In any situation speak what your heart tells you to. Not what your mind recommends you to.
This will ensure that you don’t leave any situation in Life untouched by your perspective and you live your Life on your terms. Happily. Let’s understand this better. We are forever saying no when we must be saying yes. And saying yes when we must be saying no.
Take an example. You visit someone. And your host asks for coffee, tea or beverages. You wouldn’t mind a coffee. But you end up saying no. Here’s another one. Your boss asks you if it is fine for you to stay back after work to discuss the upcoming budget meetings. You know you have promised to drive the kids around and buy them ice-cream today. You actually want to say no, but you end up saying yes. Right from these simple, often banal, situations to more important, Life-related choices, we are making uncalled for compromises. This is why many of us are perpetually unhappy. Think about it. A large part of your Life has been spent pleasing others__a father, mother, siblings, in-laws, bosses, children, neighbors. You have become a ‘pleasing slave’__one who is addicted to pleasing, being nice, others at the cost of one’s own happiness. It is an addiction. It is suicidal. Resultantly, you are not living your Life. You are just suffering. Stop this nonsense. Now. If you want to work in way that you feel enriched, fulfilled and productive, say what you are feeling, not what is merely ‘appropriate’ in the given situation or context.
We used to work with a client. A large corporate here in India. Their CEO, a wonderful human being, is personally very close to us. We worked with that company as consultants for over a decade. But in those years, we had become part of the furniture in their organization, we had stopped adding value, because we had stopped speaking up, preferring to be “nice” to the CEO who, effectively, is a very poor manager. Finally, some years ago, we quit that engagement. A few weeks ago, the CEO approached us through another common professional source, asking if we would be interested in engaging with the company again. In the period when have not been engaged with the company, the CEO had helped us with many challenges we had been faced with in Life. Yet, despite our deep gratitude to this CEO, we declined to re-engage. The CEO called me. And expressed his displeasure at our refusal. I replied: “I must confess this may be coming across to you as if we are professionally arrogant. But I want you to know Sir that if we don’t operate from our inner core, from joy, we can’t create value in your organization. And your style of working is not compatible with ours. Hence we will not be happy. Being happy is critical to our living. We want to be alive to each moment, not dying, feeling suffocated in an environment such as the one you lead.” I said this with a straight face. It must have been devastating for this CEO perhaps to hear this. But he later sent me a text saying, he appreciated my being honest. Another friend, a world-class entrepreneur, who I had added on my personal Facebook page, started using my wall for promoting his brands. I ‘unfriended’ him on Facebook and sent him a mail saying while I appreciate his genius (he is one), I do not quite accept his treating my personal space as his commercial billboard and also told him that his brands don’t need any of these small-time publicity gimmicks. He wrote back, after several weeks of silence, how much he valued my views.
So, when you speak up and share what your heart is experiencing, you not only enhance your happiness quotient, you also create value in your circle of influence. Now choose: do you want to be in a constant ‘pleasing-mode’ and so be always unhappy or do you want to live happily forever? It’s a no-brainer!
Being decisive about what you don’t want to do, or what you don’t want, in Life, is far more important than knowing what you want or may want to do.
A young friend, who is barely 20, and is an adopted child of her foster parents, recently reminded me of this opportunity in staying decisive. She said her foster mother asked her, when she was seven years old, if she wanted to meet her biological mother. My friend says she decided back then that she did not want to meet her biological parents. Reflecting back on her choice, my friend says that her decision remains unchanged. “Why would I want to visit my biological parents? This is my family and I have the best parents in the world,” she declares without a trace of dilemma.
That clarity in thinking is as infectious as it is inspiring. Many of our relationship issues exist in the first place because of our inability to say ‘no’ to people over what they say or do to us. Worse, we end up saying ‘yes’ when we need to be saying ‘no’ – and we often say ‘no’ when want to say ‘yes’!
