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how to be happy
a simple quest with humble results
by maigen thomas (@Maigen)
pop culture

I took six months off from work to figure out why I was so unhappy, even though life appeared to be going well. I was making money, I was finished with a relationship that was unhealthy for me, I was busy and had many friends…why would I be unhappy?

So I, after some great advice came from many different quarters, I took some time for me and I went to India.

During my tour of India I had many amazing experiences, but I have to say the moments that stick with me the most are four conversations I had with four different people. Separately, all four of them said the same exact thing. I felt like the Universe wanted to make sure the message was unmistakable.

While staying at an ashram, on a day trip to Rikhia, we were offered a rare and beautiful opportunity to visit a Shiva Lingam – one of the 12 most holy sites in India. It is widely believed that these Shiva Lingam hold immense amounts of power and can even grant prayers and wishes, if approached with purity of heart and spirit. If your wish is a selfish one, it may come true, but the consequences may be more than you would ever have bargained for.

My only fervent wish was something very basic, but very profound: I just want to be happy.

My experience touching the Shiva Lingam, offering my prayer, taking prasad (blessing or gift – I was blessed by a sadhu after going through the temple) and seeing the hundreds of people who have traveled from all over India to do the exact same thing was a bit overwhelming. I cried, but it was an emotional reaction to the spiritual resonance. There was something lovely there, but I didn’t know what it was and I didn’t know if my prayer would be answered, but it felt good to ask.

Also d, I was given the opportunity to have a one-on-one session with Swami Muktidharma, the swami leading our courses. I loved satsang with Mukti, I enjoyed his method of teaching and the manner in which he spoke. I particularly loved when he cracked jokes in English – his third language. I was intimidated, though, when I came to see him in a private session. I know that the person I am in a crowd is very different from the person I am when there’s no ‘audience’. It’s harder to hide the real me, for starters.

Mukti had already recognized this of course, and the compassionate welcome he gave me nearly had me in tears before a single word was spoken.

“You are conflicted”, he said. Yes. I had moved out of my comfort zone to discover this. I desperately sought a feeling of contentment and satisfaction and peace, things I never felt when I was flying 120 hours a month and making large but ultimately unsatisfying paychecks.

“I just want to be happy, and I don’t know how to do that. I feel like my emotional needs are so different from what my lifestyle offers, and I find myself frustrated when I should be happy and sad when I should be content. I don’t know what I’m doing.”

We spent twenty minutes talking and after crying my eyes out and receiving the most loving hug I’ve had in ages, I walked away from the meeting with a relatively simple piece of advice. “Take care of you. Take care of your own needs first.”

The swami in charge of the entire ashram in Rikhiapeeth is Swami Satsangi, the swami that used to be an Air India flight attendant and model, the swami I found myself drawn to more than any person I’ve ever met. Any time this woman spoke, I found myself melting into an absolute stillness, completely hooked, barely able to breathe while I waited for her to speak. Satsangi could stop me in my tracks; I was so in awe of her. I loved how she could captivate without even raising her voice above a quiet conversational tone. One day before the end of my stay at the ashram, I humbly asked if I could speak with her, even though I knew how unbelievably busy she was. I remember that she expressed a mild surprise that I hadn’t yet asked – she had already known I would.

Her advice, upon hearing my question was also simple: “You spend too much time trying to be what others need you to be. Stop. When you’re at work, you’re an actress. At home, you’re the real you. You must find that distinction and don’t confuse the two.”

When I left the ashram to begin my travels across North India with a couple girls I had met during my stay, I had a positive sense of well-being in mind. Take care of me. Be peaceful, positive and happy.

Eventually, I found myself in Jaipur, the capital of the richest province in India. On a whim, my friends and I visited the astrologer and palmist to the royal family. Without giving him anything other than my full name, birthdate and time and location of birth, he read my palm and star charts and – surprise – gave me the same information that Swamis Satsangi and Mukti had given me.

The first two advisors were not exactly coincidence, as they had spent time with me at the ashram helping me through various issues as they arose. But a random astrologer able to read my needs with such little information? I perked up a bit. I sensed the Universe had decided to dispense with subtlety and break it down for me.

And finally, as if to really drive the point home, while I sat on my backpack waiting for the airline desks to open up in the Mumbai airport, a gentleman joined my single-person queue and struck up a conversation. He was Indian, but lived in Hong Kong. He fancied himself something of a palmist. He asked me about my pearl ring, and then asked to read my palms. I obliged, of course, because I have always been a fan of having my fortune told (I never get tired of hear about great wealth and long life!).

Oddly, that wasn’t what he said at all. He said that he could see that I was prone to car accidents, stomach trouble, a lack of focus and was too idealistic. He said many things, but the ones I remember most are to learn patience and acceptance. Take the good with the bad. Focusing on what makes me happy, instead of living my life for and through others.

I flew to Amsterdam - and from there, Charlotte - that night with a profound sense of relief. I had come to India in search of my path, and I did find it. I found that I was on the right path all along, but I literally couldn’t see the forest for the trees.

What I took away from these experiences, and what I intended to share, was that we all have an inkling of what our ultimate happiness is. We instinctively know how to be peaceful and happy, but we get caught up in life. In rewards and consequences, paychecks and debts, in rights and responsibilities, in making other people’s goals *our* goals and forgetting about our own needs for such long periods of time we barely recognize ourselves by the end of the day.

In order to be happy it doesn’t take vast amounts of money or time or special diets. It’s taking back that bit of our souls from work, from the hectic nature of life. Taking it back and nurturing it quietly with positivity and love. Ultimately, learning to be happy in and of ourselves, we will eventually make others happier just being around us, thereby creating a better world. And that happiness comes right back to you, in amazing ways.


Maigen is simple. is smart. is wholesome. is skeevy. is spicy. is delicate. is better. is purer. is 100% more awesome than yesterday. She';s traveling the world and writing about her experiences with life, love, yoga, food, travel and people. Mostly people. Because they';re funny. hear more of her random thoughts @maigen on twitter.

more about maigen thomas


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topic: pop culture
published: 4.22.09

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by maigen thomas
topic: pop culture
published: 11.24.08


tracey kelley
3.22.10 @ 11:33a

You just summed up "Eat, Pray, Love". Wish you would have completed this column before I read that book. :D

maigen thomas
3.22.10 @ 12:25p

Oh wow. I gave that book to my dad recently to give him a little more understanding into the mind of his 'Spirited Child'. I don't think he's read it, but yes, I didn't live the book like she did, but I feel like I got my own piece of Pray and thoroughly enjoyed it.

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