How to be Happy

How to be Happy

Lessons from the Yoga Sutras


Happiness (hapɪnəs)

  • noun
  • Definition: The state of being happy.

Happy (hapi)

  • adjective
  • Definition: feeling or showing pleasure or contentment.


What does it mean to be happy? Before you read on, Take some time to think and ask yourself:

“What would make you happy right now?”

That was a trick question. You should be happy as you are right now and any other answer will reveal that there is something in your life that is affecting your emotional state of being “happy”.

Most people will answer that they desire something or desire more. They wish they had a better house, a better car, a better life, nicer clothes or more money. However, once you fulfil those desires, chances are you will have another set of desires or desires of a higher standard as the circumstances and environment would have changed. For example, there will be a new fashion trend and you will desire the new clothes of the season. You may move into a nicer house and neighbourhood but notice everyone is driving beautiful sports cars and you will want a better car to fit in. It will just never be enough.

The thing is, life is complex and the world is ever-changing. If you let your material desires or worldly events affect your happiness, you will never maintain a sustainable state of happiness.

As per the definition, being happy is about is about contentment. The Yoga Sutras (2.42) talks about the concept of “Santosha” which can be literally translated to “complete contentment”. There are different interpretations about this.

Some people see contentment as the lack of Trsna (craving). Some describe it as attaining a state of inner peace.

For me, I like to view contentment as accepting one’s circumstances. There will always be ups and downs in life but regardless of what happens, as long we can find contentment inside ourselves, we can adopt a state of balance or equilibrium with ourselves. That way, we will always be content or happy no matter what happens.

That being said, to be completely content or happy is difficult and achieving that state of equilibrium within ourselves is something that only the we can figure out for ourselves.

The practice of Asanas and Pranayama can help us through learning to control our body and allow us to focus on the mind. Along with meditation, eventually we will be able to understand ourselves and learn to manage our thoughts and inner senses towards contentment and happiness.

This is a journey we all are working towards and along the way, regardless of what happens, just think of the classic Bobby McFerrin song, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”!


Stay happy,

Justin Chew



Cyci the Yogi: What my dog taught me about Yoga

Cyci the Yogi
You must be wondering, how this small, adorable little creature could have helped me in understanding profound Yoga philosophy concepts. Yet, the beautiful thing is also that the path of knowing is subjective to the individual and how each theory is contextualized in the lives of the students. In mine, I found my dog to be the best embodiment of Santosha.
Santosha is one of the 5 Niyamas under the second limb of Raja Yoga. Niyama refers to an observation within and how one handles themselves within the inside world – the internal battle. By achieving the 5 niyamas, the individual is on their way to the highest moral character and ethcial conduct.
Another word for contentment, Santosha refers to that inner peace of mind that should not be relied on external circumstances, since these external factors are always changing in ways byond our control.  This requires us to enjoy exactly what each day brings, to be satisfied with what we have. In other words, the action of seeking ceases. By elimination the action of seeking, one also clears out worries and burdens, which are deriaritives of seeking.
A simple definition illustrated by Master Paaulu defined contentment as being in the center of happy and sad.

Like in many other moral concepts in life, finding middle ground is always the preferred destination.
We can always practice Santosha in the beautiful and joyous experiences of our lives. For example, getting a pay raise, celebrating your birthday, receiving gifts from people, etc. However, Patanjali encourages us to be equally willing to embrace the difficult moments because when we can be contented in the midst of difficulty, we are truly set free.
A second part to this niyama also talks about the world’s evils and corruptions, such as achievements and acquisitions. Although material wealth and success are not evil, they can never in themselves provide contentment. Therefore, it is up to the beholder of these assessts to ensure that inner contentment still exists.  Neverthless, these world possessions opens up the floodgates for worries and burdens to set in, and Santosha to fade away, which is why many teachers may warn against materialism.
No, Cyci was not this master guru who warned me against materialism. He was in my opinion, the living example of what is meant to be contented. Midway during my 200hr teacher-training programme, Cyci was diagnosed with heart and kidney failure. Since then, he had to be hospitalized. My daily routine consisted of yoga classes till 3pm, then driving to the hospital to visit him before returning in time for dinner, and a few hours for me to read and write.
Although the first few days of his hospitalization wasn’t very smooth (his creatine levels were going up, and he was starting to have fluid in the lungs), my little boy was still extremely bright and energetic. To me, he looked like he had a perpetual smile on his face. (Trust me, you’ll learn how to judge a happy dog from a miserable one once you’re in the place full of sick animals)
This pained me terribly.
I couldn’t see the correlation between his inner body and his outer mannerisms. It was as though he did not know what was going on inside him. All he did was to look forward to seeing his family coming to cuddle and baby talk him. His innocence to his impending fate was so overwhelming and puzzling. I thought, he was not ready to leave this humanly world at all, he is still too happy!
Take this analogy for example. An old 90-year-old man being diagnosed with stage 4 cancer versus a 10-year-old child being diagnosed with stage 4 cancer.
Naturally, people feel more for the 10-year-old girl. But, why is this so?
My revelation came when I read deeper into Santosha. This 90-year-old man would evidently have had more possessions in the natural world – more success, more experience, more wealth compared to the 10-year-old girl. Therefore, people would have felt that death for the little girl was unjustified since she has yet to experience any of those of the man.
This emphasizes the fact that humans derive happiness from material and wordly possessions. One of the ultimate goals in life for many people would be material abundance and financial wealth. Like how a saying in Singapore goes about the 5Cs of life – Car, Cash, Condo, Credit Card and a Coutry Club membership.
Cyci teaching me about Santosha!
Just like the 10-year-old girl, Cyci had none of these possessions. He didn’t care for any either, he never seeked. Despite his bobily weakness, his contentment freed him from all the unncessary worldy sufferings and explains his emotional brightness.
And when he leaves us, he leaves us pure, innocent, and untainted, with none of the world’s evil corrupting him.
As I write this article, Cyci has been discharged. He lies beside me right now, staring at me with his bright beady eyes. His heart weakens, his wheezing loudens, his kidneys slows…

Saucha–the pathway to peace

The niyama Saucha is defined as “not coveting more than you have” (Wikipedia).  It is being content and in the PRESENT–not daydreaming about what we will/not have in the future and letting go of what we have/not had in the past.  It is to be truly satisfied in what we have, where we are (in space and time) and what we are doing at present.
This is easier said than done in today’s society–where we are constantly reminded by the media of what we do not have, and led to believe the more we aquire, the more content we will be!  Competition is fierce–and only because we are looking at others and comparing everything about ourselves to them.  Why is this so?  Why is it that if I do not do something better than another person, then I feel I have failed?
I can only answer for myself.  Comparing myself to others in all forms is a trap I have fallen into many times, and it steals my peace!  Without wasting time on why this is, I will instead focus on becoming free from it.  Cultivating an attitude of gratefulness is my answer.  When I am thanking God for everything He has given me and acknowledge He has a plan for ONLY me, only then am I secure in who I am and what I am doing.  Recognizing He is in control makes me feel content–I do not need to worry about my future, He has washed away my past, and He is walking beside me in the present.
But it is a constant battle–I must remember it daily, and count my many blessings daily, or more!  This not only gives me a sense of peace, but of being loved and satisfied with my beautiful self. 🙂