The Secret of Happiness for Dumb people
Today, I discovered one of the timeless truths of the universe. It is something all of us have known, but have forgotten as we grew up. I wish someone had told this to me explicitly, and repeated it during times of stress. It would have made my life much easier.
Our "self" consists of three parts: the past, the present and the future.
The past is what we normally define ourselves as. Where we were born, who our parents were, what religion we are, what events have happened in our life, our education etc. This forms are basis of knowledge – information that we can choose to use should we want to.
The present is all the great things that are happening around us and within us: the clock tick, the day, the temperature, the clothes we are wearing, the color of our skins. The present is nothing, and everything at once.
And the future, which is what we want to become. A Nobel Laureate, a world leader, a cool dad, an entity in heaven, at a tea shop at 5.30… or a combination of all of those, keep extrapolating. The possibilities are endless in the future, simply infinite.
All of that is very well known to us. In fact so well that everyone would agree that these are axioms of life. However, what people fail to understand is how each of these parts interact with each other. We can be all three of them at once or none of them at once. If you are none of them, you are just sleeping. If you are all of them, you tend to be a bit depressed unless you know how to manage that state.
We have the option to choose the states we want to be in. And more importantly, we can use those as gears to change our mood.
If you live just in the past or just in the future, you don’t exist.
If you live in the present and the past – you are reflective. You think whatever has happened was interesting; try and imagine the point of view of a 100 year old man. You are content because you are just reflecting and not worrying about what happens next.
If you live in the present and the future – you are driven. You think of who you are and try to fit in with your view of what you want to become. Imagine the point of view of an Indian lawyer in South Africa in the early 1900s who wants to bring peace to the world (Gandhi). Or a lawyer who wants to earn a million dollars this year. Or pretty much any ambitious person you can think of.
If you live just in the present, there is nothing to worry about. You have done nothing and plan on doing nothing. You can just be happy and have fun.
None of these above choices are problematic, and each are pretty interesting on their own.
What is a problem is if you are all three of them at once. It is too overwhelming, and often we are not able to manage it well. To top it, society actually trains us to be all three of them at once and expects us to figure out how to manage it. There are three ways of looking at your being:
1. You don't have a vision for the future – but that is hardly ever true. Everyone has a vision, that is built in our survival instincts. We care whether the sun rises tomorrow or not, we care if we get a meal or not. This state becomes a problem if you believe that you don't have a meaningful view of the future, and stress out about the fact that you need to.
2. You try to fit the vision to your past. Because there are infinite ways to the future, you are worried about taking the best course for yourself, given your capabilities, given your history. Since the paths to the future are truly infinite, you are confused about what is best for you. You incorrectly blame yourself for not being capable of solving the puzzle, when in reality there is never one correct solution – and certainly no "best" option. This is a self-destructive spiral that stops us from enjoying the present, reflecting on the past or planning out the future. And leads to a lifetime of agony and unfulfillment. Most of us end up putting ourselves in this state.
3. And finally the better way: You think of the future first, lay out the shortest route to the future from the present, without stressing over the past. This will give you a sense of direction. The past is only a secondary consideration in this method – something to be kept aside for reflection purposes only. Of course, in order for this to happen you need a vision of the future that you are comfortable with, and you need to be open to that vision morphing (for the better or worse) as your present becomes your past.
The point is that one should know that the gears exist. And then choose how he or she wants to apply them. There are no wrong answers. Life if meant to be enjoyed, and if you are feeling particularly stressed out, it is probably time to switch gears. You can switch the gears as many times as you want, and as frequently as you want. It is particularly helpful for planning and execution purposes.
I think this can be extrapolated to any level of stress – be it in a relationship, in a country, or even in an economic problem such as the Euro crisis.
I really wish someone explained this to me early on. And I hope that someone out there finds this truth to be useful and becomes a slightly happier person in the present.
I would not do justice to my Wharton education if I did not include a 3x3 box diagram. A 3-D diagram would have served it better, but I ll highlight the important 2-D section.
Fun Zone (Nirvana)