Focus On What’s Going Well

SF - 2 - February 2019

When parents notice their child struggling with a particular subject in school, the instant reaction is to find a tutor for that subject or to send the child for remedial classes. The remedial classes, extra study and effort might bring that student’s weak subject up to power with the stronger ones and I think that’s a good thing. But what often get missed out are the strengths that the student has. A student who is extremely good in the English language but is struggling with Math might spend a lot of time and effort to improve his Math but lose out on the opportunity of building on his real strength of English. This is what I call the Weakest Link Approach. The mindset of focusing on what’s going wrong and what’s not working, while completely neglecting what’s going well. I also see this at play when organizations call me in as a consultant and tell me about everything that is a problem or everything that is not going well. Almost entirely overlooking the things that their people are good at and the things that the organization is doing well. And there’s always something that people are good at and there’s always something going well in any system. Focusing on that is what I call the Strongest Link Approach. The mindset of first accepting that there’s always something going well, focusing on it and eventually allowing that to expand.

To start using this in your own life, just follow this three step process.

  1. Start by first making a list of at least 20 things that you are grateful for. This is a good primer to help you set the right tone and get moving in the right direction. If you can’t think of at least 20 things in your life that you are grateful for, then it’s important to work on doing that first before proceeding. This helps you work on yourself from a point of power, abundance and gratitude.

 

  1. The second step is to think about what specifically might have helped you have some of those 20 things that you are grateful for. Write down three things that are going really well that you can do something about. These could be your strengths, a life situation, an area of your life, something that you possess, etc.

 

  1. Step three is to do at least one thing everyday that helps you focus on and build on what’s already going well in your life.

For example, if three things that I am grateful for are my house, my health and my job. Then the second thing I would do is to think about three things that are really going well. Maybe, in my case, it is the fact that I live in a house that I own, so I don’t have to pay rent. I am in a state of health because I work out everyday. Finally I am in a job that I enjoy because I have the skills that are required for excellence in my job. The third step then would be to do one thing everyday that helps me build on what’s going well. Perhaps take better care of the house that I own and do one thing everyday to keep it clean and looking great. Maybe going for a five kilometer walk everyday or learning martial arts to further improve my health. I might also join a course and spend an hour everyday to read, learn new things and practice and improve the very skills that are getting me to excel at my job.

In the end, what you focus on expands. Since there is enough that is going well for all of us, it totally makes sense to focus on them and allow them to expand to all other areas of our lives.

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The Five Levels Of Happiness

Sometimes, it’s worth admitting that happiness is not as easy as saying “either I’m happy, or I’m not.” Like most other things, there are shades of happiness and sadness that one might go through. While there’s no end to the number of different levels that one can break down happiness into, for the purpose of this article, I’ll stick to just five. Here’s how they unfold.

Being Happy

This is the level of happiness where you feel good, content, glad, joyful, blissful, cheerful or whatever the feeling of happiness means to you. The reason why you feel this way is immaterial. What’s more important is that you’re feeling the emotion of happiness.

Being Sad

While I would still call this a level on the happiness scale, what it really signifies is a lack of it. It’s important to realize here, that not only are you not feeling happy, you are feeling down, gloomy, depressed, wretched, miserable or whatever the feeling of sadness means to you. Once again, the reason why you feel this way is immaterial. What matters is that you’re feeling the emotion of sadness.

Being Neutral

This is an interesting level on the happiness scale. Here, you are not feeling happy but you are not feeling sad either. You’re not glad but nor are you gloomy. A lot of us go through such states almost unnoticed. A regular and insignificant day in some people’s lives could feel like this. You wake up in the morning, you get ready, get to work, nothing good or bad happens in office. Then you get back home, it’s a regular evening even at home and nothing that you consider good or bad happens at home either and you get to bed. So, were you happy? No. Were you sad? No. You were feeling neutral.

Being Sad About Being Sad

At this level on the happiness scale, you are not just feeling sad but feeling sad about your sadness. These are times when someone is experiencing sadness and perhaps telling themselves, “why me?”, “why does this have to happen to me always”, or “this sadness will never go away”, etc. The point is that there is pondering and rumination about the sadness that in turn makes the person feel even sadder. This is a meta state and actually is a few notches below just feeling sad.

