The best advice I can give on how to be happy is to manage your emotional weight. This means that while you might not be feeling happy all the time (and what a relief to not have the pressure of walking around like little Ms. Sunshine 24/7!), you've at least owned whatever mood you truly are in and feel lighter because of it. And hey, you might end up feeling happy because you're allowing yourself to feel pissed off, sad or anxious.
I came to this understanding in part from something my dad has said to me all my life: "No one can take away your happiness." It took me a long time to really understand the wisdom behind the words, but now, it is has become a mantra that I repeat to myself whenever I'm in doubt or feeling unhappy.
Please enjoy the excerpt below from my new book, The Nalini Method: 7 Workouts for 7 Moods which shares my challenging journey in understanding this now well-used mantra:
Growing up, I saw disappointments in my father's life. Family took advantage of him, business partners stole from him, and he experienced death of loved ones, betrayal, and countless other challenging situations. And yet, without a hint of doubt in his delivery, he always proudly said, "I'm happy."
Was he lying? Was he in denial? Was he just trying to protect me? Was this his coping mechanism? Where was his doubt? I just didn't understand because it made me question my own feelings. I didn't always feel happy. Was there something wrong with me?
Given time and experience, I finally understood this lesson. I not only deeply believe my father when he says he is happy, but I also constantly and genuinely say it myself. I've learned how to push past my doubts and shut off that little nagging voice that wants so badly to tell me how much I messed up and will continue to mess up!
When I was nine years old, I was upset because I wasn't "cool" at school. I thought that if I only figured out how to achieve coolness, I would truly be happy. "I'm not happy because those girls at school don't think I'm cool," I said to my dad.
"Honey, no one can take away your happiness," he quickly replied.
"What do you mean?" I retorted. "They already have. Maybe they don't want me to be happy. Maybe they really don't like me. I know I could be cool! I'm just not. I have to do something different."
"So you think if you change who you are you'll be happy?" he asked.
"Yes," I said defiantly. "I'll be more like them and we'll be friends. If I'm cool, I'll be happy and they'll be happy too!"
"Honey, you can't give away your happiness, either."
"But what if I want to?"
"You still can't."
"I do things that make you and Mommy happy, don't I?" I asked, frustrated.
"No. We make ourselves happy."
I went off to my room to cry, crushed by his harsh (yet truthful) words. How could my own father tell me that I didn't make him happy? I felt utterly powerless, insignificant, and confused about being happy ever again. (And I certainly would never be cool!) I knew my father truly loved me, but he was telling me that who I was and what I did didn't change him. I had always thought there was an easy solution for being happy and that I had a direct effect on others' happiness.
For my father, however, happiness and doubt were choices. A choice between embracing your ability to control the way you experience life, thereby allowing yourself to feel an entire range of emotions from the most ecstatically positive to the most painfully negative, and not embracing your ability to control the way you experience life, thereby reacting to both positive and negative emotions.
In other words, my father was telling me to take responsibility. He wanted me to own my moral compass and find the ability to point the magnetic needle due north, in the opposite direction of the doubts that were pulling me down.
Allowing myself to feel doubt or sadness versus reacting with doubt and sadness may seem like a subtle choice. But in my life, it's been the difference between happiness and unhappiness. Surrendering and accepting my emotions in order to more effectively express and release them is what helped me push past the doubts about being cool in school and move beyond the current doubts that creep up when I'm trying to complete a project or achieve a goal.
My father knows that whatever happens, his reaction is up to him. He chooses to feel happy or unhappy. He was genuinely happy even after getting married without parental approval, coming to America with only $8, working three jobs, and losing all of his hard-earned money in a fire that burned down his first business. It's his resilience and unwillingness to surrender his own happiness to the outside world that have allowed him to create a life without doubt. Now I love it when he says, "Rupa, you are the captain of your soul and the driver of your own life. No one can take away your happiness."
In my life, there will be obstacles, challenges, and doubts. With these consistent words and actions, I now feel a priceless sense of validation, freedom, and strength. You can easily succumb to doubts or make the choice to flip them and be determined to point your mind and heart north. Since you can choose whether or not you ignore this power you have, try embracing it, so you can begin living the happiest, healthiest life possible.