How can we be happy during a crisis?

October 31, 2020

We should identify moments of joy in the present was the main message of my previous post.

The COVID-19 situation has worsened since then.  Several countries have re-imposed strict measures after seeing an upsurge of new infections, hospitalizations and deaths.  This raises a question.

How can we be happy during a crisis?

Happiness and sadness both are temporary feelings. It is difficult to stay in one state for too long. Staying positive and seeking moments of joy need to be explored in all situations.

We should not feel guilty exploring happiness in a time of crisis. This does not mean undermining the gravity of the situation or not feeling the pain of others. It simply shows a positive attitude towards a situation.

Difficult situations and crises cause stress, depression and hurt. In one of my earlier posts – when you are two down – I suggested we should find ways of easing out the pressure and stress. This is necessary in order to get the best out of us.

Attitude matters a lot

Happiness is an attitude. Some people are never happy even when the have everything, whereas some are happy even when they are not sure where is their next meal going to come from. True, we choose happiness.

Take action

Sitting idle and doing nothing help no one. The attitude – I will do my best – helps a lot in dealing with the pressure or stress during difficult times such as COVID-19.  Everyone’s situation is different but each one of us can do something. Just do it, even if it is as small as doing grocery shopping for someone, talking to someone who is sick or keeping in touch with families who need help. Every such act will make you feel good and create a moment of joy for you and others. Difficult times knit communities together and create opportunities for the humanity to shine.

I would fail in my duty if I don’t reiterate our role in prevention of COVID-19. Each one of us has to practice proper hygiene and observe social distancing. Our actions will protect us, protect others and will reduce the pressure on already stretched health systems.

Be hopeful

Hope makes us take actions that bring happiness. A pregnant mother hopes she will have a healthy baby and therefore eats well, sleeps well, does her exercises and everything else possible in her control.  A student works hard hoping he will have a good result. Mother or the student will not put in their effort if they are not hopeful of a good outcome. So, let’s stay hopeful.

I have already written no matter how difficult a situation might appear, there is always a way out. Like all, I do watch the news every day but I purposely search for, and share, what are the positive trends/ successes in the COVID-19 response; and inspiring human stories of care and resilience.

It is just a matter of time that we will have a vaccine against COVID-19.  True, COVID-19 has killed a large number of people but a much larger number has recovered.

Aren’t these enough to be hopeful?


Look for the moments of joy around you, not in the future

September 29, 2020

Buddha once met a young man walking along the bank of a river. The man was smiling and looked happy. Buddha asked him the reason for his smile. He said, “I am thinking of a wonderful life,” Buddha asked again what he meant by a wonderful life.  The young man said; “One day I will be rich. I will marry a beautiful woman. I will then get a dog and come here for walks. I will enjoy the scenery.  It will be a wonderful life.” The Buddha then asked, “Haven’t you got it already?”

Let us pause and think.  Joy is around us. However, like the young man, we don’t identify it.

Joy means feeling good in a moment. It is in what we see, hear or experience in our daily life. But we often overlook it as we are busy making long term happiness goals.

How can we develop the attitude of embracing joy in our daily life?

Develop an attitude of gratitude

There is no harm in seeking more but we need to be thankful for what we already have. Remember, the time when we bought something new, for example a smart phone. How happy we were. But, as time passed by, the sense of joy diminished even if we still use it. Why? Because now we take it for granted and aspire for a different model. The lesson, therefore, is when we take things for granted, we let pass the opportunities of being joyful. Practice thankfulness every day. This will increase happiness and decrease depression.

Celebrate little successes

Just like there are milestones on highways, our life goals need to be broken into small achievable targets. Reward yourself when you achieve these targets. Achievements create joy, no matter how little they appear. Wish people well and celebrate their achievements as well.

Explore joy in your daily chores

We do a number of activities at home, at work, with friends/colleagues or alone. We like some of them and some we don’t.  Select at least one activity that you do every day and make it more enjoyable for you.  For example, I changed my coffee cup and the experience of coffee changed. Similarly, if you are into walking, try taking a different route sometime for the fun of it.  If you are into sports, play with the intention of enjoying the game rather than winning because the pressure of winning gets the pleasure out of sports. If you like solitude, find time for yourself and do what you like. If you like meeting people, meet those you like, as often as possible.

Be a source of joy to others

This is the most powerful of all techniques. Spread joy to others. Think what you can do to make someone happy. It can be a small thing like a phone call to a friend, a visit to someone, or sharing a decent joke. Let go of anger and grudges. Forgive others and seek forgiveness.