Being Happy About Being Happy

At this level on the happiness scale, you are not just feeling happy but feeling happy about your happiness. This is when you’re experiencing happiness and that happiness is bolstered and boosted up by thoughts like, “wow! I feel so good”, “this good feeling is really awesome”, “I’m so fortunate to feel so happy”, etc. Eventually, all these positive thoughts about you happiness actually make you feel even happier than you already are. This again is a meta state of happiness and is a cut above even the state of merely being happy.

If you visualize this as different levels, from low to high, at the lowest level would be, “Being Sad About Being Sad”. Just about that level would be, “Being Sad”. This would be followed by “Being Neutral” which is just above and bang in the middle. One level above being neutral is “Being Happy”. Finally, the level that tops all the others is “Being Happy About Being Happy”. If there is one thing that I want to convey through the description of the levels of happiness, it’s this. It’s alright to feel neutral or even to feel sad. When that happens, feel the emotions that you’re going through and carry on with your life. Do what you need to do. This will keep you from spirally downward into mild or deeper states of sadness. If you really want to contemplate and ponder, do that with the happy states that you go through and the positive emotions that you experience. That’s something that will make your happiness sprout and blossom.

 

 

Things Are Seldom What They Seem

Article in the Mindscape Section of the October 2018 Issue of Stayfit Magazine by Vinesh Sukumaran

The title of this article is a recurrent theme in conversations between a really close friend of mine and me. She sees these words as pearls of wisdom passed on to her by her mother. And having had several long and interesting conversations with her, even I begin to see the relevance and applicability of the statement in several walks of life.

One of the big lessons that I’ve learnt as an organizational development consultant is not to judge organizations or people by their appearance. And over the years, I’ve become extremely slow to judge people. I might be quick to observe something or quick to comment and give feedback but I’ve become really slow to judge people and organizations. The reason is simply because of the number of times that I’ve been wrong and after a point, I realized that evidence and actual facts must always overshadow gut feelings, impressions and opinions. Here are some examples.

I’ve consulted with quite a few organizations which have an absolutely professional image from the outside or the way they’re portrayed on the internet but when I get in as a consultant and start working with them, I start seeing the real picture. Professional and otherwise well respected organizations filled with dirty politics, poor culture and even corrupt and unethical working styles. I’ve seen individuals in organizations, like a really tough manager who is considered a great business negotiator by all. When I start working with him one on one as a coach, I start to see how insecure he really is about his position in the organization. Likewise a really charismatic, good looking and confident woman who from the outside looks like she has it all figured out and is living a wonderful life. Through a series of conversations brings out the horrible difficulties in her personal life and how much validation she actually seeks from others. I’ve also noticed this in relationships. Couples portraying an image of being really happy on social media. Posting pictures of fancy holidays and thoughts that others can only marvel at, thinking how blessed this wonderful couple must be. Only to find out a few weeks later that they are on the verge of an inevitable divorce.

Of course even the opposite is true. Some of the most timid and meek looking people might actually have strong and unshakeable conviction in who they are and hearts of pure iron. A married couple without kids who seem like they are living a mundane and lukewarm life from the outside might actually be sharing the highest amount of respect for each other and enjoying the wildest sex. And organizations that are located in an almost battered bungalow away from the buzz and other IT parks showing the highest level of professionalism and clocking incredible profits.

My basic massage to you is that a lot of things in life might look great or horrible from the outside, but that is not an indicator of what the truth might actually be. Going with what things seem like is a classic mistake a lot of folks make. It pays to dive in and explore what things are for real. It’s typically what happens when people choose a career path or shift careers. Almost every career looks great from the outside. It is when you step in and when the tyre meets the road that you truly understand what working in that field feels like. Even people who want to become Bollywood or Hollywood stars often underestimate the amount of hard work, early mornings and practice it might take to look good on screen.

Excerpts from this old piece by Gilbert and Sullivan also called “Things Are Seldom What They Seem” sums this up really well.

 

Things are seldom what they seem,

Skim milk masquerades as cream;

Highlows pass as patent leathers;

Jackdaws strut in peacock’s feathers.

 

Black sheep dwell in every fold;

All that glitters is not gold;

Storks turn out to be but logs;

Bulls are but inflated frogs.

 

Drops the wind and stops the mill;

Turbot is ambitious brill;

Gild the farthing if you will,

Yet it is a farthing still.

