Tag Archives: introspection

Happiness- Zac Durant Photo

Can I Find Happiness?

Sukham Blog – A monthly column focused on health and wellbeing.

I believe I’m a reasonably happy person, whatever that means. Sure, I’ve had ups and downs and dealt with disappointment, failure, illness, stress, loss, grief, and death. Most of us have. In retrospect, however, I’ve been mostly satisfied and content, felt good about things and stayed positive. Is that happiness? I wasn’t certain I had a good answer – until now.

On the flip side, I clearly know when I’m not happy. I was not happy through my failures, in stressful situations, and when I lost loved ones. I’ve grieved. I’ve cried. I have felt alone. I was anything but happy then! We read and hear a lot about unhappiness these days. I often see people around me who clearly are not in a frame of mind that I would call happy. 

I thought about all this and began to ask: what is happiness? How does one become happy? Can one acquire happiness and stay happy? I’m here to share the results of my research and reflections with you.  

I began by looking up happiness in the dictionary.

“The state of being happy,” it read.

So much for dictionaries! The word ‘state’ in this definition was a clue, however. After some more reading, I concluded that we typically use the word happiness to describe a mental or emotional state that derives from our perception of our circumstances at any given time. We assign a value to that perception; when this value is positive, we are ‘pleased’.

Our feelings move into the spectrum of pleasant emotions, somewhere in the range from being satisfied or content, through a feeling of joy, to intense pleasure. By this definition, we can be happy one instant and unhappy the next. The change from a happy to unhappy state occurs at the speed at which our perception of our circumstance changes. Material gains fuel a feeling of happiness for a while but can soon feel hollow. Adding that second scoop of ice cream to my bowl satisfies my urge for dessert, and makes me happy until I think about its impact on my blood glucose level! We can be in a ‘state of happiness’ for a few fleeting moments until our perception alters.

While this conclusion is not very reassuring, we shouldn’t downplay the importance of this kind of happiness. It’s good in general to be in a positive or ‘happy’ state as often as we can, provided that state is not the result of misperceptions. We also need to understand this kind of happiness, and its role in the context that I describe next.

Another way in which we often use the word happiness is to describe something other than a transient emotion or state of mind; we use it in the context of our overall well-being.  This is a different ‘state’ of mind that relates to our assessment of where we are now, or where we are likely to be at some future point in our lives; we use the word in the context of our life satisfaction.  Happiness flows from a feeling of accomplishment. This subjective assessment of our state of life is central to driving our ‘state’ of happiness. By altering our assessment, we can arrive at a different conclusion.  

Does that mean that we can choose to be happy? A choice made by adopting a different view or perspective of our circumstances?

Book: The How of Happiness
The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky

A review of scientific studies provided further clues. Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky, Distinguished Professor and Vice-Chair in the Department of Psychology at UC Riverside, and author of The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want, is a leading authority on this subject. She has studied happiness, and how and why it can shift over time. While happiness is defined in different ways for different people, she says, it is “a combination of frequent positive emotions, plus the sense that your life is good.

Geneticists and neuroscientists have shown that genetics and heredity play some role in determining “baseline happiness” and subjective wellbeing.  For instance, around 50% of cases of major depression are attributed to genetic causes, while the rest stem from psychological or physical factors. The general consensus in the scientific community is that your happiness is only partially determined by your genes; most of it comes down to lifestyle and other environmental factors that you can control.

What are the factors and how do you control them?

A branch of psychology known as Positive Psychology provides answers. Coined by University of Pennsylvania’s Professor Martin Seligman, one of the influential thinkers in this area, Positive Psychology studies the character strengths and behaviors that allow individuals to build a life of meaning and purpose—to move beyond just surviving to flourishing.  Researchers have identified several key ‘elements’ of a good life and practices for improved life satisfaction, wellbeing, and happiness: build healthy relationships and learn to express your thoughts and feelings. Cultivate kindness. Exercise regularly and adopt a healthy diet. Do what you like doing and pursue a goal – find your ‘flow.’ Discover spiritual engagement and find meaning in life. Identify and use your strengths.  Adopt a positive mindset: be optimistic, practice mindfulness, practice gratitude. Learn to forgive. Get involved in community and service.

Happiness is not a goal; it’s a life-long process that is in our control.

