Hundreds of disciples of a certain master had gathered in a monastery. They were there to catch a glimpse of him, to hear his words of wisdom, to learn meditation and so on.

In particular, they wanted to know how to be happy in this ever-stressful world, was there even any way to lasting happiness?

The master listened to their questions patiently and quietly began his discourse on happiness. He stopped in the middle of his sermon and handed a balloon to each one of the five hundred attendees.

“This is the balloon of happiness,” he said. “Inflate it and scribble your name on it.”

A few markers were passed around so the job could be completed.

“Once done,” the master added, “go and place your balloon in the empty room next door.”
“I know what this is about,” a pupil remarked. “Sooner or later the balloon will burst or shrink on its own and that’s how happiness is. It doesn’t last. The more inflated it is, the quicker it pops. We have to protect it carefully.”

The master smiled at the eager disciple and gesticulated at him to follow the instructions. One by one they placed their balloons in the next room, came back and took their seats.

“Now,” the master spoke when all were settled, “go and fetch the balloon with your name on it.”

Everyone got up and rushed to the other room to grab their balloon. It was a balloon of happiness, after all. Soon, sounds of bursting balloons, arguments and collisions could be heard as everyone was busy frantically searching for the balloon with their name on it. Five minutes later, only a handful had managed to find their balloons. More by chance than order.

The master asked them to stop and take any balloon regardless of the name on it and bring it back. In no time, everyone was back in the room with a balloon in their hands.

“Just call out the name on the balloon,” the master said, “and, give it to the person to whom it belongs.”

Soon everyone was holding their balloon, except the ones whose ballon had burst in the frenzy.

“In a world where each one of us is searching for happiness,” the master continued, “the easiest way is to hand others theirs, and someone will give you yours.”
“But, what to do if my balloon is popped by the other person?” one of them asked. “I don’t have one.”
“Inflate a new one,” the master replied giving him a new balloon.

There is perhaps not a better anecdote out there that sums up the essence of happiness. No matter how much we may want to believe that we can be happy even at the cost of the happiness of others, the truth is, we can never be happy by giving others grief. Perhaps, you can prove that you are right, maybe you can subdue the other person, but can you be happy by doing that? I don’t think so.

You just give them their balloon of happiness and someone will return yours. The other person may not reciprocate, but Nature will. The same person may not give you back your balloon, but someone else will. And, what if, you may ask, no one hands you your balloon? What if even when you give them theirs, no one cares to give you back yours?

In that case, just do your good karma and wait and wait patiently. There will come a moment when everyone will have their balloon and the one left behind will be yours. There is no stress and no rush if you are not out there to win some race. If you can accept that some will get their balloons before others, it won’t bother you then whether you get yours now or a bit later.

Here’s something important to think about regarding the anecdote: the students could only hope to find their balloons if they had blown one up in the first place. We are responsible for creating our own balloons. Others can’t create happiness for you. You have to create it yourself. They can, at most, give it to you when they find it. But, if you haven’t got a balloon out there, something that makes you happy, how can anyone give it to you then? The other person is only returning happiness you already identify with. Please let this sink in: they are not creating but returning our balloons of happiness.

And what if someone else has popped your balloon? Go and find a new one. Simple. There is no point in shouting at them or holding any grudges. Even if they want to, they can’t repair your balloon, it won’t be the same. You shouldn’t punish yourself by remaining depressed or unhappy. No point in bursting over a popped balloon (pun intended). Enjoy the explosion. Step out and see the world. There are plenty of balloons to choose from.

There is absolutely no lack of opportunity, avenues and sources of happiness. There is so much you can do in this world and with your life. You just have to begin somewhere, anywhere, here, now.

This life is going by too fast. One day you may wake up and realize that you’ve already lived through many decades of your life. Why waste our time in piercing other people’s balloons or picking a bone with them for bursting ours? Let’s just get on with it and walk the path of good karma. At every step of the way, you’ll find a balloon of happiness.

Keep giving others their balloons and you’ll be left with yours and some unclaimed ones. At any rate, it’s better to inflate the balloon of happiness before the balloon of life pops. It will eventually.


Editorial Note

So, the secret is simple – create your happiness as you’d inflate a balloon for yourself. If someone pops your balloon, blow a new one! The best thing about the state of happiness is that there is no one way to be happy.



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The questions below detail just some ways to create everlasting happiness.

What is the one way through which my happiness is guaranteed?

Friedrich Nietzsche contended, “He who has a Why to live for can bear almost any How.”

If you have a reason to get out of bed every morning, you will. If you’ve a reason to live, you will. If you’ve a reason to love, you will. If you’ve a reason to be happy, you’ll be happy. And reason boils down to one thing: meaning. If your life has meaning, if your relationships have meaning, you’ll be fulfilled naturally. Meaning is the only light that dispels the darkness of emptiness.

And there are three ways to find meaning in your life. Read them here Breaking down happiness has never been this simple.

Is there a shortcut to happiness?

“Is there a shortcut to happiness?” Narayani Ganesh asked me last week, when I was speaking at the Bangalore Lit Fest.

“Oh,” I said, “you mean a jugaad for happiness?”

She and the audience chuckled with me. Jugaad means finding some innovative solution, some kind of a workaround to a problem which otherwise might require a lot more resources. And here is the thing: any solution found through a shortcut is usually cut short quickly. You can’t afford shortcuts if you are serious about finding resilient solutions.

Having said that, here’s the secret to happiness: protect trust (self-trust and others’) at all cost; love and purpose will walk into your life on their own. Together they make up happiness.

It’s that simple, really. More on these three here, along with a short story on an old man and his most important assets, wealth, love and trust.

How do I overcome my suffering and find happiness in life?

The only way to end our suffering is to overcome ourselves. Other people in our lives are merely enablers and catalysts of the suffering we already carry within. Suffering is another name for our inability to come to terms with life.

Picture has finding happiness written on it with a smile

The path to bliss and peace begins with responsibility. Take responsible steps, speak responsible words, act responsibly. Before long, you will find the joy of inner peace straining against your consciousness like the spring breeze against the blooming trees, caressing your soul, filling your cup.

More on this here, along with a classic Akbar-Birbal story and stories of real people.


There were four members in a household. Everybody, Somebody, Anybody and Nobody. A bill was overdue. Everybody thought Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it but Nobody did it.
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