 

Though to catch your drift I’m striving,

It is shady? It is shady;

I don’t see at what you’re driving,

Mystic lady? Mystic lady.

 

Slow Is Better Than Fast

Article in the Mindscape Section of the January 2018 Issue of Stayfit Magazine by Vinesh Sukumaran

One of Google’s philosophies listed in the “about” page of their website is “Fast is better than Slow”. Google calls this one of the ten things that they know to be true. That might work perfectly for a corporate giant like Google, but not necessarily for human beings.

I have a friend who went on a weight-loss mission last year. His goal was to get MBA admissions into a B-school in the U.S., and after that, his immediate goal was to drop to below eighty kgs. He was 103 kgs when he started and had never dieted in his life, ever. So when he started walking about 10 kilometres every day and went on a strict diet, his body responded phenomenally well. He dropped exactly 24 kgs in two months. It was an incredible success story despite the fact that the suits and other clothes that he’d gotten stitched to take to the U.S. were loose and dangly by the time he left. Here’s what happened when he got to the U.S. His workload increased, academics and deadlines took priority, and since he was on a student budget, he succumbed to the quickest escape route of eating junk food. Suddenly there was no time to even sleep, let alone walk or exercise. The long and short of it is that he put on about half the weight he had lost in about six months and the rest of it thereafter. If this trend continues, he’ll soon be heavier than he ever was.

‘Fast is better than slow’ is a great philosophy for the speed of website searches, automobile performance or Amazon deliveries. In the case of health and wellbeing, it rarely works. Of late, I’ve been suggesting to anyone who’s on a weight-loss programme to just focus on losing 1 kilogram a month. This will ensure that in two years you lose 24 kgs, and this is exactly the kind of weight loss that sticks. What a lot of people don’t realise is that a crash diet, quick-fix exercises or workouts and the related plunge in bodyweight are like stop-gap arrangements. To become slim and fit requires you to become a different person – a person with different habits, behaviours and a new mindset. Sudden changes that happen often impact just the physical dimension but leave the mental side of the person untouched. On the contrary, when you lose weight progressively, it means that you’ve been working out regularly; you’ve stood the test of time as far as your new diet is concerned, and you’ve made fitness and exercise a way of life rather than a short-term arrangement.

Now that’s just one example. There are tonnes of others. In the travel industry, there is the whole phenomenon of quick travel and package trips. In my view, that’s one of the worst ways to see a country or a city and also to approach travel in general. It only works for those for whom visiting places is more of a tick mark than an experience. I recently met someone who went on a package trip to ten countries in fifteen days, and when he was showing me the photographs of his trip on his phone, even he could barely decipher one place from the other. In many of the big cities, people are accustomed to rush out of bed in the morning, rush through their morning chores and breakfast, rush to work, rush through their workday, rush back home in the evening, rush to the gym if they’re lucky, rush through their workout and get back home to rush to bed. This rushing mindset and lifestyle is the opposite of enjoying life. I also see a lot of people wanting to get rich fast and retire fast, as if work life is a horrible dungeon to quickly escape from.

The real solutions lie in slowing down. As you start imbibing this idea of living a slow and relaxed life, do it slowly. Don’t rush into the idea of slowing down. Start by doing one activity every day slowly. Maybe have your coffee tomorrow morning slowly. Very slowly. Make sure you really enjoy every sip of it. Once you’ve done that, don’t be in a hurry to add two activities the next day. Stick with a slow morning coffee every day for a month. If you catch yourself naturally doing a few other things slowly during the month, then good for you. But don’t push it. After a month, add another activity. Maybe you can take a slow walk around your block after dinner or read a book slowly before going to bed. Do this for a month and then add one more activity. If you do this, you’ll begin to notice that you’re also learning to give yourself time in other areas of life. If you want to go on a diet, don’t change your entire diet overnight. Start with one small change. If you eat four slices of bread, two fried eggs and some butter and jam every morning, then just start by reducing the quantity of butter to half of what you normally eat. Then you can reduce two fried eggs to two boiled eggs. Then keep progressively changing things till you reach your ideal diet.

This is what the ‘Slow Is Better Than Fast’ philosophy is all about. If you were reading this and thinking that one month is too long of a time or one activity a day is too less of a change, then you are exactly the kind of person who might need this approach the most. Life is not meant to be a speed test; it’s meant to be a slow and ornate experience of our existence.

