Happiness: Shveitta Sharma and Adrian Taffiner on Success and Transformation

On 15 December, Shveitta (our personal growth columnist and School of Happiness founder) gave a very well-received speech at the Polytechnic University of Hong Kong (PolyU), at an event organized by the Mind Expansion Academy. While I managed to only attend the morning half of the seminar, I came away feeling deeply enriched by both her talk and that of Adrian Taffinder. I’m confident that their ideas can be applied to workplace, social circles, and family alike to immensely positive effect.

Both Shveitta and Adrian Taffiner have relatable speaking styles that engage people at a personal level. Taffinder’s perspective-shifting exercises were particularly refreshing to me. He had two for us this workshop. One was to go around and take someone else’s hands, holding them (and they holding yours) while looking into each other’s eyes for almost a minute. It was striking how little we look into each other’s eyes, because at least to me it felt deeply comforting to actually be free to gaze deeply into the irises and pupils of fellow participants without fear of strange looks or verbal censure. It’s at this point that one sees, from a completely non-romantic point of view, how rich and soulful the eyes of each individual is. Because of the tactile connection of holding each other’s hands, we could all sense that we were physically connected and there was no need to “rush” the experience.

Another striking exercise was to sit closely across from each other, taking turns for 30 seconds to say two things: “I can’t [this or that],” and then “I won’t [this or that].” It was striking how, facing a middle-aged father I didn’t know and probably won’t meet again (but hopefully we might see each other at another Mind Expansion event), I felt different discomforts just through tweaking the word “can’t,” to “won’t.”

Shveitta, having interviewed diverse people about the meaning of happiness, teaches an approach that I feel to be extremely compatible with diverse expressions of Buddhist practice. Happiness is within, and external factors are at best embellishments, at worst distractions or hindrances to searching for the real source of happiness. While Shveitta acknowledges that everyone might have their own definition of happiness (I personally find myself partial to the idea of “engaged contentment,” to be serene about the world but move and sweat within it), she and others have correctly urged for some time that it must be directed inwards before it can radiate outwards – dare I say, much like a beautiful exploding star.

Some might say that this inward conversation smacks of selfishness. I say that this is a conflation of two different approaches to the personal interior. As I’ve suggested before, spirituality deals with the ego and dispels this illusion, while selfishness and inauthentic spirituality simply feed the ego, expanding that bubble and making one’s external relations in family life, friendships, love, and work even worse.

What is meant by success? I think to Shveitta and Adrian, success starts with making peace with one’s self or interior being. That is the critical catalyst to a happy life. When one is happy, success is simply just living, just being. When you are succeeding at simply being, whatever you do, whatever role you choose to play in society, will be a beneficial and productive one, from being a creative artist to owning a business. The calling of being happy isn’t mere self-help, feel-good sentiment: it is the foundation to doing well and doing good with whatever else we wish to engage in with the precious time we have on this planet.  

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