The Secret of Happiness

It’s true, I’m selfish. I want to be happy as much of the time as I can. The secret seems to be in how to do this. If you watch TV or listen to our ever louder and persistent media you “know” that happiness comes from shopping. Buy that perfect and popular item and you will overcome all obstacles.
But, here is the real secret—if you want to be happy, serve others. The joy in contributing to the well-being of others is long-lasting and leaves you with a buoyant and light heart and the knowledge of your deep interconnection with all others.

yogi with kale mudra

There is a name for this yoga—Karma Yoga—the practice of attending to work in the service of others. Just as you pay attention to breath and body sensations in asana practice, you can do the same in Karma Yoga. And there are so many ways of doing Karma Yoga that your whole life can become a practice ground.
Preparing breakfast for your family can become an offering to them as you tend to each moment of the task and remember the love you feel for them. Filing important papers at work can be done with grace and ease as you serve your business and all the people it serves. Cleaning windows can become a metaphor for polishing the jewel of your own inner nature.
I’ve been musing about Karma Yoga lately as we begin our fourth year of the Anahata Food Project, a community service project of Yoga on High. The project’s mission is to grow organically grown food and donate it to food pantries in distressed areas of the city. Its other mission is to give the Yoga on High community a way to practice Karma Yoga by giving back to our neighbors. Anahata is a Sanskrit word that refers to the heart center and the work we do comes from our hearts for sure. We work hard, get sweaty and dirty and take time out of our already busy lives to do so. Out work matters to the people who get FRESH and delicious produce, and it makes a difference in our lives as well.

Moving fencing so the peas and beans can climb.

So I’ve been musing about why a group of us shows up week after week, year after year, and why each year more new people are drawn in by our excitement and dedication. In asking myself and some of the other volunteers we came up with a few reasons.
Making a difference: the satisfaction that comes from serving others is one obvious reason. There is so much hunger in our city and we want to offer the kinds of food that we like to eat—vegetables! We could offer canned foods but these don’t have the vitality that we long for in our own bodies. Doing what we can do to help others brings satisfaction to us and meets our needs for care and consideration of others.
Community: Working together out in the fields has forged deep and meaningful friendships. In the beginning, most of us didn’t know anyone else in the group, but working side by side we have learned about each other’s lives and what matters to each of us. We have also forged a community between us, the people who work at the food pantries, and the local businesses that helped out last year.
Learning: A surprising number of our volunteers came to the farm without knowing much about gardening. As we welcomed them into the project, they learned about preparing beds, planting, weeding (we all get loads of practice) and harvesting food. We all taught ourselves how to clean and bag the food in ways that worked best for pantry distribution. And we all watch the miracle of a seed growing into a plant. Our Swiss chard is emblematic of that. Each planted seed grows nutrient-dense greens all season from May through November. Every week we harvest the dark green wrinkly leaves, and every week the chard plants grow many more. They are not deterred by hot, searing sun, torrential rains or hard frosts. They just grow and grow and grow. They are much anticipated and appreciated by the people receiving them in the pantries.
Fun in the Sun (and occasional rain): Working outside using our bodies in physical labor is a great joy. The fresh air and sunshine, the pastoral, rural setting with a wide sky overhead is in contrast to the computer stations where so many of us work much of the day. As we farm we can see wide green fields with cows, chickens, blackberries, fruit trees and a pond. And, the soundscape is equally delicious with the screechy calls of red-winged blackbirds and the peeping and trilling of frogs in the background. (As a special treat here is a short audio clip.)
If you are moved to join us you can contact me at Our Facebook page is Anahata Food Project—like us there! We post news about the garden and the volunteer schedule there.

Chloe, Janine, Abby and Marcia taking food to be readied for delivery.

And remember there are many ways to do Karma Yoga. Whatever you are doing as work can be transformed into yoga with your attention and love.

3 Responses to The Secret of Happiness
  1. susan

    This sentence really hit home as i sit here at work in front of a computer —wanting to be somewhere else…
    “Filing important papers at work can be done with grace and ease as you serve your business and all the people it serves.”
    Thanks for the reminder to be here now

    • Angela NIcolosi

      Yeah, I work in a garden every summer to supply the food pantry with fresh produce, but it was the filing papers comment that jumped out at me. Thanks for the reminder that filing can also be karma yoga!

  2. Jennifer Gebhart

    Beautiful! Thanks for sharing! I will share too! I’m planning on getting Elise and I out there this year.