue a hobby, learn a new skill, read a book or watch a movie to make us happy. Make a list of things that make you happy, and find time to do them. This could be one of your new year’s resolutions.  


Second, find your happiness in happiness of others. Ask yourself: What can I do today to make someone happy? Just look around and see people in your surroundings. You don’t have to do big things. Small acts like spending time with a lonely or elderly person will bring cheers to both. Buying gifts for those who generally don’t get gifts will do wonders to your spirits. One of my friends told me that he visits hospitals whenever he has the time to meet with poor patients who are admitted there. He spends time with them, buys them fruits and medicines. He says, “ the day I do this, I feel so happy with myself. I look forward to my next visit to them”. Through our small acts, we can help people, making them as well as ourselves happy.

 To conclude, let me share a couplet from a famous Urdu poet:

Ghar se masjid hai bahut door chalo yun hi sahi,

Kisi rote hue bachche ko hansaya jaye.

(the mosque is too far from home. So be it.

let’s make a wailing child laugh instead)


Wishing all a very Happy New Year 2009!


S.Mohammad Afsar/Opening doors