Happiness takes work,” says Professor Laurie Santos, Head of Silliman College at Yale, “You don’t just hear about the science of happiness and instantly feel better. You have to change your behavior. It takes effort every day.”

The quest for happiness dates back more than 2500 years to Buddha, Socrates, Confucius, and others. In his fascinating book Hiding in Unnatural Happiness, Devamitra Swami points to the teachings of the Srimad-Bhagavatam that happiness “comes to the completely enlightened, self-realized soul.” Today’s scientists are rediscovering much the same insights!

If we look outward in our quest for happiness, we are looking in the wrong place. We will find lasting happiness only if we seek it within ourselves!


Mukund Acharya is a co-founder of Sukham, an all-volunteer non-profit organization in the Bay Area established to advocate for healthy aging within the South Asian community. He is also a columnist for India Currents.

With sincere thanks to Zac Durant at Unsplash for the use of his beautiful photograph.

Introspection on the Road to Self Discovery

Presently our lives are topsy turvy and we are dealing with the reality that the coronavirus will be with us for a long time. The whole world has paused. The new normal is one of uncertainty as our lives have been disrupted. We are unable to meet our friends, vacation, go to work, or school. We wake up hearing more disturbing news of the stock market, unemployment, rising number of cases, and deaths.

Before the pandemic hit us, we took things for granted. We did not value the simple things of life. Being able to walk and breathe without a mask, meeting friends and family, hugs, eating at restaurants, shopping at stores, have become luxuries.  

Many of us felt fear for our lives and our loved ones when we heard of the COVID -19 virus, then came a feeling of frustration and irritability which led to the anger of being locked down. Gradually our communities have started to open and some of us step out cautiously with paying attention to social distancing and wearing a mask. Life has changed!

This has been a difficult time for me too, but as time goes by I have realized that I have to make the most of what I have. I nurture my mental physical and spiritual health. This lockdown has made me aware of my inner strength, resiliency, and compassion.

We are caught up in our busy schedules and many of us are unaware of who we are. During the pandemic, things have slowed down and we have time to tune in to our thoughts and feelings. Use this as a time of self-discovery, to dive deeper into understanding who you are. This time of self-isolation is to search for answers to get to know your true self. 

Many of us are naturally anxious or unhappy at this time and find it difficult to move towards balance and peace, but it is possible. Consider making one or more of these methods an integral part of your life. They may help you with your own self-discovery.

Meditation: The practice of mindfulness, a practice for mental health and clarity. Self-discovery meditation could be done in a simple manner. It is a way to calm the mind and body with relaxation and to get in tune with your inner self. By regularly meditating you will be able to live a more thoughtful and introspective life.

  • Find a quiet place with no distractions. Do switch off your electronics.
  • Sit in a comfortable position and close your eyes.
  • Breathe naturally, in and out. 
  • In your relaxed yet alert state, ask yourself a few questions to stay focused.
    • Questions you can ask yourself could be, “ I would like to know my strengths; I would like to know my weaknesses; who am I: how do I achieve my goal, etc. 
  • Or you can use one word or mantra such as discovery, belief, knowledge, etc to help you focus.
  • Focus your attention on the mantra and drop into the depths of your inquiry where the answers arise. if unable to do that then bring yourself back to your breath.
  • Feel the sensations in your body of each inhalation and exhalation and let it flow.
  • After 10 to 15 minutes open your eyes and sit still. Try and recall if you felt anything that helped you understand yourself just a little bit more.

This requires daily practice, time, and patience to move towards the path of self-discovery. As you move towards this goal, meditation will help calm your mind.  

Journaling: During this unprecedented time, try to pay attention to your mental health. Journaling is a very effective and simple manner of tracking yourself over a period of time. You just need a pen and paper or you can journal on your phone.

Journaling helps you look back and see your progress, patterns, emotional triggers, and what you have overcome. If you see yourself feeling negative often then journaling will help you identify this pattern. You can train yourself to write positive affirmations and think with a more hopeful attitude. It can help you identify your aspirations and overcome your fears.  

I have found journaling to be like self-counseling which has put me on the path of self- discovery and getting to know the authentic me.

Walking: An exercise for our physical well-being and also for our mental health. Walking in nature, absorb what is around you through your senses  Do not have any distractions with headphones or any electronics. Get more introspective and let your thoughts wander. If your thoughts continuously move to the negative then try and bring it back to the one thing which made you smile.

