Only you can decide what makes you happy!
We bumped into a young friend at a coffee shop yesterday. She is a qualified architect but is taking a gap year in her academics.
She asked us: “Is it okay to not feel like doing anything in Life? I mean, is it seriously okay? I feel everyone around me is chasing their tail and here I am…completely clueless about my future and blundering along…I am still unsure if I want to study further or if I want to practice or be a writer or just travel the world. Everyone is forcing me to decide and go do ‘something’. But I don’t want to commit to doing something that my heart isn’t agreeing to.”
Vaani, in turn, asked her this question: “What makes you happy?”
And the young lady replied: “I am still figuring out what makes me happy. But I am sure none of the things my family or friends want me to do, like do a desk job to earn an income and gain experience, or a do a Masters Program so that the tag of a graduate can be acquired, will make me happy.”
The lady, in our opinion, has her priorities clearly in place.
Even as she is figuring out what will quench her soul, what will make her intrinsically happy, she’s sure about what she does not want to do. And there’s no confusion in her mind there. Now, that’s a wonderful state to be in.
You see, the whole world is running amuck – everyone is trying to become something, become someone else that they really are not. Worse, almost everyone else seems to have an opinion about what you must do and how you must live your Life. Sometimes, this cacophony can be deafening. If you capitulate and sign up for what the world wants you to do, at the cost of your own inner peace and joy, then don’t complain about your Life being listless and meaningless. Because that’s really what Life will be when you live it for someone else’s sake! But, if you want your Life to be exciting, if you want to wake up each morning loving the opportunity to go do what you love doing, then you have to pause and reflect.
Ask yourself important, fundamental, questions: 1. What makes me happy? 2. What makes me feel grateful for this gift called Life? 3. Doing what makes me lose myself completely so that I forget all my worries and even lose track of time? 4. What do I want to keep doing again and again and again – all my Life?
Well, you know what you answered for those four questions. Now, just go do it. Simple. And if figuring this out takes a year or two, or even more, well, so be it.
Life is a precious, one-time, limited-period offer. The most intelligent way to live it is to only do what makes you happy. And no one but you can make that choice – only you can decide what makes you happy. When you do live a Life, doing what you love, everything you need arrives in your Life – at its own time and pace. If there ever is a secret to living a Life of happiness and contentment – this, absolutely, is it!
Slow down when Life slows you down.
This morning as I sipped my coffee, I thought about the movie that we watched last night on TV. It was the 1972 classic Victoria No. 203 (Brij, Saira Banu, Navin Nischol). Seeing Saira and Navin ride the Victoria, Vaani and I reminisced about the time in the late nineties when we rode it too. We were hosting Jack Canfield (of Chicken Soup for the Soul) at the Taj Mahal hotel at the Gateway of India. And we were staying in a suite in the old wing of the hotel. After our event with Jack was over, in the middle of the night, we set out to ride on a Victoria. It was a slow, beautiful, memorable ride along the magical Marine Drive.
And then I thought about our Life now. From being high-fliers, in a worldly sense, we have apparently been grounded and consigned to a slow Life in the past decade.
Yet, there’s a huge learning from this phase. Which is that, in such times in Life when the journey becomes awfully slow, we must realize that Life is inviting us to enjoy the scenery. But most of us don’t have the attitude to see it that way. At least I didn’t look at Life from that point of view when our bankruptcy struck us in 2007. But I soon discovered that refusing to slow down and instead struggling with and complaining about the painfully slow pace, I was missing the magic and beauty in our Life. There was so much time I had now to spend time with Vaani, to think about the true meaning of Life, to celebrate Aanchal’s growing up years (Aash was already away at college in Chicago by then)…but no, I wasn’t enjoying what I had; I was pining for something else, something which wasn’t even there.
When I reflected upon my struggle, I discovered that the problem lay with the way I had led my Life up until then. Running from event to event, crisis to crisis, trying to make ends meet, earning-a-living, busy working harder than ever before, meeting targets, paying bills, raising children and doing everything else except living mindfully. And then as often happens with Life, the game changed. We were put in a spot where we could not move; we were check-mated.
