How to be Happy: Life Lessons from a Monk


How to be Happy: Life Lessons from a Monk


An op-ed by our contributor Justyna Cyrankiewicz, featuring three tips for mental health, interconnection, and mentally tackling climate change. The article is based on the notes from the lecture by Radhanath Swami combined with scientific data from the annual World Happiness Report 2021 by Gallup Institute.

The day was rather cold and rainy, after all, I was in London and it was November. The weather inside me matched the weather outside and I was walking the streets gloomier than I’d like to be. A few days earlier, by chance, I had noticed a poster announcing that my university was organizing an event about Happiness. It was one of the very few events at my university that was free of charge, so naturally, I took advantage and decided to attend. Was this a cosmic reminder that Happiness can be found anywhere we go, and that money can’t buy it? Perhaps. As I walked the streets of London, trying to keep my shoes dry, nobody was yet aware, myself included, that the whole world was soon to be shut down for months to come and that everything we knew as normal will have been thrown into question.

However, one notion was as true then as it is today…

Radhanath Swami came to University College London and spoke to the students about the Experience of Happiness — something that we all pursue, yet most of us can’t seem to find.

In his own words:

No matter who we are, where we are coming from, what nationality or gender we are, how much we have, we all have something in common: a constant search for happiness.

— Radhanath Swami

Radhanath Swami speaking at the University College London

Radhanath Swami speaking at the University College London.

Now, as we’re all in lockdown all over the world, many of us probably fear what the future will bring and how are we going to be happy again in this new, changed world. The truth is, Happiness that is built on a foundation independent of any external circumstances can survive any crisis. With this article, I’d like to provide space and time for this thought.

A quick look into data

As indicated in the World Happiness Report 2021 issued by Gallup Institute about the mental and emotional state of the world, we, as humanity, are becoming more and more sorrowful, exasperated, and fearful.

From the outset, it has been clear that the potential mental health effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the various physical distancing, social restrictions, and stay-at-home related policies introduced in response to it would be one of the most important challenges of the pandemic. Mental health is a key component of subjective well-being in its own right and is also a risk factor for future physical health and longevity, which will be a leading indicator of the future, indirect long-run health consequences of the pandemic. Mental health will influence and drive a number of other individual choices, behaviors, and outcomes.

— Gallup Institute

Diagram source: World Happiness Report 2021, Gallup Institute.

Diagram source: World Happiness Report 2021, Gallup Institute.

(…) As the pandemic struck, there was a large and immediate decline in mental health in many countries worldwide. Estimates vary depending on the measure used and the country in question, but the findings are remarkably similar. In the UK, in May 2020, a general measure of mental health was 7.7% lower than predicted in the absence of the pandemic, and the number of mental health problems reported was 47% higher.

— Gallup Institute

happy woman

Images source: World Happiness Report 2021, Gallup Institute.

happy people

Images source: World Happiness Report 2021, Gallup Institute.

(…) Emotions changed more than did life satisfaction during the first year of COVID-19, worsening more during the lockdown and recovering faster, as illustrated by large samples of UK data. For the world as a whole, based on the annual data from the Gallup World Poll, there was no overall change in positive affect, but there was a roughly 10% increase in the number of people who said they were worried or sad the previous day.

Interestingly …

… Trust and the ability to count on others are major supports to life evaluations, especially in the face of crises. To feel that your lost wallet would be returned if found by a police officer, by a neighbor, or a stranger, is estimated to be more important for happiness than income, unemployment, and major health risks.

— Gallup Institute

benevolence matters for happiness

Diagram source: World Happiness Report 2021, Gallup Institute.

In summary:

There is no doubt that the initial effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on mental ill-health symptoms were large, negative, and remarkably consistent across the data and studies discussed here. It is worth reiterating that these relate only to adults and solely to wealthy industrialized countries. These effects were worst in younger age groups and women, ethnic minorities, and those with pre-existing mental health problems, thus reinforcing many pre-existing mental health inequalities. In the months following the outbreak, however, the story has been more positive. The evidence in many countries suggests that, following the initial shock to mental health, measures in all dimensions recovered considerably, although not completely.

— Gallup Institute

mental health

Images source: World Happiness Report 2021, Gallup Institute.

smiling woman

Images source: World Happiness Report 2021, Gallup Institute.

Even if we will get back to the old “normal state” of global mental health, it doesn’t mean we will consider ourselves as happy, as this wasn’t the case for the majority of people even in the pre-pandemic times. Now, after the rapid downfall and incremental regeneration, the search for the Experience of Happiness seems to be more pressing than ever before.

Okay, but who’s the guy from the subtitle?

