Over the years, you pick up on society’s preconceptions of what should give you happiness and what shouldn’t. But when you evaluate what really gives you happiness, you become aware that happiness can often come from unexpected sources; and what we expect should give happiness often disappoints.
I remember when very young, I would spend weeks and weeks getting excited about Christmas. The only reason for the great excitement was all the presents that I hoped would come my way. I remember one particular Christmas morning being terribly unhappy. My assortment of socks, woolly jumpers and “improving” books were not at all what I had wanted. It proved an early lesson in the realisation that the expectation of material goods could easily lead to disappointment and unhappiness.
These days, I no longer expect a big sack of presents from Santa, but Christmas has become a particular favourite time of the year. What I enjoy about Christmas is the fact the world slows down. There is no need to work, no need to check my emails and all those little things of modern life (which are supposed to make our lives easier, but actually seem to increase tension). For a few days over Christmas, there is that freedom to switch off from the demands of our work. There is more time for music, reflection and meditation. I find at Christmas, my meditation improves markedly. Quite often, my early morning meditation is slightly compromised by a list of things to do – nagging at the back of my mind. But, when you can really switch off – contemplation and meditation come much more easily.
The Christmas vacation reminds us how a slower pace of life can afford the opportunity to discover real happiness. But happiness isn’t just to be found in a slower pace of life. In fact, an even greater happiness can be found when we find ourselves in the maelstrom of life seeking to offer something to like-minded people.
When we think of our happiness, we tend to think in terms of what can we receive. We perhaps think of ourselves in a comfortable situation, with nice things happening to us. But one of the most valuable lessons I learnt from my spiritual teacher, Sri Chinmoy, is that our happiness can be magnified when we forget about our self and are in a position to offer something to others. If we grasp at happiness for ourselves, it eludes our grip. But, if we forget our own happiness and seek to serve others – happiness seems to come effortlessly.
‘We have to live in the root and this root is happiness. How can we live in the root all the time? We can live in the root only by self-giving: giving what we have and what we are.’
Sri Chinmoy 
Some of my greatest moments of happiness have come through offering free meditation classes in my local city. It’s hard work putting up posters, and going every evening to a small rented room. It’s not always easy to speak in front of a crowded room of strangers. But during these meditation classes, I have unexpectedly experienced some of my most beautiful meditations.
Like many good meditations, you don’t really feel you did anything to deserve it. But in offering these meditations, there is a real sense of fulfilment. It is a happiness you are grateful to be able to share. It is good to have a personal meditation on your own, but with a group of like-minded seekers, the power of meditation is enhanced. It gives reality to the philosophy that we share a common humanity and common spirituality. It is in these shared meditation workshops, that the ideal of oneness and our inter-connectedness are no longer philosophical ideas, but something we can actually feel and experience. And this is a great source of real happiness.
When I was very young, my greatest ambition was to be a professional footballer. Fortunately or unfortunately, my football skills were only slightly better than my capacity for rational evaluation. I struggled to make my local village starting XI – let alone a top football club. But when I look at the lives of professional footballers, I can’t imagine my happiness would have been any greater should I have had the fame, fortune and celebrity that comes with being in the spotlight. Fame is no shortcut to happiness – in fact, it seems to create more problems than it solves. I’m actually glad that, as a youngster, I got all those embarrassingly orange woolly jumpers. I may have experienced disappointment, but I’m happy to have those early lessons showing material prosperity isn’t the route to happiness.
Although it may sound like a throwaway new-age sound bite, happiness really does lie within. Not so obvious is the realisation that to find that happiness within, we need to seek to share with others. If we can give happiness to others, that is perhaps the easiest way to be aware of it within ourselves.
 Sri Chinmoy, Reality-Dream, Agni Press, 1976.
photo top: Tejvan