One teaching that I have continuously come across throughout my past research – and my current too – is that happiness and peace are found in elimination. I think that Bruce Lee put it nicely, “It isn’t the daily increase, but the daily decrease. Hack away at the unessential.”
We too often cram our lives with people, information, activities, and things. We know that at the end of it, we feel no happier than we did before.
Negativity, stress, and frustration often come from the world around us; too many inputs and too much information. Here is how I tackled this…
This evening, the lockdown announcement was made by the Prime Minister, of course, I watched that. Events like this can be classed as ‘major’, and sometimes we need to stay updated, but the rest of the media and news, I generally try to avoid.
Yes, the news is helpful, but for the most part, it portrays the negative, extreme, and biased viewpoints. Remember, what you take in as your reality, becomes your reality. Do we really want this? The Global Knowledge Quiz that you may have participated in – you still can at the website – indicates how much we truly don’t know about the world around us. Could the media and news be an influence here? Making us see things as ‘bad’?
Generally, the majority of news doesn’t affect us anyway. Okay, maybe this is slightly different given the current situation with the pandemic, but see for yourself. We only have a limited amount of energy each day, why do we want to waste it on negative things that we have no control over? I am not saying that we should be ignorant, this is nowhere near the truth, but it’s about knowing that certain things aren’t worth the impact on our own mental wellbeing.
The Social Network Illusion
The average person spends 2 hours and 24 minutes every day checking social media.
I reduced social media usage beginning Christmas time. You're probably thinking, “yeah right… Vinay and social media reduction?” Let me tell you the “how and why”.
I guarantee that at some point throughout the day, during your scroll through social media, you see something from someone you follow that is controversial, negative, arrogant, or that just generally makes you feel bad. Normally, I just unfollow or mute these people. But again, it comes to this idea of the finite energy that we have every day, and how we use it. You’ve heard this before, but I will reiterate it. People only share the best things that happen in their life on social media. There’s nothing wrong with that, why not share the good stuff? Dr. Meg Jay writes in The Defining Decade that people start to feel unhappy with their own lives in comparison and say things like, “My life should be more like on Facebook.” There is a growing tendency for individuals to become depressed and unhappy with their own lives, especially when it comes from the comparison to others. By limiting the usage of social media, it allowed me to focus on the present moment. Rather than spending hours being distracted by every notification and having to reply to every message within a minute, I was able to focus the time on there Here and Now. I still use social media, that’s how I stay connected to you all, but there’s a time and place. There is life outside of social media. We must all understand this. I noticed that I got a lot more ‘free’ time. I am now able to spend more time on my research, reading, studies, and my personal life.
So again, the average person spends 2 hours and 24 minutes every day checking social media. Cut out all that social media and news consumption for one week and notice the difference. Tell me about it, I will love to know.
The 80/20 Rule
The ‘80/20 Rule’ of Pareto’s Principle suggests that 20% of causes create 80% of effects. These are the questions I have been asking myself for the past two years:
What are the 20% of things that cause 80% of my happiness?
What are the 20% of things that cause 80% of my unhappiness?
Certain activities, people, and situations make me unhappy. I can’t control everything, but I can avoid certain areas. Often, just by removing a couple of things I don’t like, I feel significantly happier. You have to be ruthless, this is your life.
The Average of Five People
“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” - Jim Rohn
Read this quote again. It’s powerful. If we surround ourselves with miserable, negative, and unambitious people, they will inevitably bring us down to their level. Remove negative people from your life. If you can’t do that, minimise contact. I am not blaming or accusing any of your friends or family as a reason for your unhappiness. In fact, many of your friends will be your friends because they mirror your values, goals, and ambitions.
You can use Pareto’s Principle here as well. Which 20% of my friends, family, or close ones cause 80% of my unhappiness, anger, self-doubt, etc.?
Practice Doesn’t Make Perfect
Hear me out. There is nothing wrong with being ambitious. There is nothing wrong with having goals and aspirations. But never pursue anything to prove something to others. I say this so often, but, people are busy with their own lives to worry about yours. They too care about proving their self-worth and validating their existence. I have been guilty of this too, I won’t say I haven’t, but I pinpointed it as a cause of unhappiness and steered away. In fact, it was one of the very reasons I began writing.
Remember, perfection is ultimately unachievable. There is no level of achievement that will make me more worthy as an individual. Yes, I can improve certain skills, be more tolerant, kinder, patient, less judgemental, etc., but this doesn’t necessarily make me perfect.
Remove this endless chase for excellence and perfection. Do things out of enjoyment, love, and service. This will make you happier. It will make you flow.
History, science, and psychology prove to us that wealth, health, relationships, and possessions do indeed make us happier. But, we adapt. We lose that happiness, then we try to achieve something else, and we (the hamsters) continue to run on the wheel. This is known as the hedonic treadmill.
The truth is that if we can’t be happy without these things – if we can’t be happy with ourselves – then we will never be happy.
I am not saying that you shouldn’t strive for success and goals. But, if you believe that this will lead to happiness, you need a reality check. I strive to reach my goals without making my happiness dependent on them. Where did I learn this from? Shri Vasudev Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita 2.47. This creates freedom, ease, and peace.
Do not attach to life itself either. I know this may seem like a shock or counterintuitive, but face death. Being aware of death and mortality has immense power in itself. Where did I learn this from? Bhagwan Shri Swaminarayan in the Vachanamrut GIII-30. Many think that thinking about death causes sadness or ‘nihilism’, but in reality, it gives deeper appreciation and gratitude for the joys, pleasures, and opportunities they do have.
These little things – elimination – help us realise every day that happiness is always there, right in front of us. We just have to stop looking for it.