Benjamin Franklin is known to have said,
“Those who love deeply never grow old; they may die of old age, but they die young”
If there ever is a classic example of an interesting oxymoron in a quote, this is one. I personally like this one for the manner it conveys the beauty and yet the stark simplicity of life.
One of the people who come to my mind whom I consider an epitome of this philosophy was my husband’s inspiring great grand mother.
Widowed in her twenties, with 9 young children (one a mere 6 month old baby in her arms), she single-handedly and tenaciously brought up all her children well. She lived well into her nineties. Through the brief moments that I had the privilege to interact with her, she always emanated a remarkable level of contentment, an ability to laugh and make others smile. Curious and with just the touch of gaiety in her voice, she was a soul who despite her challenges lived her life well and with no complaints. She was also not surprisingly, one who was forthright and never afraid, to speak her mind.
Through brief experiences and observations, I’ve come to realize that many are unable to truly love life, despite the sound health they enjoy, the pleasures of family companionship and the financial stability they are fortunate to experience. Unlike the case of my husband’s great grandmother who had to experience phenomenal challenges in life, for many, this inability arises only due to a wish to adhere to societal expectations.
To love anything deeply, whether it is life or a person, it requires the courage to love simply yet completely. It involves the courage to face unpredictable and possible unpleasant responses from those we love and of course the life that we love.
One sure way to sabotage our happiness is by following the conservative unwritten societal expectations regarding age.
1) Age-Related Expectations & Life
For some, there is a temptation to tread carefully in life so as to not ruffle the societal norms relating to age – this includes paying closer attention to their attire and even the activities they take up. They base their actions, thoughts, and communication on the expectations of the family, community and society that they are a part of. In the desire to be accepted by society and those around us, we at times forget that each of us have our perception of life and how we wish to live and enjoy it. The moment we decide to parrot what people our age do, we lose the focus on the life we wish to lead.
When my friend, Reshma decided to learn classical dance at the age of 43, there was amusement and derision from her family and those she knew. “At this age?”, was the question. Similarly, when a colleague Sandhya decided to achieve her Masters in English after marriage and when her children were still young, there were contemptuous questions about the wisdom of learning at her age. According to her critics, since she has enough to do at home and with her small children to take care of, what was the purpose?
As a recipient of a few caustic and skeptical comments myself, I have found these critics committed in communicating their wisdom to all. There are two types of critics – one who believes in offering constructive criticism and the other who enjoy seeing others feel uncomfortable with their negative comments. When the aim is to only create negativity, create anxiety and not accept the simple fact that each of us is unique, the criticism is best ignored. The acceptance of others is as important as expecting others to accept us for who we are.
2) Help Others Help Themselves
Remember the popular wise quote on how giving a person a fish helps him to eat for a day while teaching him to fish will feed him for life? This is indeed so true. Helping others to have a stable future enhances our happiness since we see ourselves as doing an action to improve the life of someone or a group of people through our efforts. We may be accused of being selfish through our altruistic gestures but then again, does it really matter how some respond to our desire to help others unless appeasing them is our purpose?
Helping others is a way of life for some, like in the case of my parents, my father-in-law and my husband. My father and father-in-law are sadly no more but their legacy lives on through the lives they had touched and helped succeed.
People like them, lead their life with a mission to help and empower many whom they come across so much so that it becomes a way of life. I consider this innate desire to help others also as a way of those receiving the help to feel inspired and continue this legacy to make our world a happier one.
3) Expect Nothing from Others
One of the sure ways of pulling down our happiness is by expecting others to expect in the way we would like them to be. Basing our actions towards others merely depending on our integrity and nothing else can make us happier. Why? because we chose to behave in the way we wished to and not because we expect reciprocation or gratitude from them.
A couple of years ago, my friend, Jay, happened to visit the house of a poor and impoverished family where one lady member of the family crawled due to a spinal problem. Due to neglect, her condition had aggravated and finally led to the lady helplessly crawling on her hands. Thanks to my friend’s kindness, the lady received the proper medical attention she needed and today not only walks but earns her livelihood by selling homemade snacks and other foodstuffs.
Jay, today has moved on to help others and he rarely recalls or discusses those he has helped other than from the concern that they are well today. An attitude that makes him happy, while having zero expectations from others.
4) Caring for Yourself through:
This may initially appear to convey the importance of managing time. In reality, we are talking about how much time we spend on others and ourselves. Are we fair when it comes to spending time for ourselves? Do we rush to make time for others while ignoring the time we need for our activities?
In this context, unfortunately especially in the case of women, in the desire to meet the expectations from family, (and expectations from the workplace management team – if they have careers), friends, and society, there is a rush to pursue the illusion of perfectionism.
In this rush, the one person who needs time and attention, i.e you get ignored and neglected. This neglect often results over a period of time as a stress stimulus, a factor for health issues and passive or active anger or conflict issues with their family or the world.
Respect Your Intuition
One of the first steps to taking care of ourselves is by paying attention to what our intuition communicates with us. I have found this particularly true in my case. Years ago, in my fervent wish to please and see others happy, I was never tuned to my intuition. The reason was that I never respected, paid attention or listened to me to the extent needed and I was too busy focusing on others. Today, my intuition is extremely helpful when it comes to my personal and professional relationships, to the extent that it aids me with my understanding of the relationships that I’ve known for years.
Avoidance of Toxic Relationships
In our personal and professional lives, we would all have come across individuals whom we would prefer not to interact with. It could be because they insist on always being right, they tend to be controlling, they are sly when it comes to getting their way or they have little respect for us and our boundaries. Whatever the reasons are, we need to remember that it is up to us to decide how we wish to be treated.
By taking the necessary steps to prevent the unhealthy control of these demanding individuals, we emerge from our interactions as winners rather than victims.
To effectively stop the control of these undesirable relationships, an analysis needs to be done. Some of the questions that we need to answer relate to our sense of security and wellbeing.
Do we allow this treatment because of low confidence or low self-esteem?
Are we afraid of being thrown out (whether, in the case of work, the marital relationship or just the fear of being alone)?
Do we owe the relationship respect because of societal or family expectations?
In terms of family relationships, I know a close friend of mine who chose to cut off the highly toxic relationship she had with her sister after decades of false accusations, passive aggression, and aloofness from her. This harsh step not only gave her the peace she deserved but also gave her the strength in the future, to avoid allowing any relationship in her life to affect her state of mind with its toxicity.
Any relationship has boundaries that need to respected and valued. This is a fact that we need to respect in our case too, as much as we respect in the case of others.
5) Friends & Mentors
Friends are valuable in our life for the affection and wonderful companionship. They are also great for the honesty and genuine regard they have for us. Through their honesty and compassion, we learn better about ourselves and the world. Mentors play a powerful role in our lives in their ability to instill us in a belief regarding our potential and talents.
Both friends and mentors are crucial for our wellbeing since they contribute to the harmony and growth of our life. They are especially key individuals in enabling us to think positively about who we are and what we can become.
At any given time of our life, a critical appraisal of how we react and why we react the way we do is crucial in honestly assessing our behavior too. By tapping into our intuitive powers, we can be further pleasantly surprised by how much input we can contribute to our own wellbeing and happiness.
We are one of our greatest well-wishers. By seeking this well-wisher out, we can enjoy the companionship of the one person that many never ever get to know well. Like any relationship, it is through respect, value and acceptance that we understand ourselves in the best way possible.
Through this process, we can bring out the best of what we can be while compassionately avoiding the pitfalls of the illusion of perfectionism. By accepting our imperfections and working on continuous improvement, we can lead a life that is worthy, not just for ourselves but for others we come across too.