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The Freedom to Choose Happiness

By Shakti Parwha Kaur

Feeling discouraged, miserable, and down in the dumps is a story that we can rewrite if we choose to do so. Depression (other than clinical depression) is an attitude that can become a habit. Happiness is also an attitude that can become a habit.

There's a wonderful Zen riddle that goes something like this: Imagine there is a goose trapped inside a bottle. The bottle has a very thin neck (I guess you'd call it a goose-necked bottle). The riddle is "how do you get the goose out of the bottle without hurting the goose or breaking the bottle?" The answer is simple (and I won't make you meditate for 20 years to figure it out)—you get the goose out of the bottle the same way you got it in.

This is not to say that depression is imaginary; we feel it all right. But do we have to hold onto it? Moods, feelings, emotions, pain, and pleasure are just thought waves in the mind (sometimes brought on by glandular changes). Sometimes we can control them easily, sometimes not. But if Patanjali and Vedanta philosophy are to be believed, no matter what samskaras (mental patterns) we brought into this lifetime, they can be changed, just as making new channels in a riverbank can change the course of the flow of the water. Chanting and meditating create new routes for our mental and emotional energy to travel. Using these tools we do have the power to choose a pleasant path of joy and happiness at any given moment in our lives. It doesn't matter what the outer circumstances are; it is my perception that creates my reality.

People say they want to be happy, but the problem is that often we don't really want to let go of our misery. Sad but true, there's a quirk in some of us (undoubtedly in the subconscious) that makes us think there's something to gain by being miserable and complaining. Maybe the habit began in infancy when we got attention—and usually immediate gratification—by crying. Babies cry when they are wet, hungry, tired, or just uncomfortable. We know crying is a baby's only way of communicating his or her needs, so we rush to comfort and console them.

Ouspensky, the Russian mystic philosopher, talked about the many sacrifices people are willing to make to embark on a spiritual path, but he said that there is one thing people refuse to give up: their suffering! Of course there are times when sadness and suffering are almost inescapable; they are a valid part of the human experience. But these are—or should be—transient emotions that we recognize for what they are—temporary experiences. But when being miserable becomes a habit, that's when we're in trouble. Depression is a habit. It can be changed, just as all habits can be changed, by substituting a different habit.

Happiness is a habit of viewing the world and oneself in the most positive way possible. It is a repeated effort to find the joy and the pleasure, the good in every situation. It is nourished by an attitude of gratitude. So what if people call you Pollyanna? Just because misery loves company doesn't mean you have to join the crowd.

God is defined in Vedanta philosophy as Sat-Chit-Ananda: Truth, Knowledge, and Bliss. So the closer we get to experiencing the God within, the happier we get. Once I accepted this premise, I found myself unable to wallow in the morass of self-pity on those occasions that it had seemed justifiable and appropriate to bemoan my fate.

I had to admit that if I was miserable, it was my own fault. If I felt miserable, it meant that I was obviously not in touch with my soul. If I use my will to exercise my God-given power of choice, no outer circumstance, person, or situation can control the thought waves in my mind. Watching the scenario of my life playing on the television screen of my mind, I simply have to change channels.

Many years ago when I was just learning to apply the principles of positive thinking, I tried chanting positive affirmations over and over, with the tears streaming down my face, driving to a job I hated. Not surprisingly, it changed my perception, and then my mood. Recently I read an article that said, "If you plaster a smile on your face every day, no matter what, sooner or later it will fit." Swami Vivekananda taught that if you can't go out and meet the world cheerfully, you should stay indoors and not pollute the atmosphere with your negativity. Smiles are contagious—so are frowns.

When I met Yogi Bhajan, he told me, "If you want to be happy, forget about yourself—and serve others." And he gave me an avenue for service; he gave me the privilege of teaching Kundalini Yoga. Teaching has been one of my greatest joys. As many of you know, the oath of a Kundalini Yoga Teacher is, "I'm not a woman, I'm not a man, I'm not a person, I'm not myself, I'm a Teacher." And this affirmation of "forgetting about oneself" works the magic of allowing you to be an instrument to bring hope and inspiration to others, as well as to share a life-transforming technology. And, of course, this makes you feel wonderful.

Adapted from Aquarian Times, Winter 2001

Shakti Parwha Kaur Khalsa was Yogi Bhajan’s first student in the United States. She has been teaching Kundalini Yoga since 1969. She is the author of Kundalini Yoga: The Flow of Eternal Power; Kundalini Postures and Poetry; and Marriage on the Spiritual Path: Mastering the Highest Yoga. She is a frequent movie-goer in the City of Angels.

Yogi Bhajan’s Seven Steps to Happiness

Happiness comes from giving, and having an attitude of gratitude. Happiness has to do with being god-like. That’s not asking too much, since the core identity of each of us is Spirit. That’s why these Seven Steps to Happiness apply.

1. Commitment

The first step is commitment. Commit to kindness and compassion. In every life you are meant to commit. That is why the word is commit-meant. Commitment gives you CHARACTER.

2. Character

Character is when all your characteristics—all facets, flaws, and facts—are under your control. Yin and yang meet there, totally balanced. Character is a pattern of behavior where you can clearly answer and stand before your own consciousness. Character gives you DIGNITY.

3. Dignity

Dignity is when you act as a god for another. People start trusting you, liking you, respecting you. Dignity will give you DIVINITY.

4. Divinity

Divinity is when people have no duality about you. They trust you right away. They have no fear about you. Divinity is when you put yourself and your life on the line to serve another person or a creature. Divinity gives you GRACE.

5. Grace

Where there is grace, there is no interference, no gap between two people, no hidden agendas. Grace is when you’ve developed a presence that works. Grace gives you the power to SACRIFICE.

6. Power to Sacrifice

The power to sacrifice is when God sits in your heart and presides in your head. You can stand any pain for another person. That sacrifice takes you to HAPPINESS.

7. Happiness

Happiness is when you can be thankful for the chance of being these seven things.