Secret for happiness?

Issue 21 - weekend newsletter

Sylvia Boorstein, one of America’s most respected teachers, a psychotherapist, peace activist, and grandmother was one of the guests at 10 Percent Happier. While giggling all the way during the hour-long podcast shares a story about a friend who passed away at the age of 30 due to breast cancer. As her time was closing in she started mending her relationships with her ex-husband, his wife and other people. She says to Sylvia, “I would rather not have cancer and not learn.”

One of the days while she was taking a walk and appreciating things in her life and nature, for the first time she felt okay about her ex. There was no negativity in her thoughts. And then she goes on telling how we should do a little bit of housekeeping of opinions, remove opinions that don’t matter and in a way make the mind sweeter.

“Kindness is a source of happiness and salvation.”

“People who are kind, attuned to the needs of other people and responding to them are happier people.” Her goal in life and in her practice is to create sweeter minds than wisdom. She also quotes one of the thoughts of Buddhism. “May all beings be peaceful and happy and end all the sufferings.” (Listen to this amazing lady, I immediately fall in love with her giggles and the way she talks.)

One of my guests on Insta Live earlier this week talked about Metta (Pali language) or Maitri which means benevolence, loving-kindness and active interests in others. It is the first of the four sublime states and one of the ten pāramīs of the Theravāda school of Buddhism. He was answering my question about what happiness means to him. “Happiness for me today is gratitude and appreciating things that I have in life whether it be family or work. Even the opportunity of pursuing my dream that I had in me for years.”

On the 10th day of Vipassana camp, when you break your silence you are taught why and how to do “Mangal Maitri” - a prayer to all living and non-living beings that all be happy and peaceful.

I have been practising Vipassana and terribly failing it but I make a point that when I end the session whether I do for an hour or 15 minutes, I make a point to do Mangal Maitri - asking that people who have been connected with me today or in the past should have a happy and peaceful life. For years I kept the anger and grudge burning in my heart. It made me worse and bitter. (I am not preaching you to follow Vipassana, please don’t listen to me, follow your own path and discover yourself.)

Today I don’t want to be successful or be the next thought leader or want to impress anyone. I just want to have a healthy mind and body. Which also means that when I interact with people, I shouldn’t come across as an arrogant prick. If they remember me then I want them to remember me as a human being. Trust me it is tough to change my habits of being a life long arrogant asshole but I am making an effort.

In 2019, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates while doing a "Ask Me Anything" on Reddit, was asked, “Are You Happy”. The world's second-richest man responded: “Yes! When I was in my 30s, I didn't think people in their 60s were very smart or had much fun. Now I have had a counter-revelation. Ask me in 20 years and I will tell you how smart 80-year-olds are.”

"When I was in my 20s and early 30s, I was fanatical about software. I didn't take vacations or weekends off and I wasn't interested in getting married. (Obviously, that changed when I met Melinda!)"

He also suggested that - “Put family first”. Gates's priorities shifted to more focus on family life and the special feeling of seeing his children excel in life.

All my life I believed that if I am professionally successful then I can have a better life and lead a family life. This is pure BS that thought leaders have been selling for years for their own profit. More money definitely doesn’t lead to a happy and successful life. Take the example of Lee Holloway who programmed the internet security firm Cloudfare into being. In a brilliant heart moving piece by Wired, it is told that Cloudflare IPO raised $525 million. Lee as one of the founders suddenly became a whole lot richer.

(Lee (centre) gathered with his family for Thanksgiving in 2016, including (from left) his brother Alaric; his wife, Kristin; his older son; his mother, Kathy; his younger son; and his father, Rendon. Artwork by Amy Friend; Photograph courtesy of Kristin Holloway)

But only if enough riches and money could make you happy. After a lot of pushing and chasing his second wife, Kristin along with his parents found out that Lee had frontotemporal dementia that refers to a cluster of neurodegenerative diseases that affect a person's behaviour or speech while leaving memory largely intact, at least early on. Unlike Alzheimer's disease, FTD isn't well known. It is a rare disease, affecting roughly one in 5,000 people, though many of the neurologists who study it believe it is underdiagnosed. 

