Fitness Magazine

Happiness: Take a Pill? Or Practice Yoga?

By Ninazolotow @Yoga4HealthyAge
by Ram Rao

Happiness: Take a Pill? Or Practice Yoga?

Contentment by Maxfield Parrish

The Sadhana Pada of the Yoga Sutras by Patanjali describes the eight rungs/limbs/steps of yoga whose practice allows us to cultivate truth and awareness. The first two of these limbs are the yamas and niyamas that lay the foundation from which to develop all the other subtle practices. The niyamas are a set of five observances/practices of self-training that deal with how we relate to ourselves inwardly. One of the five niyamas is santosha, which means happiness.

Santosha Anuttamah Sukha Labhah From an attitude of happiness (santosha), mental comfort, joy, and satisfaction are obtained. —Swami Jnaneshvara This happiness is achieved through one or more of the following:1. Training the Brain. To be happy even while experiencing life’s difficulties becomes a process of growth through all kinds of circumstances. We need to recognize and accept that there is a purpose for everything and embrace the final outcome. It means being happy with what we have rather than being unhappy about what we don't have. If we are contented with our wants, wishes, and needs, and are truly happy with our lifestyle, it will help us in the journey to absolute truth and the highest realization. Discontentment and unhappiness arise when we get caught up in this materialistic world. Our desires and needs for material possessions if left unfulfilled create frustration, anger, and loss of mental peace leading to a disharmonious life.2. Express Gratitude. What happens in life when we focus on trying to outdo or compete with co-workers, neighbors, friends, or family members to try to prove that we are more successful or important? In the bargain we spend our time and energy chasing these materialistic dreams and miss on our own happiness. Instead, being more grateful (karuna in yoga philosophy) helps an individual to experience more positivity, improves relationships, and strengthens the immune system thereby boosting happiness. 3. Nurture and Enjoy Social Relationships. Relationships (sat sangha in yoga philosophy) are one of the biggest sources of happiness. Studies show that happy people have a large, supportive circle of family and friends, a fulfilling marriage, and a blossoming social life. Choosing to notice, appreciate, and anticipate goodness is a powerful happiness booster. Happiness is contagious so as you share your happiness, you will attract a wider network of people leading to even greater positivity and enjoyment.4. Selfless Service. Unconditional selfless service (seva aka karma yoga) is truly fulfilling and keeps the practitioner in a high state of happiness. In addition, the practitioner also tends to have higher self-esteem and general psychological well-being.How does one benefit from true happiness? Research studies show that happiness strengthens mental and physical immunity, strengthens the heart, and provides quicker recovery times from illness or surgery. Some researchers have anecdotal evidence that happiness leads to greater participation in activities that are healthier, including exercise, eating healthy, socializing, and good sleeping habits Happy people also have an advantage over unhappy ones: they are not only healthier but they may also live longer. Happiness measured as subjective well-being causally influences health and longevity. Furthermore, there is a strong correlation between happiness and good health, as noted in some recent surveys. Some of the top-10 happiest countries also rank as top-10 healthiest countries.While it appears that efforts have to be made to achieve a constant state of happiness, from my own experience I am happy because I choose to be positive and appreciate goodness in all. I make a conscious effort to stay connected and bring that brightness in people, especially in this pandemic state. I reflect on the things I admire and appreciate about other people and then tell them. I try to focus on the present moment in order to feel centered, happy, and at peace. Over time, this has become a part of my life and I do not consider it as labor intensive or a struggle to achieve happiness.So, I was surprised when a colleague asked me if he could take the happiness pill to bring that cheer and joy. The discussion about happiness came about after my friend had read my book. But he was not willing to put into practice the yogic steps I described above (brain training, selfless service, etc.) to gain happiness. And he had heard about a couple of recreational drugs termed as the ‘happiness pill.” So he wished to explore the idea of taking these pills as his rationale was that if happiness is simply a neurological response to some stimulus resulting in a flood of neurochemicals in the brain to produce a sensation of bliss, happiness and wellbeing, then we should be able to manipulate it through a suitable pill. Everyone would love to have such a pill as it short circuits all the above natural steps to attain permanent happiness. After all, a happy individual makes a better student, teacher, employee, entrepreneur, and spouse or partner. But the question is: do pills like MDMA (Ecstasy or Molly) or other ‘club’ drugs produce true happiness or a synthetic version of bliss? Exactly how these so-called happiness pills work is still a mystery.I explained to my colleague that no doubt these unapproved recreational pills trigger increased energy and put an individual in a euphoric state. However, the blissful effects are short term and to sustain the effects, individuals have to resort to larger doses or take the pills more frequently, resulting in addiction. The few hours of fun are associated with long-term drug toxicity or sometimes fatal consequences. My colleague was convinced only after seeing several reports about the negative health effects from regular intake of these pills.In general, I am not ecstatic about these happiness pills as I think they are unnatural. Just the thought of drugging my way to bliss is unappealing. Instead, the four yogic practices I recommended above not only help you survive trying times with more equanimity but will strengthen habits that can provide happiness and bliss throughout your lifetime. These practices are more important than ever during these difficult times.For more information on happiness and other neurobehavioral aspects check my book Good Living Practices, which recommends tools to keep the body, mind, and emotions in sync. For optimal health and wellness, good living practices should be practiced daily, 24/7. My book is available as a paperback on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Copperfield’s Books, Target, and other online bookstores.

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