A saint named Amir lived in Central Asia many hundred years ago. He had a disciple named Tej who stayed with him and took care of him.
One day Tej approached Amir with a question, “Master, I have observed you for the past 20 years. And all through the ups and downs of life, I see that you continue to remain happy and you are always smiling. How do you do this?” He asked.
Amir stopped what he was doing and looked up at Tej so that he could give him his full attention. He said, “You have asked a great question, Tej. One has to learn to distinguish between pleasure/pain and happiness. To be happy you have to understand the difference.”
Tej was not convinced with this reply and asked, “Your wife died, your only son cut off his relationship with you, and you got excommunicated from the community, and yet you remained unaffected. You still smiled through all this. How is this possible?”
“Look, all these experiences were painful. But why let them come in the way of happiness?”
“You mean that your wife passed away, and you can still be happy?”
“Yes, it may seem paradoxical but you can be in pain and be happy at the same time!” Amir said. “Pain and pleasure are caused by things that are outside us. These things may or may not be in our control. And the experiences will come and go. But happiness and sadness are internal to us. They are choices. These are things we turn our experiences into.“
Amir got up, and motioned Tej to follow him. He then took him to a window. “You see there. That is where the sun rises,” he said while pointing outside. “Every morning I watch the sun rise from here. I look at it and I thank God for giving me another day to live. I promise Him that I will make the most of the day, and I will choose to be happy! I carry this promise with me throughout the day and no matter what happens, I choose to be happy!“
Tej turned towards Amir and said, “You say that happiness is a choice? How is that possible? All my life I have been trying to be happy, and all along all I had to do was to choose to be happy? Is it so easy?”
Amir roared in laughter, “Incredible isn’t it?” He asked. “Yes. Happiness is a choice. Deep within us we have an infinite well of happiness. All we have to do is to tap into this well. When we do this, external things no longer have so much power over you! All you have to do is choose to remain with this well of happiness. Sometimes the arrow of pain penetrates deep and turns into sorrow, we may have no control over this happening. But as we unburden ourselves of its effects we can soon revert back to choosing to be happy!”
“And what about ordinary folks like me?” Tej asked. “I do not have access to this well of happiness you speak of. How can I just choose to be happy and bring about happiness in my life?”
“Of course you have access to this well of happiness!” Amir responded. “Have you not seen young children play? You can see how happy they are! It is natural for us to be in this state. But as we grow up we create these obstacles to happiness. We take our day-to-day hurts and disappointments and choose to be unhappy. These can solidify and turn into permanent obstacles to happiness. Instead we have to learn to brush these away and choose to be happy! As we learn to live lightly and unburden ourselves of these burdens of sadness we carry around, the well of happiness gushes back into our life! Who hasn’t had painful experiences? We all do. But these are not trophies that we need to carry around! Let them go! Instead live life from its present moment! The well of happiness will gush forth if you choose to let it flow!