For example, you are irritated with something happening at work and it keeps expressing itself repeatedly. What do you do? While walking, observe your breath and focus on it, till you are calm. Then start appreciating where you are and enjoy that moment. When your mind goes back to the irritability bring it back to the breath and the beauty around you. It takes practice but soon you will find that you are in the present moment while walking.    

Gratitude: As life has changed for us, it is not easy to feel gratitude.  

Try and have compassion for yourself at this time and when you are able to do this, you will feel that you are able to express gratitude for yourself and others. Gratitude is a positive emotion and can help let go of the negative emotions which we feel during this time.  

I have a gratitude jar in which I write the simplest of things I am grateful for. After a week I look at them and feel that I am fortunate in so many ways and this helps me move forward.  

Mindfulness:  Mindfulness is when you take notice of what is happening right now and when your mind wanders, then you bring it back to the moment.  I urge all of you to engage in mindfulness throughout the day. Be in the moment of what you are doing and observe it and your feelings but do this non-judgmentally. 

Some of us don’t realize the strong emotions of sadness, fear, and anxiety which the pandemic has brought on. With the practice of mindfulness, we can reduce these triggers slowly and move towards feeling more balanced.

Get in touch with your soul. Keep searching for answers, look within, and find your courage, passions, dreams, and happiness. Keep introspectively exploring till you find your true self. Go on, raise your consciousness, and be a higher version of yourself.


Geetanjali Arunkumar is a writer, artist, life coach. She is the author of ‘You Are The Cake’.

Your Trash, My Memories

During my usual spring cleaning, I was throwing all my clothes on the floor, taking the trash out of drawers that haven’t been touched in ages, and organizing all my personal belongings. Every year, I tend to skip over two shelves in the back of my closet. The thought of cleaning all the endless junk of failed dioramas from elementary school all the way to the newest addition, the Hy-Vee receipt that I found in my wallet from three days ago, made my head hurt more than a sprained ankle.

After years of my mom pestering and nagging me to clear it all up, I finally thought to myself that this was the year. This was the year I would plow through all the pieces of Butterfinger candy wrappers that I was too lazy to put into the trash and all the loose beads that have fallen off my Indian clothes over the years. I grabbed three heavy-duty trash bags, blasted my “Hype Up” playlist on Spotify, and got down to work. 

As I opened my closet door, I felt instant regret. I was defeated even before the task had started.

Nevertheless, I proceeded. I pulled my old movie ticket stubs, crumpled up pieces of paper with random math problems, and an assortment of different colored pencils and pens. But through all the miscellaneous junk, I stumbled upon my seventh-grade art projects.

I started to look at them for a bit. The longer I looked, the more memories came back. I saw my art teacher, Mrs. Castillo, demonstrating how to draw a flower on the SMART Board while I tried to recreate it with my unskilled hand. I heard my friend whisper about how cool the seventh-grade dance was going to be and how sparkly her dress was, and I smelled the pizza sticks in the cafeteria being cooked for all the hungry preteens in the upcoming period. 

I started to look more intently through the massive mess to find even more thrown away memories. Everything I grabbed had a different meaning, each item brought back moments of joy, sadness, regret, anger, and fulfillment. Stuff that I assumed was junk and trash turned out to be something meaningful and sacred. I found the first book that taught me how to read. I found my plans to throw the best birthday party which involved cotton candy covered clowns and puppy playpen. I found my kindergarten yearbook filled with people I had completely forgotten about. I found a shirt I had tie-dyed all by myself during summer camp. All these moments were right in front of me and I didn’t even notice. All the moments that I once thought were insignificant turned out to shape me the most. After an unsuccessful attempt at drawing in the seventh grade, I took several art classes in high school to help improve my ability. 

Most of my friendships in middle school and elementary school started to disappear once high school started. Having these moments to reminisce about those others helped me reconnect with so many intelligent and kindhearted people. Not only that, I learned so much about myself as well. I saw how much personal growth I had made in the last ten or so years. I saw all my mistakes and defeats which have helped me tremendously move forward in life. I learned micro-concepts like slowing down when you talk so that people can understand, but I also learned lifelong truths like trusting yourself before trusting others, being patient will lead to the best results, hard work is vital in any situation, and facing your fears isn’t as bad as it seems. 