In short, Identify the moments of joy. They are around you, not in the future.


Reflect over the purpose of your life

August 17, 2020

A baby camel asked his mother, “Why do camels have humps?” The mother said, “We are desert animals. We have the humps to store water so we can survive for a long time without needing to drink.” The baby camel asked again, “Why our legs are long and our feet round?” The mother replied, “They are suited for walking long distances in the desert.”

The baby then asked, “Why are our eyelashes long?” The mother responded, “Those long thick eyelashes protect our eyes from the harsh desert sand when it blows in the wind.”

The baby thought and then said, “I see. So the hump is to store water when we are in the desert, the legs are for walking through the desert and these eye lashes protect my eyes from the desert sand.  Then why do we live in the zoo?”

This is the question we all need to ask ourselves. We all are gifted with skills and abilities that make us suitable for a specific purpose. This will help us find or rediscover the purpose of our life.

A study by the Harvard School of Public Health researchers revealed  that if you have a higher sense of purpose in life — defined as having meaning, a sense of direction and goals — you are more likely to remain healthy and physically strong as you grow older.

Even though the purpose of life is different for each one of us, one common thread that comes across from a study of life of thinkers, philosophers and religious texts is that the purpose of life should be to help others.

We can identify the purpose of our life by asking ourselves three questions.

Am I making use of my skills and abilities?

This is the first question that we must ask ourselves like the baby camel. Think about what people appreciate you for, what you like to do, read or talk about. There is a possibility that you will find something you have the ability for but you never got the time to develop it or make use of it. During COVID-19 lockdown, we saw several people doing this.

Am I doing something that make me and others happy?

We need to do something regularly that makes us happy. I have made a few suggestions in one of my earlier posts: We need to be happy a lot more. We must set up our happiness goals and work on them. The key is in creating happiness in the present rather than seeing it as a future goal.

Am I living a life that is useful for others?

This is a bigger level purpose that gives meaning to our life. Human beings are blessed with the power to think. We must make use of this to go beyond our own lives and think how can we be useful to others. This is also linked to the previous two questions. How we use our skills for the benefit of others, how we make others happy and how we contribute towards making the world a better place are key determinants of a purposeful life.

A reflection to the above might make us realize that we are not at the right place yet. May be we are meant to be doing something that we are not doing as yet. It is never too late to make a change. We don’t want to be caged in a zoo. Don’t we?

 


There is always a way out

July 31, 2020

Stephen Hawking, known for his work on relativity and black holes, when asked about his personal struggle with Motor Neuron Disease, said the following:

“I think my work and sense of humour have kept me going. When I turned 21, my expectations were reduced to zero. In this situation, it was important that I came to appreciate what I did have. Although I was unfortunate to get motor neurone disease, I have been very fortunate in almost everything else. I have been lucky to work in theoretical physics at a fascinating time, and it’s one of the few areas in which my disability was not a serious handicap. It’s also important not to become angry, no matter how difficult life may seem, because you can lose all hope if you can’t laugh at yourself and life in general.”

Hawking’s answer has great insights on finding a way out of crises and difficult times.

  • Be passionate: Our passion gets the best out of us in whatever we do. Passion keeps us focused on goals. Passion stops us from giving up. How do we identify if we are passionate about what we do? To me, it is directly linked to enthusiasm. How enthusiastically we do something shows how passionate we are.

 

  • Appreciate what we have: During difficult times such as the COVID-19, loss of jobs/livelihoods, deaths of people close to us, not getting what we want most, we tend to forget what we still have. Depression and mental illnesses increase, some even commit suicide.  We should continue to count our blessings and never lose sight of what we still have.

 

  • Learn to manage anger: We all need to learn to cope with anger. And, it can be learnt. There are experts who can offer personalized help. My only advice is to defer all decisions when we  are angry.  Taking time and coming back to the problem always helps.

 

  • Have a sense of humour: We can never underestimate the role that humour plays in keeping us healthy, happy and positive. This is much more important in times of crises such as COVID-19. It helps us cope better with stress and tension. One good laugh a day is something we all must aim for. It saves us from popping in a number of pills. Laugh and make others laugh. In one of my earlier posts – we need to be happier a lot more – I have made a few suggestions.

 

The lesson is clear: No matter how difficult a situation may appear, we have not lost everything. There is always a way out.

‘There is always a way out’ is an attitude that we all must develop. Being passionate; appreciating what we have; managing anger and frustrations; and having a sense of humour help a lot in developing this critical attitude.

