Source: Based on lecture/discussion sessions with Swami Devanand.
Edited by: Abhay B. Joshi
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.
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)
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.
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.