“You have been living under an illusion you’re entire life and you’re living in that illusion now,” proclaims Dr. Srikumar Rao, the founder of The Rao Institute and trainer of the Mindvalley program, The Quest for Personal Mastery.
And that illusion? The pursuit of happiness.
In this episode of The Mindvalley Show with Vishen, Dr. Rao brings forward universal truths about this topic with tips on how to be happy in life.
Watch the full 46-minute interview:
The Illusions of a Happy Life, According to Dr. Srikumar Rao
Society paints a really linear picture of what a happy life should look like. Good grades, a high-paying job, a loving partner, a beautiful home—the list goes on.
However, what most people eventually realize is that this society-approved version of a happy life doesn’t always equal actual happiness.
“We’re all living under the illusion,” says Dr. Rao. “In all things, what we’re searching for is a sense of fullness. That’s what we’re searching for—the sense that we are complete, that there is incandescent joy in our life.”
For example, take a corporate high-flyer who, despite making the big bucks and ranking up the ladder, feels an inexplicable sense of emptiness. Or the stay-at-home mom who, despite having a beautifully decorated home and raising well-adjusted kids, experiences a lingering sense of dissatisfaction.
The reality is, since 2005, the global prevalence of depression has risen by 18%, according to the World Health Organization. And the percentage of people who suffer from stress, anxiety, and addiction is equally alarming.
In addition, higher standards of living, as measured over time, have not been the ultimate happiness determinant. Especially in Western civilization, this increased prosperity has not proven to correlate directly with elevated levels of happiness.
“There is greater uncertainty than ever before,” says Dr. Rao. “There is economic anxiety. There is uncertainty about our relationships, and as a result of all of that, people are feeling unsettled.”
The skills we learned in school and at work are valuable to contribute to society or our economic system, absolutely. However, they fail to teach us how to live meaningful, joyful, and purposeful lives.
How to Be Happy In Life: 3 Mind-Blowing Ideas From Dr. Srikumar Rao
Are you happy? It’s a question that seems loaded.
“When we say we’re happy, what we’re really saying is, ‘Nothing immediately is bothering me; all my needs are taken care of,” says Dr. Rao. But happiness, in its essence, goes beyond surface-level discussions.
So let’s take a look at three of his most powerful ideas on how to build a happy life.
1. Rethink success
This is what many of us have been taught: if you have [insert something that you think would make you happy], then you’ll be happy.
For instance, if you marry the person your parents approve of, you’ll feel fulfilled. Or if you make that CEO status, you’ll find satisfaction.
But how many times have you achieved a milestone only to realize that the feeling is fleeting? Most likely, a lot.
In fact, one study found that life circumstances only account for about 10% of our happiness. It challenges the deeply ingrained belief that achieving societally approved success will lead to happiness.
So how do you rethink success?
According to Dr. Rao, the first thing is to understand that the goal you’ve set isn’t really about success. Rather, it’s about the feeling you assume you’ll get when you hit your milestone. (Hence, if you have [insert something that you think would make you happy], then you’ll be happy.)
The second thing, once you’ve realized that, is to work towards those feelings. Because the thing is, you don’t have to achieve that “thing” to feel ready to succeed. With mindfulness, you can feel that now.
Dr. Srikumar Rao on how to rethink your success: “What we should be doing is recognizing that this is the dilemma that we’re stuck in.
And then act—but act knowing that we are acting because, you know, that’s where life (the Universe) has placed us and not out of the thought that out of this action will come ‘something which will fulfill me.’”
2. Embrace Ananda
Ananda is Sanskrit, often translated as “bliss” or “supreme joy.” However, Dr. Rao explains that it goes way, way beyond that.
“It’s such a massive feeling of well-being that you can’t describe it,” he adds. “It’s as if you were floating through the air touching down gently to make contact with the Earth and then floating up again. There is a heavenly scent, a marvelous fragrance, great music around you everywhere. You’re joyously floating, hardly touching ground at all. That is happiness.”
And according to ancient Indian philosophy, Ananda isn’t dependent on external circumstances. It’s actually an inherent part of our being. And as you cultivate this profound state, you tend to have more positive thoughts about yourself and the world around you.
Dr. Srikumar Rao on how to embrace Ananda: “The first thing you can do is recognize that what we see is happiness. You are Ananda. …And the second thing is, recognize that all of our endeavors, which we think will bring us happiness, will not.”
Dr. Rao goes on to explain that it doesn’t mean to stop doing what you’re doing. But to understand that the happiness and fulfillment you’re seeking are within you.
3. Live in gratitude
To say that the practice of gratitude is a powerful tool to boost your self-esteem (and, in turn, your happiness) is an understatement.
There’s plenty of research to support this, too. One study, for instance, found that people who have a regular gratitude practice reported higher levels of:
- Positive emotions,
- Life satisfaction,
- Vitality, and
What’s more, they also experience lower levels of depression and stress. That’s a wonderful aspect of this practice.
However, Dr. Rao suggests that there can be a deeper level of gratitude. Instead of listing out things you’re grateful for (e.g., “I have good health,” “I have a bed to sleep in at night,” and so on), every occurrence in life—pleasant or unpleasant—can be viewed as a gift.
Dr. Srikumar Rao on how to live in gratitude: “You can’t think gratitude. You actually have to feel gratitude. … You can’t chase a feeling; you have to let the feeling find you and emerge. But what you can do is create conditions [that] are receptive to this happening in your life.”
Take the Next Step
Our innate state is happiness, according to Dr. Rao. It’s just that we’ve learned to be unhappy. And to undo that trait, he advises that we should “stop learning to be unhappy.”
Such significant transformations rarely happen without guidance. So this is where his program on Mindvalley, The Quest for Personal Mastery, comes in handy. With his wisdom, you’ll learn how to…
- Face each difficult situation as a chance to learn and grow,
- Listen to your strong inner voice,
- Make friends with the Universe, and
- Gain the resilience to handle tough times.
You can sample the first few lessons of this Quest when you sign up for a free account. And what’s more, you’ll be part of a global community of like-minded people who are also taking steps to find their own happiness.
The thing that people don’t always realize is that there is unlimited joy in the world. All you have to do is tap into it.