Miscellaneous Topics

Source: Based on lecture/discussion sessions with Swami Devanand.

Edited by: Abhay B. Joshi


What is the deal with happiness?

We are not happy because we forget to be happy. We have the twin curse of selective perception – we only notice things that cause unhappiness – and selective memory – we only remember unhappy moments. We become unhappy easily – sickness, failures, disappointments, criticism, fear of future etc. But we forget to be happy about food, sunrise, sunset, nature, friends, good news, good health, being alive, and so on.


You can reduce unhappiness by understanding what causes you unhappiness and trying diligently to avoid them – of course not all causes can be avoided. And you can increase happiness by simply learning to notice the numerous moments of happiness that pass by you every day.


The formula for happiness is simple: "stay involved". Realize that you are a part of this universe and stay connected with it. Whether it's the people around you, the trees and animals, the mountains and rivers, or the vast universe inside of you, pick what suits you and stay connected with it. How you want to be involved is also your choice: you could simply observe and try to understand/appreciate, or you could try to contribute to it in some way.

What is Success?

I think success has a different meaning for an individual and for a community. Let me speak about what it means for an individual.


For an individual, to succeed means to feel satisfied about your accomplishments. As I have noted elsewhere there are multiple lanes in the highway of life, such as, career, social life, etc. If you feel good about your achievements on each of these fronts, you are a successful person. Of course, your success might be a mixed bag: you may feel great about your work in certain areas, but not so great about some others.


It should be obvious that the test I have suggested does not take into account the world’s view of your accomplishments, but only your own. You don’t bother with how others measure your achievements; only your own judgment matters. Of course, this is easier said than done. It often takes effort to distinguish between these two aspects.


It should also be clear that to be successful you must be interested in life, and have the drive to achieve something in every walk of life. You must recognize your gifts, talents, and interests, and try to do something with them. Since you don’t care about others’ expectations, you don’t have to worry about your weaknesses. You try to overcome a weakness only if you feel strongly about it or if it comes in the way of something that you want to do.


I always prefer the phrase “try to do something” rather than “do something”, because the latter has a connotation of achieving results. You can only control your effort; results are governed by external, often random factors.


Then, there is a finer point about setting goals and tying “success” with the achievement of those goals. I do not agree with this strategy because, goals are always difficult to set properly, i.e. in a way that they are reasonable and in tune with your abilities and interests. Secondly, goals are set without any knowledge whatsoever of what the numerous (and often random) factors that would affect the actual attainment of those goals. Hence, in my opinion, goals are best used to determine the direction for your effort, but success should always be seen in retrospective, i.e. you will know when you feel good about some achievement.


Happiness is related to success, but not always so. Even if you don’t care about achievements you could still be quite content and happy. There are numerous individuals who carry through life doing nothing to build a career, make friends, learn about nature, maintain a healthy body, or help others, but are still quite happy. Whether you want to lead such a life is completely up to you.


What are the most valuable personal resources?

I am sure there are several, but, I will only mention a few that we are more prone to waste! Each of them is worth talking as a separate topic, but, since we are short of time, I will only discuss them briefly.


I am thinking of health, time, money, and people!


I don’t think I need to convince you that “health” is a precious resource. Sadly, we still do not pay enough attention to this valuable resource, and waste it away through bad habits and poor attention.

(Editor’s note: See a separate article on health by Swami Devanand)


Every one of us has a fixed amount of time available in life – we don’t even know how much. We must avoid wasting time. And you are the best judge of whether you are wasting your time. Use your brain and decide if a particular activity is wasteful or not. The key is to apply such introspection from time to time!

(Editor’s note: See a separate article titled “tyranny of time” by Swami Devanand)


Spiritually speaking, money is treated as meaningless, worthless. But, I don’t entirely agree. Money is a precious and powerful resource that you must use carefully – whether for selfish purposes or charitable. You can’t really control how much money you will have and how much you will need. So, it makes sense to spend it judiciously. Once again, you are the best judge of whether you are wasting your money. Use your brain and decide if a particular expense is wasteful or not. The key is to apply such introspection from time to time!


Finally, people! I am not saying that you should view people simply as a “material resource”. No! What I mean is this: people that care for you are a precious resource – one that you have no control on and one that is extremely valuable for your well-being and happiness. So, while you have no control on making friends, at least make sure you are not losing them due to your stupidity and carelessness. Be gentle with them.

(Editor’s note: See a separate article on relationships by Swami Devanand)




What do you think about getting feedback from others about your work, performance, or qualities? How do you deal with feedback?

Whenever I got critical feedback from others, whether solicited by me or not, I used to spend considerable amount of time dwelling over it. Although some of the feedback was useful and constructive, most of it, I found, was either useless (i.e. I couldn't do much about it) or just plain wrong (according to my own analysis). Besides the waste of time, this whole thing also caused considerable stress.


So, I started relying more on my own critical analysis, and gave the process a certain periodicity. I also learnt to discard useless feedback (whether my own or external) very quickly.




Bowing: does it make sense?

Most cultures ask people to bow in front of a variety of things. The Indian culture, for example, asks people to bow in front of God's images - which seem to be all over the place. It also asks children to bow in front of older people and show respect. Many people question this custom. For me, it is very simple: when you bow in front of any image or person, you should bow to the image in your mind of what/who you believe in. For example, if you believe in Lord Ganesh, simply bring his image in your mind whenever you bow - whether to a tree or a person.


But, why not just refuse to bow, when you don’t believe in such gestures? I think it’s your choice. For me, if I think my bowing will make someone feel better, I don’t mind doing it. Beliefs are purely mental; I am not sacrificing anything by bowing.


So, my advice is to bow as often as you can! It is also a good exercise for your back.


Omar Khayyam's views:

Omar Khayyam did not believe in after-life and in heaven and hell. He believed in the present life and its utmost importance. He stressed the temporary nature of life and insisted on making the most of it (using the metaphor of "wine"). He made fun of religious priests and practices. He also believed in pre-ordained destiny and believed there was nothing we could do to change it. He prodded his reader to not waste time in silly things since life is so short.