In our case, it is this numbing bankruptcy. But anyone can find themselves in this “slow spot” right now! It could be a health issue, it could be a career stalemate, it could be a relationship tangle or it could be a legal quagmire. In such times, there may be a tendency to worry and to wish__pray, plead, hope__that why can’t Life fast-forward, why can’t we get back to ‘normalcy’? So, if you are bogged down in an ICU, you wish you could be back in the hustle-bustle of everyday Life. Or if you are caught in the midst of legalese, you just are hoping why don’t you win all your claims and are free to be away from all this disputing and arguing? Interestingly, Life’s not a handmaiden that will do what you please. At times, it just may not move.
Know also that there is no fast-forward button or option in Life. So, when you are pushed to a corner by the cosmic design, the best thing to do is to not worry about not moving. Be happy you can breathe. Because being able to sense your breathing is normal. Running so hard that you don’t even have the time to notice you are breathing, is not normal. Imagine you are climbing a steep mountain in a vehicle. As it negotiates the sharp hair-pin bends, the engine is finding the going tough. So, the vehicle is down to an agonizing crawl. Now, you can worry about that pace and concentrate on the dreary drone of the engine, or you can look out the window and see what the scenery looks like. This is what enjoying the scenery is all about.
“Smile, breathe and go slowly,” advises Thich Nhat Hanh (called ‘Thay’), the Vietnamese Buddhist monk – and among my favorite spiritual teachers. Just being mindful of your being alive__to experiencing whatever you are going through, be it pain, be it joy__is what can make the slowdowns in Life more meaningful. Do all the things that you can joyfully in whatever state you find yourself. And don’t worry about what you can’t. If you are immobilized by a health issue enjoy the ‘grounding’ with a family member who is nursing you; pining to be able to run around will only cause agony. If you are cashless enjoy being able to live without money; hoping you had money will only aggravate your suffering. If you are caught in a relationship problem where there is much misunderstanding, enjoy practicing patience and forgiveness; craving for understanding from the other person may only accentuate your pain. Thay champions mindful living as a cure to all our ailments coming from merely existing. “Life is available only in the present moment. Even drink your tea, slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the world, the earth revolves – slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future,” he says.
So, that’s what I am doing this morning. I am, while still reminiscing about the beautiful Victoria ride from 20 years ago, savoring every drop of the brilliant coffee that Vaani’s brewed for us. Ah! Life’s slow…but Life’s beautiful too!
It is possible, despite running the rat race, to work on switching tracks to go do what you love doing.
A reader asked me this yesterday: “How do you leave a lucrative job, that comforts you with security, gives you a societal edge and take up something you love no doubt, but is hardly likely to reward you financially?”
I feel that’s a great question. And the answer lies in the core principle of intelligent living – you start a journey of a thousand miles, by taking the first step.
And that first step is to invest just 5 minutes a day doing what you love doing. One of the reasons people don’t switch to doing what they love doing is because they are too caught up doing things all day that they loathe doing! But 5 minutes is not a bad deal. However busy you are running your rat race, you can take a 5-minute-break and that shouldn’t hurt anyone, least of all you. In those 5 minutes, do what you love doing __ reading, writing, painting, composing music, researching, cooking, whatever! You will discover a rare peace in you in those 5 precious minutes. You will want those 5 minutes to never end. So, extend the tenure of that daily activity by 5 more minutes – daily! Keep feeling joyful and keep extending the tenure as you graduate through this experience and exercise – daily! Soon, in a couple of months, despite your struggling to sustain the practice daily, you will have created a daily window of your own ‘Happy Hour’!
Imagine from being frustrated with your Life, bemoaning the lack of joy in what you were doing, you have a full ‘Happy Hour’ daily to do what you love doing! And that’s 30 ‘Happy Hours’ in a month. If you are an artist, you could complete a whole work in that time. And if you are a writer you could perhaps complete a chapter of your book in that time!
If you are smart, as all people usually are, you may look at how many ‘Happy Hours’, over how many years, will you need to make that career switch from being a highly-paid unhappy professional to being a well-earning, happy individual. And once you know how simple the math is, you go after the opportunity – 5 minutes is all it takes to carve out your ‘Happy Hour’ from the rat race you are running!!! Once you are ‘in’ your ‘Happy Hour’ you will realize that when you remove all the conditions in your Life that are making you unhappy, you can only be happy!
In the midst of a ‘pre-programmed’ Life, there’s always an opportunity to create value!