New York Times bestselling author, philanthropist, speaker, and monk for more than 50 years: his Holiness Radhanath Swami.

radhanath swami and russel brand

Radhanath Swami and Russel Brand. More about Radhanath Swami here:

He was invited to speak at Harvard University, Google US HQ, the Houses of Parliament, and the Oxford Union (to name a few), and has a 311k IG followership. His work in feeding one million children per day in India and establishing several philanthropic projects, revolutionizing the inner workings of FTSE 100 companies, and inspiring millions on a daily basis.

From a very early age, Richard (it was his name given at birth) showed a tendency which he later called “the traces of my past lives”. He preferred not to eat at the table, but rather while sitting on the floor, as is customary in India. He hated the sight of meat and eggs and was nauseated at their sight. Very early on he also realized that the materialistic way of life would never bring him satisfaction, and was attracted by poverty and simplicity. He decided to leave the US and travel, looking for his own spiritual path. After learning about all the major religions he encountered on his way to the East, he ended up settling in India and choosing to be a Monk in the bhakti-yoga tradition.


Radhanath Swami in NY Mag.

The warm-up

A few quotes to get us started and settled in the philosophy on which this article is based. Feel free to grab them, save them, and use them when necessary. They all come from Radhanath Swami himself.

If we cannot find peace and happiness within ourselves, we cannot find it elsewhere.

Only love can give satisfaction to the heart: to love and to be loved. This is the deepest and highest potential within us

(as Viktor Frankl, the famous Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist, philosopher, author, and Holocaust survivor, said too).

In giving we receive — one of the biggest truths in human history.

We need to learn how to live in harmony with our hearts and souls, only then we can live in harmony with other people, nature, and the world.

Only what’s based on true love (only those actions) is the real source of happiness

(Viktor Frankl in “Man’s search for meaning” also said that the greatest potential of a human can be released through love, and that to love someone is to awaken their potential).

Comparison to others

To begin with, the rule of comparison formed by Radhanath Swami:

We’re trying to find our own self-worth in comparison to others.

He explained this thought through a short story that concludes as the following:

If the fish was judged by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its life thinking of itself as stupid.

That means each of us has something precious to contribute to the world. Our worth is not based on how much we acquire or other physical measures. But it’s based on how much we try to be the best versions of who we can be.

In his words:

Each of us from the spiritual perspective is a part of an empire, a Child of God. And if we lose the connection to ourselves and the true values of life, then we try to regain this validity by trying to compare to others. Then only one thing where we are “not enough in” can make us feel miserable.

If we have inner purpose and inner connection, then our lives are limitless to us and to the world. Maintaining great interconnection within ourselves ensures that we won’t need to compare ourselves to others.

The true connection with ourselves and other people makes us immune to the vulnerabilities of the ego.

Try to understand what you have to offer to the world (small or big) and try to be the best of what you can be. In the love of God and to ourselves, we will find the true value of our lives.


Radhanath Swami taking care of cows in Govardhan Ecovillage.


Radhanath Swami taking care of cows in Govardhan Ecovillage.

What’s the biggest lesson of 50 years as a monk?

The joy of giving. The joy of connecting with love in ourselves and sharing it with others.

If we face an illness or other tragedy, and we lose happiness, we can find joy in what we’ve got to offer to others, in what we can give them. Real happiness is how we care and give with compassion.

However, it’s important to give without completely sacrificing ourselves. We must first learn the respect and love for ourselves, and only then we can start giving to others. Because we can only give as much as we’ve got. You can’t give someone a thing that you don’t possess.

Be a billionaire in the wealth of your heart.

How to maintain a good mental state?

It’s important to prioritize what’s the most favorable for your mind (mental health). Even when we’re healthy physically, but we don’t take care of mental health, we will suffer. Even a person of poor physical health can be happy.

Your mind can be your best friend or the worst enemy.

radhanath swami and dalai lama

Radhanath Swami meets Dalai Lama.

Three tips for mental health:

1. Keep a good company of people who make us see and experience happiness and true values of life.

2. Make choices every day towards what is favorable for your mind.

3. Have a spiritual practice. Storms will come in life, spiritual practice is to prepare ourselves for them.

Mental health is inner peace, happiness, and a sense of inner security. It is to love and feel loved. When we find our happiness in higher experiences, then temporary experiences are not so relevant, we see them exactly as they are, we don’t look for happiness in them.

It’s like a bird that stands in water and watches small fish swimming by. He doesn’t catch them, even though he’s hungry. But when the big fish comes, he eats this fish.

If we focus on what’s the deep value to our heart, what’s spiritual, then temporary things won’t affect us anymore.

Since everything keeps changing in the physical world, how can we think we will find permanent happiness in something this much inconsistent?

God is constant. Our interconnection is constant. And that’s where we can look for permanent happiness.

How to maintain positivity in difficult situations?

You access what you tune into. There’s a lot to be depressed about and there’s a lot to be joyful about.

It’s a psychological and spiritual science of how to tune to the positivity that will awaken the greatest potential of me.

