A Few Words about Happiness

Practising happiness, or contentment, is fundamental to the practice of yoga. 

The Sanskrit word for contentment is santosha and it is presented in the second of the eight limbs of yoga given in the Yoga Sutras (it is one of the niyamas, or observances for living well):

YS II.42 'santosat anuttamah sukhalabhah'
'From contentment and benevolence of consciousness come supreme happiness'
translation by BKS Iyengar

Lord Layard, author of Happiness: Lessons from a New Science demonstrates how decades of increased wealth and material comforts in the West have not made us happier.  So if having more money, more stuff, bigger houses and better health doesn't make us happy, then what will?

Our yoga practice has a lot to offer.  It is meaningful that santosha is a practice - we have to practice being content and grateful for everything we have.  The more you think about how lucky you are, the more you start to feel it.

Being present is another key factor in being happy and is another teaching from the Yoga Sutras.  Dwelling on past hurts and imagining future pain/difficulty are easy traps to get stuck in.  But the past has gone and can't be changed and you cannot accurately predict the future, as much as you might try.  In fact, both past and future are figments of your imagination.  The only thing that is real is the present.  So practise being present - how are you right now?  Right here? You can do this anywhere, whenever you remember about it.  I usually find that I'm feeling ok on a train, in the car, in a queue, cooking a meal... wherever I am.

Bad things do happen and life challenges us: we argue, feel sadness, go through bereavement, experience hurt and illness.  These things are universal; no one escapes them.  But your yoga practice, by helping you to stay content and present, can help you through the bad times.  Mattieu Ricard likens this to an ocean: a storm may rage on the surface of the sea, but the depths of the ocean remain still and unruffled.

On your mat, the practice of santosha comes in the form of being content with the body you have; with the way it feels today; and with the way it expresses the postures you are practising.  It also means keeping your mind focused on your practice (here's that imagination thing again - worries about the future and recriminations about the past have no place on your yoga mat).

Off your mat it comes in lots of different ways: keeping a gratitude diary for a few weeks can be helpful: every night before you go to sleep, write down three things that you are grateful for today.  Or practising finding everything 'enough' - my house is tidy enough, I already have enough, I am good enough.

The Yoga Sutras teach of the difference between temporary pleasure and deep, abiding contentment, but in truth I think we all know the things that really make us content.  Practising santosha just helps us to keep that in mind.


  1. Some words of wisdom to apply in life (From Yogi Tea Bag tabs):

    1. Real Happiness lies in that which never comes or goes but simply is.
    2. The mind is given to you, you are not given to the mind.
    3. If you cannot see God in all, you can not see God at all.
    4. Your greatness is not what you have, it is what you give.

    Laurence & Vanessa

  2. I need to get some of that tea...


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