What is happiness to you?
Hmm. Its hard to boil it down into a mental definition, because happiness is definitely not something that happens when you’re bogged down with thought and analysis. It is definitely more of the heart and soul than it is of the mind. When I’m in my heart, I’m happy – I guess that’s the simplest answer I can give you! Many people look for one big thing in life to make them happy, a sense of following their destiny. I used to think like that too, but over the years I’ve experienced that that sense of life-purpose and direction can also be found be lots of little things – music, sports, meditation, helping others – as long as you follow your heart.
What attitudes to life help you stay happy?
One thing that definitely helps me is not being too hard on myself for my faults and imperfections (and believe me, there are quite a few!). As I was growing up, I was always attracted by the idea of self-improvement, but I thought it could only be done through self-criticism and self-chastisement. I remember coming across the philosophy of Sri Chinmoy (the author of The Jewels of Happiness) which emphasised personal transformation through acceptance and transcendence, and initially wondering how could that be possible? At the time, I equated self-acceptance with a kind of giving up. But in fact, it is only when you accept and love yourself that you can get into the proper frame of mind to go beyond your current capacities. So by all means, I set myself high goals at the beginning of each day, but at the same time I try to remain cheerful and grateful if for some reason it doesn’t work out.
Can you remember a time when you were recently happy?
I like trying out things and new experiences. One recent adventure I’ve embarked on is ultra-distance running – and earlier this year I competed this year in the Self-Transcendence Ten Day Race, which is held each April in New York. As I was running, it really struck me how after a few days the different layers of the complaining mind seemed to dissolve away into a state of mindfulness, and there is a tremendous simplicity, intensity and vibrancy to everything you feel and experience – joking with a fellow runner, watching the sunrises and sunsets, the promptings of your own soul.
I had so many amazing experiences during that race – ill just mention one of them. During the fifth day or so I had a rough period of the race where I felt very weak because I wasn’t eating enough, and I really just had to put my head down, stay positive and get through it. But at one point it just subsided, to be replaced by this beautiful feeling of consciousness, a connection with the universe so intimate, so filled with sweetness. It was as if this body of mine was just a vessel being used for a higher and deeper purpose, that if the universe wanted me to do millions and millions of laps around this track for the rest of my natural life, then I was perfectly happy to go along with that.
I would usually stop running at around 11.30 in the evening to rest for 4/5 hours, and retire to my lodgings, a tent in which my brother and I had somehow managed to wedge a pretty comfortable bed. And so I fell asleep, still in this beautiful space of being. For some reason I woke up at 1 or 2 in the morning – I wanted to get out of my tent to use the bathroom, but in my sleepy state I pulled open the tent flap that was lying directly over my bed. And there I was, all tucked up in my bed underneath layers of comfiness, staring at a sky filled with more stars than anyone could ever comprehend. That was quite special.