We have to put some time a day to tune in — through connection with people who give us positive energy, through prayer, meditation, mindfulness.

You can’t dispell darkness with darkness. You dispell darkness with light.

We need to tune to the positivity so that we can be the instrument of this positivity in the world. We’re very much influenced by who we associate with, by what we read, what music we listen to, what type of entertainment we choose. All of this sums up what we’ve got to offer to other people.


How to mentally tackle Climate Change?

The more we understand the problem, the more we can solve it.

(btw, check out Factfulness by Hans Rosling if you haven’t yet).

Gandhi said that if we really want to make a positive change in the environment or society, there has to be simultaneously a change in values, character, morality and goals.

External changes have to arise from internal changes in order to be maintained.

The internal ecology of our hearts has a reflection in the state of external ecology.

To be the change we want to see in the world, we need to clean our hearts, love ourselves and each other. Then we know the real value of life and the world, and we don’t pursue cheap temporary experiences that are ruining our environment.

Anything done with integrity and sincerity is never small. Every little effort, every little sacrifice that we make for the environment (like shutting off the light) truly matters. Every little action done with love can change the world.

Paraphrasing Heather Wolf:

One act of kindness can change the world.

Oh, by the way, Radhanath Swami initiated the Govardhan Ecovillage in India:

Govardhan Ecovillage (GEV) is a model farm community and retreat center highlighting the importance of spiritual ecology: the need for us [humans] to live in harmony with ourselves, nature, and the sacred. Inspired by Radhanath Swami, with its humble beginnings in 2003, GEV was officially inaugurated in 2011, in the presence of Nana Saheb Patil, Ex-secretary of the Agricultural Ministry for the Government of Maharashtra. To bring about holistic, sustainable ecological changes, GEV puts great emphasis on community initiatives such as integrated water conservation and protection, Wadi program, women empowerment, rural health care, food for life, biodiversity park, Vedic culture, educational center, and animal shelters. GEV specializes in symbiotic recycling and strives to offer sustainable solutions for community living in issues related to food, water, energy, and waste management. GEV is also home to the Lady Northcote Hindu Orphanage.

Govardhan Ecovillage
Govardhan Ecovillage 2
Govardhan Ecovillage 3
Govardhan Ecovillage 4
Govardhan Ecovillage 5

How to find a life path?

You shouldn’t ask me, you probably know what’s your path better for yourself.

But since you asked…

Try to see life in a more holistic way. When making a choice of the way of career, try to think about what’s the most meaningful for your heart, for your happiness, the happiness of your loved ones, and the world. If we make decisions only based on our passions, if we focus on success, popularity, other people’s opinions, or money, we might regret it.

Let’s take a step back and think who you want to be, where you want to be, what’s important for your loved ones and balance it with your passion and skills.

The more we can see from the broader perspective (spiritual, physical, emotional), the better we understand what it is that we want to contribute to the world.

How to deal with stress?

The house built on sand doesn’t have a foundation to stand through the storm. For the house to survive, it has to have a strong foundation.

If a tree has strong roots, it grows even in times of storm. If it doesn’t have strong roots, it can collapse.


Image source: Aliaksei on Unsplash.

So, if we want to survive (and grow) in times of stress, we need to prepare ourselves in times of peace. It requires spiritual practice which gives us steady peace of mind, connection with love, the experience of inner joy and fulfillment. With these, we are prepared for the storm.

No matter what you do and who you are, there is stress, and you can’t escape it. But if you have a strong foundation, you can not only grow in the storm, but you can help others to grow too.

Act always according to your current capacity and always try to be the best you can be in this particular moment.

Don’t try to do more than you can now. Don’t judge yourself for not doing more. Be kind to yourself, know your limits, and respect them.

Education and Intelligence vs. Happiness

The true wisdom is to see all human beings with the same vision. To see potential equally in each person. To feel compassion and love. If these are not harmonized with intellectual abilities, we lack the core of our own potential.

Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men. — Martin Luther King, Jr.

Nowadays we’ve got so many highly-educated and successful people, but yet the number of depressed ones is rapidly growing. People think that success in life is career and popularity. But the real success is true kindness and the value of character, a good connection with others, and compassion. We should harmonize it with the various academic sciences we learn from.

homeless man

Matt Collamer on Unsplash.

How do we know when we should keep on going and when to let go?

If you’re in a river, you’re very much affected by every situation. Just for your survival, you’re struggling. If you sit on the bank of the river, you see what’s happening and you can recognize the important events.

Sometimes, we need to take a step back and look at our lives from the perspective (meditation helps). We shouldn’t be afraid to take the risk, but this risk should be for something meaningful.


Image source: Dulcey Lima on Unsplash.

Thank you for reading!

Justyna Cyrankiewicz, Creative Content Curator and Writer at HOO KOO E KOO.
With love, HKEK 💚