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How to have more joy and less pain in life

Joy and woe are woven fine; a clothing for the soul divine’ says poet William Blake. Practically all spiritual masters from all religions say the same thing time and again. Joy and pain are always said to be like two sides of the same coin.

It is true that fate plays some extra-dirty games in some people’s life and however much they strive, their share of pain seems to be more than the pleasure they get out of life. Hinduism says it is all due to* prarabhdha* (effects of past bad *karma*s done in previous lives). There are also a lucky few people who seem to enjoy pleasure far in excess of pain in their lives and again, Hinduism attributes it to good karmas done in previous lives. As for the majority, it looks joys and woes in life tend to even out.

But man always wants to maximize his joy and minimize his pain in life. Is it then really possible? For many people, particularly in young age, there seems to be a mental resistance to accept any religious or spiritual advice/ explanation/ guidance on this subject. So, outside religion, are there any good tips available for them to enjoy more pleasure in life without proportionate pain?

Yes there are indeed some practical tips available. Let us see some of them.

Have your own standards of desirable joy and bearable pain

Everyone has different capacities and tastes for enjoyment. Everyone has different levels of tolerance and acceptance of pain for the sake of enjoying pleasure. Be clear about your standards. Your close friends’ standards need not be yours. What everyone seems to be enjoying NEED NOT be really joyful to you. The pains to which others seem to be impervious may be too unpleasant to you!

Have you ever thought in such an angle in life? The fact is – most people do not evoke enough self-awareness on these things. To be blunt, herd mentality is quite strong in most of us. Because of this mentality, many people bear with pain without being aware of it for the sake of enjoying some paltry pleasures that othersseem to enjoy!

An youngster, whom I know as one with a calm demeanor, once told me that he went with his friends to see a 20-20 cricket match live at a stadium.

“Ah! Must be quite an experience! Did you enjoy it?” I asked.

“Sort of; yeah, it was fun, okay, but…”

As I probed deeper, he said: “We had to wait in very long queue for hours to book our tickets first. In the stadium, they did not permit us to carry our own food or water—everything we had to buy at very hefty prices there! Oh! The amount of noise people made there with their shouts, whistles, drums, pipes and what not! At some critical action times in the game, someone will invariably jump up in front of me and block the view. The pitch was so far away that I could not even make out which players are playing. Whether a ball was really caught or dropped, I won’t know from such a distance! The side where we were sitting, for the ticket amount we paid, was constantly exposed to sun and I felt I was getting roasted! I had to spend through my nose to keep buying water and drinking it to quench my thirst. By the time the game was over, I got thoroughly tired – both physically and mentally. As I returned home, I was suffering from a splitting head-ache!”

“ Then you mean to say, it would have been heaven if you had watched the game in TV relaxing at the couch in your home?” I asked.

“Absolutely! I would have seen all the actions, all the replays, heard all the expert comments!”

“…and you would have saved quite some bucks, escaped from the burning sun, from the unwanted headache…” I completed the sentence and he nodded.

“How about your friends?”

“Ah! They all seemed to have a freaking time at the stadium! They enjoyed every moment – shouting, dancing, laughing, munching and drinking…”

Now you get some idea?

Be aware to weigh pain and pleasure in advance wherever possible and then decide which one is more for you

We continued with our conversation.

“Did all in your group of friends come to the stadium?” I probed further.

“No! You know Prakash? He is an ardent cricket fan, but flatly refused to join us right at the time we planned the program”

“Did you know why?”

“To be frank, he warned me in advance about all these!”

Now you know the difference? Prakash was not fitting into herd mentality. Perhaps he too had gone through this experience earlier and learnt a valuable lesson! Despite being an ardent cricket fan, Prakash could weigh the pleasure and pain behind witnessing the game live at stadium. Having learnt that the pain, according to his demeanor, is more than the pleasure, he judiciously opted out of it.

Learning from past experience and using it in future is the key.

