Five Keys to Happiness

In 1993, my first year at Georgetown University, I realized that, although I knew how to get an A, I knew little about how to be comfortable, relaxed, and happy. I wanted to feel more at ease. I wanted to feel more loving and free-spirited. So I decided to do experiments in order to learn how to live.

For the decade that followed, I explored, I traveled, I trained, and I experimented. I searched for ways to feel comfortable and happy. I consulted psychics, scientists, yogis, swamis, Ayurvedic physicians, and life coaches. I tried meditation, herbs, flower essences, psychotherapy, and shouting out my angst.

And I learned a lot.

From yoga, I learned how to stand and how to breathe.

From yoga’s sister science, Ayurveda, I learned how to eat and how to sleep.

I learned to awaken my feelings and my intuition.

During this journey, I found the following five keys to happiness, five rules to live by for health and vitality.

1. Do yoga. And if you already do yoga, do more yoga. Finding the right type of yoga is like dating. You might have to date various styles before finding the one for you. There’s a spectrum of classes, from power vinyasa, if you like a vigorous workout, to gentle restorative, if you prefer something much cushier.

2. Follow your heart. Cultivate and follow your intuition. In the words of the late Steve Jobs, “Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become.” Before every major decision, ask yourself, Which choice feels right, is in line with my values, ignites my creativity and passion, and is an expression of my true self? Notice what gives you a feeling of rightness, ignites your creativity and passion, and makes you feel most alive, and pursue that. Every swami, yogi, researcher, and psychic that I’ve met gives this same piece of advice: The way to develop intuition is to listen for it and follow it. Feel for what foods your body wants. Close your eyes, taste, and sniff. Ask yourself on a day off from work, What would feel just right today? And at work, ask yourself, What decision feels right and makes me feel most alive?

3. Meditate. Meditation helps you focus. It raises your level of consciousness and makes it easier to identify and follow your heart and intuition.

4. Interact with others from your heart. When I have lunch with friends, I can notice myself trying to be liked, or entering a subtle contest to be the funniest or most interesting. It’s exhausting. But when I come from my heart, I relax, and our dynamic shifts to a few imperfect humans sharing and connecting. When I interact from my mind, I’m insecure and competitive, and ultimately alone. When I interact from my heart, I’m connected. Ram Dass said that there are three ways to be in the world—to be alone, to realize we are all connected, and to realize we are all one. The latter two are experienced through the heart and are a lot more satisfying.

5. Speak and act from your true self. Ask yourself throughout the day, What am I feeling right now? Not what should I feel or what should I want or who should I be, but what am I really feeling right now? This is your dharma, your destiny. You are here to bring you to the world. When you do that, you serve the world best, and you find the greatest satisfaction, comfort, peace, and happiness.

Brian Leaf is a Kripalu Yoga teacher and the author of 12 books, including the memoirs Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi and Misadventures of a Parenting Yogi.

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Brian Leaf, MA, is the author of 13 books, including best-sellers The Teacher Appears: 108 Prompts to Power Your Yoga Practice and Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi.

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