 


Three ways to identify an opportunity

June 28, 2020

Years ago, two salesmen were sent by a British shoe manufacturer to Africa to investigate and report back on market potential. The first salesman reported back, “There is no potential here – nobody wears shoes.”

The second salesman reported back, “There is massive potential here – nobody wears shoes.”

A situation may be viewed in two extremely different ways – negatively or positively. This is the reason why most of us do not identify an opportunity.

How can we identify an opportunity?

  • Think positive: Our thoughts matter a lot. This is what I alluded to in my previous post. Positive thinking helps us seize the opportunities that come our way. Even in the current times of COVID-19, an unprecedented health and economic crisis, people have managed to explore opportunities. We see plenty of examples during lock downs – learning on line, sharing skills on line, working on line as well as helping others – that are truly inspirational. Even people not comfortable in using technology have managed to learn and use it. This proves the immense potential of human beings to learn and adapt.

 

  • Take action: Do what you can in a given situation, no matter how complex it is. This however happens only if we think positive. Staying positive and focused, enables us to take action whereas negativity brings in despair and inaction. No matter how strong the winds are, a skilful sailor keeps his destination in mind or changes the destination to sail towards a new horizon.

 

  • Seek help: It may be difficult to handle a complex situation alone. Rather than feeling frustrated with a problem and giving up, talk to people and seek help. Richard Branson has advised well, “ If someone offers you an amazing opportunity and you are not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later.

Together, we shall overcome COVID-19

May 31, 2020

Are we going to live with COVID-19 for ever? Has the COVID-19 caused the worst economic recession of our times? Will the life be same ever again? Will there be a second wave of COVID-19?

Allow me to first share the following story:

An Indian used to sell samosas (fried patties with potatoes filling inside). His samosas were delicious and in great demand. He would sell all he produced in a couple of hours.. He earned so much that he could send his son to a prestigious business management school.

The son returned with his degree. He advised his father to start thinking of an alternative as people have become more conscious about their health and want to avoid eating fried snacks.

The man thought about the ways of reducing the cost of production, so that he does not incur losses if there were less buyers.  First, he changed the quality of the oil he was using. After a week, he observed that there was a decline in the sale. His son’s words echoed in his mind and he thought people are actually not interested in fried potato-filled snacks. He then reduced the quantity of potatoes inside the samosas. The sale declined even further. He believed that his son was actually right. Peoples’ eating choices had changed. He made a few more similar efforts until he found that there was no sale at all. Finally, he had to shut his business.    

The answers to the COVID-19 questions and concerns that I started with must be seen in the context of this story that offers important lessons:

  • Pondering over his son’s advice, the samosa seller thought his sales were declining when actually they were not. A hypothetical situation made him worried and he ended up taking wrong decisions, one after the other.
  • The son was cautioning his father about a change in eating habits of people, and preference towards non-fried healthier snacks. The samosa seller could have tried of a healthier substitute, such as baking instead of frying. But he missed the point, and started cost saving measures that affected the quality of his product and reduced the sale.

What we think about COVID-19 is key. Of course, we have to deal with the crisis and its impact but let’s not allow the hypothetical fears overwhelm us. 

Scientists, doctors, governments, NGOs and international organizations are doing their best. Besides, there are inspiring stories of peoples’ action of kindness and support for those who are affected the most. There are already stories of flattening the COVID curve; of success; of positive effects of social distancing; and a gradual return to normalcy.

Think positive. Our thoughts matter a lot. Psychologists have suggested not to watch and share depressing news all the time. It will cause stress and affect our mental health.

Don’t feel defeated. Let’s continue to remind ourselves: Together, we shall overcome COVID-19.


COVID-19 has taught us a new way of life

April 26, 2020

Are we getting closer to win over COVID-19? Not really.

While some governments are gradually relaxing their quarantine measures, some have extended the lockdown phase. Relaxations being announced should not mislead us. Given the huge economic impact, the pressure to get the economy moving again is the main compulsion behind these decisions. New cases are being reported every day. We can’t be complacent. The risk is still around.

There are several lessons that seem to be emerging.

First, COVID-19 has reminded us about the importance of personal and public hygiene. We can break the chain of infections by continuing with good hygienic practices. We should wash hands frequently and avoid touching eyes, mouth and nose. These measures adopted in past few weeks have shown a positive impact, not just on COVID-19, but on other infectious diseases as well. Let’s stay committed to these practices.

