Jay Shetty1
Image Credit: Supplied

What is the most important lesson you have learnt in your journey so far? I ask Jay Shetty.

‘To not chase happiness,’ says the award-winning motivational speaker, podcaster, life coach and author.

‘That’s one of the biggest mistakes most of us make in life– we base our decisions on what we think will make us happy.’

Jay should know. Growing up in London, he has often said how he used to enjoy going out with friends to listen to talks by successful people including CEOs, celebrities, authors, and individuals who went from rags to riches. Young Jay was keen to know the secrets of their success and happiness.

But it was while in his late teens and a student at the Cass Business School in London that he would hear a talk by a monk named Gauranga Das that would, in many ways, change his life and take him, quite literally, on a new life path.

‘Gauranga Das was incredibly intelligent and highly educated,’ says Jay, in an interview with Friday, on the eve of his visit to Dubai earlier this month (May) where he gave a talk to a packed audience at the Dubai Opera on the power of love.

‘Yet, instead of focusing on making money in the corporate world, Gauranga Das chose to become a monk. He seemed so happy with his life and so deeply satisfied– more so than any of the other accomplished and outwardly successful people I’d seen [or heard]. And I was just enthralled.’

For those who came in late, Gauranga Das, a mindfulness and meditation expert, and a graduate from the respected Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai, decided early in life to shun material wealth and status, and work towards bringing about social change in society. (Among one of his more interesting and though-provoking pointers is that it is not achievement that makes one happy or unhappy. Instead, it is expectations attached to those achievements that define whether you are happy.)

So enamoured was Jay by the teachings of the monk that he followed him around the UK absorbing the monk’s talks and discourses at various gatherings across the country.

‘I talked with him afterwards and ended up following him on his tour, eager to learn more,’ says Jay. ‘That got me on the track towards becoming a monk, and that’s where I started to learn in a meaningful way about mindfulness and personal development.’

Convinced that he would be happier learning more about life than about financial and business practices, Jay, at the age of 22, thought nothing of turning down plum job offers in corporate finance. Instead, he preferred donning the robes of a monk himself and travelled across the UK, Europe and India studying, meditating and teaching lessons he learnt from seers and wise men he met during his journeys. He has also spoken about having spent a few years in an ashram in Maharashtra, listening to and learning from the seers there.

Life philosophy

Did his experience as a monk influence his life philosopy?

‘Yes,’ says the British-Indian whose mother is a Gujarati and father a Tuluva.

‘What I’ve learned as a monk and in the years since impacts everything I do. At this point it’s really the context for how I see and relate to the world. If I had to zoom in on one aspect, I’d say that I try to approach life, including my work, from a space of equanimity’

Jay makes it clear that he, just like anyone else, has his moments of highs and lows. ‘But I try to always keep coming back to the centre. It’s an acceptance practice, really. It’s like whatever happens, you don’t fight against it and think, “This shouldn’t be happening”.’

‘Solitude is not a failure to love. It is the beginning of love…. By itself, solitude doesn’t give us the skills we need for relationships. But there are many ways in which it [can help] prepares us for love’

- Jay Shetty

The famed self-help guru who is beloved by many celebs including Jennifer Lopez, Khloe Kardashian and Oprah Winfrey, believes that it is also important that ‘you don’t cling too tightly to the things that feel positive.

‘If you can operate mostly from that center space– that area of acceptance– and if you can say, “Okay, this is happening,” without judgment, that’s something everyone could really benefit from.

‘It helps us be present and fully experience our lives because we’re not spending energy either gripping or resisting.’

So, what are the biggest challenges people face when it comes to finding fulfilment and happiness in their lives? I ask the author of two books including Think Like a Monk that offers advice on how to reduce stress, improve focus and use ancient wisdom in the modern world.

‘I think it’s that we look for things like happiness and fulfilment outside of ourselves,’ says Jay, who is married to Radhi Devlukia-Shetty, a dietician. ‘We think, if I do this thing or that thing, I’ll be happy and I’ll feel fulfilled.’

Culture, he feels, is responsible for prescribing most of these things and we follow them without giving them a lot of thought.

‘We’re just following paths that have been prescribed by others. You won’t find your passion on someone else’s path. You have to look deep inside you to see what inspires you, what engages you, what thrills you about life.’

And how do I find out what inspires me or gives me fulfilment?

‘Start by trying [different] things,’ suggests Jay, who has more than 4.6million subscribers to his Youtube channel where he has hosted close to 900 videos at last count.

‘Conduct research and gather data points. It’s really just as simple as doing anything new and then asking yourself, “Did I like that or didn’t I? Would I want to do that again or wouldn’t I?”

‘If you do this long enough, you’ll start to learn what really [fires] you up about life, and you’ll know where to go for fulfilment.’

Biggest misconceptions

What are some of the biggest misconceptions people have about success and how they can change their mindset to achieve their goals?

‘We often think that life is supposed to take a linear trajectory– that we start at the low end and we just progress, progress, progress,’ says the new age guru.

In reality, life is more like a rollercoaster, says Jay. ‘And the thing is, that’s normal and to be expected. We need to realize and accept that if things don’t go right all the time, that doesn’t mean they’re going wrong. Success includes failure just as much as it includes us getting what we want or what we envisioned.’

He offers ‘an amazing statistic’ about Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton to underscore his point.

While admitting that the exact data might have changed a bit over time, Jay says that ‘for all of the effort Lewis dedicates to driving, including training, practice, and actual racing, the top racer spends only about 0.1% of the time in the winner’s circle.

