Jay Shetty spent three years living as a monk in India before pursuing a career inspiring people to achieve happiness in their own way

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Jay Shetty
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Motivational speaker Jay Shetty was 18 years old when he met the monk who would change his life for good.

A self-professed teenage “troublemaker” from London who’d fallen in with the wrong crowd, Shetty says he initially dismissed the monk’s words of wisdom as a “waste of time” — only to walk away from his talk so inspired, it set off a series of events that has since led Shetty to become popular among stars like Ellen DeGeneres, Khloé Kardashian and Jada Pinkett Smith.

“He was talking about how the greatest thing you can do with your talents and your skills is if you use them in the service of others,” Shetty, now 32, tells PEOPLE. “And when I heard that, it just left such a deep impression in my heart because I lived in a culture where I was wanting all these feelings and he was actually telling me that, well, that’s not actually going to make you happy. What’s going to make you happy is serving others.”

To that end, Shetty was invited to spend time with the monk in India, where they meditated together and Shetty became involved in service projects, like building schools.

Jay Shetty
Jay Shetty
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He made return trips to the area, and eventually arrived at the formative decision to turn down a series of corporate job offers at 22 years old in favor of pursuing a life as a monk for three years.

“By looking at the suffering when I went out to India, I saw how people had nothing and were still trying to be happy,” he says. “And my heart really went out to them and I was just like, ‘Wow. I want to make a difference in the world, you know? I want to do something.’ … I thought [being a monk] can be the best use of my life, to cleanse myself and to serve others.”

In living as a monk, Shetty says he established a stable of life lessons that he’s since brought with him into his career as a motivational speaker and spiritual advisor who helps his followers achieve their own paths to happiness.

Jay Shetty
Jay Shetty
| Credit: Randy Shropshire/Getty

Among those? The importance of flexibility and adaptability in daily life, and the belief that everything can be used for a higher purpose, from the way we use technology to how we spend money.

Shetty still meditates for two hours each morning, and lives a vegan, plant-based lifestyle free of alcohol — something he says is part of a bigger picture of looking at life in an intentional way.

“[I] say, ‘What is this adding to my life? What is this giving me that no one else can give me?’” he tells PEOPLE. “If you can justify anything with those things and really understand it, then you’re great. But if you’re doing something and you don’t know why you’re doing it, then it’s good to reflect on the intentionality behind it.”

His teachings — which he broadcasts to 25 million followers on Facebook — have caught the attention of stars like Kardashian, who spoke about self-reflection on Shetty’s On Purpose podcast in October, and DeGeneres, who invited him on her talk show in March.

His podcast has also played host to stars like Eva Longoria, Hasan Minhaj, Chrissy Metz, Ashley Graham, La La Anthony, Kobe Bryant and more, while Smith sat down with him to chat on her Facebook show Red Table Talk in May.

Shetty — who has more than 4.8 million Instagram followers — tells PEOPLE that many of his followers look to him for ways to find meaning and purpose in their lives, as well as tips and tricks of mastering the art of meditation.

“The amount of anxiety, stress and pressure that people go through because they [have] busy lives and have to perform all the time… That’s been the big one,” he says.

Though Shetty says the No. 1 tip for battling mounting anxiety is meditation and spending ample time outdoors and away from technology, he also advises learning to say no so as to avoid burnout.

“It’s such a brilliant tool that we don’t use enough of,” he says. “We say yes to every invite, and then we feel tired and anxious and stressed and overworked and burnt out.”

In addition to his podcast, Shetty currently doles out his words of wisdom on his YouTube channel, where he shares new videos about self, work and love with his 3 million subscribers each and every Tuesday and Thursday.

He’s also gearing up for the release of his upcoming book, Think Like a Monk: Train Your Mind for Peace and Purpose Every Day, which will be released on April 14.

“We’re trying to connect people to a community,” he says. “And that’s what’s been so exciting for me. It’s giving people a community and giving people more people that they can be supported by.”