Monks are some of the happiest people on the planet. But that doesn’t mean you should have to shave your head and don saffron robes to lead a joyful life. “You don’t have to live like a monk to think like a monk,” says British-Indian life coach Jay Shetty. Speaking on Zoom from his sunny Los Angeles home, the former monk-turned-influencer says the key to happiness lies within us if we simply shift our mindset. “If you search for joy, you won’t find what you’re looking for,” says Shetty. “Joy and happiness are not destinations, but by-products. They are the natural result of a life filled with meaning and purpose—lived in alignment with your dharma.” Sporting a laid-back hoodie and I-woke-up-like-this hair, Shetty is disarmingly down-to-earth and has a knack for making timeless wisdom relatable and accessible.
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Today, some 40 million social media fans tune into Shetty’s talks. His podcast On Purpose has become a pillar of strength that’s consistently ranked as one of the world’s most popular. His eponymous videos on personal growth (garnering more than eight billion views) have also inspired a cult following of top CEOs and celebrities including Ellen DeGeneres, Novak Djokovic and Oprah Winfrey.
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When it comes to cultivating joy, Shetty believes we must begin by understanding our minds. In his New York Times bestseller Think Like A Monk: Train Your Mind for Peace and Purpose Every Day, he compares two states of mind: the monkey mind and the monk mind. “The monkey mind is scattered, not focused and doing different things all the time. The monk mind is centred, balanced and aligned. The monkey mind complains, compares and criticises, while the monk mind is conscious, aware and collaborative. The monkey mind is frantic, moves fast and trips over, but the monk mind is focused, seeks clarity and composure.” He argues that while we may live in a high-paced world where monkey mind qualities such as multitasking and pleasure-seeking are praised, they are unsustainable and can be draining. While adopting a monk mind leads to long-term joy, success and stability in life. He trusts that anyone can master monk-like habits through daily mindfulness practices and doing service for others. Another strategy to adopt is TIME: thankfulness, insight, meditation and exercise. Practising gratitude, seeking insight through self-study, taking time to reflect and meditate, and doing daily exercises improve physical and mental well-being. Ultimately, making the healthy switch from monkey to monk mind will hardwire a happier, more fulfilling and purposeful life.
But what happens if life’s hard knocks pull us down? How do we regain balance and composure?
One of Shetty’s solutions is to stop criticising ourselves. “Judgement blocks joy,” he says.
Instead, he invites us to normalise anxiety or uncertainty and realise that it’s okay to feel unsettled at times. Examining our self-talk is critical. “We consume a poor internal dialogue diet,” he says. He urges us to eschew negative and unhealthy comments such as ‘I’m not good enough’ and instead create a list of our strengths. Positive self-affirmations help us find our feet in difficult times and ultimately bring us closer to joy.
Shetty believes it is possible to feel joy even in joyless situations. When confronted with the death of his spiritual mentor at the beginning of the pandemic, he was devastated but also determined to honour his teacher. “I realised he could still be alive and present with me if I could live the qualities and values that he lived by.” By consciously embodying his mentor’s virtues of compassion, kindness and service, Shetty is continuing his legacy. “I have to be honest,” he says with sincerity, “I feel a lot of joy from that.”
As Shetty speaks, I can see why he is deemed a beacon of light by so many—I can almost feel his warmth radiating through my screen during our call. His secret? An abundance mindset. What he describes as knowing that there is more than enough in the universe for us and for everyone else to succeed. When we look at life as abundant, we open ourselves up to experiencing mudita, a Sanskrit term that translates to unselfish joy—finding pleasure in other people’s joy and good fortune. “If you are only delighted when good things happen to you, that places an extreme limit on the amount of joy you can feel. Imagine that joy magnified by five, 10 or 100 times as you celebrate the wonderful things that happen to others around you,” he says.
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But where do we start? By cultivating joy or sharing joy? Shetty compares it to the chicken or the egg dilemma, “Can I give joy if I don’t have it? How do you do that?” he asks rhetorically. One of the simplest ways is to make a positive impact on others. We can start by sharing gratitude, what he has dubbed “the world’s most powerful drug”. He invites us to express specific and personalised gratitude by sending one person a daily, considered, uplifting note of gratitude. We can acknowledge their positive intentions, intelligent decisions or unique qualities that we admire.
Another way is to be fully present in our interactions. In the company of family, friends or even strangers, he encourages us to put our phones away and ask meaningful questions about the individual. We could also do a small act of kindness for someone who is not expecting it. He suggests: “Maybe bring your partner their morning tea or do a chore that they’ve been struggling to get to. It can be the simplest of things but can bring them so much joy,” he says. “But if you give thinking you’re giving, that will make you feel like you’re losing. If you give knowing that you’re receiving, that will create joy.”
So, if we want to feel more joy this holiday season, Shetty reminds us to think like a monk, give presence and express gratitude. “Joy is an infinite and abundant quality,” he says. To feel its true magic, we must live it and give it—with purpose.