Have you been struggling to find happiness? There’s some good news. To make your life easier - and perhaps fulfil one of your new year resolutions - Dr Deepak Chopra is here to share his formula for happiness.
And here it is: H=S+C+V.
But before we go on to explain the formula, a little about Dr Chopra, for those who came in late.
An Indian-American and founder of The Chopra Foundation, a non-profit that researches well-being and humanitarianism, he is a leading figure in the mindfulness movement, integrative medicine and personal transformation, and a staunch advocate of alternative healing practices.
Founder of Chopra Global, a health company that, according to his website, is at ‘the intersection of science and spirituality’, he is also a bestselling author with close to a 100 books to his name, 21 of them bestsellers. The Manhattan-based internist has been translated into 43 languages at last count and his The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, perhaps his most popular book, was on the New York Times bestseller list for more than 70 weeks!
Ever since I had read this book of his a few years ago, I’d been looking forward to meeting the doctor hoping he would be able to throw light on some queries I had on subjects he discussed, most importantly, the pursuit of happiness. And of wealth. (I believed that achieving the latter would guarantee the former, but the doctor tells me I was wrong.)
Then late last year I got the opportunity for an exclusive interview with Dr Chopra on the eve of the Sharjah International Book Fair where he was a guest speaker.
Dressed in a blue turtleneck and jacket, a faint, intriguing smile playing on his face, he was more than happy to field all my questions, although I must admit that some of his answers left me with more questions.
Since happiness was one thing in short supply for a lot of people in the last couple of years (what with the pandemic and other uncertainties playing havoc with everyone’s lives), I asked him how one could increase one’s happiness quotient.
‘What makes anyone happy is a social and personal experience that brings an internal sense of euphoria,’ he said. ‘So happiness is always for a reason.’
Perhaps noticing a large question mark on my face, he decided to share the happiness formula with me.
‘There’s something called the Happiness Equation,’ he said. ‘H=S+C+V.’
S is a Set Point in the brain. ‘So, do you see the world as a problem? Or do you see the world as an opportunity? That’s 50% of your happiness experience.’
The choices we make every day for pleasure - people use shopping, substances, entertainment or food, among other things - bring happiness, but it is not [long lasting]
According to Dr Chopra, the Set Point is determined, ‘unfortunately, by your parents’, the environment you are in and ancestry, among others. If, for instance, the parents’ approach to life is negative, the child grows up to adopt a similar mentality resulting in growing up to be an unhappy person. (The good news, though is that the Set point can be altered through meditation and cognitive therapy.)
C stands for Conditions of living and includes status. ‘Money makes up 10 per cent of your happiness experience. Winning the lottery may make you 10 per cent happier but [in the long term] you will not be necessarily happier because the Set point doesn’t change after six months. If you win the lottery [the increase in your happiness] flattens out. One year later, you return to your [earlier] Set point. So money adds about 10 per cent to your happiness experience.’
Dr Chopra admits that ‘if you’re extremely poor, you will be unhappy; but being extremely rich doesn’t guarantee happiness because your net worth is not the same as self worth.’
The last factor V stands for Voluntary choices. ‘The choices we make every day for pleasure - people use shopping, substances, entertainment or food, among other things - bring happiness, but it is not [long lasting],’ he says.
‘However, there is something called fulfilment, which means you have meaning and purpose in your life, and you know how to make other people happy. That adds 40 per cent.’
Add up all of that and you have the equation for happiness.
Happiness vs Joy
Dr Chopra is quick to point out that happiness has nothing to do with joy. ‘Joy is independent. Happiness is the opposite of sadness and so is an experience by contrast. Joy has nothing to do with it; it’s independent of happiness, and also of sadness. It comes from your soul and is a spiritual experience.’
The much-in-demand motivational and inspirational speaker who has been on the scientific advisory board at Gallup, Inc., an analytics and advisory company that collects data on well-being, says that the first response of unhappy people is criticism, condemnation, complaints and playing the victim card. ‘Basically, your happiness is determined by situations, circumstances, events and people. So in a sense, you are at the mercy of every stranger on the street.’
