Even though, as discussed in previous articles, true happiness is to be found inside and is independent of external circumstances, as long as we live in this body we will need to relate to said circumstances in one way or the other. Although it is very well and good to say that outward matters shouldn’t affect us, the truth is that, to a greater or lesser degree, they do. The heart of the matter becomes, then, to learn how to be affected. Or, in others words, how to react properly to them.
For this purpose, it is important to understand that we live as a part of a whole. You and I are a part of Nature, but also a part of our environment, our family and friends’ circle, our workplace, our congregation, and so on. As long as our energies are interacting with other people’s, we cannot but be somewhat affected by what happens around us. The environment of which we form a part is similar to a spider’s web: when even one corner of it is hit by a passing insect, the totality of the web reverberates.
As part of this intricate web of intermingled energies and karma, it is not really possible – or at least extremely difficult – to remain inwardly untouched. If the whole forest is on fire around you, even if you are safe within the waters of a lake, you are still bound to feel the heat! Perhaps the water itself will become too hot for you to handle.
The choice, then, becomes twofold: either to passively be affected by whatever situation is coming our way, either to our joy or sorrow; or to be an active force for good in the web of life, in this case, by reacting positively.
The Power of Your Magnetism
Paramhansa Yogananda said, “The greater the will, the greater the flow of energy,” and then, “the greater the flow of energy, the greater the magnetism.” Practically speaking, it means that when we project energy out into another person or circumstance, through our actions or thoughts, that energy’s magnetic field will attract the same kind of energy back to itself. Isn’t it true that good fortune generally eludes people who are always negative and complaining? On the other hand, I have been amazed when seeing how far a positive attitude can take a person in life, even when circumstances seem to be overwhelmingly in disfavor.
One of the many instances in which this was demonstrated in my life was when, some years ago, I was traveling around the world following Swami Kriyananda. I had just landed in Ananda Village, California, and had a place to stay but no money in my pocket or the bank to buy food with. No doubt, I thought, I would soon be able to find a job and earn enough to feed myself, but that would not happen until after a few days. In the meantime, I had nothing but my trust in God and a full expectation that He would take care of me.
It took about a week before things settled down enough so that I could start working, and I didn’t say anything about my predicament to anybody. However, during that time, friends kept treating me to meals, or I would be invited to a celebration with plenty of food available. Halfway through the week, a friend of mine, for whom it was time to leave the Village, gifted me his remaining meal coupons for the local market: about a week’s worth of them! At the end of the week, I felt like I had never eaten so much in my life!
And so, the principle of magnetism bears good news for us: it tells us that, when confronted with adversity, we don’t need to become passive receptacles for it, nor do we need to “fight fire with fire,” therefore igniting a self-perpetuating circle of negativity. There is a third solution: to increase our positive magnetism so that the negativity around us will either cease to trouble us, disappear, or even turn around and become something positive!
The Magnetic Power of Gratitude
So far, we have spoken of how magnetism affects the outward circumstances of our day-to-day activities. But, again, isn’t happiness to be found within, no matter the outer circumstances? Well, yes, certainly! The issue is that, as I wrote a little bit above, being part of the web of life, we cannot help but to vibrate when it vibrates. A strong positive magnetism will not only affect the vibrations of that web, but will also affect us, inwardly.
Every right attitude has a very strong magnetic power when properly exercised: positive expectations, joy, forgiveness, love, and so on. One by which I’m particularly touched, however, and which teaches a very valuable lesson, is the quality of gratitude.
When we express gratitude to another human being, we forget – for a moment – our ego. In a way, we are elevating that person and removing ourselves from the picture. It is a giving attitude, one which foregoes our self in order to recognize somebody else’s worth. There is tremendous beauty in it.
The ego is, in fact, the main foe that stands between we and the paradise of eternal, ever-new happiness. Its constant busyness with issues like “what’s in it for me?” “I want this,” “I don’t like that,” etc., are a perennial cause of discontent, restlessness and – as a consequence – misery in any human being. Gratitude puts the ego in the back seat for a while, making us temporarily free from its demands. A great peace of mind can ensue in consequence.