Four Ways To Develop New Beliefs

Article in the Mindscape Section of the November 2017 Issue of Stayfit Magazine by Vinesh Sukumaran

When I conduct training or coaching sessions for my clients, one of the things that I almost always have to deal with is helping clients develop new beliefs. A person who believes in his or her potential to change and develop is infinitely more likely to produce desired results than a person who does not. It doesn’t matter what you’re trying to achieve, losing weight, getting a six pack, finding a new job, attracting your ideal life partner, making more money or even trying to find peace of mind or become happier. If you’ve already believed strongly enough, you would already have achieved what you wanted in that area. You might be more in need of belief, in an area of your life where you are struggling to achieve your goals and live the life you want. Here are four methods that have helped a lot of my clients and they’re bound to work for you as well. These are unlike the usual suspects of writing down your goals or visualizing them.

  1. Spend Time With People Who Believe

Going beyond clichés like “birds of a feather flock together” and “you are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with”, there is some truth in the amount we might absorb from the people we hang out with. So spend time with people who already have the kind of beliefs that you are trying to develop. If you are trying to run a marathon, go join a runners’ club and get into the circle of people who’ve already run a couple of marathons. You’re bound to pick up their vibes, their vocabulary, their habits and eventually their beliefs.

  1. Flood Yourself

Imagine you are down with a viral and are going to meet a new doctor. What would make you feel better? Hearing success stories of about the number of people the doctor has cured or hearing of the number of people who have gotten worse after meeting that doctor? In order to build your belief in a particular area, flood yourself with supportive information by reading books, watching videos or even talking to people who would tell you things to strengthen your belief rather than weaken or even shatter it. If you joined a martial arts class after watching a documentary on martial arts and getting inspired by the health and wellbeing benefits of martial arts, then do things to keep that flame alive. Read articles about the health benefits of martial arts, watch some more documentaries or even take some seasoned martial artists our for lunch or dinner and understand how the art has helped improve their lives.

  1. Do At Least One Thing Everyday

A lot of books and self-help gurus have greatly under estimated the power of action. Belief and action almost feed on each other. Do at least one thing everyday that will add to your belief. If you are trying to learn a new language, learn at least a few words in that language a day or look up what courses are available in your city, or get in touch with a person who can teach you that language or even buy a book or download a language learning app. Any of these will take you a step closer to your goal. Each time you do this, a small ounce of belief is built into your system. And with each tiny increase in your belief, the more likely you are to take more action and eventually your belief and your action will nurture each other to drive you forward.

  1. Don’t Be Obsessed

There is something about being desperate to achieve you goal, that causes your goal to evade you. People who are passionate about something, have a positive outlook towards what they’re trying to achieve. On the other hand, people who are obsessed about something are almost functioning from a place where they feel failure is imminent. I’ve often seen people desperately trying to get married, desperately trying to have kids, desperately trying to make money and some even desperately trying to get happier and it never works. Don’t be a victim of the missing tile syndrome, where your entire life starts revolving around the one thing that you don’t have in life because you don’t have supporting beliefs in that area. Take steps towards building new beliefs but don’t forget to continue living your life and enjoying the things you already have.

If after following the above four tips, you’re still struggling to develop new beliefs, then you might want to sit back and think about whether you actually want those beliefs. The reason you might now believe that you can buy a mansion in an elite neighbourhood could be because, in your heart you don’t actually want to go live in such a neighbourhood. The reason you don’t believe that you can get a higher paying job might be because way down inside, you don’t want to work any harder or take on more responsibilities. The reason you don’t believe that you can recover completely from a health problem is likely to be because the health problem is your perfect alibi for your underachievement in other areas of your life.

The Real Art Of Doing Nothing

Article in the Mindscape Section of the October 2017 Issue of Stayfit Magazine by Vinesh Sukumaran

In the consulting work that I do, I now see people realizing the downsides of the erstwhile buzzword of multitasking. Managers and leaders are now starting to feel that trying to do several things at the same time and at breakneck speed doesn’t just have poor productivity and quality implications but also takes a toll on a person’s health and overall wellbeing. Quality over Quantity is a more meaningful mantra and one that spreads beyond product and service portfolios and into the lives and lifestyles of people.

