When sadness takes over, do you feel helpless and lost? Perhaps you even feel guilt or a sense of failure if you find that practicing meditation, mantras or gratitude doesn’t banish sadness and create instant happiness.
How would you feel if you knew you could control your happiness?
In my early years, I learned how to master the state of happiness. Today I will share with you that ancient wisdom.
What Really Makes You Happy?
Does enjoying a good cup of coffee make you happy? Does walking in nature or spending time with loved ones make you happy? You can probably think of many small things that have made you feel happy – activities you do every week, every day, or multiple times a day.
Those things seem to make you happy… but sometimes they don’t.
Having a cup of coffee or going for a walk is enjoyable and easy. So why can’t we rely on enjoyable things to create happiness whenever we want?
The answer lies in the difference between happiness and pleasure.
Happiness versus pleasure
Pleasure is the temporary gratification of any of our five senses. The five senses include touch, taste, smell, sound and sight. Often when we are enjoying our senses, we feel we are happy.
But it is not pleasure that makes us truly happy. That’s why having a cup of coffee cannot make you happy if you lose your job. You would probably barely even notice the taste and smell you usually enjoy. If you have a relationship breakup, eating pizza stops being about delicious cheesy pleasure and becomes little more than a distraction. It cannot take the sadness away.
The key lies in understanding what brings you happiness rather than pleasure.
Happiness is long-lived and leaves you with a feeling of contentment. It’s often affected by what expectations you set for yourself and those around you.
Read more on The 6 Pillars of a Happy Life.
How Expectations Affects Your Happiness
We all have expectations, many expectations. When all our expectations are satisfied at a particular moment, we feel happy in that moment.
For example, when you are having that cup of coffee, you are visualising:
- everything in life is going fine while I am enjoying this lovely smooth coffee.
This is most likely not an intentional visualisation, it’s just a natural product of how you see the world at the time. Your expectations are fulfilled, and everything is just as it should be, so you feel happy in that moment.
If suddenly you get bad news like being fired from your job, the same cup of coffee does not bring you happiness anymore. The coffee has not changed, it’s still the favourite blend you expected to taste - but your expectation of having a secure job has been shattered. The sadness of unfulfilled expectations can’t be balanced by mere sensory pleasure.
If you want to master happiness, make a list of your expectations in life.
Setting good expectations
Some of your expectations might involve good health, a secure financial situation, strong personal relationships or the good health of loved ones.
Mastering happiness requires an understanding that the shorter your list of expectations is, the bigger your chance of being happy. Putting that into action means finding ways to remove items from your list.
Have you listed expectations that are not directly in your control? You might wish you could control or even influence the health of your loved ones or the behaviour of people around you. But the truth is there are many things you cannot force into line with your desires and expectations.
So go back to your list and consider which items you cannot control and which items you can alter your expectations around. Would accepting the reality around certain items allow you to be happy even if that thing is not going exactly how you wish it would?
At it’s simplest, this is the Happiness Formula:
- High expectations = Low chance of happiness
- Low expectations = High chance of happiness
It’s important to acknowledge that the Happiness Formula doesn’t tell the whole story of happiness. You can’t decide to have zero expectations and therefore be permanently happy.
People are not supposed to be happy at all times.
Our modern consumerist society would like us to believe otherwise and encourages us to pursue happiness as if it’s the ultimate goal and badge of success. You might not have written “be happy all the time” or even “be happy more often” on your list of expectations. Still, most of us have expectations about how much happiness we deserve.
Happiness is an expectation that needs to be kept in line with what we can actually control.
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The Pendulum of Happiness
In yoga philosophy, happiness and sadness are two states of the mind - two sides of the same coin.
When you see one side of the coin, it’s a matter of time until you see the other side. That's the pendulum effect.
This is like day and night, also two sides of a coin. After night, the day will come. After day, the night will come. As the seasons flow, sometimes the days are longer, and the nights are shorter. Time passes, and slowly the days become shorter as the nights grow longer.
Do you need help dealing with the seasons of life? Read more: The Four Seasons of Life- How to Adapt & Thrive
Over a year, these changes cycle so that day and night stay balanced. Neither takes over. Neither becomes permanent.
And so it is also with happiness and sadness.
If you get attached to happiness and refuse to accept sadness, you will suffer and feel victimised. But if you know that sadness will come in the same ratio as happiness and the only way is to accept it, you will suffer less. You will feel calm because you know that this too shall pass.
Remember the words by Bhagavad Gita, ‘Wise men do not get entangled in the circle of happiness and sadness. They seek peace’.
Happiness and sadness are both temporary and constantly changing. They are often influenced by external factors you can’t control.
On the other hand, peace is the state of complete acceptance and is totally in your control.
When you accept happiness and sadness as temporary states of mind, you begin to master happiness. When you learn to accept happiness and sadness as normal, variable parts of life, you will reach the stage of peace.
In peace, you will experience complete control and contentment.