Why is it that some of us bounce back from rough times, and others of us get sucked under? The spiritual teacher and author of the new book, The Future of God, shows us how to help ourselves and the people we care about.
By Deepak Chopra
Happiness has never been a simple matter. What makes us happy as children is much simpler than what makes us happy as adults -- and grown-up happiness tends to be bittersweet. You may find someone you deeply love, yet there are always compromises in the relationship, along with arguments, disappointments and tough obstacles for both people. In polls, around 80 percent of Americans say that they are happy; but no one has ever discovered what exactly makes someone happy. My idea of happiness might make you miserable, and vice versa.
Let's cut to the most basic questions. Can you be happy every minute of the day? No. Does romantic love guarantee happiness? Does having a baby? No to both questions. Is happiness hard work? Most people find it so. Compared to a person's dream of perfect happiness, these are discouraging answers. But I think the situation contains possibilities and rewards that most of us never suspect. Achieving perfect happiness is possible. It simply requires a major sacrifice: You must give up your assumptions about what will make you happy.
The world's wisdom traditions, from the Indian Vedas to Buddhism and Christianity, have examined human happiness and unhappiness in depth. The points these traditions make do not fit into our Westernized, capitalistic culture and are not what you'd expect:
1) Pleasure isn't the same as happiness, and getting more pleasure isn't what will make you happy.
2) Unhappiness is rooted in not knowing who you really are.
3) Relying on another person's love to make you happy means that they also have the power to take your happiness away. Even the prospect of this is enough to make happiness feel insecure.
4) Eternal happiness isn't a matter of finding your way to paradise, but of contacting the bliss that's a fundamental aspect of pure consciousness. To capture such bliss personally requires some lifestyle adaptations.
Let's expand on the last point, since the promise of happiness as an inner state -- one that nobody can take away from you -- depends on what you're willing to do to realize it.
1) Live close to nature's rhythms and cycles, especially with regard to getting good sleep and going out into natural beauty on a regular basis.
2) Reduce external stressors, making a serious effort to live and work in a positive environment.
3) Make time every day to relax. Make time every day to play.
4) Let your brain experience the quiet inner state that is the gateway to higher consciousness. Meditation takes you on the inward path, but there are similar traditions and techniques of prayer, contemplation, self-reflection and Hatha Yoga.
5) Limit the toxicity of alcohol, tobacco and adulterated food. Favor a natural, organic diet whenever possible. Drink pure water; breathe pure air.
6) Dedicate your primary relationship to mutual happiness. Work together so that your partner's happiness feels as fulfilling as your own.
7) Avoid the daily temptations of negativity, such as gossip, dwelling on bad news, venting our anger and impatience and blaming others.
8) Take responsibility for your own happiness.
9) Aim at the highest kind of happiness, which is spiritual and devoid of ego.
10) Enjoy the lifelong project of building a self, because it is the prospect of a fulfilled self that brings satisfaction even in the face of resistance, obstacles and setbacks.
Despite the disappointments you've already experienced, happiness is achievable beyond anything you've imagined. The secret is to realize that happiness isn't a mood, it's the most natural way to feel, something we all knew as children. Life becomes more complex as we grow up, but that fact doesn't take away our birthright. It just means that we must apply our awareness, getting past the obstacles that hide the underlying happiness that is always there, waiting to be awakened.
Deepak Chopra is the author of The Ultimate Happiness Prescription, and the upcoming book The Future of God. Join him on Oprah's The Life You Want Weekend tour this fall.