When I’ve asked several of these overloaded and often overworked multitaskers of what they really look forward to doing during their breaks or times off from work, I hear a range of things from outdoor adventure to meeting friends for a drink. But one recurrent response that frequents the list is “Doing Nothing”. While most of us know logically that it’s impossible to actually do “Nothing”, it’s also true that we know what people more or less mean when they say that. “Doing Nothing” is a great way to increase you sense of wellbeing and experience more bliss in life. It’s perhaps the opposite of multitasking and here are a couple of ways in which you can actually “Do Nothing”.

Cut yourself off from technology. While it might be difficult for some of us to cut ourselves completely away from technology, start with what is doable. Stop watching television, turn off the radio, switch off the mobile phone or lock up your laptop. If all this sounds impossible, just start with one of them and do it for just one day in a month. You can then move it to two days in a month and so on. The idea is not to become a recluse but to give yourself the opportunity of experiencing the wonderful feeling of nothingness every once in a while.

Slow down. If the above suggestion seems like a bit of a jump, just try consciously slowing down. If you take 30 minutes to drive to work, leave a little earlier and for a change, just drive slowly to work. If you live in a big city this might irritate the daylights out of a lot of people on the streets, but that’s alright. Because this is about you experiencing the feeling of doing Nothing, not them. Wake up a little earlier so that you can eat a slow breakfast. Drink a slow cup of tea or coffee or even just a glass of water. Read a book slowly while you enjoy it, or even have a slow shower if you like.

Do what you love. Interestingly this is what a lot of people mean when they say “Do Nothing”. They mean doing exactly what they want to, for as long as they want to, or even doing what they really love doing in life. When clients I coach tell me that they want to Do Nothing, I ask them, “Like what?” and they say something to the effect of, “Like take a vacation” or “Like read a book” or “Listen to music” or “Have a long and relaxed brunch with friends” or “Take long walks” or “Lie down by the ocean and look at the blue sky”, etc. All of these are specific things to do and yet what they have in common is that they are things that these people really really want to do.  So, if you want to do nothing, start with doing what you really love.

Stroll. Get out of your house and take a walk, but aimlessly. We’re so used to doing activities with an agenda that we mostly walk only to get somewhere. Even people who go on a morning or evening walk have a mental target of finishing the walk and getting back home. This time, just try walking without any specific destination in mind. Resist the urge to go somewhere as that would take away from the Nothingness of the activity. Just stroll around without any specific plan or place in mind. The idea obviously is not get lost but to go with where your instinct takes you and to let your legs guide your direction. Doing this for just 30 minutes is a great way to get a sense of Doing Nothing.

Finally, If the above things don’t really work for you, or you think that they’re way too bizarre or beyond your control, at least stop multitasking. Try doing just one thing at a time. While driving, just drive. Resist the urge to talk on the phone or listen to the radio. While you eat a meal, just eat your meal, avoid conversations or discussions. And while you’re reading an article in a magazine, shut off all other distractions.

 

The Ripple Effect

Article in the Mindscape Section of the September 2017 Issue of Stayfit Magazine by Vinesh Sukumaran

The Ripple Effect is a phenomenon that occurs all around us and refers to how small changes that happen at a micro level have far greater implications and reach at a macro level than we could possibly imagine. The positive changes that people make in their own behavior will not just impact them but the people around them, their friends, relatives or colleagues, their environments and so on. And this is obviously true even of their negative behaviors.

The manner in which this works is that there are several factors at play when it comes to how we influence one another. One great explanation is through the role of mirror neurons. These are neurons in our brain that cause us to experience what people around us are going through even though we are not directly under the receiving end of the stimuli or situations that cause those experiences. For example when we see a person in real life or even on screen crying, we might get teary eyed or cry. Another big explanation is how we learn and develop new behaviors through the process of modeling others around us. Right from when we are little children, we tend to imitate others and through this imitation, we learn new skills, languages as well as typical reactions to different situations. This is also at play in the Ripple Effect. So what eventually happens is that when we demonstrate a certain behavior, others around us pick up traces of it and that gets passed on the people around them and it’s like the domino effect. Since most of the work that I do is with corporates, an example of the Ripple Effect that comes to mind is related to the corporate world. There are several companies, where the founder or the head of the company is at the center of the ripple that spreads all around him. For example, Richard Branson’s adventurous spirit and customer orientation percolates to the entire Virgin staff and even to the policies of the company. The no leave policy that they launched a couple of years ago gives the employees the freedom to work from where they want and to be on leave as and when they feel like, as long as their work gets done. Likewise, Google that was started by two PhD. Students from an ivy league has the practice of taking people who are also from premier educational institutions while Apple that was started by a college dropout boasts of enough examples of artists and poets who built their wonderful products.