Yesterday, while talking to some managers from a publishing company, I invited them to consider leading a more purposeful Life. One of them asked me if Life really has a Purpose. He said, “It seems so meaningless. If you come with nothing and go with nothing, why do you need to be doing anything at all, achieving anything at all, accumulating anything at all, in this lifetime? I see procreation of the human reason as the only reason for being.”
The young man’s point of view is very interesting. From Ramana to Osho to Campbell, several people have addressed this question. What I told the manager, comes from my awareness and understanding of Life.
From a strictly biological and scientific point of view, it appears, that all Life exists to simply transfer information (genes) to the next generation. So, rationally speaking, the true Purpose of Life must be to perpetuate itself. As humans, we__you, me__are just a living organism that has a little more awareness than other living organisms. This is where, in my opinion, spirituality meets science.
I choose my words carefully: spirituality, and not religion, meets science.
Now, if humans are endowed with a little more awareness, why is that so? Of what use can that awareness be? Truly, the awareness is visible, is evident, in the way the human brain develops and works, and has been evolving through the ages. But the truth also is that apart from transferring this evolutionary genetic code to the next generation, each human does not take away anything while leaving this planet. But delve deeper. Obviously creation has a design, a profound thought, which is why the human race is endowed with a greater awareness than all other Life on the planet. This awareness, when it awakens the human, and flowers within, is called spirituality. It is all about Self-Realization. When you realize your Self, you discover these simple truths: 1.Biologically, we will all grow older and eventually perish__albeit per different expiration dates! 2. Life’s repetitive cycles is just about transferring genes to each successive generation. 3. In the midst of such a pre-programmed Life, there’s still the possibility to individually make a difference and create value. When you know how you can make that difference, you will have found your Life’s Purpose, your ikigai, your reason for being. When you are doing anything purposeful, you will encounter joy, you will ‘feel’ the power of this ‘extra’, ‘higher’ awareness that we as humans possess.
Across the human race, just being kind, loving, compassionate and caring, serving, can, and always, delivers this joy. So, to serve can be, and is, a common Purpose to all of us humans. But each of us also derives joy, feels blissful, doing some things more than others. When we know what it is, which is when we lose ourselves in what we are doing, we would have found the Purpose of our creation. This Purpose is beyond wants and desires, beyond wealth and assets, it is about serving, it is about giving up yourself, your profit and prestige, during this lifetime, to meet a higher end that delivers value to the following generations much after you are gone, that makes this world a better place to live in. To Gandhi it was equality and ahimsa, to Mother Teresa it was caring for the uncared, to Kailash Satyarthi, it is to eradicate all exploitation of children, to me and Vaani, it is to Inspire Happiness among all those who care to pause and reflect!
Each human being that gets beyond the insecurities and fears of everyday living, in fact anyone who takes a break from earning a living and even momentarily steps out of the rat race, will find Purpose in their Life. She or he will find that there is an opportunity to create unique value in this ‘readymade’ lifetime of ours. That’s when we will all know that we are not human beings going through temporary, feel good, spiritual experiences, but we really are spiritual beings going through temporary human experiences. And so, we will realize that before this human experience ends, we must have touched a soul, provoked thought, inspired action, wiped a tear, loved, led, cared and created value.
If you can’t make time for your family, for your children, then you may want to review whatever you are doing in and with your Life. Believe me, nothing else is more important!
Two Facebook posts over the last few days have led me to a reiteration of this point of view.
A friend posted pictures of an ice-cream date with his 10-year-old son. He confessed that he wished he had done more of this while promising that he would make more time to be with his child going forward. Another friend, who has recently taken up an assignment overseas, wished his daughter a happy 16th birthday this morning. He apologized for not being with her today.
I am not going to opine on the choices my friends are making.
I know from my own experience how it feels when your children have ‘suddenly’ grown up, and have taken off to lead their own lives, while you were busy ‘earning a living’ in the garb of ‘building your career’ and ‘saving up enough for the family’. 8 years ago when our 18-year-old son left for the US, to take up an undergrad program at the University of Chicago, I felt tormented by the realization I had ‘not seen him grow up at all’. That night I was overcome by guilt and grief. I carried a lot of it in me for a long, long time, until I decided to forgive myself. I did make up by being available for my daughter during her years in high school and college. But none of what I did or how I felt could turn back time and help me go back to being a young parent again or get my children to be young enough to have time for me!