Moreover, gratitude does not need to be only towards people, but it is an attitude that we should hold towards everything in life! Is it sunny today? Be grateful! Is it raining? Also, be grateful! You will find that, if you hold a grateful attitude towards everyone and everything, even when things seems to be unfavorable or tragic, then not only will you be inwardly unaffected by emotional ups and downs, but often – I daresay, almost always – these very situations will turn out to be the best thing that could have happened to you!
Whatever you sow, you shall reap. What you give, you will receive. Sincere gratitude is a very pure act of giving, and Life itself will want to give back to you in loving return. Think about it: isn’t it more pleasing to do things for those who express appreciation for it? Isn’t it delightful in itself to give when whatever you give is appreciated? You could say that Life feels the same way. It will, of course, give its share of gifts to everyone, but it will take a “special delight,” so to speak, in giving to you.
To put it in a more yogic way, gratitude will increase your positive magnetism, therefore attracting toward you, yes, tangible material benefits, but also, and much more importantly, inner joy.
The Conscious Practice of Gratitude
It is not enough to say “I’m grateful” half-heartedly. Gratitude needs to be sincere, and perhaps, if it’s not something that you are accustomed to give, it is a skill that needs to be trained. Here are some tips of what you can do to train in it:
- Whenever someone does something for you, no matter how small, take the time to look at them, smile, and sincerely say “thank you.” Don’t just hurriedly say the words; mean it, and make the other person feel that you mean it.
- Never assume that the world, or any person, owes you anything. Never think in terms of “I have done so and so, therefore I deserve so and so,” or, “I did this person a favor, so it is quite appropriate that he did this for me.” These kinds of expectations are the death of happiness, because they will lead to disappointment when (not “if”) some of them are, inevitably, not met. Free yourself from these kinds of thoughts and stop taking anything or anyone for granted, and you will be able to appreciate every little thing that comes your way.
- Did you wake up in the morning to see another day? Say “thank you.” Did you have a good meal? A place to stay? Friends? Family? Say “thank you!” Always take some time to think of everything that you have which, through repetition, you may come to take for granted, and offer your heartfelt gratitude to God for their sake.
- Similarly, whenever luck decides to smile your way in very little ways – for example, perhaps, if the elevator just so happens to be on your floor, thus avoiding the need to wait for it – say “thank you.” Learn to appreciate the little things. Yes, you could say that they happen by coincidence for the most part, but the effect they will have on you will be much greater if you take it as an act of kindness from God, rather than a random occurrence barely to be noticed.
- Whenever things are hard, or you receive some difficult news, or when things don’t go your way… say “thank you” and mean it! Fill your heart with faith and confidence that, even though you don’t understand the purpose of this hardship, God has done it with nothing but love in His intentions, and therefore it will only benefit you in the end.
One prayer that I’ve often used in times of extreme pain or hardship has been: “Dear God, I don’t understand why this must be so, but I trust you. I know that, whatever you send me, you send it out of love, and someday I will find out that it is the best thing that could have happened to me. From the bottom of my heart, I thank You!”
Two brothers were living in houses next to each other. They had a similar job, a similar personal life, and fortune and misfortune tended to meet them at the exact same time, with the same strength. Their lives were, verily, almost identical! Once, a neighbor visited each of them at their respective homes. After seeing the first brother, he thought: “This fellow has such a hard life! Only constant struggle seems to come his way. I guess some people are just born unlucky.” After his visit to the second brother, however, his thoughts were: “Now, here’s a well-to-do man! Ah! How I wish I had his good fortune!”
In this story, the first brother had always had expectations of what life should hold in store for him, and because of that, he lived in self-created misery. That way, he became a pauper of negativity. The second brother had made a conscious decision to be grateful for everything that life gave him, and although his lot was the same as his twin’s, his right attitude had turned him into a king of happiness!
Ultimately, it is we alone who create or destroy our own inner joy by the attitudes we hold in life. May we, then, trough the joyful and willing practice of gratitude, find our wealth of happiness, and invest it in a useful and fulfilling life!