It has been a couple of months since the shelves have been cleaned. However, the other day, as I subconsciously started to toss a straw wrapper to the back of my closet as I was too lazy to walk to the nearest trashcan, an epiphany hit me. I glimpsed at my two cleaned shelves and I was greeted with properly sorted middle school art projects, summer camp props, tacky participation awards, baby memorabilia, which reminded myself how much I have truly grown and how much progress I still need to make in order to become a more well-rounded person. I can’t wait to commence the journey of my next chapter!


Ishani Adidam is a high school senior who lives in Nebraska. She plans on studying medicine in college in order to tend to the underserved patients. In her free time, she loves to bake and cook various Indian foods to grow closer to her heritage and culture.

One Nation Under God

We’ve been witnessing some amazing resilience in the time of the Corona crisis. The governments around the world, doctors, entrepreneurs, educators, community members stepped up in unprecedented ways to support the system, support one another. It’s fascinating to see the kids transitioning to a brand-new lifestyle with great dexterity. 

But what’s going on within us, if each of us is considered a nation?

The ancient scriptures of the Sanatana Dharma talk about “self-reflection” in all 4 of the Vedas and the corresponding Upanishads. Although we, as humanity, are fascinated by these questions – who we are, where did we come from, where are we heading to – in recent times most of us been busy running around the clock to contemplate on our elemental existential purposes. 

I was a bit scattered at the beginning of the lockdown but I found myself in this ecosystem of learning. Discussions about ancient wisdom, talks about public policies, exchange of lifestyle-related notes among friends .. everything surfaced at my fingertips, in the comfort of my home. 

I chanced upon a physicist turned philosopher, life-coach Dr. Prasad Kaipa, who shared an in-depth analysis of self-reflection in reference to the scriptures. Right from the Rig Veda (the oldest written Veda) to Sama Veda, Yajur & Atharva: our ancestors gave us step-by-step subject matter guidelines.  Relevant to our current situation as the Corona-crisis demanded this contemplation, asking us to look into our very core, our relationship with nature and nurture. 

Photo credit: British Library, photo by Jeffrey Boswall, a natural history broadcaster, film-maker, and producer.

The process starts with the concept of “Prajnanam Brahma” – Introduced in the Rig Veda and concluded in the corresponding Aitareya Upanishad. It talks about the nature of our true perspective. The BIG picture perceived by our unique sense – the consciousness. According to this, by fishing out irrelevance, Neti Neti in Sanskrit (not this, not this), we land on our true nature. 

Next, “Tat Tvam Asi” – Introduced in the Sama Veda and the conclusion drawn in Chandogya Upanishad. What is it that’s not been seen but becomes visible, within us, around us? Never heard, but becomes audible? Unknown becomes known…

By merely asking these questions, we get in touch with our humility. Everything is not known to us, yet. Hence, the scope of pursuit. It gives us eligibility. Takes us to the path of inquiry on how an incredibly small seed can give rise to a tree, how the consciousness of the living beings (Jeeva Atman) is part of universal consciousness (Param Atman). We relate to it by experiences. 

Ahm Brahma Asmi” – In Yajur Veda, concludes in Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. After thinking and experiencing, we meditate on the concept. Through astute practice, we feel oneness with the Supreme Divine. It’s possible to attain bliss by connecting our consciousness with divinity. 

I’d like to mention here, after probing this, I couldn’t stop thinking about the enormity of fall-out in “interpretation” at the very conceptual level, as shown in the popular TV series on Netflix: Sacred Games. Amazing depiction – horrors of human ignorance. Through the journey of the protagonist, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, we see the tale of reflection, rejection, retribution, redemption, and finally .. hopefully, renewal. Beautiful! 

And, then? 

The culmination of self-reflection comes with the realization of “Ayam Atman Brahman” – Conceptual introduction in Atharva Veda with conclusive notes in Māṇḍūkya Upanishad. It’s not about humans manifested in social hierarchy. It’s about preservation and sustenance through our thoughts, actions, practice, and pursuit, in perpetuation, day after day, year after year, age after age, with grace and gratitude for all that we have, all that we don’t. And, all that we wonder about, aspire to become. We are in this together. 