Be moderate in your enjoyment – any consequent pain will be far less

During my childhood, chance to eat good feasts were rare. I had a sweet tooth and also loved oily savories too. Death day remembrance ceremonies conducted at home for ancestors were occasions when we get sumptuous feast to eat. And I mostly over ate on such occasions and suffered the consequences – a sense of dislike of the feast itself at the end of eating on account of over-stuffing of the stomach, indigestion and a possible loose motion the next day!

Since fortunately I had had the tendency to analyze myself and evoke self-awareness, I became gradually more conscious as I grew up. While I still enjoyed sweets and savories offered generously at feasts, I started reducing their quantities considerably but made sure to taste a little of everything. I made it a practice that I would never eat to my full stomach in any feast. Thus I could really enjoy every variety served in the feast and never suffered out of indigestion subsequently.

This concept of moderation can be extended to all our activities whereby we seek enjoyment – foods, drinks, movies, music, going out with friends, sex, socializing, keeping awake, sleeping, working in office, study, earning money, spending money, idling, philanthropy, playing games, doing exercise, watching internet, talking in cell phone, taking medicines and so on.

When you develop moderation on things you love to enjoy, you will surprisingly find that the keenness or taste of enjoyment also grows sharper. Your focus and awareness of enjoyment will grow and you will find it deeply satisfying. For example, if you cut down your coffee intake from say 4 cups a day to two cups a day and that too with a reduced volume per intake, you can observe that the coffee tastes so extra blissful, unlike what you used to feel with higher intake!

Keep strictly away from enjoyments that society abhors

I m not saying what Bible abhors or other religious scriptures condemn. There are several things that the society you live in does not generally appreciate or accept easily as right or normal. The society may be quite pluralistic in religious faiths and hence irrespective of whether they are religion-based or not, there are things that public does not approve of.

Example: Same sex relationships, prostitution, polygamy, polyandry, stealing, illegal trading of arms, drug trafficking, terrorist activity, love jihad, bullying, black-marketing, drug addiction etc

Unfortunately, there seems to exist an extra doze of thrill in enjoying what society forbids. There is a saying in Tamil that stolen mango has an extra tinge of taste! Perhaps that “extra tinge of taste” is so alluring that people get entrapped into pleasure-seeking on things that the society forbids. May be the consequent pain does not come imminently; but it comes for sure and it will land so severely that it can cause the greatest damage.

Keeping away from things that society forbids will bring you mental peace; that peace is more worthy than the joy of indulgence.

 Enjoy in tune with your age

There is an age up to which even ‘stones can be digested’; there is an age up to which the body can take lots of abuse without showing much of reaction; there is an age up to which youthful zeal can be maintained in intimate relationships; there is an age up to which mental resilience can be quite strong.

Time and age gradually wears away many things. Indulgence in excess chocolates may not lead excess fat up to certain age, but beyond that age if you continue that indulgence, you end up suffering in obesity and cholesterol related problems. Jogging brings you good health up to certain age and then joint pains beyond that! Post thirty five, excess make up brings in a false sense of youthful look up to certain age, and then suddenly everyone seems to laugh at your wrinkles despite your best efforts to hide them!

Whether eating, drinking, sex, dress, mingling, singing, dancing or any such thing, do what is right in tune with your age. If not, you will end up with more pain than pleasure.

Accept some pain for the sake of worthy pleasure or for avoiding a bigger pain

If waking up early is a pain for you, then that pain is worth accepting if you can avoid the pain of peak-hour traffic woes, by starting early to office. If the pain of compulsorily saving some money instead of spending it carefree is undergone, then you will enjoy a debt-free life at later stages of life. If doing regular physical exercises is found boring and painful to you, then by forcefully engaging yourself in it, you will be able to enjoy a good physical health in the long run.

Desire to maximize joy is the innate nature of every living being. The above 6 guidelines can help you to a fair extent in this effort. But always remember: Between enjoyment and peace, there is a huge difference. Matured is the one who looks for achieving peace in life rather than enjoyment out of life.

How to age with dignity

When you meet an elderly citizen who is quite known to you, what sort of feeling do you develop at the back of your mind? Is it a sense of respect or one of disgust? Do you feel humble while talking to him not because “he /she is aged and hence needs to be shown respect” but because you really feel that way in front of him/her?