An excuse we constantly give ourselves for not being able to devote quality time for the family is that our work is very demanding. Honestly every corporate soldier that is slaving away out there is thinking of, and is keen to attain, work-Life balance. But that’s where it stops and remains – as a thought. The intention never gets actualized. I have learnt, again from hard experience, that Life is not going to make time for you. You have to make time for yourself and your family.
You may want to begin by reviewing your Life along these five factors that suck up your time at/for work:
- If you are, as a manager, working more than 8 hours daily (that includes checking mail and responding to them or taking conference calls from other time zones) then one or several of these conditions are true:
- You are a poor decision-maker
- You are just horribly organized
- Your boss is inefficient
- Your subordinates are inefficient
- All of the above!
- Don’t take your smartphone to the dining table and don’t wake up looking at it. Put it off or on silent mode and leave it away from you while at home. Designate times while at home when you will check your phone for calls and mails.
- When with the family, be with the family
- When at work, work – without distraction, without frittering away your time in ‘wasteful, unplanned stuff’
- Have the courage to say no to unproductive meetings or attending meetings whose agenda can be completed over mail or at least your contribution/input can be shared over mail!
The truth is that whenever you say you don’t have time, or the choice to do what you want to do – which in this case is to be with your family – you are actually admitting that you don’t know how to live intelligently! Recognize that your Life is ticking away. To be sure, you will die sooner or later. If you don’t live doing what’s more important now you probably will die wondering what all those meaningless hours spent at work__“being frightfully busy, with no time for anyone, even for yourself, yet having achieved nothing great”__were really all about?
Journey with a song in your heart and all will be well with your world!!
For several months now, along our daily walking route, we have found a man, a chaiwallah, who is always singing aloud as he goes about serving tea to security staff, who watch over buildings, in the neighborhood. He isn’t a good singer at all – in fact, he sings horribly! Yet the man sings loudly, bindaas, with gay abandon, unmindful of the early morning quiet on the streets, not in the least sensitive that he could actually be waking up people – and rather rudely at that! In a way, over time, I began to admire the man’s nonchalance. He seemed to be thoroughly enjoying who he was and was forever immersed in his singing!
This morning Vaani and I interrupted his blissful singing reverie. We asked him what makes him sing so deliriously? He didn’t even think as he replied: “I enjoy singing, it makes me happy!”
His name, we soon found out, is Laxman Sahu. He’s 50 – though he doesn’t look that! He’s from Jharkhand; he loves Dhoni, he loves his work as a chaiwallah and he loves to sing. He sings “any song” that comes “out of his mobile”. His favorite Hindi songs are from the 1995-classic Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge. He has 3 sons, the oldest of them is employed as a driver in Nashik, Maharashtra. He lives alone in Chennai, sells 1000 cups of tea in a day and is able to send Rs.20,000 back home for his family each month after covering all his costs and expenses here. His says he loves the hours he puts in at work – he walks all over to sell the tea he makes, he doesn’t have a tea-stall or a pushcart or even a bicycle – and says he keeps singing because it makes “everything so easy”: “Mujhe gaane mein bahut anand milta hai – Singing makes me happy!”
Laxman’s simple, rustic, real world philosophy appealed immensely to Vaani and me. He’s truly Zen.
Have we ever considered why we work so hard? Why are we constantly putting up with pressure-cooker situations in Life? Why are we on the ‘earning a living’ treadmill most of the time? When do we think we are going to quit this rat race? I think if we pause to ask ourselves these questions, we will all end up saying we are doing whatever we are doing to be happy some day, hopefully, in the future. So, subconsciously, we are postponing our happiness thinking we can soon catch up with the Life we always wanted to live. That, sadly, may never happen. You can never regain the Life you have not lived!
Now, Laxman is neither educated nor is he intellectual. Yet he inspires – by simply being who he is. He told us that he only wanted to serve his customers the best tea that money can buy, but beyond that, all he wanted to do was to sing. For, he said, “all was well with his world – no complaints!” Interestingly, as you can see in this video here, he’s living his Life fully, he’s not waiting for “things to fall in place”, he’s not waiting for the “right time”, he’s just being happy doing what he loves doing. They say Zen is to “chop wood, carry water”. Laxman’s Zen, it appears, is to “serve tea and carry on singing”! What’s your Zen?
|Ejji in Varanasi last week on the “Highway to Swades“|