Soma Chatterjee is the Diversity Ambassador for India Currents and a Board Member for Silicon Valley Interreligious Council representing Hinduism on behalf of HAF

Inputs from Dr. Prasad Kaipa. Co-author of From Smart to Wise, You Can, and Discontinuous Learning


Featured image and license.

An Offering

In Shakespeare’s Hamlet there’s a line – “I could be bound in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space.”

Today is March 26, 2020. On the tenth day of the COVID-19 pandemic. I wake up to birdsong of crested red cardinals, whippoorwills, warblers and woodpeckers. Outside in the garden a cluster of yellow and coral poppies are opening their eyes. A blue jay hops and skips from one branch to another talking to his friends about cherry blossoms. A mallard family is quacking their morning assembly by the lake. A baby frog opens his mouth and then stops in mid croak remembering it is dawn and not dusk. I slowly enter body consciousness after a night of dreamless slumber. By now the birds have finished most of their psalms, I rub my eyes and dutifully join in the last hymnal. I have noticed that since most people and their cars are in quarantine, birds and buzzing creatures have become more prolific in their hum in our shared space.

I pass fingers through my uncombed hair and sip my turmeric and cardamom chai. These days I leave a pot of tea simmering on the stove. They say theophylline and theobromine alkaloids in tea don’t allow the stealthy coronavirus to gain a foothold in your throat. I breathe through both nostrils and blow out the stale air. I think of my mother listening to Gauri Aarti on the other side of the planet. Her baby fine hair is oiled and combed and her soft skin wrapped in banana leaves. Mother’s affect is sweet, her body and aura clean. She says: Your thoughts become more neatly organized after you have combed your hair. I don’t argue with her but draw a comb through my curls and braid them.

I think of nurturing times spent in her company. How she kept me clean, healthy, dressed in hand-stitched and beautifully embroidered frocks and pinafores. She waited for me everyday with a flavorful meal and a delectable dessert to soothe my sweet tooth. Then she listened and laughed as I regaled her with my day in school, college, medical school, on the bus, in the train and later at my in-laws’ place. Mother had a rule. Every garment and footwear worn outside the house had to be put for washing as soon as we returned home. We were not allowed to eat street food and because of this golden edict, we escaped several infectious diseases while growing up in India.  

Today when this now airborne virus has spread to 198 countries, infected more than 468, 644 cases and taken 21,191 lives, I am reminded of all the safety precautions mothers instill in their children. This overwhelming disease is causing an insurmountable cost to the world economy! 

We are hunkered down in our abodes and are drawing from familiar resources, old medicines, previous epidemics. Let us take this time to pay homage to the creator of this universe and ask the mother goddess to listen to our plea. After all as I am only a half of my mother’s half, so are you and you and you in Wuhan, in Italy, in Spain, in New York, in Los Angeles,in Seattle…. Together we can overcome this by using our collective intelligence. 

The Sun has rolled higher in the blue sky and I have finished my tea. I look at the light through the slats falling on the French knotted neckline of my mother’s soft blue dress. I imagine her sitting at her dressing table and deftly kohlIng her eyes, pearling her neck, and twisting the tendrils escaping from her chignon. I can never forget the way she looks at my dad as he holds her hand and leads her out for an evening stroll in the park. My fingers rest on the soft fabric of the blue dress and I hold it up to the sun. I want to put it on but I hesitate. Today I will offer it to the Sun as a salutation from my mother because it is not my time to do it. Take this blue dress on your golden chariot to the blue heavens and ask the blue goddess to provide the healthcare workers with an endless supply of blue protective masks because in this solitary hour as they work and care for the sick we can share our stories of life, health, survival, maturity, loyalty, harmony, stability, and peace to heal everyone.

I am relieved that volunteers are making face masks and the federal government is encouraging citizens to wear masks, not N95s but regular surgical ones, home made, bandanas, scarves, any kind really… anything to cover their nose and mouth and to prevent them from touching their face. Let’s hope and pray that all of us can come together virtually to protect the ailing humanity from this fatal affliction.

Monita Soni grew up in Mumbai, India and works as a pathologist in Decatur Alabama. She is well known for her creative nonfiction and poetry pieces inspired by family, faith, food, home and art. She has written two books: My Light Reflections and Flow through my Heart. She is a regular contributor to NPR’s Sundial Writers Corner. She drew the featured image as a symbol of her love for her father.