Happiness is your true wealth

AVIS-on-Happyness

Demonetization of Life, not just currency, can make you happier

Live as if money were not an object. And you will live a fuller, happier Life!

The hope among Indians is palpable.

For the first time, the generations that were born after Independence, appear to nurture hope that ‘something worthwhile to seriously cleanse India’ is being attempted. That includes people like me who have been critical of Modi and skeptical about his promise of ‘achche din’. I am not rubbishing his leadership and the efforts of his team over the last 30 months. But I did not see anything worthwhile being done by his government. There was a lot of drama, PR and optics over all his utterances and policies, but it seemed nothing would crack open Indian culture, stamp out its crab mentality and build an ethos of co-ownership and pride in building a clean, efficient nation. To be sure, I liked the Modi idea of a Swach Bharat – but I know it will never be an immediate reality because for that to happen, every Indian must transform. And that is asking way for too much from our aam aadmi! But the idea to demonetize the Rs.500 and Rs.1000 notes and strangulate the parallel economy, theoretically, holds out hope. Yesterday, while traveling in Uber cars, at coffee shops, talking to rank strangers on the street and going by the conversations on social media and WhatsApp, I got the sense that India is hopeful of this progressive step helping us cleanse her of corruption! Even if this new system does not sound fool-proof – in that corrupt officials and dishonest citizens, unscrupulous politicians and wily black money hoarders will surely do jugaad to work around and through the system – at least, existing stockpiles of ill-gotten money has been reduced to nothing and the so-called rich, notorious and powerful have been rendered momentarily powerless. So, theoretically, the political and governance aspects of this demonetization move appears worthwhile.

But I also see a human dimension playing out across India over the last 24+ hours. Indeed people are helping each other with methods and means to survive the ‘unsettled’ phase till normalcy in cash-based transactions is achieved. A small-time bangle seller in Hyderabad, reports today’s Hindu, gave away a pair of bangles worth Rs.50/- to a bride-to-be because her family did not have change and had only Rs.500/- to transact. People have been reporting of a new ‘way of living’ where they have the money but not the currency to transact. Friends have been talking of ‘feeling lighter and liberated’. And several people have been reaching out and helping the less educated, daily wage earners, get food and basic supplies till they start re-earning a livelihood. It is heart-warming to see humanity thrive in these apparently cold, material, insensitive times.

avis-viswanathan-dont-get-used-by-money

Living without money is not new to Vaani and me. Over the last 9+ years, we are only too familiar with this ‘way of Life’. In fact, my Book Fall Like A Rose Petal talks about how we were left with just Rs.2000 on 31st December 2007 and the film Rise In Love shows the last Rs.80 we had in April 2014 that we gave away to an auto-rickshaw driver. After that incident, for 70 days, over four months, we lived penniless in Chennai. In this time most devices and appliances at home also broke down. So we had no money, no washing machine, no TV, no micro-wave, no mixer. Besides, my mobile phone and Vaani’s laptop crashed too. But Vaani and I never let all this material dysfunctionality affect our spirit. We had no work, no money and no car. So spent a lot of time speaking to each other about our Life, our experiences, our learnings, our love for each other….we went on long walks, for 10 kms, often for over 2~3 hours daily….our walking shoes wore out in this time and we didn’t have money to buy new ones! But we kept walking – literally, figuratively. There was a lot of pain, but we don’t remember suffering!

One day, Vaani discovered that she had only one onion at home. No other vegetables were there. There was no money to buy fresh veggies. So she made khichdi and onion raita. It was a beautiful meal. We focused on the joy of being able to eat the meal together and not on what it comprised of. On another occasion, we suddenly realized we had Rs.236 available in a bank account that we were not using anymore. We felt we could do well with that cash. So we walked a long way to that bank’s ATM to try our luck on whether the account was a. functional and b. if it would allow us to withdraw Rs.200. Our effort paid off on both counts. There was so much joy when the ATM spat out two hundred rupee notes. We both observed that while it seemed so bizarre that we had come to such a level of abject penury, we were grateful for the miracle of that Rs.200 in our hands that evening. We celebrated our fortune by treating ourselves to Rs.5 worth of roasted and salted peanuts we bought from a roadside thelawala. It was an unforgettable, magical experience.

The lessons we have learnt from living without money are invaluable. We have learnt to celebrate Life. We have discovered that watching sunrises and sunsets costs nothing. We have felt magic and beauty in hearing the birds chirp and seeing the trees sway in the breeze. We have learnt to value conversations between ourselves, with our children and among our friends. We find the joy of our companionship priceless. There’s bliss in walking together, through treacherous terrain, even when we are penniless, when we are virtually check-mated legally and financially. All the expensive, candle-lit dinners that we have had in the past, in the most exotic locations across the world, pale in significance and comparison! And we have found great inner peace in giving our time and in sharing our Life learnings, with all those who care to pause and reflect. In fact, we have now understood that while money is very important, money is just a resource. It must be used. And we must never get used, or consumed, by it, by clinging on to it. The real opportunity of happiness, being available free, and 24×7, became visible to us only when money ceased to be an object in our Life. For this realization, we will remain ever grateful to our enduring bankruptcy that truly demonetized our Life. Which is why, I see this 24+-hour currency demonetization experience in India as an opportunity for everyone here to learn to live happily ever after!   