Our reaction ultimately boils down to one simple fact – how dignified the old person is in his/her demeanor.

Dignified or a laughing stock?

In Indian traditional wisdom, it is said that as a person becomes older and older, the one characteristic he/she should develop more and more is detachment. This detachment covers physical, emotional, intellectual and social bondages. Further, attachment to the world should get converted to attachment towards God. The more one ages developing these qualities, the more dignified he/she becomes.

In the above light, we shall now see how to develop the qualities for aging with dignity:

Do not attempt to look younger than your age

Such advice may shock many women in the west, because the desire to look young and sexy far beyond youth seems to preoccupy the minds of many women (and some men, too). Remaining healthy, physically fit and fighting against obesity are fine and necessary, but fighting against normal graying of hair, wrinkles on the face, propping up the breasts by women through plastic surgery, etc. are quite unnecessary.

Behave decently with the opposite sex

 

Whatever a woman does to look far younger than her true age mostly never cuts ice in the eyes of men. When such woman tries to look sexier too, they totally lose their dignity and even become laughing stocks.

The same applies to some older men who shamelessly ogle young girls and try valiantly to come down to their levels and behave like a dog-in-heat to impress them!

A father of a girl of twenty should a display fatherly demeanor with his daughter’s friends, even though his innate and not-yet-subdued sexual urges may tempt him to behave more like a man getting attracted towards the opposite sex.

Get rid of possessiveness over children

Western society seems to be better developed with this quality than eastern society as seen in India. While parents should watch their children till they are in their teen age and be highly responsible for their conduct and character, parents should gracefully loosen their grip on their children once they become adults. Beyond that stage, their relationship with the children should become more like a trustworthy friend.

A mother’s attachment towards her children generally continues to remain strong in the emotional plane even far beyond the children’s teen age. Possessiveness is a negative force that stealthily remains attached behind a mother’s love and many times this possessiveness has a tendency to affect good conjugal relationship of her children with their spouses.

To age with dignity, parents should carefully watch their possessive mindset and allow their children to chart their course in life fairly independently once they start earning. At the same time, they need not resign from acting as a confidant and guide when the offspring seek help and support.

Parents who rejoice seeing their sons and daughters leading happy married lives and ensure excellent relationship with their son-in-laws, daughter-in-laws and their parents, too, look highly dignified in the eyes of society.

Retire gracefully

A person normally achieves most of things in life – good status in society, power and position in his/her profession, enjoying goodies, comforts and authority by the time he/she reaches the age of retirement. But, many people dread retirement because they are too attached to all these and afraid of losing their self-importance after retirement.

But the very concept of retirement has been necessary in society because the younger generation should have the opportunity to achieve higher positions and the aged ones do tend to get slack, inefficient and out of synch with modern trends in technology and lifestyle. Those who refuse to retire gracefully lose respect from the younger generation.

Retiring gracefully and charting a new, purposeful and satisfying lifestyle after retirement goes a long way in aging with dignity.

Be financially self-supporting and independent

By the time one retires, a person should be totally free from debt, should have built up enough savings and resources for supporting oneself and spouse for the rest of old age. Simplifying lifestyle, changing and economizing spending habits, etc. are to be cultivated consciously. Elders who leave debts to their children and who have to totally depend on their children’s money for their sustenance will not be able to lead a dignified life at old age.

Be health conscious but do not make a fetish about health

By proper food control, exercise and self discipline, elders should take care of their health very well. Children naturally frown at elders who keep complaining about their health. Some elders tend to read too much of literature about diseases and their symptoms and they tend to imagine existence of such ailments in their bodies.

Some elders tend to exaggerate their ill health and love visiting doctors and gobbling up medicines; they use real or imagined ailments to gain sympathy from their offspring. Such tendencies are obviously detrimental to aging with dignity.

Don’t be a bore

One of the despicable qualities in most of the elders is their pride in past laurels – real or imagined. The moment a hapless visitor greets them, they would like to catch him as a prey to talk endlessly about their past, the achievements they made, the adoration they received and the respect they commanded.

