On my birthday, my son and his wife sent me a wonderful gift of “The Book of Joy,” where Douglas Abrams is interviewing His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
The core of his interview relates to how you can live a joyful life every day, despite the former who suffered by being exiled from his country and latter who experienced repeated insults and humiliation during apartheid.
After an extensive dialogue with these two examples of joy, Abrams cites Dr. Richard Davidson, a neurologist, whose research might offer a clue to the secret of their happiness.
Dr. Davidson located joy in four parts of the brain.
When one works diligently at developing them in conjunction with each other, one acquires four-fold joy.
He dubs them as four independent brain circuits that influence our lasting well-being.
Part I: Our ability to maintain positive states
Prolong positive emotions that directly impact our ability to experience happiness: talk to your spouse and children about them on a regular basis; being positive in spite of all the media and other sources of negativity; express love and compassion by starting your day with hugs and smiles and by wishing each other a happy day full of health and fun.
Part 2: Recovering from negative states
Develop the ability not to fall into the abyss of negative states. Convert that pessimistic energy into compassion and love by talking loudly about being alive as the best gift; being healthy as the second best and being a loving family as the best of all.
Part 3: Meditation: a cure for the distracted mind
The third circuit emphasized by the Dalai Lama and yoga gurus is our ability to focus and avoid mind-wandering. Focus on a mantra, your breath or object of your choice. Meditate on something that is pleasant and comfortable which would lead you to your silent self away from the troubled self.
Part 4: Our ability to be generous
Try to help others, watch others help you as well as help others. Be generous every day on a regular basis! Do a good deed to help others without seeking any reward for yourself. This will take you out of your selfish ego, breaking its walls to become an integral part of humanity. Amalgamating all the other three circuits of joy together will help you to live a happy life.
Through the daily practice of meditation and prayer, one could bring these brain circuits together to experience joy and well-being in one’s life as revealed by the living examples of these two spiritual leaders.
Exercise: Meditation on an object of one’s choice
This technique involves choosing a perceptual object closest to one’s heart to look at. This could be a lighted candle, cross, mantra or even an empty wall. Practice on a regular basis every day for a long time might help one develop concentration, leading to meditation.
Pick an object dearest to your heart. Sit in an easy posture and keep your mind on the object. If other ideas come through your mind, recognize them, set them aside and then go back to the object of your choice. Keep practicing this technique for two to four minutes each sitting. You can also do this in bed before falling asleep or when you wake up in the morning. This exercise might be helpful for those who are very busy or time-starved.
Dr. Ashok Kumar Malhotra has been a Nobel Peace Prize nominee. He is Emeritus SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor of Philosophy and founder of the Yoga and Meditation Society at SUNY Oneonta. His program “Yoga for Relaxation” is available on YouTube under “Ashok K Malhotra Yoga Institute Interviews.” His books are available through www.amazon.com, www.info@ideaIndia.com and Kindle.