However, there is a fast route to happiness: Make someone else happy, he says.
So what makes you happy? I ask the man Time magazine once described as ‘one of the top 100 heroes and icons of the century’.
‘Personally, nothing makes me happy or sad. I’m independent of sadness and happiness. I only have joy, only Ananda.’
The most important thing to know about money is this: ‘Don’t buy things you don’t need, with money you haven’t earned, to impress people you don’t like. That will create stress in your life.
People, though, may experience sadness when they feel lonely and cut off. ‘Absence of attention, affection, appreciation and acceptance can make people sad.’
Even as he is expanding on what makes a person sad, I am reflecting on one of his earlier statements where he mentioned that money adds only 10 per cent to one’s happiness.
Really? I ask him. So, money cannot buy happiness?
‘Money is one aspect of what we call abundance,’ says the doctor who is said to have served as the spiritual adviser to Lady Gaga and is friends with the Dalai Lama. ‘But when people confuse money with abundance, they also confuse their net worth with their self worth. That’s a big problem.’
People who think more money equals more abundance are wrong, he goes on. ‘Didn’t Bob Marley once write a beautiful song called ‘Some people are so poor, all they have is money’?’ he says with a smile.
I nod in agreement, but quiz him on his book The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success in which he discussed among other things, the creation of wealth. Are there any tips he can suggest on how one can create wealth? I make it clear I’m asking for a friend.
‘Wealth is a state of consciousness, and it includes at least seven aspects of our existence,’ he says, before going on to list them: Security and safety, sensual delight, the experience of the senses, success in the form of the worthy realisation of goals, love and a sense of belonging, creative expression, sight, intuition and higher consciousness, and Transcendence or Samadhi.
‘We can activate these seven chakras through mantra, yantra and tantra; this is the yogic way to abundance and wealth consciousness,’ he says.
I’m hoping my friend would get it.
Dr Chopra whose 92nd book is titled Abundance: the Inner Path to Wealth, once said that the most important thing to know about money is this: ‘Don’t buy things you don’t need, with money you haven’t earned, to impress people you don’t like. That will create stress in your life.’
Keen to know his take on stress and how to alleviate it, I ask the multi award-winning wellbeing expert whether we are laying too much importance on the need to stay positive and have only positive thoughts. Wouldn’t that itself create stress?
‘Trying to [force yourself] to have positive thoughts when you are not feeling positive can be stressful,’ he agrees, before going on to explain his definition of stress.
Stress, he says, is the perception of threat- physical, emotional or financial threats. ‘A simpler definition would be resistance to the present moment. If you are in the present moment there is no stress because stress is only in your imagination- future or past. If you are fully present, there is no stress.’
Meditation, he believes, is one of the best antidotes to stress. When meditating, the production of so-called stress hormones including cortisol and adrenaline in the body comes down while those associated with calm and well-being such as dopamine and oxytocin goes up.
Meditating even for just 10 minutes a day can make a huge difference, says Dr Chopra, who was also recently in Dubai for the launch of Wellth, Aster DM Healthcare’s hub of integrative medicine in the UAE. Among other tips he suggests to manage stress are maintaining a journal, avoiding multitasking, practicing mindfulness, going for walks, practicing good breathing techniques, and sleeping well. That last one is clearly one of the most important and the septuagenarian cannot underscore enough this key factor for health.
Importance of sleep
‘Getting abundant and restful sleep is one of the best methods to improve your physical and emotional well-being,’ he says.
A perpetually sleep-deprived individual is more likely to have a weakened immune system. Result: chronic inflammation, which is associated with conditions including Alzheimer’s, obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, digestive disorders and some kinds of cancer. ‘Lack of sleep also contributes to accelerated ageing, including premature ageing of the skin,’ he says on his website chopra.com.
