Absolute happiness and relative misery

In the world today where we are being shown images of the rich and famous enjoying themselves, social media where we can see what our so called friends are up to and the constant newsfeed that tells us what we must do to be slim, beautiful and wise- it is easy to compare ourselves with others. Yet, having thought about it, I believe it is the surefire way to be miserable.  But can we avoid this?

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A woman records herself on a selfie stick while missing out on the scenery from a train in Sri Lanka

I think if you really must want to compare yourself with others, then pick the people who have less than you.  Pick up people who you might see in the streets, homeless, who have suffered from illness or crime, etc.  See how lucky you have been, what privileges you have had and  how much better off you are.  This is not about gloating about your life but realising that though there may be many people who are healthier, wealthier and more beautiful than you, there are even more people who are in less fortunate position than you. Then do something to help these people. That will make you happier even.  And as the Beatles sang, ‘Money can’t buy you love!’  But this is still relative happiness. Do it only if you want relative happiness.

But by helping others, you can turn relative happiness into absolute happiness.  The feeling of ‘absolute and unshakeable’ happiness is amazing and empowering. If your friend is sad, offer a shoulder to cry on; if you see someone homeless think of ways to help them (and it doesn’t need to involve money!) and do some work in the community. Open up your life to others and the environment.  It is not the relative happiness where you end up comparing yourself with others who you think are higher up in life’s ladder than yourself.  Or even with others less lucky than you.  Misery is always relative while it is possible to achieve absolute happiness.  Think about how much mental energy and time it takes you to compare yourself to others- and just to end up with misery as the final goal.

Happy and perfect

‘Just do it’ is the phrase used by a well known sports brand but I am using it in a different way.  I am using to mean a determination to be happy- to be just happy.  I was recently watching a programme about advertising and how advertising creates a gap between yourself, the reality and the image presented (the illusion).  We try to buy stuff to try to close this gap.  Often we get ourselves into trouble of various sorts, such as financial difficulties or unhealthy mental states.  In particular women are more prone to compare themselves to others and make themselves unhappy.  So many of the ‘happiness or beauty products’ are aimed at women because it creates a compulsive and everlasting consumer.

I have also been cleaning my house, using the ‘Konmari method‘ which is basically a method of editing your stuff (keeping only stuff that ‘sparks joy’) and keeping them tidily.  Out of my dark cupboards, hidden for years, have come out piles  of self help books, mountains of clothes, cosmetics, and many things I bought for ‘just in case’ occasions. Looking at them and adding up the costs of buying them, not using them and now having to dispose of them in a responsible way, is costing me more time and money.  Why oh why did I buy these things?  Perhaps I could have saved some money to pay off the mortgage, perhaps saved some time looking after myself instead of shopping for that perfect thing that would make me happy?  Perhaps.  Anyway, the feeling was first of disgust at myself and then forgiveness.  Perhaps, it was convoluted path I took to get here and some people don’t get here easily.  So I have decided not to buy anything more unless it really nourishes my life, not to watch any thing that doesn’t inspire me to do good and not to feel bad about the past.  I decided, I am happy as I am- that is it.  No more reading about happiness or perfection- I doing it, I am already happy and perfect as I am.

What love is

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Love is in the air, especially today. But what is love really? A test of love is longevity. There are many who say they are in love- but a few months or years later, it is gone. That is not love. Love stands the test of time and age- if we can love someone’s wrinkles that is true love. True love is about loving someone’s warts and wrinkles.  That could be anyone from your granny to your partner. Love is about giving some time to another person.

A hero

I have not been to any David Bowie concert but his music has existed alongside my growth as a person. His talents, not just as a ground breaking musician but as someone who is as a holistic as an artist can be (poet, actor, director, producer, writer, dancer, etc), has been so inspiring. Bowie was a well-read and informed artist who drew upon a wealth of influences such as Tibetan Buddhism, German Expressionism, Mime, Japanese culture, history and Jungian psychology. He has often described himself as a ‘magpie’ and he was able to synthesise diverse ideas and use them in his art. Coming from a poor working class family, it must have taken immense courage to proclaim his ideas and intent. As the philosopher Michael Foley says, ‘Appreciating art is not passive but active, not reverential but familiar, not a worthy act of self improvement but an audacious and cunning ruse. To seek out what stimulates and makes use of it- this is the work of art.’ And Bowie was a master at this and so his entire life became a work of art.

