Perspective is everything. It’s well known within the yoga world that five minutes in a headstand will shake up your bad day and improve your mood. Yoga inversions move the physical body up side down, sending our feet reaching towards the sky and our heads rooting towards the earth. This change in our physical bodies gets our blood flowing to the heart, drains the lymph system, and invigorates our energetic body. It also uproots the emotional and thought bodies, subtly shifting persistent thought patterns to allow us to see through the illusion that is unhappiness and connect to shri, the true joy of the present moment.
Moving to Central America has created a change in how I define happiness. Our Western culture often teaches us that happiness equates to acquisition. Read: get happy by chasing your desires. I spoke here about how corporations launched a successful campaign on the public to convince them to buy what they don’t need. The reason that campaign had so much impact is that jumping from desire to desire is part of the One Human Condition.
That’s why Patanjali addresses Santosha, or contentment and Aparigraha, or non-grasping (think: opposite of keeping up with the Jones’) as two of the tenents to follow when dropping into the practice of yoga. That’s also why the Buddha speaks of desire being the root of all suffering and why Jesus preaches against greed and the acquisition of possessions.
“Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15).”
Time after time, our religions and philosophers encourage us to fight against this part of our nature, and time after time we succumb to it. It’s easy to get sucked into wanting something, really pining for it, and then getting it. The rush of getting what you want produces endorphins similar to what we feel when we fall in love, and that feels really good! The problem with this cycle is that the good feelings don’t last. Something shiny catches our eye and we’re off on another chase. Like a drug addiction, no acquisition is ever enough to truly satisfy.
So how do we get off this hamster wheel? The answer is as easy as it is complex. We just step away. That’s it. Begin to recognize the difference between the rush of getting what you want and true happiness.
You can only answer for yourself what actual happiness is, but I’ve found that it’s a lot more satisfying than a new cashmere sweater. (Yes, even a pretty new cashmere sweater.) True happiness for me is being able to appreciate the bird song I hear as I awake in the morning. It’s the sweet taste of fruit or the simple flavor of rice and beans. Sometimes, happiness is a pure sweet note of a mantra that only results from many voices joining together in practice.
Really, though, happiness is a choice. It’s choosing to step away from the chatter of the monkey mind and fully enter the present moment. In this moment, I can appreciate the breeze on my skin, the authentic connection I have when I’m able to be present and listen rather than wait my turn to speak, and the fresh air entering and leaving my lungs.
In this way, I have redefined happiness. I’ve stepped out of the rat race and recognized that I have control over my reality. In doing that, I prioritized experiences over acquisitions, time over money, and people over stuff. And that, my friend, has made all the difference.