Top ten tips for leading a fulfilling life

We have heard a zillion times about the ways about becoming rich, about becoming powerful, on becoming successful and other cool things. I include below the top 10 ways of leading a fulfilling life. If you live a fulfilled life you will pretty soon convince yourself that you have also been successful.

So here goes. The 10 tips in no particular order

  1. Be content. Be ambitious: The former statements will sound conflicting. But on closer look it really is not. At any given point in your life you should be content with what you have whether it is your personal fortune, your learning or your talents. But at any juncture in your life you must also be ambitious. It is fine to want wealth, to want fame, to want power as long as you do not compromise on true principles. Be ambitious and be proactive. Seize the initiative to make things happen in your life.
  1. Never let go of common sense:  This is another important principle. Any action that you ever take or any new step that endeavor must withstand the test of common sense. If you want to invest in stocks ask yourself “Is this what large majority of people in my situation would do?”  Granted no great discovery comes from common sense but a large part of our life is governed by common sense. So for e.g. common sense dictates that we save some part of our wealth for our and our family’s future. Common sense requires that we hone our talents at office so we can move up the ladder. Common sense requires us to increase our friend’s circle. All your actions must have common sense as the foundation.
  1. Make values your guiding light: This tip requires that we never compromise on true north bound principles under any circumstance. Values of integrity, perseverance, humility, compassion have with stood the test of time. In a way they are common sense. We should never compromise on principles even under adversity. In the long run a principled life will save your day.
  1. Fraternize, fraternize and fraternize: Never underestimate the power of a social circle. Increase your circle of friends and indirectly increase your circle of influence. In this era of social networking make maximum use of Facebook, Twitter and good old phone calls to say hi to old friends and make new friends. Friends are useful in so many ways. They can be used as sounding boards, to discuss new ideas, to learn from their experience and their failures
  1. Get to know yourself: This may sound unusual.  After all, what is there to know about you yourself? Actually there is a goldmine of knowledge inside you. For one you try to understand what your real strengths and weaknesses are. With a little common sense you can try to further improve your strengths while working on your weaknesses. Besides one should also take a closer look at one’s biases and pre-conceived notions. Dive deep into your past and you are bound to come up with pearls of wisdom on what worked well in your life and what did not.
  1. Exercise: Exercise your body, mind and spirit. At whatever stage of life you are at make sure you get an adequate amount of physical exercise. You could hit the gym thrice a week, pump irons or just take a brisk walk everyday. After all if you want to live your life well and enjoy it a good body is essential. Read a lot of good books and exercise your mind. Jogging your mind is necessary to stay young as you grow old in life. Finally exercise your spirit by serving people in whatever way you can. You can perform random acts of kindness. Go out of your way to spread joy to people. For those spiritually inclined praying fervently is also
  1. All good things take time: Remember life is a marathon and one needs to be patient in life. We have to work patiently to improve ourselves and our talents. There are no enduring short cuts in life. Your life will be intertwined with the lives of your grandparents, your parents, your siblings, your children and your grand children. You have to work your way through all the numerous interactions in life. Persevere and work patiently in achieving your goal.
  1. Lower your expectations: Keep your expectations low. As St. Francis of Assisi said “Expect nothing. Enjoy everything”. As long as you keep your expectations low you are bound to be happy and satisfied with what you get. While you can be ambitious in life you must also keep your expectations of yourself realistic.
  1. Be grateful: Be grateful for the little things that you have been given in this life. Avoid comparisons to others. While it may appear that your friends and colleagues who may have more that you are happier in reality they may not be. Happiness is not in what you have but in what you choose to be. Choose to be happy and enjoy everything.
  1. Have a purpose in life: “What is the meaning of my life” may sound rhetorical. But you could have a simple enough reason like making sure that you buy your own house in the next 5 years, to spending an hour a week at an ashram to giving 1% of your salary to the poor every year. A purpose in life will help you tide through troubles in life. As Nietzsche said “Anybody who knows the why of life can almost certainly handle any how”

If you follow even a few of these tips you are bound to have a more fulfilling and hence successful life.

Life’s lessons from the Gita & the Bible

Here a list of key lessons from the Gita and the Bible. These are really difficult lessons to practice in daily life but well worth trying.

– Maintain your poise towards success or failure, pleasure or pain, sorrow or joy (A true yogi is one who has transcended the dualities – Gita)

– Maintain your equanimity at all times. Do not swayed by praise or criticism ( A true yogi is neither elated at praise nor is he upset by criticism – Gita). If we have this attitude we will not crave for recognition nor will fear criticism

– Treat everyone equally without bias or partiality (To a true yogi a brahmin, an outcast or a dog is one and the same – Gita). We should not form opinions or pass judgments on others.

– Repay with love when an act of unkindness (Love your enemy – Bible).

– Never harbor any hatred towards anybody at anytime (Forgive those who hurt you. Pray for those who persecute you – Bible). It never helps to nurse a grudge against anyone. A grudge is an unnecessary burden than be destroyed utterly only through forgiveness.