My thoughts on this phenomenon are mostly related to how powerful it can be as a way to bring about change. Since you spread both your positive and negative behaviors and mindsets with the same intensity, there is a lot that you can do to ensure that the people and environments around you are positively impacted. If you don’t want to do anything else to make your life and the lives of people around you better, at least don’t spread negativity. In fact, doing nothing would be a far better contributor.

 

Don’t Postpone Your Meaningful Life

Article in the Mindscape Section of the August 2017 Issue of Stayfit Magazine by Vinesh Sukumaran

While I was researching a recent wellbeing project, one of the things that caught my eye was how important it is for people to have meaning in their lives. Though, as an idea, this is rudimentary, the number of different areas where the power of meaning is at play is incredible. While this can be comprehended by the amount of importance “meaning” is increasingly being given in the field of psychology, it’s also something that most of us understand intuitively.

Here are a couple of things that you can do right now to bring more meaning into your life. The first one is called “Coherence or Congruence”. Nothing could be worse than a person being someone he or she is not and living a life that they actually don’t stand for. And yet, it amazes me how many people actually do. Quite often, through the corporate consulting work that I do, I find people working for the wrong companies, playing the wrong roles and many who are even stuck in the wrong situations or relationships for years. They just continue doing it because they are used to it and by now it seems too late to try something different or start something else from scratch. While the work of geniuses like Viktor Frankl talk about how to deal with this, I think there is real value in actually solving the problem by perhaps getting into the job of your dreams or pursuing the kind of life that you actually feel you deserve. While Frankl talks about finding meaning even in a concentration camp, it is important to realize that today we are not in concentration camps and we could actually walk out of our hells if we so desired and planned it well enough.

I’d like to call the second “Near Death Experience”. It’s not uncommon for people who’ve had a near death experience to come back to life with new zest and meaning. People sometimes see the value and meaning in life only when they’ve been that close to dying. It reminds me of Steve Jobs’s famous Stanford speech, where he says “No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there”. I recently went to a critical cancer care center in my city and was surprised to see how many people actually got the counselors there to call their estranged family members, friends or business partners, so that they could apologize and build a new relationship at least for the brief period that they had left. I hope not all of us will have to wait for a near death experience or to be diagnosed with a terminal illness to live a more meaningful life.

Start today, by doing the things that matter the most to you. Spend time with the ones you love, take your best friend or relative out for dinner, go for that family vacation that you kept putting away or call up someone you parted ways with for some silly reason and apologize. Because when you are on your death bed, you’ll never regret doing them.

Two Sure Ways To Feel Happier

Article in the Mindscape Section of the July 2017 Issue of Stayfit Magazine by Vinesh Sukumaran

One of the important emotions that people sometimes spend a lifetime pursuing is happiness. There really is a need to focus on Ways To Be Happy Right Now, as opposed to at any other time or in any other place.

Quite often, in corporate settings, in families, in academia and for that matter in any other walk of life, a lot of people pursue what they pursue, in the end to feel happy. This approach I think is fundamentally flawed and the idea of getting somewhere or earning something or becoming someone and then thinking you will feel happy might deceive you endlessly. The only real way to be happy is to be happy right here, right now. If you aren’t happy at any given point in time and that continues, then it’s quite like an endless cycle. Moments become hours, hours become days, days slip into months and years and eventually, you’re lying on your death bed thinking how you should have been a little happier when you could.

Our ability to imagine the future could be pretty horrible, especially in terms of what emotions we might experience after we attain a certain state. So I think almost the essential question for someone to answer and get right is how they could be happy right now. Here are just two ways out of many that I know work for sure.

