A day that redefined what happiness means to me

For a very long time, until very recently, I had a deep sense of “saviour complex” engrained within me. I felt a strong urge to fix everything around me. It seemed like my moral responsibility to do so. Whenever someone shared their struggles with me, I used to quickly start thinking: “how I can fix this problem?”. I have realized now that the true question really was: “how can I fix this person?”.

I have grown in an environment where solving problems earned me the highest reward and before I realized it, I started to seek that reward from everything that was a part of my life. Including people. And so, it seemed only natural to me that if someone is sharing a problem with me, they are also seeking the solution from me. And that is what I would do. I would view their problem from a very rational perspective and give them the most sound advice that I could think of. There was only one problem with this: More often than not, people share their problems not looking for a solution. Instead, they just want to have someone whom they could talk to and who would listen to them patiently without judgement. Someone with whom they can be vulnerable.

Naturally, this saviour complex always drove me to chase opportunities that would help me fix the world, solve all the problems that exist and relieve everyone of their miseries. I thought doing that would absolve me of some of the sins that I had committed in the past and make me feel really satisfied.

I followed this path for the past 5 years and I really learnt a lot along the way. I was insanely motivated to do my work on most of the days and really felt that I was making a difference. But there was always a void. Something was always missing. I tricked my mind into believing that once I have fixed all the problems in the world, that void will get filled and hence, I should keep focusing on solving more problems every day. And I kept on living my life in a way that I hardly had any time to think and reflect. On the days when I did get the time to do so, I always used to call my closest friend. A recurring theme of our discussion used to be around the meaning of life and whether we are truly happy. Our calls never ended with a clear conclusion but our discussion usually provoked a few new thoughts for both of us to mull over, only to get back to that discussion on another day, picking up where we left off.

I have tried to follow the principle of “regret minimization” at every point where I had to make a decision. The principle boils down to this:

When I am on my death bed, would I regret not doing this?

It’s quite existential but has never failed to provide me with instant clarity. And so, I tried doing a lot of random things to find that thing/work which will make me happy. I soon realized that as long as I chase happiness, hoping that I will become happy if I do this next thing, I will never be happy. We have the choice to be happy today if we want to.

However, I was not able to embody this. I had always derived a lot of my meaning and satisfaction from my work. To be frank, this was my own doing. I had ignored a crucial aspect of my life that people generally derive their meaning from: community.

I used to romanticize the idea of being the lone wolf and doing everything by myself. For me, that meant being completely responsible for my own happiness and not letting it depend on other people. But this naturally puts too much pressure on us and we, as Homo Sapiens, have evolved to be social animals. Being a part of a tribe was key to our survival.

I was seeking that from work which work is never meant to provide.

I started realizing this once the lockdown got lifted after the first wave. Meeting people in real life, having face-to-face conversations, going on treks, going for walks, having tea early morning with a friend, going to the gym — for the first time in my life, the void seemed to go away, albeit momentarily, in some of those moments. Not that these things weren’t there before COVID-19. They just never received the importance that they deserve.

Last weekend, for the first time in a very long time, I didn’t feel that void for a whole day. I was able to truly live every moment of that day. And it didn’t feature any big milestone that I had set up for myself professionally. It was all those little things, which we wrongly classify as “little”, that made the difference. I felt so grateful for merely being alive. I wanted that day to never end. I felt like I had been blessed and I had never felt that sense of euphoria. Let me tell you what that day looked like!

  • The first thing that I did once I got up was: work out. Fitness has become a key part of my life. Something that I would have never thought of, a year back. I have a completely separate post reserved for this part of my life. I have found a very clear relationship between the days where I worked out in the morning and the days where I felt super energetic for the whole day. Ever since I noticed the clear effect of working out on my mood, I have tried to prioritize it as the first thing to do when I wake it.
  • Right after my workout, I was lying on my mom’s lap as she was sitting on the sofa and caressing my hair. I am very close to my mom and she is the most important person in my life. I clearly remember the days back in college where I used to disrespect her and avoid talking to her. At that moment, when I saw her smiling with a look of satisfaction, it meant the world to me. I realized how far I had come and how precious that moment was for me.
  • I was already excited for the afternoon. I was going to meet two of my school friends, both of whom have become an important part of my life. I had met each of them individually, but the three of us hadn’t met since we got close. And it was everything that I had imagined it would be and more. It is easier to imagine the topics that we didn’t talk about compared to the ones we did. That reunion was one of the key moments of that day for me and it really set the tone for how beautiful that day eventually turned out to be. I already know that the three of us are going to do amazing things together.
  • Following the meetup, two of us went to Starbucks to fill a couple of hours before we head out to play cricket. We talked about what we want to do with our lives, with “having the freedom to do whatever we want without ever having to think about money” being the key theme of our discussion. We talked about the quality of movies made by Marvel and a dream to be a part of the creation of one of their movies someday. We soon started discussing the power of the creator economy as we surfed through some of our favourite YouTubers raking in more than a million views for almost every video within a couple of days of publishing by simply discussing TV shows, movies and reading comics. Then, he introduced me to an artist named Edward Hopper and his paintings. The overarching narrative of seeking solitude in those paintings combined with the vividness of the little details completely captivated my attention and curiosity. One of his paintings even reminded me of a similar moment in my life.
  • My friend had to leave to get ready for cricket. I had already brought my clothes with me. As I was sitting in that cafe alone, I started silently observing everything around me. That was when I started realizing that I haven’t felt that void throughout the day. For me, that was almost unbelievable. Incidentally, a song randomly popped up in my Spotify. One which I had completely forgotten. The name of the song is “Mera Jahan” from the movie “Taare Zameen Par”. At that moment, I felt something magical about the lyrics and the voice of the singer. It seemed like someone had handpicked that song for me for that precise moment when I was reflecting and feeling grateful in my personal space. The month of May was very hard for us. We had never seen so much death around us. It was hard to keep hope during that time, stuck in our homes every single day. But now, people finally had the chance to have their life back. I could see different groups of people sitting together and having a laugh, a super animated woman trying to explain some esoteric concept to her friend, couples being able to finally have that coffee and the watchman who did his job very meticulously. We were finally starting to have some of our life back.
  • Finally, the clock struck 6 and it was time to head out for playing cricket. I have been a passionate cricket lover since my childhood. I absolutely love the sport and have a whole other post in my mind dedicated to the role of cricket in my life. Although I used to watch a lot of cricket, I didn’t play the game since I graduated, until very recently. And very quickly, it has become the activity that I look forward to all week long. The best part about it is that I got to reconnect with a lot of my school friends after almost 7 years and it never felt as if we had been out of touch over all these years. That’s the most beautiful thing about school friends. Another important aspect of it is being in the moment. Throughout the week, I am always thinking about what to do next and planning for the future. This is one activity where I am always in the moment. When I am playing cricket, I am not thinking about the meaning of my life and what I need to do throughout the day. I am just focusing on the next ball. And that feeling is precious. On top of this, our team played really well that day and we won all the matches. This directly contributed to a really good night’s sleep.

That is all there was to the day. Nothing fancy. Nothing out of the ordinary. Just working out, spending time with family and friends, playing cricket and a bit of solitude. That void was gone for probably the first time in my life. It will probably take a few more days before I stop thinking about that day. That day has fundamentally changed how I think about my life and it will directly influence some of the decisions that I will take in the future. But for now, I know that trying to fix people or the world at large is not the game that I intend to play anymore. I’ll leave you with a line from the song above that I strongly resonated with.

“All I need, all I need, all I need, is to be free”
- Mera Jahan, Taare Zameen Par

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