Every single time I flew the red-eye, I had failed to get a good reason to justify flying overnight. Today was no different. I was on a red-eye flight from the bay area to Newark. My inability to sleep on a plane led my mind to deep thoughts. There was no one to interrupt, and I wandered on a path of self-discovery.
As I was flying over Chicago for another hour and a half to reach home, the question that I tried to answer was the definition of happiness. For some time now, I felt happier than ever before. Inspired, I desired to get to the root of what happiness meant. Could it be the wealth one accumulates over a lifetime or a lifestyle that one could afford to buy? Or was it simply the bliss of being surrounded by a loving family? There could be a protracted list and the definition could truly change based on who you impose the question with.
The more I quizzed my mind, the more blurred it became. Probably happiness was the sum of all and more. Or maybe there was no wrong or right answer. However, somehow I was not able to come to terms with my way of defining happiness. I don’t know why? But something appeared missing. And in my quest to get some answers for my unrest soul, a word of wisdom crossed my mind.
We are affected deeply by the factors that surround us. A bad day at the office could make the jovial kids at home irritating. One may be driving the most luxurious car, but when challenged with family troubles it could hardly give any happiness. What I realized, our mind was a very complicated machine, it weighs in all the factors surrounding us, and the happiness was merely a quotient of maintaining a perfect balance between the elements that matter most to us. Our mind wants all the factors to be in perfect rhythm, to feel liberated and happy. Even when one element of our happiness is in disharmony, other factors get impacted and unhappiness prevails.
Unfortunately, the revelation of wisdom was not an answer to the question I imposed. So what could one do to minimize the impact of externalities and still remain happy? The literary world had lots to offer on this subject. Some defined meditation as the recipe, others claimed to devote oneself to God, and few called for detachment. The list goes on. However, in my opinion, these were easier said than done.
Retrospectively, for the past few years, I had felt more content than I was ever in my life. And when I look back it was not because of success in professional life or my family started loving me more. So what was it? And after some deliberations and brooding, I concluded that the only change that led to my happy state of mind was my experience with self-discipline.
Three years back, I lived a life that revolved around my job. I used to travel extensively, work on an aggressive schedule, and wanted to maximize the 24 hours that I had in hand. Everything else was secondary, my health (of course I was young, so no health issue), my family, and my recreational expeditions, all took a back seat. It hit me hard when one day after returning home from an official trip my wife stated what my son told the principal of the school she was exploring for his admission. He was three years old and that day he was wearing a T-Shirt with a soccer ball design on it. As my wife was inquiring about the school the principal imposed some casual questions to him:
Principal – So you love soccer?
My son – Yes
Principal – So whom do you play with?
My son – With mom.
Principal – Why not with Dad?
My son – Dad is usually traveling or on the phone.
This single episode changed my perspective on life. I realized how badly I was engrossed in my work, and forgetting everything else that was happening around me. I was aghast and frustrated and I knew one thing for sure – I had to take some action. Here is what I did, which changed me for good.
- There is more to work in life: We have a beautiful tool at work called calendar – it manages a schedule, reminds promptly of meetings, and of jobs that need attention. On the contrary, we do not have a calendar for life. Besides, the office calendar moves beyond the office boundaries eating into our personal time. The world is more global and people we deal with at work are all over the map, so that results in extending one’s day to oblige different time zones. Before going to bed, we call our team sitting across the oceans to get work done while we sleep, and in the morning we have a meeting to follow up on the same. I was troubled by the same bug. It was a rat race- and what I failed to realize is how my work had encroached every possible time of the day I was available. I took some action. The first thing I did was to drop the night calls. It was hard to say no at the beginning, but to my surprise, the work was not suffering. Getting time blocked out really gave me the much-needed break in the evening to spend more time with my family. I immediately brought some changes, like taking the kids out to parks and sitting with them to get their homework done. This single change had changed my level of interaction with my family, and I am amazed to learn what they had to offer me back.
- Finding Time for self: Before bringing these changes in my life I was nocturnal – I could work until the wee hours, but never used to get up in the morning. My work not needing me to be there at 9:00 AM sharp at the office was helping my behavior immensely. Human beings are designed to take rest at night and wake early in the morning. When young one could hardly realize it, but with age, it causes serious health issues. As I stopped working in the evenings, with nothing else to do, I started going to bed early. Subconsciously I started doing a great deal of help to my body. Now, as I was sleeping early, I started getting up early – the additional two hours in the morning were all for me. I started pursuing my much-forgotten hobbies. I started writing again and writing code – time forgotten hobbies showed back in my life again.
- Get a grip on lifestyle: By finding time for myself, I got into exercising and trail biking. I also go biking with my kids whenever schedule permits. I started getting back in shape. I was always a cautious eater, so that problem never required a solution. But now, I had different goals – participating in a marathon or getting that bulging biceps. Getting a grip on my lifestyle made me more productive at work. I was sharper and my mind was agile.
- Take Time Off: Taking a break from work and getting on a short vacation always helps to recharge and more importantly, help bond with your family and friends. I now take three short vacations in a year. And, it was not counterintuitive, as I always came back rejuvenated and charged up for the next challenge at work.
- Make a time-table – Set Goals: I am a firm believer that we all should set goals and make a plan to achieve the same. The goals could be short-term, mid-term, or long-term – making a timetable brings discipline and that leads to the true art of living a healthy and happy life. Even if one fails in sticking to a timetable, even when we fall short of goals – never give up on getting a timetable. Keep revising them, keep making them – soon you will see things would fall into place.
Our minds could be trained, our habits could be controlled – all we need is self-realization and a quest to get the best out of our life.
Copyright © Shantanu Baruah