THOUGHT SERIES – THE GOOD LIFE

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NIRANJAN GIDWANI l CONSULTANT DIRECTOR | MEMBER UAE SUPERBRANDS COUNCIL | FORMER CEO EROS GROUP

It is natural for each individual to be driven by ambition. 

Yet each of us must also aspire to lead a whole life in perfect contentment. There is a natural, rubber-band like stretch between ambition and contentment. Sometimes the balance tips towards ambition, especially when one is younger. At other times, especially when one is older, the balance needs to start tipping towards contentment. 

It is the deep desire of every individual to die peacefully, having lived a life of fulfilment and contentment. But to judge whether our lives have been fulfilling creates their own dilemmas of judgment. Does one need to be well-known, or even famous? Can a “famous person” and an “ordinary person” both be able to lead a fulfilled life?

In Indian mythology, one can always dig deep to pull out pearls of wisdom. The story of Bhishma is one of the most celebrated. During the battle of Kurukshetra, Bhishma is struck down by the arrows of Arjuna, who is his grandnephew. The arrows pierce his body and when Bhishma falls down from his chariot, the arrows form a bed so that Bhishma’s body does not lie on Mother Earth.

With his body resting on the bed of arrows, Bhishma’s head hangs loose with no support. Bhishma asks Arjuna to provide some support. Arjuna does so by piercing three arrows in the ground in a manner that Bhishma’s head can rest on those arrows. A satisfied Bhishma says, ‘What a fitting pillow for a warrior like me.’ He then asks for water. Arjuna again pierces his arrows into the earth and cool water springs out of the hole and goes directly into Bhishma’s mouth. Bhishma drinks some water.

Bhishma then asks Lord Krishna, who is near-by, as to why he is dying with such suffering in spite of his track record of good karmas. Lord Krishna reminds him that in one birth he had sinned by inflicting pain on insects when he stuck needles and thorns into their bodies. This deed, coupled with his unjust support of the Kauravas, caused him that painful death.

It is a great gain to feel fulfilled with life. Thankful for all the good things that have happened, no regrets for all the bad things that have happened. Bitterness and fulfilment do not go hand in hand. 

Each person has to learn life lessons for himself or herself as he or she goes through a personal odyssey of discovery about work, life, friendship and relationships. 

The availability of loads of knowledge, of being able to quote from religious books is not of any great value as compared to internalizing that knowledge. The lessons of experience in life and in management work in the same way. We know the lessons, but are unable to always practice them.

According to a famous and successful management Guru and successful business head, each person’s personality has two elements, a base layer and a layer on top. The base layer is about temperament, which is more or less fixed by a person’s genes and circumstances of birth. The layer on top is the human quality, which is shaped by the person’s life experiences.

Temperament plus human quality equals the personality.

To become good, one needs to constantly practice being good.

The tension between work and influence, on the one hand, and family and enjoyment, on the other, settle into a sort of equilibrium that is uniquely suited to each individual. No one can or has ever had it all. And no one formula fits all.

The same happens with life. We chase wealth and success throughout our life. But as soon as we have acquired it, we have to think about what to do with it. Likewise, the acquisition of power leads us to the question of what exactly to do with that power. Truly powerful leaders have always used power to contain their power.

The journey of career and life has some purpose. It is to be happy: to give all one has, to take all one can, and to keep both in balance. When we refer to happiness, what we truly mean is a complex phenomenon called emotional well-being. To be happy is to possess a favorable emotional state.

It is this path to happiness that motivates human beings to seek a life of virtue.

Life’s biggest lessons are learnt from the smallest of creatures.

One Sunday morning, a contented man sat in his balcony. A little ant caught his eye. It was travelling from one end of the balcony to the other, carrying a leaf several times bigger than itself. He saw that the ant, when faced with impediments during its journey, paused, took a diversion and then continued towards its destination. At one point the tiny creature comes across a crack in the floor. It stops for a while and then lays the huge leaf over the crack, walks over the leaf and picks it up on the other side. The man watches this for about two hours, until the creature has reached its destination—a tiny hole in the floor. Now how could the ant carry this large leaf into the tiny hole? It simply couldn’t!

So, the minuscule thing —after all the painstaking work and the exercising of wonderful skill, after overcoming all the difficulties along the way—leaves behind the large leaf and goes home empty-handed. It is a day on which the ant learns a great lesson. Isn’t that the truth about our lives as well?

For most people, a good life is one that leads to a circle of virtue. Aristotle had said that virtue and human happiness are synonymous. He had argued that we all try to develop inner strength and virtues. Without those strengths and virtues we cannot be human.

For sure most of us wish to lead a good life. But what is the good life? Who decides it for each of us?