This is Lee’s story, why he became apathetic, distant, and unpredictable—for a long time, no one could make sense of it. This is also the story of his family who stood with him and the story that makes you think and leaves you blank.

“Love and relationships are the ends - everything else is just the means,” says Scott Galloway in his book The Algebra of Happiness. “Love received is comforting, love reciprocated is rewarding, and love given completely is eternal.”

“Like someone who likes you.”

“What keeps us happy and healthy as we go through our life,” is the opening line of a psychiatrist and Zen priest Robert Waldinger’s TED talk. The Harvard Study of Adult Development may be the longest study of adult life that's ever been done. For 75 years, the team has tracked the lives of 724 men, year after year, asking about their work, their home lives, their health, and of course asking all along the way without knowing how their life stories were going to turn out.

The study revealed three big and important findings: 

  • The first is that social connections are really good for us and that loneliness kills.

  • The second big lesson is that it’s the quality of your close relationships that matters.

  • And the third big lesson is that good relationship don't just protect our bodies, they protect our brains.

The good life is built with good relationships.

The director closed his talk with a quote from Mark Twain. "There isn't time, so brief is life, for bickerings, apologies, heartburnings, callings to account. There is only time for loving, and but an instant, so to speak, for that."

One of the reasons for my failures in life has been that I never valued people because the ‘I’ in me was too big to take a look at the people who loved or cared about me. 

“When you get over yourself and value others then you live a fulfilled life,” author, speaker, coach, and world-renowned leadership guru, John Maxwell shares his thoughts in this amazing podcast with Shane Parrish.

“Attitude gives you no advantage during good times because, during good times, everybody has a good attitude. When things are going my way, my attitude is fine. But it’s when the adversity comes and the challenges come, that’s when my attitude becomes what I call the difference-maker.”

A creative head in my latest Insta Live shared that for him happiness is also being very clear that what he doesn’t want to do in his life. “I know what are the things that make me happy but at the same time, I know what are things that don’t make me happy. So they are a big No in my life.”

If you ask me, am I happy? The answer is out of 7 days I am happy the days when I am doing the things I love to do - working on my responsibility, writing, reading my book, speaking nonsense with my childhood buddy, working on the job that pays me, doing my work out, and trying out something new in the kitchen when I am allowed by my mother. 

In other words, I have also reached a stage where I know the things that don’t make me happy. In fact, last year when I decided to live my life rather than killing it in oblivion, the first thing I listed all the things that I don’t love or have made me regret. Post that life has been peaceful.

For me happiness today is to push myself to work on my responsibilities, to do things I love, and at the same time be a human being and not an asshole while interacting with others. While it might sound that I have reached a stage of Buddha but it is not. Life is a struggle and I fail every day but I push myself. For instance, today I didn’t want to do this weekend newsletter. Nobody would have given a damn about it but I am happy that I pushed myself.

I believe that is what matters, to do things that make you happy and peaceful. 

Now if you are still with me let me appreciate your patience and also give you a wrap up of my two stories I did this week.

With the ongoing lockdown, creative agencies are shooting on mobile with real people. But the challenge would be competing with TikTok.

Read: The new norm ad agencies can’t ignore

Consumer consumption on TV and mobile are increasing rapidly but brands are either pulling out or have stopped their media investments due to the ongoing COVID-19 which is a big worry for the Media and Entertainment industry.

Read: COVID-19 and dipping media budgets

That’s all for this week, thank you for reading my stories. I hope you are staying healthy and inside. I will see you next week with some more boring digital stories :)

Meanwhile, if you have time, then do read this beautiful poem from my friend Rumi - The Guest House.

This being human is a guest house.

Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,

some momentary awareness comes

As an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!

Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,

who violently sweep your house

empty of its furniture,

still treat each guest honorably.

He may be clearing you out

for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,

meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,

because each has been sent

as a guide from beyond.

— Jalaluddin Rumi, translation by Coleman Barks (The Essential Rumi)

Peace and happiness.