Life pursuits and purpose are key to happiness. Making our existence meaningful requires concerted and conscious thoughts. Facing the question – what can I do to help others, may contribute immensely in making our life happy. When you get up in the morning, and if your mind is cool about the fact that the day stands largely sorted out with tasks already lined up, you have achieved a lot in terms of happiness.
I have a friend who is a doctor. He treats diabetics. He is very successful in all possible respect. He owns a beautiful home, loving family with two children. He is famous and respected in community. He has almost everything one would aspire to achieve in life and what one would think would bring happiness. I have another friend who is also a doctor. This friend of mine also treats diabetic patients. He is equally successful, if not more, blessed with money, family, success and fame. However, when I was talking to my second friend, he also told me that he has kept a larger purpose for himself. He is working on lessoning and preferably eradicating the problem of people increasingly getting diabetics due to unawareness and would like to see that at least in his vicinity there should be zero diabetic patient in next 5-years. I was wondering when these two doctor friends of mine will age and at 70 or 80 start looking back at life and evaluate in terms of ‘hit and misses’, who would feel more happy and satisfied? The research says and as most of us would agree that, it is my second friend, who worked on a purpose, will be happier with life. Why so? It is because in evaluative sense, happiness propagates from life lived purposefully rather than just a life lived comfortably.
One may wonder that purpose is about long-term vision about life and how we support others in need. Yes, it is, but in terms of happiness, it is also about clarity on day-today basis. A day well spent is good for happiness and it comes about more often than not if you have clarity of purpose for the day. When you get up in the morning, and if your mind is cool about the fact that the day stands largely sorted out with tasks already lined up, you have achieved a lot in terms of happiness.
Dan Buettner in his research about people who lived more than 100 years of life, known as ‘blue zones living’ testified that one of the secret of longer life is clarity of purpose on daily basis (The Blue Zones of Happiness: Lessons from the World’s Happiest People, National Geographic, 2020). Ikaria, Greece is one such blue zone island identified by Dan Buettner. Other blue zones are Sardinia (Italy), Okinawa (Japan), Nicoya Peninsula (Costa Rica) and Loma Linda (California). People in blue zones have been found to be a natural mover (they walk naturally and often), know their purpose, eat less (eat 80% of what the stomach would need to full and avoid over eating), drink in moderation, stay social and have a kick back to shed stress. The list carries a powerful message and way forward for happy and healthy life.
Good Life vs Meaningful Life
Generally speaking, what we aspire for is ‘meaningful life’ while what we constantly work to achieve is ‘pleasant life’. Pleasant life is good but soon it starts reminding us that something is missing in life and that something is ‘meaning and purpose’. Martin Seligman’s Authentic Happiness (Penguin Random House, Australia; 2011) outlines how positive psychology can be used to realize our potential for lasting fulfillment and happiness. Seligman differentiates between pleasant life, good life and meaningful life and emphasizes on the significance of voluntary control as an essential aspect in happiness formula. Meaningful life endures. It thrives to make us overcome difficulties and anxieties of life. It also tends to explain why some people are more vulnerable to stress and others are not. People, who have developed larger goals and pursuits in their life, would tend to work with more stable mindset and be less vulnerable to day-today challenges. Seligman’s advice is to develop good feeling about what we do and work on to enhance positive emotions, engagement, positive relationships, meaning, and accomplishments.
What inspires you to get up from the bed every day? This is such a powerful question and a true guide in finding our purpose. Francesc Miralles and Hector Garcia asked this powerful question in Ikigai: The Japanese secret to a long and happy life (Random House UK, 2017). Ikigai is one’s reason for being. Iki means life and Gai means value or worth. So, how to find our Ikigai, and importantly how to enjoy our Ikigai? It depends on how we approach work and life.
Are we working because we have to work, or are we working because we really love to work? It is our ability to undertake life activities with willingness and a sense of meaning, which will determine what life, would offer back to us – happiness or sadness. Miralles and Garcia asked us to combine our passion, vocation, profession and mission. Our ability to connect the dots will go a long way in enhancing happiness in life.
Who Am I?
Clarity of purpose works well for our wellbeing. Emotional disturbances leading to anxiety and stress are largely a function of misjudgment emanating from ambiguity in terms of expectations. Expectations are dependent on objectives and purpose that we keep at the back of our mind. It is like digging for gold. When we dig for gold, we also have to remove and deal with tones of dirt. What matters in the end is the piece of gold found. No one is interested in how much dirt you removed but people would talk about the gold you found. Similarly, if our mind has been fixed on finding gold, the entire journey of removing dirt looks like part of the mission. The dirt are distractors of life. If we only know what it is for we are removing all these dirt, it does not create much anxiety for us.
In Alice in Wonderland (Lewis Carroll, Macmillan), Alice is asking the Cat: There are two paths, can you tell me which way should I go? The Cat says – It depends on where you want to go? Alice replies – I do not know where to go? The Cat says – It doesn’t matter which way you go?
While finding the purpose and pursuit, it is important that we keep a wider view of life. While the airplane starts descending and touching the ground finally, we often have looked at the earth from a 10,000 ft, and then from 1000 ft and then from 100 ft. What do we see from a 10 K ft? Our day-today problems are like 100 ft view of life, to keep us occupied and disturbed. Our wider view of life and getting up every morning with a larger goal and purpose would never let us go hyper because we know that ‘removing dirt is a way to find gold’.
Feeding the Soul
We take efforts in meeting everyone except ourselves. We must find our ‘Me Time! Try this: on a starry night, climb those stairs and go to the top of the building. Look at the sky and the stars. Gaze the beauty, wide spectrum, twinkling, clouds, expanse and everything your eyes and mind could see through. Say nothing, just look. Soon our heart and our mind starts being filled with tenderness and emotions. It heals us in many ways. Many of friends found this experience self-awaking and self-assuring.
‘Me Time’ is also about sparing some time for yourself and do whatever you wanted to do and long aspired for. Schedule is always busy, one after another and every work is at the top of our priority. When we were in school and colleges, there were many things very close to our heart and we enjoyed doing it. They are now left far behind in the hustle and bushel of life. One of my friend decided to play cricket again at the age of 55, which he really liked to do in his college time. He said, “if not every day, I am going to hit the ground at least twice a week”. So is the case with bringing back dancing, playing music, and painting or for that matter a hobby that makes us meet ourselves. Sometimes, ‘doing nothing’ also works well for us. Decide to do nothing or even better – How about just lie down, close eyes, take a random review of your life!
If we have to list five things to put in action in the year 2022, for a better and happy life, the list can be as follows:
- Approach work with enthusiasm and purpose.
- Practice compassion at workplace, home and everywhere.
- Work on a larger goal and pursuit of life.
- Spare time for yourself in an otherwise busy schedule (Me Time!).
- Reflect upon and take a review your life, at least occasionally.
The story of happiness will continue. Look for the next blog, Part 4. Until then, wish you Happiness!
Buettner, Dan (2020) The Blue Zones of Happiness: Lessons from the World’s Happiest People, National Geographic.
Miralles, Francesc and Garcia, Hector (2017) Ikigai: The Japanese secret to a long and happy life, Random House UK.