Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Pathway to Happiness

Pathway to Happiness
I am happy. At least I am reasonably happy. And I have seen several miserable people. Others get miserable when another driver shunts them out of the road, when someone steps on their well-polished shoe, or when they fail an interview. Others get miserable when people lie to them or use them for their own selfish needs. Others get mad at how their bosses are treating them, how their marriages turned out, how their lives have turned out or what their pastor did. Others are mad at their parents, a lousy weather, an illness, a friend turned traitor, manipulative, controlling families and so on and so forth.

Some who know me have personally tried to understand how I manage to be who they see me to be. So I will try to note down the things I have come to learn and accept in this life. Some of these lessons were difficult to accept. Some of the lessons came very painfully. Some blindsided me and I refused to accept them believing that if I did, my picture of what a good world is would be forever gone and I did not know what I would be left to hold on to. But I learnt them from various books and people and my own experience as a human being. They took time and painful realizations, but they eventually crystallized. Like they say, when the student is ready, the teacher will emerge.
They will obviously require fuller development and further thought and refinement but I think I can note some of them down. Some may work for you, some may not. But I write them in the belief that they can work for anyone and if one accepts them, one can lead a placid, happy, unflappable, fulfilling and focused life to realize their maximum potential and great happiness on this planet. I must warn you though, some have found happiness in Jesus, some have found it in beer or Cocaine or in sex. I will not be offering religious counsel or citing some sacred texts. I will rely on my experience and the experience of actual people, not some characters in a religious text. If you want those, get a Bible.

Here are the maxims.

People will do What They Want
This is a fundamental belief to embrace if one wants to maintain inner peace and if one wants to remain happy.
When I say people will do what they want, it means most people will do what they want irrespective of what they say to you or what they promise you. Irrespective of what YOU expect THEM to do. It means that whereas you can trust people and believe that they will keep their promise, always remember that sometimes, because of the vicissitudes of life, changed perspectives and human limitations, sometimes people fail to keep their promises. And sometimes people plainly lie and become blindingly selfish.
Now, there is one thing I have to explain here. This does not mean that people are fundamentally untrustworthy, or that people are bad. Not at all. For the most, people mean what they say. But that does not mean that they will do what they mean to do.
So the best way to live, when someone promises you something that is important to you, be ready to deal with the nonoccurrence of what is promised. Do not vest your emotional energy on what someone tells you, or what you expect from someone, irrespective of who he is. Believe them, but do not tie your psychological and emotional well being to the outcome of that promise.
To put it bluntly, people will do what they want, not what you want. Because at the core, people are fundamentally selfish. That includes you. I explain below.

People are Fundamentally Selfish
This means people care for themselves first and foremost. Every single individual acts in his perceived self-interest, whether consciously or unconsciously. The main difference is that some people are rational and straightforward about how they seek to serve their interests and some people are not. That is why some commit suicide and that is why some give away everything and become poor. That is why commercial prostitutes will be with us for eternity.
For example, say I am walking along the street. And I see this crippled woman in rags and with her begging dish extended by her gnarled, cracked hand. I don’t know her and don’t really want to know her. But I feel pity seeing her in that dusty place with an empty plate. I have some money which is intended for my lunch. But I reason that since I am guaranteed to have dinner, I can sacrifice my lunch for her. So I reach into my pocket and give her the money. All my lunch money. She mumbles a thank you and blesses me.
Is that a selfless act I just did?
No. It is a selfish act because the only reason I did it is because I think it is a good thing to do and doing good makes ME feel good. If it didn’t make me feel good about myself, I would not do it. Maybe I feel good because I pride myself on being able to sacrifice for others. Or maybe I feel good because I think that by that act I have found favor in God's eyes.
Even someone who loves you is still selfish. There is nothing wrong with being selfish but it is important to understand that when push comes to shove, one is likely to put their interests first. And the reason you don't want others to be selfish is because you also have some selfish needs that may be compromised when others are wholly selfish. That is who we are and we have learnt to get a balance, or to constantly seek to balance our selfish needs with those of others.
So don't be mad with people when they are selfish. In fact, being mad at people who only think about themselves is a sign that you may be naive about the human condition yourself. When confronted with a selfish person, quietly consider why you would never pursue your selfish interests in the manner that that person is doing and sympathize with them for their ignorance. I will revisit this later.

