Open Happiness

There is a cheeky story about a fisherman meeting a Harvard MBA where the fisherman is living a life of contentment with his minimal income. He had reasonable work hours, no stress, time to play with kids, meet friends, enjoy with family. The Harvard guy advises him on working harder, smarter, corporatiz-ing his work and become a millionaire. Fisherman then asks what would he do with all the money and the MBA tells him that then he can retire, catch fish, play with kids and on and on and I guess you got the message. My personal view is that the sweet spot lies somewhere in the middle for most of us. If you are a monk and you can be okay with anything in life then you are God, and most of the discussions don’t apply but for the average folks who feel happiness and sadness derived from external situations, I think a compromise between the two will be the best bet.

As of now, the circle I move in is lopsided (a good percentage of them not all) on the side of doing too much and being too competitive and too stressed out. Obsessing over being the one with the last word in a pointless meeting, trying to get the wording right for some presentation to make the right impression, socializing with the right crowd in the right way to get noticed and the list goes on and on. To the extent, life becomes an endless series of performance oriented living and somewhere they need to be brought back.

If you go to the core, life can be very fulfilling if you have the base of your needs covered from Maslow's hierarchy of needs and then have time for other tiers. To be able to take care of your base needs most of us need a lot less than what we have, but because we are on a treadmill with many others where the speed of treadmill represents the average speed of the guys running. So, to be able to just keep up, you have to be at par with the average. And why do you have to keep up, just because if you don’t, you feel you have lost and you lose your mind. So, there is an artificial association of happiness to this race. In fact, there is very little chance of gratification, as that is reserved only for the top few percent and the recent are just playing catch up. If you are doing well, you are less miserable, if you aren’t you are more miserable. The race is to avoid misery and not to attain happiness and hence the default setting here is misery.

If only, people could realize this and dig deeper and try to find happiness in simpler things like the coke ad below suggests, they might end up having a lot more fulfillment and happiness!

The Moments that count

We as human beings are always trying to maximize, it’s in our evolutionary genetics. What you try to maximize has a significant impact on your life.

I had heard a lot about Conjuring before I went to see the horror for myself and I wasn't spooked as much as I thought I would be. Being a die-hard fan of the genre I was less than impressed with scare factor, but one thing that stuck from the movie was a scene where a picture of the family together was taken at a beach and the whole family seemed really happy. That moment becomes pivotal for the climax. I wondered how many such moments do we have in our lives that truly stay with us.

When I recount, there aren't that many moments that always come to your head when you think about them. There are a scarce few though, those are still vivid and will probably remain that way for the rest of your life.  There wasn't a particularly striking theme for all of those, some were moments of true happiness and some of true horror, but a good amount were neither and were banal from all known aspects. A lot of them came when I was together with my loved ones. For the banal ones, I have a theory that those were the kind where you suddenly serendipitous-ly became fully aware of the ‘now’ and hence they remained etched in the memory forever.

We are doing everything in our powers to maximize the number of moments in our lives but are we doing enough to maximize the moments that stay. I know, this is a cliche and more like the classic example of a cliche said by probably half of the world’s population. It still does make sense to be repeated because of the applicability.

I will still remember the time when I got my job and I ran to the STD PCO outside my hostel to inform my parents. That indeed was a life changing moment but I will always remember the time when my father and my brother went to the circus in my really early childhood. I still remember the rain, the deluge, the cut short circus routine, the disappointment of not being able to see “maut ka kua” – a drill where they ride a bike on the sides of a sphere; it was cancelled due to the monstrous rain. I still remember a few glimpses of the streets we had to take because we couldn't take the normal route that was rendered un-usable by the rain. I can almost feel the wetness in my buttocks to this day and the numerous seat changes as the roof of the circus was leaking from many places. Not sure what made that moment stick, but it did and it keeps coming back to me and I can’t help but feel a little fondness and nostalgic about it.

If you are truly a saint, your every moment can be memorable but then for rest of us, we have to work it out. I have often thought about taking time off and be able to make these moments. It always ends up being a few days trip to a tourist spot, or a week at home, but not much other than that. It is almost always fairly routine with flashes of memor-ability sometimes.  How hard would it be to think of taking a month off for vacation, with family without family, but without the worry of something clambering and waiting for your attention that you somehow shut out? It seems fairly possible to be able to do that, but I haven’t done that in more than a decade of my job.  That probably is my best shot at making moments that count until a time when I become a saint!

The Depth of Abstraction

During an orientation I attended for one of my significant promotions at work, someone kept repeating a phrase “Get comfortable with uncomfortable” like a mantra. Every now and then throughout the day it would be thrown in for good measure. I tend to forget most of the stuff I hear in these kinds of sessions, but this is one of the few that stuck.

This isn't a concrete advice with specifics; rather it sets the tone and has applicability everywhere.

The reason this remained stuck is because it internally spawned in me a chain of thoughts and for the first time I fully realized the wisdom of abstract advises. I have often considered them useless in past as being too generic to be useful, something said because of lack of thought into putting it in more concrete terms, in short - bullshit

Recently I was trying to advice someone on similar lines and reached a point where I mentioned to him that you don’t need advice on specifics, you need a generic meta-advice. An example of one such advice would be a case where I offer 10 things as suggestions on various aspects you can improve and the 11th advice I give you is “act on advice received”J. So effectively the 11th advice is sort of meta-advice but holds real value especially if you aren't really acting on advises.

Another example once came to my mind was giving someone advice on how to keep himself healthy. The advice can be broken down to granular on keeping your heart healthy, limbs healthy, liver healthy, digestion healthy and so on. If that someone happens to be someone who falls sick very often, I think a meta/abstract advice would be to try and work on his immune system. If you can make that strong the other parts will be taken care of. So, you have set the tone and direction of what you are trying to do and then you still do what you have to do to keep your body parts healthy but then you always have the context in your head.

This advice held the same potential for me and I realized the power of having such mental frameworks to ease your life especially with all the cut-throat-ness in this world thrown into the mix for good measure. This simple advice can be applied whenever you are feeling bad and just by observing and knowing that you are in this specific situation that you are supposed to learn from, changes the scenario from victim-hood to one of coping and learning from it. The more practice you get the better you get at it. So every time you are in deep shit, rather than feeling you are in deep shit, you can visualize yourself as being in intense practice J This may sound like bullshit, but think about it – when you are working out you are putting yourself through intense pain, much harder than a moderate slap on your face during a fight. Which one would hurt more? The pain inflicted by a slap will be much harder to bear than the pain of your workout, despite the huge difference in the actual pain element associated with the two. So, what is different, the way you perceive the pain – one is an insult, the other is your own pursuit. Now, the basic point of the lengthy explanation is that your suffering isn't determined by the magnitude of pain, but the context and your perception of that pain. If you could change that you can free yourself from it! You can extend this to any situation and hence we are back to the point of discomfort. If you can find a way to handle discomfort (generated by job, spouse, kids, parents, friends, traffic) and be OK with it, you have found your way to nirvana!

So, think about some abstract/meta advises you would like to apply in your life and then apply. Few basic tenets you should keep in mind – Our bodies and brains are infinitely elastic and respond to challenges and practice, they have the power to become better and the second one - whatever you need in life to be at peace is present within you (no matter who you are!). So with these two basic tenets and a video about hope below from an upcoming start up, find out your own set of rules and start a new life full of hope, happiness and most importantly inner peace!

The Shawshank Redemption Re-reviewed

One of the best lines ever said in a movie or elsewhere come from the movie “The Shawshank Redemption”. It is an inspiring movie; the pace of the movie belies the climax. 

Remember Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.

Every time I hear word hope, I get reminded of the movie and the line above. Every time I think about it, I get to think about it in a different way, based on the phase of life I am in and the state of mind I am in.

The part that I hadn't noticed so much earlier but that comes to my mind when I got reminded of the movie today was the pace. There was hardly any urgency or many tense moments throughout the movie. It just takes an easy and lazy pace, definitely out of tune with the climax that is awaiting you.

I also thought a little bit about the restlessness that comes with hope. Your restlessness is driven of the fact that you don’t like your current state and you would like to change and you have some hope of changing it. But the fact that there is restlessness is enough to spoil your present and for some folks that is the kind of hope they have, which can make them miserable, like Red said in the movie.

Let me tell you something my friend. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane

The kind of state Andy appears to be in the movie is a sense of acceptance that comes with finality. Some times that fact that you are in a dead end state drives acceptance and you end up compromising with your current situation. That is the sense you get out of most part of the movie as he tries to do things inside the prison as if he is going to be there forever. The acceptance hides behind itself an indomitable spirit and an undying hope that remained alive despite near impossibility of ever being able to get out.

In the end the hope does work out, but the aspect that struck me more this time is the possibility, what if it hadn't. Would that be considered a sad ending? It wouldn't be exemplary ending (and definitely worse for a movie), but then the way things seemed to be going it seemed an acceptable ending for Andy. He was doing things, changing his world in little ways possible for himself. He built a name and reputation for himself, made real friends, real relationships, had leisure, time to indulge in his hobbies (some if not all). A lot of things people in the outside world struggle to keep because of a lifestyle they chose for themselves or decisions they made in life. The point that struck me was, it probably would have been OK for Andy even if he wasn't able to break out. He seemed happy and content with where he was. Even though he was aspiring for more, it wasn't as much from a sense of hating his situation and trying to escape it, it came more out of being OK with the situation but still striving to be at a better place, a content-er place if you will. As he also comments at some point

Get busy living, or get busy dying

A hope that drives madness and spoils your current situation isn't real hope. The best kind is the one where you don’t end up being miserable in your present, yet you look up to something even better.

Self Reliance

How great would it be, when everybody in the world gives more than he/she receives in all the aspects of life! If only that one cardinal rule is followed the world will be a constantly improving place

Now that I have a lot of friends who have young kids and are trying to inculcate values in them that will shape their lives forever, I can see different patterns. Some patterns are recognizable as inherited as they are things that their parents did with them and hence assumed to be the best possible things.

A lot of people mistake good parenting with being subservient to the kids’ demands. A “no” for something is regarded as a lack of care or resources; more so when it comes to things that your kids’ friends have. Seeing what I have seen around, I think the last thing you would want to happen to you is to be seen as someone not caring about your kid. Most of the times, the conclusion becomes lack of resources and that’s an insult to the ego of parents. It is more common than you think to have parents put their ego (in reality) in front when dealing with such situations. It is easy and guilt free because all the while you are convinced that you are doing the right thing, in fact the best possible thing! However, there lies the catch. In succumbing to any demand your kid makes or anything that is driven out of peer pressure, you are essentially letting someone else drive your parenting. Now that may or may not be the right thing, but the fact remains, you have forsaken your judgment. You have outsourced your thinking and will let others, your peers, decide what you do. This is generally a bad rule in life.

There is however, another class of people, who realize this and let their own principles guide them. They are the ones who would make their kids clean up their own mess whenever possible. They will make them say sorry when they make a mistake and make it known to them what is wrong and what is right. Those guys will do a great job at making independent and self reliant kids. While it may seem that you are helping your kid by doing his/her work or covering or defending their mistakes, it actually weakens them in long run, make them dependent on you and in worse cases make them bad people. I am still surprised by the number of people who would support their argument with, my parents did the same to me as if they are some benchmark of propriety; a gift to mankind. In doing so, they are validating their parents as the best examples of parental care and themselves a perfect specimen that came out as a result of that perfect care.

The new ad by HDFC bucks the trend, and shows the value of self reliance and how you can be caring yet be able to push your kids in the right direction by letting go of the support gently and thoughtfully. A brilliant ad that I am sure is going to catch the attention of a lot of folks.