My friend and I look forward to Saturdays. That’s our long run day. That’s the day I write in our workout worksheet: Long run at a conversational pace only. After a week of pushing each other to run faster, we love our Saturday when we run at our own pace with nothing else but the sheer joy of running for miles on our minds. So, every Saturday we run. Together.
I run at about 6AM or so in Bangalore. My friend runs at her 7AM or so in Dublin, which is about 5 hours behind. Our times don’t match. But we certainly run together. When I think I can’t run one more mile, I think of my friend, and how she mistakenly thinks I am Usain Bolt’s sister. I can’t let her down. So, I run. In Dublin, my friend says she sees my disappointed face every time SHE feels she can’t run one more mile. So, she runs. In the end, we return to our worksheet, and mark it tiredly: Done. Together.
And that’s how we have been doing it for 15 years now. For 15 years, we have built a relationship that’s based on so much friction, annoyances, and yes, love. People think that my friend and I have the greatest relationship. They are wrong about the greatest part. But they are right about the relationship part. Because yes, that’s what it is: a relationship. Forget the labels we give to our relationships. My friend and I don’t have the greatest relationship. No one has. What do we have? Resilience. We keep coming back to each other. For 15 years, I have been in a relationship with this annoying woman. We can’t go a day without talking to each other. (And I am glad her husband isn’t the jealous, possessive type. But then, he is a sensible, intelligent man, and he knows, I think, that it’s his place that would be on the line if he ever created a fuss. So, he lets us be – and me to be the “other woman,” in his wife’s life).
So, there I am in a relationship. If I were on Facebook, this is the time I should update my status. I am also in a relationship with my nephew, who gives me fist bumps and talks to me ardently of basketball. A relationship with my mother who tells me about all “those days” in the past. A relationship with my father, who patiently chops pineapples for my smoothies. A relationship with my sister who spends her Sundays reading with me. I am in a relationship with the friend who sends me pictures of the sea because he knows I am missing the sea; with the guy who asks me if I want to join him for a cup of tea; with the friend who tells me that she just wants me to be happy and happily intervenes to set things right between me and the above-mentioned annoying friend. I am in a relationship with so many people who I am blessed to love and who love me. Update my status.
Here’s the thing: We are all building relationships. And we are always in relationships. Over the three years I have spent studying happiness, here’s what I can tell you is a critical factor in happiness: relationships.
If you are still thinking a relationship is one where you find THE one, have loads of sex and then get married to have all the Insta-babies, then you should stop reading this, and email me. We need to talk.
We are happiest when we are building strong relationships – deep, intimate relationships with people we love, adore, respect, and with whom we share a connection. We are happiest when we open our hearts to love in all its forms. You don’t need a status update on this: You are always in a relationship. With yourself. And others.
If you tell me that you will be happy when you get THE one, get married, have children, get that amazing job, I can bet my last rupee that you will be unhappy for the rest of your life. Happiness is not a goal. Not a destination. And it most certainly doesn’t result from the realization of expectations. Because the ONE might go away. Or the children may. You may lose that amazing job. Basing our idea of happiness on this flimsy framework is bound to set us up for disaster. How do I know? Trust me on this. I have been there. Done all of this. (Maybe, not the children but everything else). I started studying happiness only because I kept making the same mistakes. I thought I would be happy IF I do this. Achieve this. Meet that person. And I never was. I am learning now to have deep relationships that make me happier. Which is why you will never find my ‘About Me’ page to say something like “I am in love with this amazing man, woman, dog, or fish.” My About Me page is about About Us. You, me, and everyone who makes this world frustrating and amazing for me. Thank you for being with me.
So, what can make us happy?
Compassion – Be kind to yourself and others. Developing this quality is tough, I admit. I keep failing at it. But there is no more significant factor to happiness than compassion. When we harden our hearts, we are polishing the blades of sadness.
Ask for help – Somehow, we think that we are weak if we ask for help. I am like that. But we are not strong when we don’t ask for help. We are merely miserable. My novel, in its raw draft, is being read by someone I have never met but who is taking the time to read this unpolished version. Does that make me weak? It makes me feel immensely grateful and empowers me to write more.
Give help – As much as possible, try to help others. I can’t stress this enough. Give time. Give money. Lend a hand. Gift to others more than spending on yourself. I guarantee you that you will feel happier having gifted that book to that book-loving friend than buying yourself yet another shirt. The hedonistic pursuit of material acquisition wears off soon. But the feeling of love doesn’t.
Have many relationships – Figure out the people who are important in your life. Don’t label these relationships. They are just people you love. Don’t make any one person the be-all and end-all in your life. Once you know who are the ones you love, please spend time with them. Please. No one is going to be around forever.
Take risks and be brave – On August 26, 2016, I messaged my friend after a year of acrimony and months of silence. I wasn’t thinking of rejection even though that’s what I fear the most in life. I wasn’t thinking of anything else except that I wanted to message her. We haven’t looked back since then. I quit my job in 2016 to embark on this weird journey of entrepreneurship with no stable income. I don’t regret either of those decisions. Being brave and vulnerable gives you more happiness than being scared and fearful on the side of a line you don’t want to cross because you think it’s comfortable where you are. You can be comfortable. But that’s not the same as being happy.
Value time – You are not going to be around forever either. Stop mucking around. Value those who love you.
Make money – Yes. Not too much. Not too less. Make as much as you need to fulfill your basic needs and some more. Don’t make that the goal of your life, but the means to achieve the goals of your life. Spend that money on people and experiences. Not acquisitions. And save! Start saving if you are 24. Please save if you haven’t, even if you are 34. And if you are 42, and haven’t any savings, then you need help.
Stop living in the past – One of the biggest stumbling blocks to happiness is our wonderful capacity to live in the past. We endlessly replay situations from the past in our head. We obsess over people who are only in the past. We beat ourselves up over things we wish we had said then. I keep writing imaginary angry emails to someone who probably doesn’t even remember me only because I wish I had said this at that time to her! Take a deep breath, though. We are not there in the past. We are here. Look out of your window. Observe how your feet looks. Look at your dog. When I was robbed of 900 Euros on the first day of my 800-km walk in Spain, I spent the first two days angrily chastising myself for not being careful. But there was only one thing I could do: Walk ahead to the next town. Life is like that. It’s not about moving on. It’s about moving forward. And that’s really the only thing you can do.
Accept change – Nothing lasts. If you can accept that with equanimity, you have grasped the secret to happiness. I haven’t, yet. I fight change all the time. Some Happiness Coach I am, right? 🙂
And, lastly, happiness is not about being happy. Not at all. It’s not some fairytale where you have to be optimistic all the time. Happiness is NOT the absence of sadness. Instead, happiness comes from the choices we make as our response to life’s tough situations. Happiness lies in our resilience when life doesn’t go the way we want to.
Happiness is a web that only you can spin. So, spin well. Spin with love, care, and compassion. Spin a web around yourself. Spin a web around others. Spin.
And then, update your status. Are you in a relationship?