If you're struggling with how to define your life beyond material goods, Deepak Chopra has seven ways for you to make the shift, once and for all, to a purpose-driven life and authentic happiness.
One of the most positive ways to live is to look on every obstacle as a hidden opportunity. This holiday season poses huge challenges for those among us who have lost their jobs or feel financially insecure. Even if you don't fall into that category, the evening news brings worries on many fronts, from the deficit to terrorism. I'd like to propose that there is a common problem in all these things that you can turn into an opportunity.
The problem is how to be happy.
Right now, the American way of life defines happiness along lines that are quickly being outmoded:
You will be happy if you consume as much as possible.
You will be happy if you have money, the more the better.
You will be happy if you can distract yourself with video games, television, the Internet and movies .
You will be happy if you fall in love with "the right one" and raise a family in a house you own paid for by a secure job.
The current economic downturn has affected all these factors, and even before it happened, high divorce rates were undermining the traditional model of the American family, moving from job to job was becoming increasingly common and rates of depression, anxiety and drug use continued to soar. As a background to all these things, stress is rising in everyone's life.
Instead of ignoring these trends, why not go to the root of the problem, which is that we need a new way of being happy. What do divorce, terrorism, unemployment and buying big-screen TVs have in common? They all show that happiness can be taken away, because when you depend on anything outside yourself to make you happy, your happiness is vulnerable.
A new way to be happy would be based on the following new principles:
1. Life has a purpose. When you live up to that purpose, inner happiness develops.
2. Inner happiness can't be taken away .
3. In place of consumerism, you can base everyday happiness on relationships .
4. In place of distractions, you can fill your time with activities that make your heart grow .
5. You can find a place beyond fear that crises and anxiety cannot touch .
6. You can find a place of peace that stress cannot wear out .
7. Wellness will make your body happy .
If people took at a look at their lives and made real attempts to follow these seven principles, a new kind of happiness would be born that no one can take away. Let me go through each point briefly.
Apply each of the principles today
1. Life has a purpose. Because of a recent best-seller, the word "purpose" has acquired Christian overtones. That is by no means necessary. Every life needs a meaning, and the more inspiring that meaning, the better. What erodes happiness more than anything else is the loneliness and emptiness that results when you feel that your life has no meaning. Millions of people live by the slogan, "Family is everything," but it's not. Meaning and purpose are everything.
What kind of meaning should you seek? Here are the standard choices. Consider them as they apply to you.
Most people select a few of these, primarily family, friends, hobbies and work, which they hope will be enough. But what about the higher values, which will bring far more lasting, secure happiness? Among these I'd select love, giving, service and personal growth. If you leave these out, your happiness can be snatched away by losing your job or your friends. You run the risk of becoming an empty nester as your family grows up and moves away. Establish a higher purpose early in your life—preferably starting today—and your future won't be so vulnerable to change.
2. Inner happiness. We hear this phrase a lot, to the point that it becomes meaningless. All those models on TV look as if they gained inner happiness from a slim waist, the right makeup, good hair and being young. Real inner happiness is easy to measure, however. If you can sit by yourself, doing nothing to distract yourself, needing no one, and still feel happy, then you have achieved inner happiness. It is marked by feeling safe, knowing that you are enough, finding a core of peace and calm. I sometimes put all these factors into a single phrase: You are truly happy if being here is enough.
3. Focus on relationships instead of consumerism . America is a consumer economy driven by insatiable appetites for whatever is bigger, better, newer and more expensive. You and I aren't going to change that fact, but we can see through the glossy promise that consumerism makes you happy. It doesn't. Nor do heaps of money. Studies show that after a person has achieved enough money to cover life's necessities, the returns begin to diminish. The very rich are not happier than the rest of us, nor are winners of lotteries. In both cases, a huge surplus of money tends to bring out psychological flaws such as anxiety, greed and a fear of not having enough.
If you define yourself by what you own, trouble lies ahead, because you have left a hole where a self needs to be. It is far more important to have a secure, loving relationship that mirrors your true self. I know that this sounds much harder than buying a new computer or a faster car, because it is. But relationships can bring inner fullness; expensive things simply wear out.
Understanding more of the principles of real happiness
4. Stop being distracted. Distractions are nice for whiling away the time, but the more hours you spend bent over a video game or the Internet, the less time you have for things that matter. All of us know that having a full heart is important, but it requires time and attention. As children, we counted on our parents to be warm-hearted. Secure in that knowledge, we could play and be carefree. But when you grow up, no one can replace your own heart and its needs. By "heart," I mean emotional fulfillment, compassion, kindness, bonding—the whole emotional core of life. Distractions will never bring these things to you, and they are among the most necessary aspects of a happy life.
5. The place beyond fear. Modern life is marked by instant communication and global outreach. These are good things, but they also make everyday life seem much more fearful. We live in a world where total strangers living far away can harm us. There is no place safe from fear—except inside. You can't do much to reduce the causes of external worry; bad people and bad things have always been with us. But you can take care of your own tendencies to be afraid, worried and anxious. There is a place of safety inside, and if you can find it, you will find the kind of happiness that bad people and bad things cannot shake.
6. Peace instead of stress . We all know that life is stressful, but many people think of stress as an outside element such as bad traffic, pressure at work, kids who won't pay attention, etc. Actually, stress is a response. How you react to the outside world is far more important than any outside stressor.
There is a stress-free zone inside you, a place of peace. When you find this inner core of the self and learn to know it, external stress will not make you its prey. I don't mean that you zone out and contemplate your navel, to use the old cliché about Buddhism (which was never navel-gazing to begin with). When you find your own peace, outside stressors will still exist, but you will have a far different response to them. You will know what to fix, what to put up with, what to walk away from. Those are very basic decisions if you want to maintain your own happiness.
7. A happy body based on wellness . As part of the American way of life, people wait until they are sick before turning to fix-its, meaning drugs or surgery. We ignore wellness and prevention after decades of being told how valuable they are. Their value hasn't diminished. In fact, your body wants you to be happy and is constantly sending signals of either contentment or distress. By turning our backs on our bodies, we are depriving ourselves of a major ally in the campaign to find happiness.
I don't mean that you should get a gym card and start jogging, although both are positive lifestyle changes. Your body doesn't need to be thin, fit and beautiful to make you happy. It needs to talk to you, and you need to listen. All the things you can do to find inner happiness require the body; the mind isn't living in a separate balloon. You will never stick with the best regime of diet, exercise, stress reduction and meditation until your body is comfortable with it.
Wellness is a mind-body alliance. What I'm proposing is that you form such an alliance. Distractions take us away from our minds; consumption takes us away from our bodies. We have taken up these things because mind and body aren't at peace with each other. Yet mutual peace is their natural state. Once you know that, you can go beyond superficial images about what makes for a good body. A good body is one that makes you happy because it supports you in wholeness.
In the end, wholeness is the keyword if you want the kind of happiness that can't be taken away. I've written much more about this in a new book, The Ultimate Happiness Prescription , but here in capsule form you've heard what it takes to be happy in a new way. Having spent so much time trying to be happy the old way—and not truly succeeding—we should realize that there is a new way. It could change your life right now.
Deepak Chopra is the author of more than 50 books on health, success, relationships and spirituality, including his current best-seller, Reinventing the Body, Resurrecting the Soul , and The Ultimate Happiness Prescription , which are available now. You can listen to his show on Saturdays every week on SiriusXM Channels 102 and 155.
What brings you happiness? Can you apply these seven principles of happiness to your life? Share your thoughts.
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Printed from Oprah.com on Monday, March 10, 2014
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