Happiness is a choice and its pursuit is a quest for the courageous

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Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.

~ Mahatma Gandhi

I was reading Pitirim Sorokin’s Ways and Power of Love and came across the concept of the conscious and the unconscious. As he explains it, the first level is the biological unconscious. This is the level of existence that all animals possess like breathing, survival, etc. These instincts exist for the sole reason of keeping us alive and do not usually intrude upon the conscious. The next level is the biological conscious. When the unconscious instinct cause us to take some action, they cross over into the biological conscious. For e.g., eating to satisfy hunger, sleeping to rest etc. The next level is the socio-cultural conscious, which supersedes the previous levels. This is the level of consciousness that helps us live as a part of the human society. Pitirim says that there are as many socio-cultural identities of each individual as there are socio-cultural groups the individual interacts with. For e.g., at home the role might that be of a parent and at work that of a manager. There are other groups the person may be a part of like religious gatherings, political associations, hobby clubs etc. Each role has its own sets of values and duties required of the individual. As long as all these roles push the person in the same direction, the person is integrated and at peace, but when the different roles have conflicting value systems, the conflict is transferred to the person’s personality and existence.

This got me thinking that perhaps this is a possible explanation of the reason why so people are unhappy with their lives, and particularly their work. Perhaps, the way our work role needs us to act and behave is at odds with our other roles. Considering that work takes up such a large part of our everyday life, and aided by the advances in technology, intrudes even into our personal lives, we start to live according the value system as demanded by our work role. Of course, the value system is different in our other roles, but, if we behave in a way we do in our work value system, the results are not going to be good.

The other important role is that of the one in our family. No matter what role you have in the family, there is one thing that all families requires of its members. Quality time to spend with each other. The family is the most close knit social structure in our society, but it still needs to be nourished and cared for by conscious effort of caring for each other. Time spent with family (and to a lesser extent with friends) can act as a restorative to the wear and tear of daily life. However, with the way our current work roles are, we are often required to spend 10 to 12 hours everyday at the workplace, all in the name of being able to provide and contribute towards the survival of the self and family. Now, when  one returns home after such a hectic workday, the needs for food and rest (which cross over from the biological subconscious to the conscious) take priority. The family is taken care of in terms of basic needs of survival being met, but its members aren’t able to benefit from the therapeutic and healing qualities of living in a family. Conversely, if we give more time to our family (and friends) at the expense of the time given to our work, we are prone to suffer from the indignity of being labelled as a bad performer or an irresponsible person. It is especially true in today’s work culture where people stay in work places for much longer than the stipulated time. Any such scenario immediately pits the work and family value systems against each other – safety of the substantial income and a feeling of achievement by working vs time to spend with the family to revel in each others’ love. How can a person not be torn apart by indecision and conflict when faced with such a conundrum?

And the more social groups we are part of, more are the chances of this inner conflict. It is not necessarily true, but sadly, for the vast majority of us, it is. The most obvious solution then is to align our different roles so that they become congruent. However, as it is mentioned later in the book, this change is a three fold process. If all three aspects of a person’s life do not change, then the efforts to be congruent will most likely fail.

Change in social groups

This is perhaps the easiest change that a person can make. A person may change the soccer team they support if they no longer feel that it is playing with the same philosophy they used to play. One may change a job because he no longer like the boss or feels that he could get paid more. He may move to a new house and become part of a new neighborhood. A change in social groups usually leads to some adjustments in the social role that we play – new dress code to support the new team, change in work content, participation in community activity etc. These changes occur in almost every person’s life at some time or another and the reason for that can be manifold.

Change in value system

This step is harder than changing social affiliations, but the reasons are usually stronger. The value system of a person changes only under severe circumstances because it is not easy to break the rules that one has been conditioned to follow throughout life. One can stop believing in the virtues of hard work after being passed over for promotion repeatedly. A bad breakup might lead to being distrustful of the opposite gender. It takes constant reconditioning and consistency for a new value system to take root.

Change in ego

To acknowledge flaws and then change one’s own personality or behavior is the hardest change of all. The reason for such a change is usually pain or fear, of a debilitating magnitude. A fun loving and adventurous mother may become overprotective and possessive of her child after a mishap with the child. A financier may reveal his shady deals when the pain of living a life of deceit becomes too much. A rebellious teenager may turn over a new leaf after realizing how much the parents are suffering due to the misbehavior. Whatever the reason, a change at this level is usually life changing.

To make an effort to be congruent and pursue happiness can take place only through conscious action to make a change at all three levels. The motivation for this change must be deep rooted in the personality for the results to be lasting. Changing jobs for higher pay is very unlikely to bring about a change in the value system or ego. However, changing jobs to work for an employer whose vision and purpose you believe in means your value system has changed and hence, your social association will change as well. Changes in the ego are often the most powerful forces of change. For e.g., if you believe that your company’s work is harming people and you become disillusioned with your employers, it will automatically lead to a change in the value system about work, and extend to changing the social affiliations too. An effort made to understand one’s own beliefs about the self and society can become a guiding light on the path to discover one’s true purpose. A change motivated by aligning actions and behavior to this purpose will diminish the inner conflict and bring happiness. I’m sure everyone can do with a little more happiness in their lives. What will you do to get your share of it?

Side hustlers need frequent breaks, even at the cost of productivity

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Now and then it is good to pause in our pursuit of happiness and just be happy.