3 pointers for young adults who are struggling to find their purpose in life
I believe that finding purpose is a practice. What I mean by that is that there are some people who seem like they were born knowing their purpose, which is very rare. The rest of us can get frustrated because we think that our purpose is something we’re supposed to uncover— that it’s this fully formed thing that’s already inside us and we need to uncover it like a buried treasure. But I think most of us live into our purpose. We piece our purpose together over time by having experiences where we experiment and learn what engages us and what we’re good at, and then we look to see what the world needs. Again for most of us, that’s a process that unfolds over time. So 1, see purpose as a practice. 2, allow yourself to experiment. And 3, observe what happens and connect the dots. Eventually you’ll see the full picture materialize. But don’t worry if you don’t know right away— most of us don’t. I certainly didn’t.

‘Yet, he’s the most successful driver on the circuit!’

The point Jay wants to highlight is that if we focus only on the time we spend in our version of the winner’s circle, we’re going to feel really disappointed and discouraged. ‘Instead, we have to find some kind of satisfaction and [enjoy a] feeling of success in all the other spaces as well. Because in the end, every experience we have in some way contributes to getting us onto that podium.’

This point also figures in his book, 8 Rules of Love, he points out.

While on the subject of love, Jay waxes eloquent on the difference between solitude and loneliness. It is a point that he stressed on in his show in Dubai as well as in the book. ‘Solitude is not a failure to love,’ he writes in 8 Rules of Love. ‘It is the beginning of love…. By itself, solitude doesn’t give us the skills we need for relationships. But if we use it to get to know ourselves, there are many ways in which it prepares us for love.’

We’ve been conditioned to believe that if we are not with someone or if we are not in a relationship, then we are inadequate or unworthy in some way, he told the audience in Dubai. ‘But being alone can be an incredible time to discover your personality, values, goals…,’ he says.

He also encourages people to first define what love is ‘before you think, feel or say it’.

Love means different things to different people. So when someone says ‘I love you’ it could mean wanting to spend their entire life with you or maybe just a few hours, he says.

These among other topics related to relationships figured prominently in his show in Dubai. During the more than 90-minute experience, Jay also spoke about finding, keeping and, why in some instances, it may be important to let go of love. (He is taking the show across the world including to Amsterdam, Bengaluru, New York, Toronto, Manchester and Paris.)

Jay Shetty2
Image Credit: Supplied

Love for learning

The life coach says that what keeps him motivated and encourages him to continue to grow and evolve as a person is his love for learning.

‘No day is complete unless I’ve learned something,’ he says. ‘I even keep track of that in my daily journal– I write about something new I’ve taken in on that day. It can be something I’ve learned in the classic sense, like from reading a book, but it can also be a piece of wisdom someone shared with me, it can be something I learned through a mistake I made and don’t want to repeat, and so on.’

The 35-year-old is sure that if we want to continue to grow, we need to be in ‘a growth mindset’– to have a belief and understanding that our potential is unlimited. ‘I truly believe that about each and every one of us. It’s the knowledge that by the time I put my head on the pillow that night, I’ll have grown in some way because I’ll have learned something.’

And what is the most important lesson he has learned on his journey so far?

‘To not chase happiness,’ reiterates the man who has more than 6million followers on Instagram and 29million-plus on Facebook.

‘We constantly ask ourselves, ‘Am I happy right now?’. If the answer is no, we try to make ourselves feel better in that moment, and often the choices we make are unhealthy.’

Real, lasting happiness and satisfaction, he says, quoting research findings, come from a feeling that our lives have meaning and purpose. And so instead of asking yourself, ‘How can I feel happy right now?’ ask questions like, ‘How can I be helpful right now?’, ‘Who can I serve? What can I offer the world?’ or, ‘How can I connect with my purpose?’ ‘What would feel meaningful for me at this moment?’.

‘True happiness is a by-product of all of those things.’

Being practical

How does he balance the spiritual with the practical? I ask.

‘I don’t really focus on balancing the spiritual and practical as much as I try to help people see the elements of the spiritual in the practical, and vice versa.’

Jay makes it clear that he uses the term spiritual in not necessarily the religious sense. ‘I mean connecting or relating to our higher self.’

One reason people struggle when they first start a mindfulness or meditation practice is that they try to take on too much at once. They think, today I’m going to meditate for an hour

- Jay Shetty

‘Whether you’re a monk, an entrepreneur, or whatever you’re doing, we all benefit from developing skills of self-knowledge and tools of awareness. All of the practical and pragmatic things we do in a typical day are enhanced when we bring our higher self to them. So really, to me they fit together quite seamlessly.’

And how can people incorporate practices of mindfulness and meditation into their daily life?

Practising mindfulness

‘One reason people struggle when they first start a mindfulness or meditation practice is that they try to take on too much at once. They think, today I’m going to meditate for an hour, and I’m going to practice being present at all times!’

But that could be overwhelming for some and ‘it can feel like you’ve failed’.

The key, he says, is to start small when incorporating any habit into your lifestyle. ‘Pick one thing that’s manageable and focus on that. For instance, instead of trying to meditate for an hour, start with ten minutes, or even five.’

Consistency, he underscores, is key. Meditating for five or ten minutes every day is a good way to start.

‘Eventually, when it feels like that’s easy, increase the time span.’

He also suggests adding a mindfulness exercise to our daily routine. ‘Maybe you can note one thing you’re grateful for every evening before you retire for the day. Start small, and be consistent.’