Continuing from Part One, here are more tips and insights on developing the most crucial element for happiness: Peace of Mind.
A Door to Learning
Peace of mind facilitates a myriad of things, especially learning. It provides the clarity that is necessary for self-betterment.
In the years of my life where I was depressed and full of anxiety, my brain did not absorb new material, nor did I make much of an effort. For one, I had a cynical attitude, which is never good for acquiring knowledge, and two, the time spent learning would detract from the time I would spend on hedonism – that false happiness which is empty and fleeting. Thirdly, if you have a poor attitude about learning, your brain stops trying to learn. It is that strange relationship between the technical part of the brain, that “machine” part, and the part that is more personal and human. The two are in constant communication.
While writing this book, I had a colleague in the Philippines who was always at peace and full of life – indeed, a walking embodiment of sunshine. I finally asked her, “How do you achieve this?” Her response was simple and immediate: “Prayer.” She added that she prayed every morning, sometimes alone and sometimes with her family, and that this process of expressing gratitude, as well as any hopes, concerns, and penances, put her in the frame of mind to face the day with composure and positivity.
Prayer should mainly consist of gratitude. Be thankful for your family, your health, your job (if you don’t like your job, be thankful for at least having a means of earning money). Be thankful for regular meals, clothing, shelter, and for any moments of peace and happiness you have experienced during the day.
It is natural, in prayer, to ask for help. No one makes it through life completely on their own. At the same time, while there is no exact science for praying, it is important to keep in mind that God is not a “genie.” Often, people turn their prayers into a Wish List. I was guilty of this in my youth, and would say prayers like “God, make me the best football player in the world” – excusable because of my childish innocence, but definitely not the kind of prayer that is going to get much of a response. Instead, we want to ask for help in moving towards an achievement – not the achievement itself.
Ask God for the strength, the confidence, the endurance that you need; ask God to help you see things clearly and positively; ask God to help you make the best use of opportunities that come your way, and to not be overwhelmed by procrastination and fear. As I got to a more peaceful and happier plane, I began to look at my procrastination problem, and saw that it was either a result of perfectionism or the following course: ignorance of what to do; anxiety about that ignorance; a reaction that was prideful or shameful (the two come full-circle); then negativity; and finally, inaction and quitting.
Each day, say the prayer that sums it all up: “God, please grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
This prayer covers the main areas of living a peaceful, happy, fulfilled life. Serenity is the feeling of being at peace, which James Allen describes as “the fruitage of the soul . . . As precious as wisdom, more to be desired than gold.” Courage is the ability to move forward and make the most of opportunities, without letting fear paralyze you. Wisdom, we know, is the use of good judgment and the effective application of knowledge. Asking God for wisdom helps you to avoid learning everything the hard way.
One prayer I often said during my depression, when I recognized where I was and started to gain some focus, was “Please don’t let me hurt the ones I love.” (I always say “please” when I’m praying.) I didn’t want, in my negative state, to bring pain to those around me through my complaining or my anger; and this prayer was answered. While I did not put up a façade around people, I knew how to manage my words and actions so as to take their feelings into account. God helped me to consider the feelings of others, in a way that I had never done before, and I also became a less selfish person in the process.
In your prayers, don’t be afraid to be self-deprecating, and to talk about your shortcomings. If you can’t tell God, who can you tell? I’ve consistently asked God to help me live with equanimity, courage and wisdom, and to also help me suppress and remove the pride, sarcasm, and hedonism, which had proven to be so destructive to my life. When I started saying these prayers, I also started to notice when I was being prideful and sarcastic, and also when I was allowing hedonistic tendencies to control me.
A very valuable byproduct of prayer is that it is also a way of letting your mind ventilate, like journaling. It is a way of finding a moment of tranquility.
There are many books written on religion, and hence I shall confine myself to just some brief comments here. In keeping with my views on prayer, I believe that there can be great solace acquired through religion. The key is to look for how it speaks to you personally. Religion still speaks to us in platitudes: “God loves you,” “Jesus died for our sins” (that meaning of which is not clear), “The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away.” But people are more educated now and are not consoled by such trite statements. They do not feel reassurance from them.
Without going into too much depth, I believe that the best kind of religion is that which helps you in both this life and the next. Religion should assist you, educate you, in getting on a path that helps you to face each day – not just eternity. If a religion is solely focused on the afterlife, it’s not doing its job. Elements that a religion should teach, which are often neglected, include:
- How to be frugal and save money
- How to maintain good health and a strong body
- How to take a practical approach to dealing with adversity
- Emotional control and self-discipline
- Keeping an active mind and constantly learning
Yes, it’s important to save the soul, but let’s not forget about improving the mind and body.
Just a final note on peace of mind: Like anything else worth having, peace of mind is not attained overnight. Make it a constant goal for each day, and you will find that it becomes more of a way of life. Simplify, pray, learn, and exercise, and you will find yourself on the path to equanimity.
Tom McKinley is the author of self-help book Winning the Fight to Be Happy.