~ Guillaume Apollinaire

Last week I took a short trip to Okinawa (Japan) for my summer holidays. Of course, as with all holidays, it was great. However, on the way there I saw something from my window seat on the plane that I’d never seen before. While cruising above the clouds, something flashed in the sunlight. As I turned my gaze on it I found it was another plane. And, it was fast. It probably took a couple of seconds to disappear completely from view. Seeing that other plane zoom by made me realize how fast we were travelling. I mean, I know how fast planes are, it’s just that when you are cruising above the clouds you seem to be lazily floating by. The other plane was a great lesson in perspective, and a stark realization of the truth.

That experience got me thinking on its similarity with our lives. Life is fast paced and busy for most of us. Especially so if you have a regular full time job that you are trying to escape by building your own business on the side. Even though you know you are getting a lot done but, there are always other things that need doing, or the results that can’t seem to come in fast enough. There’s always a nagging feeling that you are not working hard enough or you aren’t being very productive. And if you happen to love what you are doing (If not, stop and take stock. Seriously), then you probably like just getting in there and doing something, because it feels good. The momentum of getting things done is a tremendous one, you just feel that you can ride that wave of productivity and cross things off your check list. You dread hitting the brakes because you have overcome your fears and procrastination, worked hard to get the momentum and don’t want to lose it. If you are reading this, I’m sure you’ve been there. I know I have. Newton’s first law, it seems, holds as true for the psychological as for the physical entities.

If you have got your own thing going and have been at it for sometime, riding the wave of momentum of getting things done, sooner or later you reach a place that you set out avoid – status quo. Remember that dreaded phrase, status quo, the one that held you back in the beginning; the one thing you wanted to break out of; what all this hard work is aimed at vanquishing? You get so used to doing things in a certain way that you just create a new pattern for yourself. Don’t get me wrong, this status quo is way better than the old one. However, status quos are dangerous. They have a way of trapping you in your place, all the while giving you the feeling that you are getting somewhere. They also start corroding your enthusiasm and excitement. I remember that when I started a few months ago I was amazed, and excited, and awed by the world that I never knew existed; by realizing that how my own psychology was holding me back; by how natural it felt to be doing what I was good at and liked doing. Those feelings haven’t gone away, it’s more like they’ve lost their freshness. I believe it has to do with losing appreciation for the work that I do everyday; and losing my gratitude for for all the things that I learned that allowed me to walk this path. It’s like complaining about the long distances when you are travelling on the highway. You get so used to sitting in the air conditioned cabin, and cruising at triple digit speeds that you lose appreciation and gratitude for it (Nothing a short 10 minute walk in the afternoon sun won’t cure). In this context, taking a break or consciously unfocusing on the goal you are striving towards offers many benefits.

Reality Check

The most astounding result of stepping back from the usual break neck pace that you have set for yourself is that it gives you a fresh perspective on your work. You look around and see that the world is pretty much the same as when you had checked last, almost everything is unchanged. You realize that nothing bad is going to happen even if you stop being a busy bee to recharge yourself. You get a chance to see all the changes you have affected and the transformation you have undergone. You can be proud of your progress your progress by looking at where you last stood with respect to the world and comparing it with where you are now. Sometimes that is what it takes to overcome problems – a fresh perspective.

Appreciation

I remember the first lessons I learned when I started down this path to create my own freedom and make my unique dent in this world – find and appreciate your natural talents and hone the skills you are good at. When you are neck deep in the number of things that must get done each day, and tracking your progress on a list of sub-goals it is easy to lose sight of these early lessons. You may be good at writing, yet you tend to forget why exactly you love writing so much. You may be excelling at pitching and converting clients, but in the hectic pace of doing so your vision for the future may get blurred. Perhaps, that is the down side to single minded focus, hard work, and persistence. The small break will help you appreciate what you are doing even more. It will give you an opportunity to reaffirm your faith in your ‘why’, and lets you appreciate how far you’ve come regardless of the results.

Gratitude

As your vigor is renewed in the pursuit of your passion and the new life you are trying to forge, you can take time to be grateful for whatever circumstances have brought you to this moment. You can be thankful for escaping the murky depths of frustration, dissatisfaction, un-fulfillment, or whatever that pushed you over the edge to take the leap you have. I am sure you know how liberating it feels when you know what your purpose in life is, there is path or direction that you can walk on, and how good it feels to be doing something that can have a positive impact on not just your life but everyone around you as well.  The mental state of giving without the expectation of return can only result form realizing your self worth. And, feeling grateful for all things in your life certainly conditions this mindset.

Fun

Do not forget this aspect of taking a break. It’s not as if what you do everyday isn’t exciting or fun, otherwise you wouldn’t be doing it. Rather, one of the purpose of the breaks is to have fun just for the heck of it, without the thought of accomplishing anything. It has to be able to serve as a pattern interrupt. Try something totally new, or reacquaint yourself with something that you now consider part of your past. Remember the times when you were fed up of doing soul crushing, boring, mundane work? Do not let the the daily grind of pursuing your passion degrade into meaningless drudgery. Always keep an eye on the horizon. Small doses of unadulterated fun will help you do that.

It is a difficult path that we have chosen to walk and we can use all the help we can get. There will be aha moments and celebration of victories, but they will accompanied by days when you lose sight of the future and are unsure of yourself; when your fears gang up to blindside you; when you think that maybe everyone else is right and you are wrong. We have only our grit and determination to tide us over those days. Taking small breaks, I feel, will help you stay grounded. Less prone to be shaken by either successes or failures, learning to take everything in your stride. It will give you the strength to keep walking the path and reminding you it is not just about the perfect dive. It is about a lifelong endeavor and you must resurface occasionally to reorient yourself. It is all about enjoying life everyday, rather than some day.