From becoming totally immersed in his various personas- Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, Thin White Duke, etc- to his campaigning for others- from Tibet to physically disabled children and to his perceptive thoughts on the internet, death, illness, etc. he comes across as a total person. He acknowledged his mistakes without arrogance or defensiveness (watch his interviews on Youtube) and his fears and died a hero. There was no drama about his death unlike his pop personality life. He even made his death into a work of art and then took his bow, humbly and quietly. I never realised how much influence he had on me until last Sunday when it was announced that he had gone. He wasn’t perfect but he was a hero. And most importantly, his life has taught us that we can be heroes too.  Here is a video of him tapping out his song ‘Heroes’ using a bottle cap on his shoe, raising money for physically challenged children at the Bridge School concert, 1996.

We are all Quasimodos

There is a Buddhist story about a simple man called ‘Never disparaging’ who seeks the good in all but people chase him away, throwing rocks and sticks at him.  However, he continues and in the end, becomes the Buddha, an enlightened soul.  In the novel ‘Hunchback of Notre Dame’ by Victor Hugo is Quasimodo, a deformed ugly man with a heart of gold, who is reviled by all yet comes out as the best of all.  Quasimodo is also a simple soul but his generosity and bravery make him worthy of praise.  Both Never disparaging and Quasimodo are not clever but good.  What they teach us is goodness is better than cleverness.  Also, they are not good looking on the outside but from the inside, they are good.  So they teach us that it is better to be good inside than outside.  Nature makes sure that no one is perfect, even the most beautiful person has some physical defect, one side of our body is slightly different from the other.  Quasimodo’s hunch signifies the baggage we all carry- whether inside or outside.  So we are all Quasimodos in that respect but just like him, we also have that goodness.  To recognise that quality in ourselves and others all the time is the most difficult part.  And that is the struggle of everyday- to be kind, compassionate and good, not matter what.

looking cool

Looking cool is often associated with the young and famous.  But yesterday I read a heart warming account from a 59 year old woman, Helen Walmsley-Johnson, who realised that looking cool was about self assurance and confidence.  She says that couple of years ago she was holidaying alone in France and had been given an awkward seating in the middle of the restaurant.  It seemed to present her as a lone woman to all those to came inside.  However, she accepted this and relaxed, reading a book.  Suddenly another English speaking woman came to speak to her, “Excuse me but my daughter thinks that you are really cool and we wondered if you’d like to drink with us?”  These three then spent the rest of the evening, laughing and talking.  When asked why the teenager had thought she was cool, the reply was that it was because ‘although she was on her own, she didn’t look sad or lost, but happy.’

How many times have I thought that looking cool was about dressing in a certain way or having cool things like a cappuccino or an iPhone to hold!  No, it is entirely about self belief, it doesn’t matter what you are wearing or carrying!  In fact, on the catwalk, models learn to walk with self confidence and poise, no matter what ridiculous outfit they are modelling or sometimes are even half naked.  Just imagine if instead of sashaying on to the catwalk, they came out looking embarrassed- no one would buy those clothes.  Self confidence, being happy and creative makes you cool!

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I will be putting down some words of wisdom I have gleaned from other sources on this from time to time!

This week from David Tang. Tang is a Hong Kong businessman and socialite best known as the founder of the Shanghai Tang fashion chain.  Following his primary education at La Salle Primary School, Tang was sent to The Perse School, Cambridge, aged 13, hardly able to speak English and thereby failing his English O levels six times. After school, he studied Philosophy and law at  King’s College London. He then went on to be a founding father for fashion labels, cigar companies, oil exploration and luxury hotels- and also Financial Times’ agony uncle.  These are his pieces of wisdom on friendship-

  • Friendship is for pleasure, not practicality.
  • If you want to meet people again, you’ve got to make sure they want to meet you even more. Ask: ‘how can I make every one of my guests enjoy themselves’.
  • Being intimidated comes from yourself, not others. If you are intimidated, then don’t show it!
  • Tests for friendships- you have their mobile number, you’ve had dinner at their place and you’ve been on holiday with them.
  • Don’t be sycophantic or cynical- tell people what you think but make them laugh!