He advocates between seven and nine hours of restful sleep every night for adults and to achieve this he suggests aligning the body to nature’s or the circadian rhythm. Practising a regular sleep routine, regular exercise and meditation are other tips for achieving a good night’s sleep.
What gives you good sleep, I ask, the guru of wellbeing.
‘As a physician, I learned to sleep at any time,’ the salt-and-pepper haired doctor smiles and tells me. ‘Because I had limited time to sleep as an intern resident, I used to practice yoga nidra and other calming techniques. Now I can go to sleep anytime, anywhere, at any moment, just by performing certain mental techniques that stimulate my autonomic nervous system. If you tell me to go to sleep for 15 minutes now, I would be able to do that.’
Sleep, incidentally, is right on top of the Six Pillars of Health that the doctor has been advocating for a long time. (The others are meditation, movement, emotion, nutrition and grounding.)
Post-pandemic, is there another health pillar he would like to add to the six?
Yes, he says, adding he would like to offer techniques to people on how to be more self-aware as it is aligned to ‘spiritual creativity’. ‘No matter how wealthy we are, we are not in touch with our true selves,’ he says, once again underscoring the importance of being in the present. ‘Beyond our ego, there’s always the fear people have of old age, infirmity, death, etc. For that you need much more self awareness than only the six pillars. I’ll be touching upon that in my future talks.’
What tips can he offer people to be mindful and remain in the present?
‘Pause to observe a sensation in your body, observe your breath, a thought, an object… the more awareness you bring to any experience, the more you are in the present.’
He suggests asking yourself once in a while whether you are in the present. ‘That question can help bring you into the present moment,’ he says.
Is meditation gaining in popularity and becoming more important now?
‘Yes,’ he says, without a moment’s hesitation. ‘Meditation increases the level of telomerase. It also increases the activity of genes that are responsible for self regulation and health. But now we have many other techniques including vagal activation through AI, deep learning, self-regulation through biotechnology, through the creation of immersive experiences, artificial intelligence, augmented reality, metaverse.
‘Technology has [helped] understand the role of the microbiome, which are the two million genes in our body that are not human; they are microbial. By changing the population of these microbial genes, you can change 90 per cent of the genetic information in your body. So there are many ways now to extend lifespan, health span and even reverse ageing.’
These are issues he has been working on over the past several years.
If the pandemic threw a spanner in the works for a lot of people, Dr Chopra did not allow that to happen and instead spent much of the lockdown and stay-at-home period writing books and working with technology for AI, immersive experiences in real time ‘and what we call embedding our avatars into virtual reality’.
As my buzzer reminds me that I have just a few more minutes to wind up the interview, I ask him how he is such a prolific writer.
‘I ask myself some questions before I go to sleep, and in the morning, if I feel I have some answers, I make notes. These are my notes,’ he says, flourishing a bunch of papers from his bag.
‘If I like some of the ideas in my notes, that becomes a book. I spend at least an hour downloading some ideas and they turn out to be books. So I have written 93 books. I think I have three more books inside me and then maybe I’ll stop.’
Any tips he can offer aspiring writers?
‘Write only about stuff that you think you’re an expert in and then see how emotionally it relates to your audience. But you have to know your subject.’
And one tip for happiness?
Laugh, he says. ‘The healthiest response to life is laughter.’ He writes about the importance of humour in life on his website chopra.com.
The doctor has often been quoted as saying that he enjoys watching Charlie Chaplin films and episodes of Candid Camera on YouTube. Laughter among other things, reduces the stress response, boosts immunity, increases resilience, and combats depression relieves pain, he is convinced. He suggests spending more time in the company of people who can make you laugh. ‘Read a funny book, watch a comedy or listen to your favourite comedian.’ However, he also lays down a caveat: ‘Know what isn’t funny- laughing at the expense of others is not funny.’
Clearly, the world would be a lot happier if people took the effort to laugh more. ‘I don’t trust anyone who can’t laugh,’ he says, with a smile.
Thus, a joyful, energetic body, a loving, compassionate heart, a clear and creative mind and lightness of spirit at all times.