Though our paths widely vary, and though there seems to be countless desires amidst the vast sea of humanity, underlying them all is the one path of which all others are tributary—the goal to be happy.
Paramhansa Yogananda, a great master from India, explained that the common motive behind all human actions—the common longing tying all of us together in one united goal—is twofold: to avoid pain and to find happiness. But what is happiness? Happiness, we know, doesn’t simply come from a life that is easy.
If you make up your mind to be sad, no one in the world can make you happy. But if you make up your mind to be happy, no one and nothing on earth can take that happiness from you. –Paramhansa Yogananda
My own happiness was tested in 2010 when I was on my first deployment to Afghanistan as a Marine. During that time, there were three practices that helped me to be happy despite circumstances: willingness, kindness, and gratitude.
A few months into the deployment, our platoon commander and a few others from my squad met with the village elder, and had a meal with him. After being warned about the sanitation issues of the food, I naively finished every last bite of my meal, and every last sip of my tea.
That night on post, I felt great. I remember thinking to myself, How nice that I didn’t get sick from that meal. The next morning, however, was a different story. I was very sick—and stayed sick for the remaining five months there. I couldn’t hold down food, I was losing weight rapidly, and could hardly sleep.
There was only a small group of us, and there was no standing out. I had to continue supporting my squad. And to do so took a strong act of will. There was no room for getting into negativity; I had to stay positive and find solutions. I could not focus on personal problems.
And so, first of all, I started to challenge myself to do things with as much willingness and energy as I could muster. I would try to relieve my peers on post as quick as possible, to patrol with determination, and to be first to say yes to extra duties.
Secondly, I made the conscious effort to think kind thoughts of those I was with, though there were many things about them that had the potential to frustrate me—not to mention the fact that there was no time to be alone.
Lastly, I thought of the things I was grateful for in my life. For example, the gratitude I had for my family, and for the amount of mental strength this circumstance was giving me.
I learned many important lessons from life during that time in Afghanistan. Most important of all, I learned that happiness is not a thing; it is a state of mind. To be happy, as Yogananda says, we must make the choice to be happy, and once we have made that choice, “nothing and no one on earth” can take our happiness from us.
Joy to you,