I have always been intrigued by the concept of happiness.
How do people find, keep, nourish, and lose it?
Does happiness always have to be effervescent? Or can you be happy without expressing it outwardly? Even though I have been a happy person my entire life (I don’t take my mental health for granted at all), I have always wanted to know what else can I do to understand this feeling of bliss or state of joy elusive to many?
When I was in my teens, I didn’t quite understand what the wise meant by, “Happiness is an inside job.” I was happy when I was doing things or spending time with people or eating my favorite foods, and so on. And when I had an argument with a friend or mom yelled at me or my plans changed, I experienced sadness like most others would. In that sense, my happiness was reliant on others or external factors. There was little self-reliance and sense of centeredness.
As a modern-day yogi, my approach to life has changed dramatically.
The more inward I turn, the more stable I feel. As an adult, literally, for every life query, I find a reasonable explanation in Sage Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, yoga is defined as, Yogas citta vrtti nirodhah (1.2) (Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind). Patanjali laid out “Eight Limbs of Yoga” as the tools to help us control these fluctuations or Vrittis so we can live a meaningful and purposeful life.
The yamas, or ethical restraints, comprise the first of the eight limbs. The yamas are primarily concerned with the world around us and our interaction with it. Yogananada says, “By their observance, the yogi avoids the primary or fundamental difficulties that could block his progress toward Self-realization.”
Anyway, Asteya is the third yama of Patanjali’s five yamas of the Yoga Sutras. Asteya means “non-stealing.” Sure, in the literal sense it means not to steal. But the concept of asteya can be applied to our daily life off the yoga mat too. Because the idea of asteya extends beyond just material possessions.
Exploring asteya in relationship to happiness
Have you ever noticed that when you don’t do the right things (intentionally or unintentionally), you might experience a strange feeling in your gut? Most of us have a conscience that has the loudest voice. You spend time obsessing over it—if you could have handled the situation differently or justifying your actions to your inner critic. Or judging if the other person really deserved what they got.
Constant desire and aversion are stealing your peace in the moment. The time that’s gone ruminating won’t ever come back. And what we also lose in the process is our precious happiness.
Ways we steal in life:
>> When we covet what others have, that’s stealing from our happiness.
>> When we envy another person’s body or wardrobe or materialistic achievements, we steal from our confidence and self-esteem.
>> When we show up late to a meeting or turn in a submission late, that’s stealing other people’s time.
>> When we are loud in a yoga studio, we steal peace from those around us.
>> When we are fashionably late to a wedding or party, we are stealing the host’s peace of mind.
>> When we “borrow” other people’s ideas or content or jobs, when we don’t give our co-workers due credit, when we don’t acknowledge the work of our subordinates, it’s considered stealing from other people’s hard work as well as confidence.
>> When we are mean and inconsiderate to others, it’s stealing someone else’s happiness.
>> When we overstuff ourselves, we are stealing from our health and digestion.
>> When we don’t give ourselves 7-8 hours of sleep every night, it’s stealing.
>> When we are mindless with other people’s time and schedule unnecessary meetings or send unnecessary messages, that’s stealing from somebody’s productivity.
>> When we flake out on our date or cancel plans with loved ones last-minute, we are robbing them of so much more than just time.
>> Being reckless with our environment and polluting the earth is stealing from those who come next into this world.
>> When we buy more than what we need and hoard mindlessly (think Black Friday sales), it’s considered stealing.
>> When we hold back from giving genuine compliments, it’s stealing.
>> When we focus on the outcome instead of what’s available now (forcing our body to do a yoga pose it might not be ready for today), it’s robbing ourselves of the power of now.
Where does stealing arise from?
I believe the need to steal arises from lack of faith in ourselves. It could be greed, low self-esteem, lack of confidence in self, believing we don’t have enough, and the habit of comparing ourselves to others. “I’m not good enough” or “I don’t have enough” or “This belongs to me” or “I want more.” It is important to address and eliminate the underlying seeds of asteya to experience true happiness.
What can we do to practice asteya daily?
Asteya urges us to develop a sense of self-reliance and inner richness. So much of our unhappiness and suffering is because we think we aren’t enough and as a result, steal from our mental peace. Believe in the abundance of life. Feel grateful and practice contentment for what you have rather than being jealous of what others have—meaning, start rejoicing in what you have and start celebrating what others have.
Setting boundaries and honoring your time is also a form of asteya and self-care. At the same time, practice punctuality. Show up to events, gatherings, meetings, the yoga studio on time, so you don’t rob others of peace and happiness. Leave this earth better than you found it…both literally and metaphorically. Be kind, compassionate, generous, and walk into life with an abundance mindset. Believe in the innate goodness in every individual because prejudices hold us back.
Become mindful of your words. For instance, when we tell others they are blessed or lucky to have what they do, that’s stealing. Subconsciously, we might be thinking about what we don’t have. Or that what the other person has doesn’t belong to them. What’s meant to be yours will always be.
Start practicing asteya in every aspect of your life and experience its profound effects. It teaches you to love yourself and others without mental restrictions. Use asteya as an opportunity to grow and connect deeply with yourself.
Because the adult-me has learned that to experience long-lasting happiness and inner peace, I know that we need to know ourselves first.
This Valentine’s Day, I want you to stop stealing your happiness, confidence, and inner peace. We think of Valentine’s Day as this holiday of love. But without self-love, is any love real and lasting? Without self-love, happiness becomes fleeting.
“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi