Humans like to ‘matter’ in this world and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. We are all unique and our uniqueness is what makes us who we are. But we also like to belittle others from time to time just so we can make ourselves look ‘better’ and ‘bigger’. What we forget is that no person has ever become better or bigger by making someone feel like they are inferior to them.
One of the things that I have learned from my father is the importance of encouragement. He has never discouraged anyone in his entire life and that’s something I try to inculcate in my own personal life. This may seem quite trivial but it’s such an important lesson that it can’t be said enough. Sometimes I see too much negativity around me- people trying their best to criticise each other’s ideas or work; leaving no stone unturned in bringing each other down. This gives them a sense of superiority and it’s a feeling they like to chase. Since we are all different, it makes total sense that our opinions and views about the world would also be different (here I am not talking about the objective truths such as earth not being flat). We don’t have to agree with every idea. We don’t have to agree with everyone either. What doesn’t make sense is to make somebody feel like they are worthless or that there is no place for their imagination. If we can’t help someone, the least we can do is not to become a hindrance in their journey. In other words, not discourage them.
Some people might argue that their intention was never to discourage but to provide the right guidance. But there is always a better way to deliver our message. How we say things matter a ton- it demands kindness, politeness, maturity and an understanding. Most importantly, a few positive words for a little boost.
I’ll end this blog with a quote by Mark Twain who once said, “Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.”
I know you have read it or heard it many times so I am not saying anything new. It’s the reality of this world and no one has ever achieved anything without facing the setbacks. The nature and duration of struggles might differ but at the end of the day ‘struggles’ is the only constant in the lives of each and every human being. But this blog is not about repeating this ultimate truth about human life. It’s about the problem with the very statement “Everybody struggles”.
Do you know someone who is at a point in their life where they have no idea what is going on? It could be you as well. What do you tell them when they share their insecurities, doubts and confusions with you? Are you ‘really’ present in the moment and listen to what they are saying? Do you try to be understanding, kind and compassionate? or do you simply dismiss or cut short the conversations by saying “Everybody struggles in this world”?
You do not understand it but such statements are totally unhelpful. The person who is making the efforts to confide in you does not expect such feedbacks, trust me. They don’t want you to ‘generalise’ the conversation. Rather they want the whole conversation to be about them. Kind of like an ‘individualised treatment’ in medical science. People don’t want you to solve their problems for them. They do not want you to face their life’s struggles either. They just want you listen to them actively with full maturity and zero judgements. I have met so many people in my life and I can only think of a couple of people who are worthy enough to share my problems with. The best part of it is that I get so much inspiration from this that I try to do the same thing for others.
The conversations in our lives have become very casual- we listen from one ear and filter out ‘most’ of the incoming information from the other. Sadly, we do this even with our loved ones. What really happens then? We end up saying “Everybody struggles” as if that would do the magic.
You are my best friend. Together, we go to far away galaxies. I see beyond my eyes can ever permit, I feel the whole universe in me. But sometimes you are not so loyal. You make me go through misery. You take me places I don’t want to go, In the name of ‘Infinite Possibilities’.
It’s a human tendency to take life for granted. I know this and you know it too. But why do we do it? Why do we take our family, friends, health, etc for granted? Why do we often miss out on acting in much better ways even though we ‘know’ nothing lasts forever?
Bertrand Russell, a British philosopher, essayist, logician and a social critic aptly said once, “In all affairs, it’s a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted.” Quite honestly, I haven’t make a list of all the things I take for granted in my life (probably it’s LIFE in general that I sometimes take for granted just like any other person) but I have come to a realisation that yes, indeed we don’t value our lives the way we should. I believe the pandemic is teaching us a lot in this domain.
Coming back to the question of why we take things in life for granted, psychology has some answers. Human beings are naturally inclined to ‘novelty’. It’s in our evolutionary history. Life, relationships, health seems like permanent. We think they have been there for a very long time and will stay with us for ‘always’. All this doesn’t feel novel or new so we don’t pay much attention. Until something big happens. The pandemic is giving us many examples. We are seeing with our own eyes that a single hour is enough to change our or the lives of our loved ones completely and forever. For many the wounds are never going to heal but others will forget everything and continue living their lives the way they had been living prior to the pandemic.
Isn’t it the perfect time to change that? After all, the losses are irreversible.
Only a couple days back I was pondering upon the same thought and something crossed my mind. It was nothing but a simple, single question. I have lost a very close relative to COVID-19. While reflecting back upon my own life I reminded myself how lucky I am. Quite frankly, I am very grateful of my life each day. Trying to keep myself in my cousin’s shoes I asked myself a question:
“HOW MUCH WOULD YOUR COUSIN BE WILLING TO PAY JUST TO HAVE A 5 MINUTE CONVERSATION WITH THE PERSON SHE HAS LOST?”
Without a doubt: A LOT!! Yes, my cousin would be willing to pay a lot. The cost will be very very high. Doesn’t that change your perspective, even a little bit? It changed mine. That question strikes me hard enough to pause for a moment and think things over again. Now, I am not saying I have become all perfect and will never take people in my life for granted. I am a human after all. I am conditioned to make mistakes. Nevertheless, I am going to try to never stop asking myself that question. It will keep me in check, I am sure.
This post might just change your life. But more importantly, I want it to change mine. In other words, you can say out loud that I am writing this short essay for me.
Every moment of our lives we are striving for more. We want more achievements, more money, more friends, more social approvals, more gadgets, etc. It seems like ‘more’ is guiding our lives. We do not take a pause, look around and think if everything we have is enough. We are always competing: competing with our former selves is a good thing (but it should be done in moderation too) while keeping an unhealthy competition with others is an invitation to self destruction and no self satisfaction. Nothing is ever enough for us. You might assume contentment equals no progress. I disagree. Being content in life provides a stronger platform to get closer to our goals and dreams. People who are content in life find better ways to pursue new goals.
Wrong:Contentment= No progress
Right: Contentment= Better progress
My elder sister is a successful woman. She has a stable job which she enjoys a lot. Recently, she has purchased a car. These are considered to be the measures of success; just to name a few. I have attributed her success with her salary and possessions. They are the external measures of success and they matter. But she has a quality that I believe can be referred to as her “internal” measure of success. I will call it “the art of being enough”. My sister is ambitious. She knows what she wants in her life and then she goes after it. That’s how we all approach our lives too, right?
I don’t think so.
What sets her apart from the many people I have met is her ability to stay content. Her ambitions are loud but they are not loud enough to keep her dissatisfied with her accomplishments and life overall. She is not trying to do ‘everything’. She does ‘something’ and she gives her best in that. She knows when things get ‘enough’ for her. I admire such people.
I often talk about gratitude in my blog posts not because it looks cooler but because I personally believe how important it is to be grateful in life. Few years ago I would say I wasn’t a grateful person. But that changed with time. Now I say it out loud that I am a grateful person and whenever life throws mud at me I try to remind myself of all the things I have. Still, I have this constant feeling like something is missing. I could say it is because I am an over ambitious person. Also, I am very competitive (please bear in mind that I try my best to keep a healthy competition). For the past few days I have been wondering about it and it crossed my mind how I can learn a simple skill of being satisfied and content from my sister.
Why so serious? It’s just life
I have always been serious in life and my sister has always been jolly and carefree. That way she enjoys her life.
Does it mean she is not an accomplished person? Does it mean she has no bigger goals and aspirations? NO. She is a very successful person not only because she is well educated, she has a car, a place to live and other essentials but also because she practices an art of being enough. She strives for more and better things in life but at the same time she knows when and how to put a full stop to her desires. She prioritizes experiences and having diverse experiences in life makes life more worthy.
Seriously, it’s only life. Why be so serious???
Ambitions can be a double edged sword
I know well enough the cost of being over ambitious. There have been profits, not going to deny that. But I have bear losses too. And those losses are realized only when it gets too late. I believe we must all have higher goals in life. Having bigger goals motivate us to realize our potential. Taking risks alongside is crucial too because without risks nothing changes; not even our circumstances. If there is no contentment everything seems futile. There shall be zero satisfaction.
Is it a good life? A life where we have almost everything yet we tell ourselves we have nothing? I know that’s a difficult question because at the end of each day we want more. That’s a harsh reality. Even though it is a harsh reality should we just let ourselves suffer? Probably not.
Practice the art of being enough
It is not easy to go against our pre-wired biological mechanisms. It is not easy to go against our own human psychology. But that doesn’t or shouldn’t mean we don’t make changes.
Like my sister, I am trying to stay content in life. I plan things out. I imagine my future and try work accordingly. I keep higher goals for myself. In the midst of all this, I tell myself whatever I have right now is enough. With that little dialogue with me I start believing not only what I have is enough but I am enough too. When we start believing that we are enough we are much happier. That further motivates us to go one step further and further and so on and so forth. If only I am ungrateful for everything that I have do you really think I will be motivated enough to take a leap of faith and go for another goal? I will only be stuck with self-loathing and self-loathing is always our foe.
There are no limits to human desires and that’s the fundamental cause of our suffering according to Buddhist philosophy. I don’t think our goal is to eliminate our desires and become void beings. Contrary to that ,our goal should be to keep our desires in check and whenever we get a signal that our desires are getting out of control we should take a pause and reflect.
Stoic philosophy is a very practical philosophy. Many stoic philosophers like Marcus Aurelius, Seneca and Epictetus had spoken of some of the ultimate truths of life. They were not gods. They were common people like us with responsibilities at home and workplace. They had families to look after. They had jobs to do to. They had adversities and challenges to face. In the middle of all this they did not stop being philosophers. They did not stop working on themselves. It was only when they were striving for mental clarity, peace and self improvement did they reveal some beautiful words which still survive today- more than 2,000 years later.
1. “We suffer more in imagination than in reality.”– Seneca
Stoic philosophers believed events are objective. They are ‘what they are’. If someone has ridiculed us on social media then it is an objective reality: it is what it is. We cannot go back in time and change it. But how we choose to look at those events will eventually decide how we are going to feel about them. In other words, our subjectivity or perception is going to determine how we feel about that particular event. How we are going to react to that ridiculous comment someone has made against us on social media is either going to make our day or break our day. A lot of times things are not that bad. Our judgement make them. Therefore it is of great importance that we work on improving our perspective. A lot is at stake when we do not have a favorable perception.
2. “Why should we feel anger at the world? As if the world would notice?”- Marcus Aurelius
Every time I read this, I feel a little different. We are not always angry at ourselves. Majority of the times we are angry at the world; at people- for not being kind enough, for not being honest enough with their jobs, for not being understanding enough, for not being like us. It is a big mistake to expect the world to work as per our preferences. People are not going to be like us: they do not care much if they are being greedy or not, they do not care if they are efficient at their jobs or not, they do not care about your expectations. They are just carrying on with their lives just the way you are. Then what is the point in punishing yourself for someone else’s mistakes. Why are you angry? Why you? Do you think they care? Do you think they are noticing your anger? Do you believe they are going to come console you? NO. NO and NO. We can influence people. We can make a difference in this world. But we cannot do it for everyone.
3. “When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive – to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.” – Marcus Aurelius
We all dread mornings because we have to go to work, we have to do household chores; we have to think of innumerable tasks on to-do list. In the middle of all the responsibilities we forget what a privilege it is to be able to breathe; to be alive. We forget it is a new day to correct our past mistakes. We forget it is a new day to make our plans again. We forget we have another day to care deeply about the people we love. This is what Marcus Aurelius said. He wanted us to make time for gratitude. If we are focused too much upon what we don’t have, we will never be able to enjoy what we already have. This is what gratitude teaches us. Strive for better but also enjoy what’s already there.
4. “You have to assemble your life yourself – action by action.”- Marcus Aurelius
Life is never build instantly. There is no magic formula to build our lives quickly. Everything is done brick by brick. In other words, one step at a time. Human beings are very impatient. We expect instant results with little time and hard work. We do our work on a daily basis and feel like we are not getting anywhere, like we are stuck. I am most certain it happens with everybody. Every day progress doesn’t seem to matter a lot because we don’t get to see any changes. But in reality, we get better. We make progress. Like Marcus Aurelius said we have to assemble our lives action by action. Act once. Then act again. Act once more. Keep doing your work. You will definitely get there.
Quote 4: “Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’”- Viktor E. Frankl
Viktor Frankl was a prisoner at one of the concentration camps during the Second World War. His one of the most influential books of all time “Man’s search for meaning” has this beautiful line. Mr Frankl had a ‘why’ to live for and that’s exactly what made him come alive out of the horrendous conditions he was living in which are beyond our imagination.
What Mr Frankl had said decades ago is very true. In life, we all need a purpose– purpose can be anything like helping poor children with education, being emotionally supportive of our close friends & family, not taking undue advantage of anyone, curing people who are suffering from different ailments, etc. It doesn’t matter how big or small our purposes are as long as we have one. It’s what keeps us going when we have no reason to do so. We can overcome any obstacle of life if we are determined to live a life and not waste it. So, have a ‘why’ everyday and you will figure out the ‘how’.
Quote 5: “And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.” – Friedrich Nietzsche
Every time I read this quote I have a mind bending experience. It is very common among humans to project their fears and insecurities. We all do it and saying that we don’t is one the worst lies of all time. It’s our defense mechanism. A lot of times it happens that we are criticized by the people around us whenever we are set to do something. If it’s not criticism then at least a little of discouragement is there for sure. Such people are the ones who don’t hear the music as referred to by Nietzsche. And he’s right. It’s one thing to show someone the right path and prevent them from making a mistake. But it’s another thing to call them insane or mad just because we can’t listen to the same music they are listening to. We all have our preferences. We all have our perceptions towards life. And bringing down their morale just because we don’t understand them well enough isn’t the right way to live a life.
Quote 6:“Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.”-Mark Twain
Anger is one of the most common emotions experienced by humans. When things aren’t as per our expectations we express anger. Sometimes it is okay to be angry because we are humans after all. But many times it is more of an enemy than a friend or companion. I am not going to deny the fact that I struggle with the implications of my anger. I have known this for a very long time. On the other hand, I am glad that I know my problem and trying my level best every day to resolve it. When I first read these words by Mark Twain I knew in that immediate moment that nothing has been more apt for me regarding anger. It gave me such a strong explanation for why I should try to not be angry a lot of times for the reasons I have no control over. When we are angry at someone or something we are eventually harming ourselves because it is our liberty that gets taken away from us. Not the others. It’ like we are punishing ourselves for someone else’s mistakes. So, the next time you are getting really angry for no good reason tell yourself that the acid is destroying no one or nothing but you. Just You.
We all need motivation to carry ourselves forward. Sometimes we get motivated after reading a good book. Sometimes ‘people’ inspire us & we are motivated. And sometimes our inspiration is a mind blowing quote by a mind blowing person. However, motivation recedes with time. A quote which makes us feel like we are now a completely different person (after reading it) doesn’t seem to matter anymore. It’s like we have forgotten the lesson.
I read quotes- a lot of them. It’s not like I deliberately look for motivational quotes to keep myself inspired enough to lead a good life. There are many quotes that felt amazing to me in the past but they didn’t make much sense. But now when I look back and read them I feel like they are the ultimate truths of life. Thankfully, I am also putting their underlying lessons into practice every day.
Quote 1: “The things you own end up owning you.”- Chuck Palahniuk
I came across this amazing quote while watching a movie “Fight Club”. When I first read it I felt it was so great that I was going to live by it. But the reality is that I didn’t quite understand it until a week ago something went wrong with one of my possessions. Nothing was serious but considering my perfectionism the fact that something wasn’t 100% okay with my possession kept circling around in my mind. That was the moment when I realized how true the quote is. I own that possession. I have its ownership and it is good that I own it. I am getting so many benefits because of it. However, there’s another side to it. And that side says when we own something- anything- it comes back to owning us. My possession started taking control over me as I was a little worried. It had such a firm hold over me that until it got fixed I wasn’t completely relaxed.
It happens in everyone’s life and this is exactly why it is important that we are careful when it comes to owning material stuff. The more we own the more we will be losing our sense of freedom and liberty. Be careful what you wish for!!
Quote 2: “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”- Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs was never someone I looked up to for inspiration in my life. It was only when I hit the rock bottom that I understood how truthful he was about life and everything that happens with it. He said we can never connect the dots looking forward; into the future. Rather we can only make sense of things when we look back into the past. I have been living by these words for almost 5 years now. Why? Because these words kept me going when I didn’t have anywhere to go.
So often it happens that we feel sad for everything that’s wrong with our lives. And that’s okay. It is okay to feel sad when the ball isn’t in our court. It is not wise to repress our emotions and not exhibit what we are feeling deep down. What’s so interesting about life, on the other hand, is that it never backs down from surprising us. Whatever is happening in our lives right now isn’t supposed to make sense. ‘Present‘ isn’t meant to make sense. Everything makes sense only when we look back- back to those moments in our past. That’s when all the dots are going to get connected. That’s when we’re going to realize why we didn’t get what we wanted, why we did get what we never wanted or why those good/bad events had happened only with us.
The next time you’re beating yourself up for something that’s happening right now or may be cursing the world for all the happenings, just tell yourself that all the dots are going to get connected soon.
Quote 3: “Be yourself, everyone else is already taken.”- Oscar Wilde
We all talk about how we must focus on remaining who we are and never change ourselves for the world. I guess we have over-simplified this idea and people who are always talking about this idea probably have no knowledge of what ‘self’ is and merely talk about it for the sake of a conversation. Being ourselves isn’t an easy job. Personally it took me time to realize it. Being ourselves demand a lot of courage, self-discipline, tenacity, smartness and hard work. There’s going to be a lot of criticism but if we take the time to filter out bad ones from the good ones then we’re surely on the path of being ourselves.
It is not right to change ourselves into something we were never meant to be. It is not right to stop chasing our goals and ambitions just because someone is projecting his/her fears through us. We shouldn’t focus too much on everything the other person is. Rather focus on everything that we are because there are around 7 billion people on this earth and everyone is here to do his/her job and not waste time in imitating each other.
There’s always some scope to improve ourselves and we must improve every day. But for the good reasons and not the wrong ones. When we become better each day by not losing sight of ourselves that’s when we are being ourselves. That’s what we all need!!
(The biggest and most meaningful conversation just ended).
I am pretty sure this sounds familiar. Happens with me. Probably happens with you too.
We are living in the modern world of meaningless conversations and small talks. It is like everything is superficial. We might have some good intention behind asking our friends or loved ones how they are. It is necessary that we ask them. But in the midst of a noble intention sometimes we don’t realize that we are not very observant of what we are asking and what our closed ones are replying. Sometimes or I should say most of the time (in this modern world) we don’t see the pattern in our repeated questions and answers. That is why it is high time that we re-define the “How are you?” question.
“How are you” shouldn’t always be about work
How many times you ask someone how they are and you literally mean ‘how is your work’ or ‘how is your internship/job going’ or ‘how’s studies going at the university’ or ‘how many online courses have you done during the COVID-19 pandemic’? Again, sounds familiar, doesn’t it? I know it is going to sound cliche and you probably have heard it many times before- work is just a part of life, it is not the life. We don’t try to understand that may be someone out there doesn’t want us to ask how their professional life is going. Maybe they want us to ask them how they are doing besides their work. It’s like we have made up our lives totally about professional success. We constantly identify ourselves with the kind of work we do, our professional accomplishments, etc. as if life ends and begins with mere work. The next time you ask someone about their life make sure you don’t just make it about work. Be kind and humble enough to be a little bit observant. You might make their day better.
“How are you” is also about- how are you regulating your emotions and what can I do to help if they are unregulated at this point of time
Everyone struggles. While it may be true that some people have to struggle a lot more than others, still, the bottom line is: we all struggle. It is inevitable. With different kinds of challenges and obstacles come different emotions: anger, frustration, sadness, disgust, happiness, envy, jealously, pleasure, etc. Sadly, we are very ignorant when it comes to understanding people’s varied emotions. We don’t care enough to ask how they are regulating their emotions. And so, extending a hand for help never crosses our minds. It is possible that such ignorance is unintentional and we aren’t aware of such little things. Nevertheless, it is high time that we help our loved ones in regulating their emotions- even if they ask for our help or not.
If you’re okay with their “I am fine” replies, stop asking your “how are you” question
“How are you?” “I am fine.” Done. Trust me, nobody is fine. There is always something going on in everybody’s life. It’s just that some people hide it better than the others. Our problem is that we let it go if someone says he or she is fine. I think a little push is what we need so that we create a comfortable environment for our closed ones to be able to share things with us. I don’t think we should be very quick in jumping on to another question whenever someone says they are fine. It is like we are all doing a formality by asking our superfluous the “How are you?” question.
It is easy to ask “How are you?”. But it is very difficult to bear with the real story behind that question.
We fear death. We fear we won’t be there anymore in the future. We fear we will have no knowledge of our own experiences & memories and how the world’s gonna keep going on without us.
We crave for life. We crave for more breaths so that we can enjoy what life has to offer. It doesn’t make sense, does it? Wanting more of life and no death even though we know life is temporary and death inevitable?
Why? I don’t understand why we do this.
How’s life any better?
It’s full of challenges, atrocities, betrayals and disappointments. We have ‘one life‘ but we can never afford to live it on our own terms. There’s people we have to think of.
Friends. Family. Colleagues. Teachers. And many more.
We have to think of them before making a decision about anything and everything. We may say we don’t get influenced by anyone, we may say we do what we want to do, we may say we are the captain of our own ships. But let’s be honest. It’s not true.
Yes, in life we make many decisions by listening to our own selves. Just our selves. But it doesn’t happen all the time. It is rude and inhumane to only think of ourselves all the time. Our choices are not as independent as we think they are. It’s pretty messed up, right? Then why do we crave for life?
At least death puts an end to all of this drama.
In life, we often fail. We get success as well, no doubt. But failure never misses any opportunity to give us some company for some time. We lose loved ones while we are alive. That’s like so unfair and life doesn’t seem to care. There’s politics. There’s violence and chaos. There’s jealousy, envy. All of this to live with in just one Life. One so-called life. How is life any better than death? Death is saddening.
Who says life isn’t it?
Maybe we are greedy when it comes to experiences. Probably that’s why we gather so much of courage to stand against what life has to offer.