Virtually every old person believes that the world was so good and great in yester years and everything has changed topsy-turvy in the present generation. Many old persons never get tired of fining fault with others. Old persons feel they are qualified for giving unsolicited advice and the younger generation takes to their heels upon encountering such persons.

Obviously, any old person who talks less about himself/herself but is an avid listener to the younger generation gets respect and love from them.

Contribute to social welfare

The post-retirement period is best for reformatting your lifestyle and making it tuned more toward the welfare of society. By taking part in church/ temple oriented spiritual activities or by associating oneself with non-governmental philanthropic activities, a retired person can spend his time and energy fruitfully for the welfare of society.

Develop detachment

This is one sterling and singular quality that makes an old person respectable to everyone. As you grow older, detach yourself from the attractions of money, wealth, possessions and antiques. Detach yourself from expecting respect and reverence from others.

 

Detach yourself from expecting others to keep you informed of all the family matters and issues. Do not expect others to consult you and seek “your valuable counsel” for everything. Shower love on your grandchildren without expecting anything in return from them.

Engage yourself in developing spiritual qualities through religious austerities, by practicing yoga, japa (chanting God’s name), meditation, etc. Make sure to understand that engaging in such activities are meant to elevate your spiritual stature to a higher level and they are never meant to build your egotism to project yourself as a “highly pious and spiritual old person who has to be revered by all.”

Aging is the reality of life and it culminates in death one day. How to age gracefully and with dignity is one of the challenges of life that everyone should face and succeed at.

Hunt for Novelty and Comfort of Familiarity — the two basic needs of life

“You would have never eaten these fancy stuff. Try Rumali Roti and Mutter Paneer. It is a nice combo. I like it very much…”

My elder brother ordered the menus without even waiting for my consent. We were sitting for the dinner in the not-so-crowded, not-so-costly middle class Restaurant ‘Manzil’ at Sarojini Nagar in New Delhi. It was 39 years ago. I went to Delhi on a college tour and it was also an opportunity to visit my bachelor (elder) brother employed in Delhi.

I could not even spell the names of the items that he ordered. Yes. They were quite north-Indian, novel and tasty too,  but far too disconnected with the Dosai, Idly-sambar and rice that we Tamil Brahmins of South Indian rural origin were familiar with.

“Do we finish off with a familiar ‘Thayir Sadham’ (curd rice)?” I asked my brother. He laughed at me. “Come on boy; Why do you still want to be a typical ‘Iyer Paappan, Thayir Sadam’ even here?” (That phrase is a typical mockery used by non-Brahmin Tamil boys to tease Brahmins who invariably have a fetish for curd rice!). “You know, I have virtually stopped taking rice and curds after settling in Delhi!” said my brother with a shade of pride.

“You don’t mind the presence of garlic in all these?” I asked. Garlic was a strict no-no in our home food. Except for extremely rare occasions of eating at a hotel, my brother would never have tasted garlic till he reached 22 years.

“I don’t mind at all; in fact I like it very well!” said he.

And what a change in his attire too!

During the whole of his college days in our village till he completed his Graduate degree, he was wearing only dhoti (Veshti) to the college! He had never bought pants till he received his appointment order from New Delhi. Now, he was going to the office in coat and suit (as it was winter in Delhi at that time). I could not see a single dhoti hanging in his room and even at nights, he felt comfortable wearing only pants saying it kept him warm. I also remember missing seeing the single line of red color “Sri churnam” that used to adore his forehead during his college days as a sign of declaring his religious orientation to Vaishnavism.

Fast forward 25 years…

I visit my brother, now a middle aged married man with two sons, living comfortably at Delhi. My brother now strictly prefers typical south Indian food only, with a particular emphasis on traditional and time-tested items that our mother used to cook. He has shunned taking onion and garlic! His wife complains that their children want nothing but north-Indian food with a fair dose of onion and garlic and she is burdened cooking two types of food daily! Very occasionally under unavoidable circumstances, my brother takes with reluctance food containing onion and garlic at Hotels, but never at home!

He openly admires the typical south Indian snacks that my mother made and sent through me and boldly comments that his wife could never match up to that taste; no wonder his utterances end up annoying and irritating my sister-in-law!