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Being healthy is a responsibility we must not abdicate

We think and worry about all things replaceable in Life, while never even pausing to think of the most important, irreplaceable, asset we have, our health.
Think of all the things that we worry about. We worry about money. We worry about careers. We worry about relationships. We worry about passports and visas. We worry about our cars and computers and smartphones. When we worry about these things, we rue their loss or fear their absence or their breaking down. Almost all these things can be regained. Almost all the time. What we don’t or rarely worry about ever is the most important, irreplaceable aspect of our lives, which is our health. How often do we even think of the loss of our health? We don’t think of it, so we don’t talk about it and therefore we don’t worry about it!

The call here is not to start worrying about one more dimension in your Life but to consider the banality in worrying about less important stuff and to not even focus on the most important one! Phil Crosby, the Quality Guru, said this famously: “Health is Wealth. And it is absolutely tax free!” Jonathan Swift, the immortal author of Gulliver’s Travels, says, “Live all the days of your Life!” Read that line again. Living means to focus on what’s important. And the most important tool you have to experience this lifetime is your health. This body will wither away with age. No doubt. But to be able to keep it in good condition till it finally stops functioning is a responsibility that you and I must not abdicate.

Stop wanting to have, simply be!

There is no method to living intelligently. The key is to live, fully, simply “being”.   
There are two ways you can live. Either you can live “possessing” or you can live “being”. Most of us are the “possessing” kind – we are constantly in search of having this or having that. All our having is about having worldly things. It’s focused on material wealth – money, house, car and such. But when you have all the things, chances are you could still be seeking “something” and feeling “empty”. Your Life is full of things, yet you feel an emptiness, a void. But the one who lives “being” – loving what is, being content with what he or she has, that person, feels inner peace and joy. That person understands himself or herself, the true Self, and is possessed by nothing.
A statue of Diogenes and Alexander
in modern-day Corinth, Greece
There’s a story of a meeting between Diogenes (404 BCE ~ 323 BCE), the Greek philosopher, and Alexander the Great (356 BCE ~ 323 BCE). It is said that Diogenes, in his quest for inner peace, had renounced everything. He was like a “fakir” – possessing nothing, except a bowl for drinking water. Then one day he saw a dog drinking water from the river and threw away even his bowl, saying he didn’t even need it from then on!
Alexander came to meet him one day, when Diogenes was bathing in the sunshine by the riverside, and asked him if he, as an Emperor, could do anything for him.
Diogenes said, “Yes! Please step out of the way of the sunshine that is bathing me. Thank You!”
Alexander asked Diogenes what was the point behind doing whatever he was doing.
Diogenes asked him the same question: “Why are you doing what you are doing – conquering the world?”
Alexander replied: “So that, when I become the world’s ruler, when I have the world at my feet, I can rest by a riverside just like you – in peace”.
Diogenes laughed. He said, “That you can do right away. You don’t need to conquer the world for you to do that. Look, this riverbank is wide enough. You can share it with me. And be peaceful. I find your idea stupid that you want to conquer the world and then rest in peace. Look at me, I have conquered no world and I am at peace. So can you!”
In that nanosecond, Alexander, being the intelligent person that he was, grasped the essence of intelligent living. He said, “I agree. But I have come this far in Life. Now, I can’t go back without conquering the rest of the world.”
At least Alexander had the humility to accept the futility behind all his conquests. And before he died, his “awakening” – thanks to his encounter with Diogenes – led him to tell his ministers that his hands should be kept out of his coffin so that people could see that “Alexander the Great came empty-handed and went empty-handed”.
By interpretation, Diogenes is telling you – and me – too that to be clinging on to possessions, to be possessed by what you have – whether it is knowledge or ego or humility or wealth – is futile. You can be absolutely free when you simply be. You may have nothing worldly, but you will have an aura that can touch and energize everyone around you. That kind of energy comes from within. That’s what Jesus meant when he said, “The Kingdom of God is within you”. The power of such a person does not come from things. Those who are driven by things and accumulating – power, position, property, titles – are, logically, powerless without them. But, as Diogenes’s story teaches us, the one who has nothing, commands great respect and has a great power, to even transform the Greatest Emperor!
You and I don’t have to renounce what we have. We don’t have to be another Diogenes. Let us be ourselves. But let us also stop wanting to have more and more. Instead, let us learn to simply be – happy and content with what is. That’s when we too will be soaked in inner peace!

Give freely and joyously

It was the American writer and lawyer Albert Pike (1809~1891) who memorably said: “What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal.