 

Gratitude

This refers to the things that you are most thankful for and grateful for in life. One of the best ways for you to be happy is to be reminded of all the things that are in your life that you are grateful for. The constant chase of happiness often stems from not being at peace and not being satisfied with where you are in life. It would really help to maintain a folder or note book called the gratitude journal. By documenting the different things in your life that you are grateful for in this journal, first you make a conscious effort to notice the good things in life. Then, when you take stock of how much you have to be grateful for, you actually start to feel fortunate and happy about it. This process also turns on the reticular activating system. The part of your brain that brings to the forefront, the things that matter to you or help you perceive what is important to you. Over time, you will end up with a log book of things in your life that you could feel grateful for. Each time you read this book, it will make you experience the sense of happiness all over again.

 

Meditation

This is a way of observing yourself in a calm and relaxed manner and not responding to thoughts and ideas that come into your mind. A great way to do this is to sit in any comfortable position, keep your eyes shut and stay focused on your breath. Maintain just a gentle focus on the breath, without making the breath deeper or shallower. Just the normal breath. If the mind wanders and random thoughts begin to float in, gently focus on your breath again. In the beginning it might be difficult for someone to observe their breath like this without responding to their thoughts and ideas. This normally happens for fear of not remembering that thought later. A good way out of this is to keep a notepad and pen handy during the meditation because a lot of what floats through your mind are haphazard ideas, things to do, random past memories, random imaginations of future events, etc. Whenever a thought enters the mind that is difficult to ignore, it’s a great idea to gently open or even half open your eyes, make a note of the thought in the notepad and continue with the practice. This can be reviewed once you are done with the practice, for whatever it’s worth. Apart from feeling relaxed or sometimes even feeling happy for no reason at all, meditation helps people see and experience the good things in life more profoundly.

 

These are just two things among many that I know work for sure. This article is only a starting point for future development in terms of accessing the state of happiness more often and experiencing more intense levels of it. Apart from trying out what works for you from the above options, I urge you to experiment with your own approaches to experiencing happiness, document them and practice feeling happier.

Everything In Life Has An Expiry Date

Article in the Mindscape Section of the April 2017 Issue of Stayfit Magazine by Vinesh Sukumaran

I recently met a friend after several years and when we sat down at this restaurant for dinner, like all old friendships, it was great to catch up and revisit old times and realize how much we had in common and knew about each other. What was also clear was that despite all our commonalities, we had also grown quite differently as individuals and in that sense, though nothing much had changed, in reality a lot had changed. For example, this friend of mine has stopped drinking, stopped smoking, stopped eating meat and had turned completely vegan. And he told me all this in a matter of fact way. That was really where this article began. It made me realize that everything has its time and validity period.

We grow into and out of things as we grow older. There was a time in my life when, if I didn’t go out for a big party on the 31st of December, the New Year celebration didn’t feel complete. That idea expired long ago and I don’t go out and party likes a rock star anymore. But looking back, I’m glad I went for those parties and celebrations at a time when they made that much sense to me. Another common predicament I keep hearing about is how people have to make sudden changes in their life styles. A sudden diagnosis of heart disease or cancer or sometimes even diabetes or hypertension immediately slaps a strict diet and lifestyle change on you. Things that people once relished start getting treated like poison and after a while a lot of those people even stop enjoying those things altogether.

This is not just confined to food and lifestyle habits, a lot of other things could expire too. Like your income, your earning potential and maybe even your ability to do things like you do today. Now that’s just the ability part. It’s also possible that your priorities change altogether and then that entire idea expires for you. Imagine if you weren’t interested in money anymore; imagine that “prestige” as an idea didn’t appeal to you anymore. Imagine you lost complete interest in entertainment, sex, good food, fast cars, travel, reading or anything else that mattered to you. Those aspects of your life will completely fade away. This is probably the most negative sounding article that I’ve ever written but at the risk of adding to that, I just want to mention that there is always the possibility of people leaving us altogether. Though this is a term that I have only heard in India, there is probably a reason why they say that people expire. The truth is that you might never know when you might not be able to take the stairs anymore, when you have to stop eating wheat for good, when you will stop being in love with someone, when you will have to stop travelling or when the last time that you might be seeing somebody is. You just never know.

Enjoy your life and everything in it while it lasts. Don’t realize too late that you should have done what you wanted to. Sometimes you might not have the ability to do them anymore and sometimes you might not even want to do them anymore.

Carpe Diem.