“Don’t worry about the world coming to an end today. It is already tomorrow in Australia.”
The series on ‘The Millionaire Next Door’ was received very well by all of you and I got many pointed questions. Most of the questions were about the concept of “Ideal Networth” and variants thereof. I will urge you to read this series if you have not already done so, it will boost your Financial Quotient and set you thinking on matters financial.
One of my friends sent me a lovely post on WhatsApp – ‘The Charles Schulz Philosophy’ and I ended up reading it many times. We all have been entertained for decades by the enjoyable comic strip ‘Peanuts’ and its profound life philosophy which is hidden in these gems of cartoons.
This post somehow resonated a lot with how I perceive life and its delightful vicissitudes. Let me first share this post with you before we discuss the deep meaning embedded in its simple words. It is two sets of questions which you have to answer for yourself. This reflection will illuminate your thoughts – do replace the American names with their Indian equivalents. Here we go with the first set:
- Name the five wealthiest persons in the world.
- Name the last five Heisman trophy winners (most outstanding player in college football.)
- Name the last five winners of the Miss America pageant.
- Name ten persons who have won the Noble or Pulitzer prize.
- Name the last half dozen Academy Award winners for best actors and actresses.
- Name the last decade’s worth of World Series (Basketball) winners.
I will request you to pause and reflect on these six simple questions. How many you got right? Well, my score was pretty abysmal and I dare say, even you wouldn’t have come out with flying colours. For those who got most of the questions right (a standing ovation for you outliers), how do these rich and famous people matter to your life- as on today? Let’s take the first question- the five wealthiest persons in the world (or India for that matter), even if all the five names change tomorrow, will it affect your life? I presume not and yet we remain so fascinated to look up to these billionaires with awe and secretly aspire to replace them one day.
All the achievers in the world performed on the stage of life for a very brief period and dazzled all of us with their brilliance, and then faded away. Within a few weeks/months/ years, no one remembers them. This is how ephemeral fame and wealth is, and yet we spend our lives chasing this chimaera. To go a step further, please try and recollect the names of the last ten bosses of your organization – in the reverse order. You will stop by the time you reach the third or fourth name and scratch your head to remember the previous boss. This is how little the shelf life of ‘Top Honchos’ is.
I have been deliberating on the Wheel of Life with you and requesting you to balance your life along the hub (family) and the spokes.
If you chase a goal on any one of these seven too narrowly, it is bound to be at the cost of the other ones. What is the fun of being the CEO of your organization (the professional spoke) if in the bargain you lose touch with your family or contract lifestyle-related diseases or lose valuable friendships? Balance is the key to life and hence the first priority, for all of us, must be to strengthen the hub (our family) on the Wheel of Life. Thereafter the other six spokes must be given equitable time, effort, energy and resources so that our wheel doesn’t wobble.
A person is normally most reflective and truthful on his/her deathbed. To buttress my argument, let me share with you what the 5 biggest regrets of people on their deathbeds are:
- I wish I’d dared to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me- a life lived in fear, a life in which either the person never dreamt or was too scared to follow his dreams. Did we live our life on our own terms or were we doing the bidding of others? If we don’t take our own decisions in life someone else will take them for us and trust me, they may not always be in your best interests.
- I wish I hadn’t worked so hard- Let’s take a hypothetical scenario. You have joined an organisation and aspire to rise to the very top. You work really hard for 2 to 3 decades, become the top-boss, but forget to nurture your family along the way. Goes without saying that you have been so busy that you never took care of your health too. When you perch on those lofty heights of career achievement, you find that your spouse is a stranger, the children have grown and moved away without ever having a father or mother in their formative years when they needed them the most. You are beset with a few stress and lifestyle-related diseases. Are you happy despite being successful in your career? Have you been a success in life?
- I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings- Have you been able to live your life with a straight spine? Did you have the courage to call out wrong from right; bad from good; immoral from moral? Did you express your love to your loved ones, friends, to the persons who mattered to you or were you busy ingratiating your boss with your fulsome praise and apple-polishing?
- I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends- this regret is an extension of the previous one. The only person with whom you can truly open up and share your happiness, your fears, your goof-ups, your crush, are your friends.
- I wish that I had let myself be happier- We all aspire to achieve happiness and avoid unhappiness. The problem is that we don’t know how to define happiness. Does being rich or successful in a career or being a great homemaker define happiness. Let me narrate two real-life stories to you. There was this lady from far off lands of Europe, from a country called Albania who decided to make The City of Joy, Kolkata her home. She served the lepers, destitute, and orphans throughout her life. She gave away her life in this worthy cause. We fondly call her Mother Teresa. Was she rich? I don’t think so, but was she happy? You bet she was.
Then there was this grand old man, a barrister at law, who gave it all up for freedom of his nation, for uplifting the marginalised, the outcasts, the poor, the downtrodden, even going to the extent of cleaning their feet and toilets. We rightly call him The Mahatma. Was Mahatma Gandhi rich? No, in fact, he had very few possessions. But he definitely was happy and joyful.
Talking of happiness, the richest country in the world, the USA, should ideally be having an all-happy population. On the contrary, The USA has nearly one-third of its population battling with stress. Nearly 45000 persons commit suicide in America every year.
On the other hand, we have the tiny Himalayan nation of Bhutan whose per capita income is only a fraction of that of the USA. But Bhutan has not chased the chimaera of GDP, it has instead evolved a brilliant parameter to gauge its intrinsic health – Gross Happiness Index or GHI. Yes, Bhutan doesn’t bother about money as much as the happiness of its citizens.
In fact, even the wisest of persons, the acclaimed geniuses also have regrets on their deathbeds. Abraham Maslow, the renowned American psychologist propagated his famous ‘Hierarchy of Needs’ theory. The needs were in the form of a pyramid.
You would notice that the top need, Self Actualisation, is very individualistic. Maslow on his deathbed accepted his folly and regretted his averment. He felt that love and legacy were probably the virtues one must work for. Very clearly, he was alluding to nurturing one’s family, relationships and social structures even at the cost of one’s own.
With this I come to the second set of questions, Schulz poses:
- List a few teachers who aided your journey through school.
- Name three friends who have helped you through a difficult time.
- Name five people who have taught you something worthwhile.
- Think of a few people who have made you feel appreciated and special.
- Think of five people you enjoy spending time with.
How did you fare in this quiz? Don’t answer, let me guess. You got 100% of the questions right, isn’t it? I am sure none (or very few) of these people are superlative performers, achievers, the wealthiest etc. They are average, normal people who have made a difference to your life; who have touched your life meaningfully; who have given a helping hand when you needed it most.
So, who should we aspire to be? To belong to the first list or the second? We must realistically introspect and meditate on our Wheel of Life and initiate course-correction, beginning from today- tomorrow may be too late. Having gone through the basics of this ‘Delightful Life Philosophy’, it is time to get into practicalities of living such life. That will be the topic of the concluding part of this series next Sunday.
 The Five Top Regrets of the Dying- Bronnie Ware
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