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DateLine Sunday, 17 February 2008

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Recipe for happiness

Happiness is a state of the mind. When you are happy you experience a feeling of pleasure or contentment. When we meet a friend we greet him: "You look very happy today". Even when you hear such words we feel happy.

However, real happiness comes after recovering from an illness, winning a court case or a lottery ticket. The degree of happiness may vary from event to event. The few moments you spend with your loved one are the happiest times for a lover, husband or wife. But when you win a consolation prize in a lottery you do not feel much happiness because the amount of money you are getting is negligible.

Whatever degree of happiness you are aiming at, there seem to be certain rules to follow. At the beginning you will find it difficult to follow them because people generally do not like rules. They think rules are there to be broken.

Whatever it is, if you really want to be happy, here is a time-tested recipe. The first rule for happiness is to trust yourself. It is tragic that most of us do not trust ourselves. For the slightest difficulty we face in life we run to another person seeking his advice.

Although there are times that you have to seek advice from another person, why not trust yourself and consult yourself first? Human beings are made up of different characteristics and qualities.

We are different from others both physically and mentally. Even twins are different from each other. Although they may look alike, they tend to differ as they mature. Sometimes we know the answers to our problems. But we hesitate to accept them because we do not trust ourselves. When somebody else advises us, we begin to think that we too had a similar solution.

If you look at the human history, you will realise that all great men from Gauthama Buddha to Bertrant Russell or J. Krishnamurti had faith in themselves. They would not have achieved such dizzy heights if they had not trusted themselves.

When you begin to trust yourself, you must be ready to face criticism from others. Copernicus and Galileo were ridiculed and attacked for their novel theories confirming that the earth and other planets moved round the sun.

Martin Luther was persecuted when he came out with his opinion that angered the established church. When Pasteur voiced his opinion on protection against bacteria, people laughed at him. Newton and Einstein were not understood by his contemporaries. Even Jesus Christ was crucified because he thought differently from others.

All these great men succeeded in their endeavours because they trusted themselves. And they were quite happy with their findings. Although we are lesser mortals, we too can aspire to achieve our aims.

One way to do this effectively is to have faith in yourself. Having faith in yourself is quite different from knowing yourself. If I ask you who you are, you will find it difficult to answer. You might say, "why, I am a doctor, lawyer or engineer". But these are mere labels.

There are so many doctors, lawyers and engineers in the world. But they are all different. One doctor may be an eminent physician whereas your family doctor might be an ordinary healer.

Then how do we know ourselves? There is only one way to do this, i.e., by introspection. Any standard dictionary would tell you that "introspection" means the examination of one's own thoughts, feelings and motives. People living in this Digital Age seem to have no time for introspection. They are eternally running a rat race with their fellow human beings to achieve fame, wealth or power.

Meanwhile, busy people dread the very notion of introspection. They might say that this is sheer nonsense. "Why should I think of my feelings and motives when I have everything I need", they might ask. But they are the very people who should probe into their conscience. Most of the crimes and bloodshed are due to our failure to question our motives.

The person who examines himself before doing something is an intelligent human being. But the trouble is that most of us do not want to question our beliefs and actions.

Another problem we encounter is that we are inundated with opinions of others all the time. As a result, we become conditioned to think in a particular way. For instance, if you believe in a particular "ism", you do not want to hear anything against it. Thus, we are constantly building walls around ourselves. We have to demolish these walls and probe our conscience.

Take the present turbulent times. Parents are scared to send their children to school. We do not want to travel unless we are compelled to do so. I personally feel that "Deyata Kirula" is a bold attempt on the part of the government to show that life has to go on despite terrorist threats. If we become victims of fear psychosis, all our efforts to develop ourselves and the country would suffer.

It is a tragedy that most Sri Lankan students who reach the Advanced Level stage do not have a clear plan for their future. Students with an aptitude for mechanical work try to be doctors or lawyers. Those who have the potential to become doctors are let loose in Information Technology field. So, young adults should know what they are capable of doing and proceed along those lines.

In order to achieve happiness, you have to do what you enjoy. If you do not enjoy what you are doing, it is high time to change your job. Some people remain clerks and typists throughout their adult lives expecting the old age pension.

If they had tried hard some of them would have become professionals in different fields of activities. I knew of a humble hospital clerk who ended up as an eminent lawyer. Another postal employee studied burning the midnight oil and became a lawyer and then a judge.

When once you trust yourself and know yourself, you have to be yourself. This is another hurdle on your way to happiness. Most of us try to imitate others and ignore our own personality. It is always sensible to remember that you cannot be another Shakespeare, Beethoven or Mozart. Therefore, know your strengths and weaknesses and act accordingly.

When you know yourself, you will never try to over-reach your capabilities. If you try to achieve something unattainable, you are heading for a nervous breakdown. Always remember what Polonius told his son:

"To thine own self be true, and it must follow as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man".

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