Yesterday, I heard a story. There once was a very wealthy man who was very attached to his wealth. He had this bizarre idea of taking all his wealth with him to ‘the other world’ after his earthly sojourn ended. He advertised in the papers that he was willing to offer half of his wealth to anyone who gave him an idea that will “ensure” that he could take all his wealth with him to “the other world” when he died. People who saw the advertisement thought the man had gone loony. Many days passed and not even one person contacted the wealthy man. His advisors and friends told him that no one ever will because his was such a bizarre expectation. And then, about four weeks after the advertisement appeared, a man called up claiming he knew of a way this could be done. The wealthy man immediately agreed to meet him. The caller set a pre-condition for sharing his idea. He insisted that half the wealthy man’s fortune be immediately transferred in his name before he gave away the idea. The wealthy man evaluated his options and concluded that since no one else had even come forward, the only way he had even half a chance of taking at least half his wealth with him when he died was to agree to the caller’s condition. So, the transfer deeds were done, the bank transfers were completed and the two men met in the wealthy man’s home for the ‘idea’ to be shared.

The caller said: “Sir, just as your country’s currency will not be valued in another, and so just as you have to take foreign exchange with you in lieu of an equal amount of your local currency when traveling overseas, you have to enter into a unique exchange agreement if you are to take your wealth with you to ‘the other world’. That exchange agreement requires you to give away all your wealth to help the poor and the needy. For every cent that you give away, you will get a credit of one goodwill point. Those points will be directly credited into your ‘other world’ account . You can’t see the account while you are here. You can access your goodwill account only in ‘the other world’. If you carry out this advice of mine you can be sure of getting goodwill credits that are equal to your wealth on this planet!”

The wealthy man simply agreed to follow the caller’s advice without protest. He gave away the other half of his wealth joyously to the poor and needy. When he died, his whole country mourned and millions showed up at his funeral. The foolish but rich man had ended up doing good by giving freely, albeit inadvertently.

Surely, we are not foolish. We do get the moral of this story straightaway, don’t we? For, what of ours have we brought with us and what will we take away? Everything that we think belongs to us is impermanent, including our Life. So, let’s give joyously. Through our giving selflessly, freely, we can make a difference, we can touch another Life! That is the only true wealth we can ever claim to have earned in this lifetime!

Don’t let your money matter more than you!

Employ money to make your Life comfortable. Don’t let it enslave you!
This morning’s papers had a shocking story of girl from Kochi suing her father for gifting her ‘fake jewelry’ at her wedding. It’s yet another instance of how money keeps us from being human! It got me thinking.
Money is important. No doubt. It can buy you many things that will make your Life simpler and comfortable. But letting money buy over your peace of mind is hara-kiri.
Our entire attitude to Life has become money-oriented. Life decisions are being taken basis whether it can help make or save money. Not basis whether it can give you joy! Another dimension worth considering is that you can never say what people want of you. Do they want you and respect you for what you really are? Or do they want your money and respect how much of it you have? So, when money, which anyway is impermanent, stops coming your way, you suddenly discover that your durbar has dispersed. People don’t want you anymore. Because you don’t have what they want with you. You feel lonely, unwanted and unhappy. That’s when your big realization happens. That money is just a means. It must not dominate your Life, your emotions or your actions. Instead if you let happiness dominate your Life, emotions and actions, you will still make money. More important, you will then know how to use it!
I remember the movie Forrest Gump, which has a very relevant line that Gump says: “Don’t own nothin’ if you can help it. If you can, rent your shoes.” This whole desire to amass more and more in the hope that we will be secure and happy makes us slaves of a lifestyle we have long stopped enjoying. It fills our lives with grief every time something goes wrong with our Life __ as it often will and does! You lose your job or an important business contract and you imagine it is the end of the road. You plunge into depression. Or you lose your sanity over trying to protect what wasn’t worth protecting at all in the first place. I love LAMY pens. And I collect them as well, besides using them. A few years ago, when on a flight, I lost my favorite blue LAMY pen. For weeks I agonized over it. I felt a part of me was lost. I hunted high and low for one in India. At that time, Indian stationers did not retail LAMYs. And so I couldn’t find one in India. Years after this incident, my Firm went bankrupt and we entered a phase of complete pennilessness. One day, while practicing my daily silence period, it suddenly struck me how stupid I had been in agonizing over the loss of a pen, when in reality, my family and I had lost everything material __ all our money, all assets. And what remained was just us and our love for each other! It was a beautiful moment of awakening. The light that appeared in that moment continues to drench my Life with its brilliance!
Azim Premji: Keeper not Owner
A recent issue of Forbes India has Azim Premji, one of the wealthiest Indians, and chairman of Wipro, share his views about ‘employing’ his wealth to make a difference to others. His son Rishad, who works with Premji, both in the corporate and also on the board of Azim Premji Foundation, the Group’s philanthropy arm, says that they (the Premji family) are only keepers of the wealth (estimated to be $ 12 billion) and not its owners. “He’s (Azim Premji) always told us, ‘I am comfortable giving you something in Life but if you want anything above that, you have to earn it for yourself. The rest is meant to be given away, it is an obligation to give it away’,” says Rishad to Forbes India’s Mitu Jayashankar.
Important perspective that. You or I may not have the billions. We may be giving. Or we may plan to give. But the least you__and I__can do is to not grieve over money or let it enslave us. Let’s put it to good use __ to make our lives comfortable and to make a difference to someone else’s!