– Give and give freely. Do not trumpet your acts of charity (Your left hand should not know what your right hand is doing – Bible)

– Avoid finding fault with others or criticizing another (Judge not, lest ye be judged. Condemn not, lest ye be condemned – Bible)

– Perform all actions without any ulterior motive (Do your duty without any desire for the fruits of your actions – Gita)

These lessons from the Gita and the Bible are truly eternal in their concept. They are living lessons that will live till eternity


Navigating the narrow path

When we are young – good and bad are usually in black and white. However as we grow older we realize that life and values in life are not so straight forward. There are many shades of grey that exist between the good on one side and evil on the other. Oftentimes we have to contend not with just the good and bad but with the good and the good.

We are forced to confront a hierarchy of values of life namely kindness, compassion, honesty, patience, tolerance and humility. How does one decide between two virtues in a situation? We are forced to wrestle between different virtues in a situation. This post looks at typical situations and tries to take a stab at navigating the narrow path between good, better and best…

Honesty is good, Tact is better: While honesty and stating facts as facts makes sense when one is young as we grow older we need to take a smarter approach towards handling different situations. Very often people feel offended when they are told the truth, particularly when they are wrong. They may feel insulted. In these situations we need to be more subtle in telling the truth. We need tact and tell the truth in a more palatable way. So honesty should include a good amount of tact and smarts.

Kindness is good, Indulgence is not: We all know that we have to be kind. So while our innate kindness may want us to part with a few coins to a beggar, it  would it make no sense to constant shower the same beggar with a lot of money, assuming that the beggar is not physically handicapped and can earn an honest living. Similarly while we may want to be kind to our child we should not condone the child’s tantrums. Kindness and discipline go hand in hand. Kindness should be accompanied with dollops of good sense.

Humility is good, Servility is bad: Humility is a very misunderstood concept. We generally think humility is the opposite of pride. We think that humility means that we should try to underplay any achievements of ours. We assume incorrectly, that we must never, ever talk about things that we have done. Actually humility means being able to fully understand one’s strengths and weaknesses and having a realistic view vis-à-vis the world. We must realize that while we may be good there are many who are still better. So humility is being realistic about one’s achievements.  However, we often confuse humility to being very servile. We think that to be humble means to just listen to everything and everybody. This is completely incorrect. So we need to humble but we should never be servile.

Self-esteem is important, Egoism is bad: Self esteem is extremely important. We need to take pride in our achievements. It is fine to highlight our achievements to others provided we are not arrogant. We should never compromise on our self-esteem. We should never be too egoistic in our own self.  Excessive pride can sometimes border on narcissism. We need to have a balanced approach towards our achievements. Our successes should feed out self-pride but never make us excessively proud and arrogant.

While this post looks at different shades of a particular virtue the highest of all virtues is kindness and compassion.  It is always more important to be kind than correct.

Virtue – Defying definition

Virtue denotes moral excellence according to the dictionary meaning. But can virtue be defined? We normally consider acts of honesty, kindness, humility, compassion as virtue. But on closer observation we find that virtues cannot be so easily defined.

In fact nothing is more nebulous than virtue. Every act that we perform cannot be viewed in isolation. We need to take a holistic view of the act – the situation, the circumstances, the cause and the consequences of the act before classifying the act as being morally excellent or not.

A naive definition of truth is generally understood to be a simple statement of a fact. This is what we as kids learn. However as we grow older we learn that sometimes we need tact rather than direct statement of facts – hence we sugar coat the truth. Other times we may have to tell a white lie where we withhold a certain part of the fact when we know that mere telling of the fact can cause greater harm than good. This brings to mind the anecdote in which a sage on being asked by bandits with murderous intentions whether he saw a man flee in a particular direction simply states the fact, resulting in the man being caught and killed. The sage could have told a white lie in this situation. In these situations truth which is pure and the highest virtue cannot be the simple statement of fact.

Another situation that can be considered is when a corporate needs to retrench a part of the workforce. For the employees affected by this move it does appear cruel. But in the eyes of the CEO such a move is necessary for long term health of the organization. In these situations again virtue cannot be easily defined. On the one hand it resulted in people losing jobs and earning capacity at least temporarily, while on the other hand it prevents further decay in the organization.

Was Robin Hood, who stole from the rich, to give to the poor justified in his act? While it may appear that Robin Hood was stealing on the other hand he was using the stolen wealth to help the poor. With this view can virtue be defined as an act in which the ends are noble, though the means are not? Or does virtue necessitate that both the means and the ends be morally justifiable.

The reality is virtue is relative in many ways and really needs to be viewed in totality. We can think of virtue as any act that provides the greatest good for the greatest number or the greatest good for the greatest time. In many ways the Hindu concept of dharma is closest to this view.

In fact at the highest realm of virtue, one virtue is really indistinguishable from another, Hence if we look at virtue as an act that produces the most beneficial consequence then truth, kindness, non-violence and compassion all merge together becoming virtually distinguishable.

Hence virtue at the highest level cannot be easily defined and is in reality an amalgam of many virtues.