Why do we struggle to say ‘no’ to people who are being unreasonable with us? One of the primary, often subconscious, considerations is that we don’t want to ‘hurt’ them. Also to speak your mind to someone is often a disconcerting thought. Nobody wants to be seen as cold, in-the-face and inflexible. So, at the cost of our own discomfort, we end up trying to nice to people. Which is why we never say ‘no’ to people who end up being rude to us, to people who are opportunistic with us and to people who take us for granted.
Sometimes, in close family relationships, we end up having to face emotional blackmail – played out willfully or subconsciously. A mother, who is congenitally manipulative, may insist that her children overlook her divisive nature because she has toiled hard to deliver and raise them. Or a sibling may say that he deserves to be treated better – and may even seek material benefits – because he was deprived of them when he was growing up. A spouse may say that she has sacrificed more for the family than her partner has and so she will demand that her partner recognize – and reward – her in a more demonstrative way than is being done.
We can go on analyzing why we don’t say ‘no’ – and, honestly, we will go on discovering and inventing newer reasons to justify ourselves. But the way to look at this opportunity is to actually consider the value that saying ‘no’ to certain people can bring to our lives.
First, saying ‘no’ to someone means you are defining who you are and are setting out a framework – a code of conduct, if you like – for the way you wish to be treated. Second, this clarity, combined with you not having to forsake your real self, spares you the suffering. For, when you are living Life under restraint, not being who you truly are, behind all the glossy and “accommodative” exterior, you are suffering deep within. Third, when you are not suffering, you are free and happy! It is as simple as that. I am not sure my young friend employed these criteria, in such a structured manner, in making her choice not to see biological mother. But, from what she is feeling now – at being loved for and cared for by her foster family – her choice is indeed governed by what’s making her happy! That’s where the nub lies for you too – if saying ‘no’ will make you happy in any situation, with any person, simply say ‘no’. Don’t think. Just say ‘no’. Because, happiness also comes from being able to not do what you don’t want to do!
The easiest response to Life, when things don’t go well, is to turn grumpy and be depressed. But feeling that way is not going to get you anywhere. The only way to respond to Life is to say “YES” to it – no matter what your circumstances may be!
I was thinking about a couple, close friends of our family, last evening. Their first born, a boy, would be 17 now. They live in Singapore. The boy was afflicted by muscular dystrophy (MD) – a progressively degenerative muscular disorder – when he was barely a few months old. In the case of the boy the disease is severe and for all the complications that come with the condition, he has very little time left. Even so, the couple are the most positive people you can ever meet. They are happy looking after their child and supporting him to live as normal a Life as is possible in these conditions. The wife once told me, “It seemed impossible to accept the reality when the doctors shared the news with us. I don’t think any parent can deal with such a prognosis with regard to his or her child. But over time, I noticed that despite what his limitations were, our boy wanted to do things that all children do. That’s when my husband and I resolved that we are not going to mourn our fate. We are going to live our Life, with our child, helping him live fully too – as long as he can.” I have never seen this couple grieve over their child’s condition. They have always been happy – despite all the challenges that come with raising a child having MD.
The immediate response to Life’s challenges is a big “NO”. But saying “NO” to Life is pointless. Because it changes nothing. Viktor Frankl, an Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, in his profound book (published in 1946) “Man’s Search for Meaning” writes, “When a man finds that it is his destiny to suffer, he will have to accept his suffering as his task; his single and unique task. He will have to acknowledge the fact that even in suffering he is unique and alone in the Universe. No one can relieve him of his suffering or suffer in his place. His unique opportunity lies in the way in which he bears his burden.” What Frankl says is true. Wishing away Life’s realities, pining that your Life be different or mourning your circumstances get you nowhere. It is always what it is. So, when you are suffering – and you realize that just as no one can alleviate your suffering but you, suffering in a situation cannot change it either – you learn to accept your Life for the way it is. Through such acceptance you seize the opportunity to be happy! That’s what saying “YES” to Life is all about!