Originally written in May 2013
Below are some pointers, in no particular order of importance, on making a good life. I have implemented each one of them (and more) in my life and it is the reason I am happy most of the time.
Say no to TV and advertising
I don’t watch TV, saving myself of enormous harm through advertising.
Advertising in our world is so pervasive that it is impossible to completely escape its influence. Advertisements create unnecessary needs for us and make us buy things we don’t really need. So powerful is the effect of advertising that they even change the norms of the society in terms of how much people should own, and they make one feel miserable if one doesn’t own the stuff that is advertised. I constantly keep re-assessing my lifestyle and try to limit the stuff I own to what I need, not what is popular. I have learned that I can’t afford to own things I don’t need, because they would complicate my life. That’s a cost.
Sometimes due to peer pressure I have to own certain things and indulge in certain consumption which I otherwise wouldn’t have. When one is surrounded in the setting like workplace where everyone is following certain norm, one can’t be much different from the lot and risk being unpopular. Such unpopularity would hinder my pursuits at a broader level. However the point is, I try to learn the cost-benefit and trade-offs of consumption, the goal being that I own only what I can’t help. Not exactly minimalism, but I term this approach optimalism.
Have goals beyond yourself
My primary goals of life are located beyond my own well-being. I am a philosopher and a sociologist by nature. The question I consider to decide the course of my life is not what is good for me, but what is good for the society. It gives me greater sense of meaning.
When your primary focus is not your own well-being (it may well be included in your broader goals) you don’t get distressed every time your well-being is affected at a personal level. When you have broader concerns you always have worthwhile and fulfilling things to do. When the big picture is in focus the flaws in the small picture don’t count much.
Listen to your head
Most people will tell you to follow your heart. I’ll say follow your heart but not without the flashlight of your head.
The desire to have a chocolate is a heart’s desire, but the head knows it would harm your teeth, and much more if you had too much of it. Heart hankers after the short term pleasures. Following the heart blindly almost always causes troubles and suffering in the long run. Life is long. Take happiness as a long term project. I prefer to be moderately happy over the long run than to be extremely happy now and let the future get screwed up. I’m not saying it’s wrong to be extremely happy, but the point is to live intelligently. When one is following one’s heart it’s a pleasurable experience at some level, but often times one also knows at the back of one’s mind that it may do harm in the long run, and that knowledge would be gnawing. When that happens, pay attention to that inner voice, that’s your head. As far as possible, try to reconcile the heart and the head. It takes a lot of analysis, but analysis is a beautiful activity.
I don’t generally compete with people in my social circle. Seeing yourself in competition with someone has two disadvantages. One, when you get ahead of the person you are competing with you get the satisfaction and you stop making further efforts to grow. This is especially the case when you get ahead of all in your circle with regards to a particular area of competition. You are making efforts to get ahead, not really to grow. That’s not a very good mindset to operate with. Two, there will always be people who are better than you at things. When your competitor is one of those, you will not get to get ahead and will constantly be in distress. In this state of distress and defeat you won’t even notice those you are already ahead of. Not a very healthy state to be in.
I compete, but with myself. Tomorrow I want to just get ahead of where I am today. I spot the areas of development and after bringing them under my focus I put the blinders on. This way I don’t have to feel distressed or defeated on seeing people who are ahead of me and I know that I will always keep growing. And the bonus is, if I always keep growing then chances are even if I don’t see it I will end up ahead of a lot of people in the long run automatically.
Love your family
I have realized that looking at a family as a cooperative unit and taking responsibility for the family’s well-being, as opposed to my own well-being, is more fulfilling. It gives me direction and more solid purpose. Just as I said above that having one’s primary goals of life beyond one’s well-being gives one greater sense of meaning, so does working towards one’s family’s happiness.
Since family contains more than one individual there would often be conflicts of interests. I don’t always take a decision which makes my family members happy. However, I am certainly more empathetic now than I was, and I try to make up for the hurt I may have caused by some decision which my family disapproved. And of course, I earnestly try to reconcile our interests even if that means I would have to let go of something I wanted.
I spend time with my brother on week end nights watching films. I am more attentive to my mom’s health related and other domestic problems. I listen to her more than I did earlier. Instead of getting frustrated by her whining nature, I try to understand why she behaves that way. Not surprisingly, I have found love and care to be the solution.
Most people are alienated. They may live in families, but they are absorbed in themselves. Modern urban lifestyle is such that it makes it difficult to connect with others. Generation gap, too, is a related issue. The faster the world “develops” the wider the generation gap becomes. Taking everything into account if one can make a happy family, that would be great. If not, it is still worth the effort.
Have good and limited friends
A friend to all is a friend to none. We live in the world of choices. We have virtually infinite choices in people as well as in things. Too many choices make one dissatisfied. It is the paradox of choice.
Friends are important for a good life. I have a few good friends and we are part of each others’ life for years. This is important. We are not Facebook friends or phone friends. We don’t meet with each other randomly when we get the time. Rather, we are a part of each others’ routine. Like having a bath is a part of your daily routine, meeting with my friends is a part of my weekly routine which is not skipped (unless it is really difficult to meet). It can be daily, weekly, or monthly, but when spending quality time with your friends gets a fixed place in your life’s routine, that gives some balance. To me, it gives something to look forward to at the end of every week, keeps me motivated throughout the week. And of course, it makes us feel more connected than we would if we went on making new friends and then broke our routine of meeting because we didn’t have time to spend with each other.
I am not against making new friends. But we live in the world where after a point having more of the things which are supposed to bring us well-being become ends in themselves and that defeats the purpose of having those things. That shouldn’t happen with friendships.
Have discipline in life
Few people realize how great a virtue is discipline. I believe even if one is penniless and without a goal, just leading a disciplined routine alone can make life feel meaningful. Order and discipline provide nourishment to the human nature. Living haphazardly is animalistic. This is not to mention the positive externalities of discipline – meaning, when you live a disciplined life you benefit the people around you by making their lives easier.
I salute people who believe in rules, time adherence, planned living. They keep the world a not-so-depressing place.