Think about it: What makes a good life? – Rajiv Vij

A great career, financial success, a nice family, loads of friends, an active social life and exciting holidays make a good life, right? Think again. Often, I have admired the cheerfulness and tranquility of many of the security guards, cleaners and gardeners at our building. They arrive at work earlier than required, are always very willing to help and they do it with a smile. I have chatted with a couple of them at times and found their approach to life a reminder of what makes a good life.

Firstly, true quality of life is a reflection not of our standard of living but how we experience life within. Secondly, it is a measure of our level of freedom from our volatile emotional-mental states; how well we win over our frequent feelings of anxiety, fear and envy or craving for a different life. I have noticed three principles that contribute to such a good life.

1. Morality: We cannot be at peace or experience emotional freedom without a clear conscience. A high sense of moral integrity is important for a healthy inner life. Without strength of character, we can easily compromise on ‘minor’ infractions on integrity. We tell white lies, choose convenience over righteousness and assume that the end somehow justifies the means. It doesn’t!

The emotional residue of any wrongdoing stays and accumulates in our psyche and manifests itself in one negative emotion or other. For example, guilt results in anxiety, irritability and low self-esteem. Immoral conduct in business or personal life corrupts and weakens us. Choosing to do the right thing strengthens our inner being.

2. Inner compass: To experience emotional freedom, it’s important to live life on our own terms. We feel free when we align our life to our innate traits, core values and our life’s calling. We carry enormous emotional baggage when we are trying to live a life that we believe others expect us to.

One of the biggest reasons for stress in our lives is our constant propensity to compare ourselves with others. Living by our inner compass relies on feeling grateful for and at peace with who we are and our circumstances. We don’t crave for a different life and choose not to compare ourselves, our life or our progress, with others.

3. Wisdom around control: One of the factors contributing to our inner suffering is our desire to control outcomes – from advancement at work and children’s future to longevity and others’ perception of us. Being focused on goals and doing our best to reach them is healthy. However, with our high achievement-orientation, we routinely obsess about the outcomes. That significantly increases our emotional burden.

Wise people know the delicate balance between willpower and letting go. They do their best on what’s in their control and are wise enough to let go of the temptation to worry about what’s not in their control. That’s what can help us overcome our constant yearning for favorable outcomes and fully enjoy the present. It also helps us be compassionate towards ourselves, our colleagues and loved ones.

As you may notice, these principles, while not necessarily easy to live by, are great social equalizers. They are within the reach of almost anyone, irrespective of their financial or social status. That’s how some of the staff in my building are happy and peaceful and lead a good inner life. I guess, you and I can, too!

The writer is a regular contributor to the Times of India. [Courtesy: ToI]