You are Fundamentally Alone
This means no one can know your thoughts and feelings unless you let them. No one can see the world the way you do. No one has the same spectrum of fears that you do. No one knows how you feel when you are lying awake in bed in the morning.
Not even your spouse, kids or parents.
What this means is that you should not be disappointed when no one seems to understand you, or when they don’t respect you or your choices. If you embrace this concept, you will find that you wont stake your happiness on acts like getting married, getting children and so on. Because a spouse can die or leave you and your kids will get married leaving you as you are. Some people lose their entire family in a flash in an accident. And they remain alone. Some end up unable to handle the grief, forgetting that when they were born, they were born alone and they only met their spouses and got kids along the way. When you die, nobody will share your coffin. When you will be at your deathbed, only one person will be looking from those eyes you possess: you alone.
This does not mean you should ignore others or become antisocial. What it means is that this is your life and your life alone. It means you should act in your own best interests and lead your life in the best way you think possible. And seek your personal happiness. And remember that some people will try to screw you over as they try to lead their lives but if you squander your life being an instrument for other people’s expectations and happiness, just remember that when you make your exit, you will exit it alone, not with them. When we look at your story, it will be your story, how you led your life.
It means that you should put yourself first. Not your family, not your friends and not your religion. This means you should not let your family or friends screw you over or manipulate you or take away your joy. There will never be another you so do not imitate others or try to conform. Be yourself because there is nobody who is obligated to stand for you or what you want or believe. Why should you serve other people’s interests and ignore your own? Think your own thoughts and believe in yourself.
Being alone is a great thing and I will revisit this point later. But the important point to remember at this point is that you can share your life with other people if it brings you happiness. And it should bring you happiness because we are gregarious beings and our evolution has proved that we survive better in groups than when we do while solitary. We have social needs, we have sexual needs and we learn from each other because we don’t have the same skills, gifts of passions. But one must find a way of meeting these needs without compromising their own beliefs or needs for others so as to be accommodated.
Because when you do that, you are serving their interests and not yours. You lose your identity and become their tool or instrument to help validate themselves or achieve their own ends. In addition, you do not need to be accommodated since you are alone already. All semblances of acceptance, friendliness and love and purely transitory things that are fundamentally superficial because when you are lying in bed, in the quiet of the night, nobody knows what you are thinking: you are alone.
If we are alone and fundamentally selfish, how then is it that some people are controlled by their friends and family and suffer untold misery and embarrassment but don’t leave such company?
It’s quite simple really. It is because such people are needy and therefore powerless.

You are Powerful

Power is having minimal needs. A baby is powerless because a baby is needy and cannot meet their own needs. A baby needs to be held for reassurance, fed, bathed, loved and played with. That is why a baby can cry when mommy leaves.
It is said that when being alone does not feel like punishment, then you have grown up. In the movie South Central LA, one character tells the other that a man must stand alone. This is the other side of being alone that confers power to us. We must realize that the best way to happiness is giving it to ourselves and not waiting for others to give it to us. You are the Solution for you. Not another person. Not your spouse or your family. When you find someone complaining about how their family is making them miserable, it is because they staked their happiness on their family doing something that will make them happy. Happiness must begin from you then you can share it. It is not something to be sought from others. Seek to build yourself to fullness and when you are overflowing, you can share that. People are often advised not to get into a relationship if they feel lonely or empty because they will be imprisoning themselves by placing their joy outside their sphere of influence.
Albert Camus said, “The man who can really stand alone in the world, only taking counsel from his conscience - that man is a hero.”
When you cultivate a lifestyle whereby you are your own counsel and you work hard for a living and do not depend on others for favors or acceptance, you become independent economically and materially. When you are independent, you cannot be controlled and you are less fearful because you know you can survive on your own. Then you are powerful because you are less needy. But that is only materially.
One must make a reasonable effort to read and contemplate on the things that affect them and be able to make a decision about how they will live their life on this earth. Once one is able to make their choices and are able to be at peace, others will not be able to take away their joy by disagreeing with them. Because the need for validation from others is itself a sign that one is still a child and has still not grown up and is not able to live their life the way they choose without external validation.
But remember the previous point: you are all alone anyway and that false acceptance is just a place your fear has found to hide. Ask yourself why you need other people’s approval for your choices. What are you afraid of?

I will next talk about what people are afraid of.

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