Fast forward another 9 years…

My brother is now settled in Chennai after retirement. His food restrictions have become much more strict, narrowed further down to outright traditional south Indian Brahmin food. He wears dhoti in the traditional Panchakaccham style (like priests). His forehead is adored by a full fledged white Namam and an yellow Sri churnam declaring his religious affiliation to Srivaishavism very vividly. He does Sandhyavandhanam regularly and is seen less at home and more at the Perumal Temple round the corner of the street!

That brings me to subject at last!

The above is a typical and true life story that demonstrates my theory that most of us in our life, upto a certain point of age, go behind novelty, travel the uncharted territory, tryout the unfamiliar and try to declare to the world that we are no slaves to tried-and-time-tested things of life. In this process, there are also some people who experiment with breaking some hitherto-carefully-guarded codes of ethics and morality.

But gradually (or in some cases, suddenly too) a change of mindset takes place in us. It may happen to most of us, somewhere in the age of 40 to 60 (plus or minus a few years here and there). Our attraction to our hunt for novelty, change, thrill etc die down. We start thinking — ‘May be what my father/ mother/ grand father/mother said/ did/ practiced/ lived was better; it makes more sense; it has some values though not fully understood by me now’.

At that point of time, many of us take steps to wind the clock backwards. Be it food, culture, arts, music, spiritual faith, religious practices or dress code — we get a yearning for reviving and re-practicing some or many of traditional ways. We find some inexplicable sense of comfort, feeling of security and peace in it. We find that whatever new paths we traversed, though could give us some wonderful thrills and bouts of joy, there was some inexplicable lack of comfort in them too; something in us could not accept that as a way of life till end.

In love and marriage…

In India, one can frequently see boys and girls from closely knit families taking this U-turn when it comes to marriage. In tune with times, boys and girls may go hunt for girl friends and boy friends, get entangled in ‘divine love’ cutting across the typical Indian caste / religion/ cultural barriers. And when it comes to marriage, they would suddenly wake up and take a U-turn to settle for an arranged marriage with a boy / girl duly fitting to “traditional” styles!

Eating egg – my little escapade in uneventful thrill..

Considering my own personal case, in my youth, I had an inferiority complex that I did not possess a strong physique; my stamina was poor. My college friends suggested taking non-vegetarian food and eggs. Non Veg was totally unacceptable to my mindset, but I was tempted by egg, because eggs sold in the market, I was told, cannot fertilize and hence they are more or less vegetarian. I succumbed. I started taking egg omelet during my hostel days and developed a liking for them too. But I always had some indigestion problem on many times when I consumed egg. I ignored the problem. I took pride in openly telling my close relatives that I consumed eggs and had a thrill when they showed a look of momentary aversion towards me!

As I aged up to 32, my consumption of eggs gradually became very occasional, and I never took egg at home. At 32, it became very clear to me that I really have problem in digesting eggs and the cause could be a deep-rooted aversion to it. One fine day, I took a decision not to consume egg any more and that decision was such a relief for me, in reality!

I could observe in my life that as I grew older and older above 40, I started feeling that many things my father said and practiced in his life were indeed good. Even though I did have my differences of opinion with him in some matters and did a few things (in the matter of personal finance, lifestyle etc) not in tune with his preferences, I came back one full circle and started trusting his ways more and more!

And it is also true there are exceptions to this. There are also some people whose search for thrill never get satiated; they don’t take a U-turn to seek satisfaction in old ways. Traditional ways may continue to be anathema to them till they get physically incapacitated to do anything on their own. Some of them could also be extremely egoistic, non-analytical, self-rightists who cannot differentiate between what is transient pleasure and what is long term good.

Kathopanishad, a very old Hindu scripture says there are two types of things for us to choose in life. One is called preyas and the other, shreyas Whatever things that give short term pleasures and thrills are called preyas and whatever that is good for us and give us long term benefits are called shreyas.

We can probably conclude that most of us in life go behind preyas for certain period of life and then gradually learn and take a recourse to Shreyas after a certain point of time.