You think your way Out of Happiness

Thinking and Happiness

This article is based on a personal opinion and experience. The article follows the editorial guidelines and policy of WYF. Recommendations made in this article are meant to be general guidelines. In case you have any medical conditions, consult your doctor.

I’m reading this very interesting book – “Don’t believe everything you think” by joseph Nguyen. I purchased this book purely out of impulse after reading its cover. While most of the contents of the book aren’t new, a few chapters I’ve read have been articulated quite well.

One of the chapters titled, “why do we even think”, begins with a quote from Jonathan Safran Foer. It mentions,

I think and think and think, I’ve thought myself out of happiness one million times, but never once into it.

The chapter goes on to mention concepts around the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous system in an incredibly simple manner. While our minds are programmed to help us survive, such as by scanning the environment and looking out for threats; we don’t live in a world where we might be eaten by a tiger hiding behind the bushes.

The mind is largely concerned with our survival. This state of thought brings us out of the state of happiness and joy. A simple way to ensure that we keep the mind in control is by pausing it, which can be incredibly tough.

In the Bhagawad Gita, Arjuna tells Krishna that stopping the mind is more difficult than controlling the wind.

Stop thinking and end your problems.

Lao Tzu

While this may not be entirely true. If Albert Einstein had not done his thought experiments, physics wouldn’t have advanced. We do think to solve problems. The problems we chose to think about determine where we keep our mind occupied and consequently its state.

If we think about things that aren’t typically in our control, it can lead to a lot of stress and anxiety. I’ve experienced situations where I’d just think about a loan I couldn’t get rid of and that caused a lot of stress. And if those continue, it’s a downward spiral.

Yoga and Mastering the Mind

Humans very early on realized that the mind was the root cause of all suffering. They also realized that controlling the mind however can be very tricky. Yoga emerged as a way to conquer the mind. The main goal of Yoga mentioned in the scriptures was to still the changing states of the mind. An eight-step process also known as the eight limbs of yoga was thus prescribed. The practice itself is designed in a manner, which begins with moderation in life (defined as yama), discipline and consistency (niyama), a fit body (asana), control of the breath (pranayama), and then meditation moving from lower intensity to higher intensity (pratyahara, dharana, dhayana, samadahi). This is also referred to as raja yoga.

State of Flow

This (raja yoga) however is only one path. There are other ways as well to reach a state of no thought. There is a path of knowledge (Jnana Yoga), path of devotion (bhakti Yoga), and the path of action (Karma Yoga). All the other paths also lead to a state where your mind is occupied in gaining knowledge or is in a state of devotion, or in a state where it is working on carrying out its work without any expectation for the reward at that moment. In all these paths the mind achieves a state of flow.

Anxiety is thought without control. Flow is control without thought

James Clear

In all the other 3 states there’s the highest level of focus and thus the wandering mind comes is under control. The highest state is when this wandering mind becomes non-active. Nothing can harm us as much as unguarded and uncontrolled thoughts. We become what we think. To control the mind and its changing states is a goal that is worth striving for. Yoga presents itself as a great path to achieve it.

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