Yale University recently offered a course that’s proved to be the most popular one ever given there. The topic was “Happiness.” One-quarter of the student body—1200 undergraduates—enrolled, requiring the largest auditorium on campus for the classes.
Why so much interest? One student said, “In reality, a lot of us are anxious, stressed, unhappy, and numb.” Unfortunately, this statement is not limited to Yale undergrads. The complexity and accelerating pace of life, heightened competition, and increasing human isolation are robbing us of peace of mind. As a result, people find themselves desperate to find that most elusive quality in life: happiness.
Paramhansa Yogananda has written about what he called the “happiness thieves”—patterns of behavior that steal our joy. Let’s look at a few of these “thieves,” and how we can enlist our “Soul Patrols” to drive them away.
Thief #1: Negative Habits. When we repeatedly express qualities like anger, self-interest, or laziness, they become hardwired in our brain. The longer these habits are allowed to go unchecked, the more entrenched they become. We can, however, call on our Soul Patrol of “Freedom from Bad Habits“ to combat them with energy and will power. By expressing their opposites—kindness, generosity, or dynamic activity—we begin to establish new neural pathways that enable us to live more joyfully.
Thief #2: Speaking Negatively About Others. Everything and everyone in this world is a mixture of good and bad qualities. That is the nature of duality. If you find that you tend regularly to talk about what’s wrong with others, realize that this is diminishing your own happiness. Call on the Soul Patrol of ”Seeing the Highest in All,” and begin to speak about what’s right about them. You’ll find a shift in your perspective, like a shaft of light illumining your mind, that will bring a sense of freedom and joy.
Thief #3: Worrying. If you’re often in a state of anxiety about what might happen in the future, call on the Soul Patrol of “Determined Peace of Mind.” Yoganandaji has written, “Happiness comes, not by helplessly wishing for it, but by thinking and living it in all circumstances. No matter what you are doing, keep the undercurrent of happiness flowing beneath the sands of your thoughts and the rocky soil of trials.”
I’ll close with a true story told to us by a dear friend in India. He and his family are direct disciples of the great woman saint, Anandamayi Ma, who often stayed with them in their home.
Once when our friend was sixteen, he contracted dysentery. His condition worsened, and eventually he had to be hospitalized. Nothing the medical staff did seemed to help; his pain and weakness increased daily. Finally the doctors told him and his family that there was nothing more they could do: He would not survive.
Our friend lay in bed too weak to move, overwhelmed by pain, and with tears falling down his cheeks. At that moment, Anandamayi Ma entered his hospital room.
“Son,” she said, “I can’t help you if you remain so unhappy. You need to stop crying and smile for me.”
Feebly he replied, “Ma, how can I smile now?”
“Try,” she told him.
Summoning up what little strength he had left, he forced himself to stop crying, and wanly smiled at her. Immediately she began to rub his body with her hands, and he felt energy and healing flowing into him. To everyone’s amazement, in a few days he returned to full health.
To draw divine grace that is the source of true, lasting happiness, we need to do our part. Find the strength to reach out for happiness, and God will do the rest. Then the happiness thieves will flee, never to return.
P.S. The U.S. edition of our book, Touch of Joy: A Yogi’s Guide to Lasting Happiness,comes out February 20. If you pre-order now, our publisher, Crystal Clarity, will send you six gifts: e-books by Yogananda, Swami, and Jyotish.