Second, COVID-19 has revived the humanity. Social distancing has enhanced social interaction. It has shown that we can be in touch with each other and take care of each other without actually meeting in person. We are touched by the amazing acts of kindness, care, and compassion that we are seeing in this time of crisis. Distributing food parcels to the needy; doing grocery for elderly neighbours; expressing gratitude to health care workers; and setting up online support groups are just some of the many acts we see around us. People are sharing whatever they can. Let this spirit continue.

Third, we can live with less. Being homebound for over six weeks now, we have realized that our basic needs are actually very few. We can stay without shopping for clothes, perfumes, watches, and other things that we keep buying even though we may not need them. We can cut short on expenses over marriages, birthdays and anniversaries. We must do this to be able to generate resources to help those who have lost their earnings during COVID-19. Can we not use some of these savings to help others?

 

 

 

 


Five things we can do during COVID-19 quarantine

March 30, 2020

We are in the midst of a huge crisis caused by COVID-19. Quarantine. Lockdown. Interruptions in sales, production and job losses.

I felt sad reading news about a migrant worker saying, “I will die of hunger earlier than COVID-19.” Equally frustrating is to notice someone sick with the virus and unable to get a bed in intensive care unit. Scientists, leaders and philanthropists are doing what they feel is best.

But what can we – the people who have a job, all meals to eat, a house to live in, and some money in banks – do?

I will propose the following five ideas:

  1. Embrace social distancing but keep in touch with each other: One of my friends told me that her physiotherapist regularly calls her and reminds her to continue with her exercises. My friend is touched by the gesture. Online/skype /zoom calls with family, colleagues and friends are a great way to keep in touch. Talk to people. This way, all will feel less isolated.

 

  1. Applaud health care workers but follow the instructions: Health care workers are at the front of the battle, risking their own life. It is a great idea to applaud them. But this is not enough. We need to reduce the burden on them. We can do this by changing behaviours and embracing safer practices such as washing hands, wearing masks, and social distancing.

  1. Do what you can: We can all do a few things to reduce the shock on people who are suffering the most. If God has made us the source of livelihood for some like drivers, domestic help etc. we need to pay them even if they can’t come to work.  Leaving all to the mercy of governments will not work.  We can use our networks and skills to do fund raising and support the work of NGOs. It is heartening to see great acts of solidarity, support, kindness, and care on social media.

 

  1. Don’t spread fake news: Social media is full of news. A friend sent a message on WhatsApp saying “I haven’t got any message on COVID-19 in last ten minutes. Am I the only one alive? We all need to be careful. To get factual information, use credible websites such as the World Health Organization, rather than forwarding unconfirmed sensational news.

 

  1. Take care of your health: In crisis situations like this, your own health can suffer. Stocking food and groceries may be necessary but do keep the medicines you/ your family needs. Continued teleworking can be stressful. Don’t forget to do your exercises. Realizing that I was not walking as much as I normally do in my office during the first week of teleworking, I have started talking some of my phone calls while walking in my room. It helps. I feel less tired and stressed of sitting in one place.

How to institutionalize lifelong learning?

February 28, 2020

Jobs losses due to advancement in robotics and automation are causing concern to everyone. Constantly changing workplace environment demands workers to be regularly skilled and re-skilled. Experts feel the only way we can manage this change is by focusing on lifelong learning.

“Organizations learn through individuals who learn” –  Peter Senge

What are five things organizations can do?

Redefine the objective of performance appraisals:  Employers need to take a re-look at their performance appraisal system and make learning a critical objective. A forward-looking learning objective – linked to the interest and aptitude of the employees and needs of the organization – should be identified; learning paths and processes should be identified; and continuously monitored.  Organizations should award those who achieve their learning objective. In short, learning should be a key performance area.

Train managers in giving feedback: Organization can benefit a lot by offering training to their managers on how to give feedback, positive as well as negative. Feedback, if given in the right way and at the right time, can be motivating. It improves performance. It offers job satisfaction to employees and contributes to their learning.

Look at the attitude while hiring: In addition to looking at job-related experience and competencies, organizations need to hire people who have an attitude to learn, to acquire new skills and to keep pace with the changing environment.

Invest in developing skill-enhancement courses for employees: Organizations need to invest in developing courses for their employees that provide them with necessary knowledge and skills throughout their working lives. There are several online courses offered by companies such as Coursera, Amazon, Udacity etc. Universities are also embracing online and modular learning. Organizations needs to look into these and explore the option of developing some tailor made courses for their employees to enable them enhance their skills, which are critical for meeting the organizational goals.

Learn from other organizations: Even though each organization is different, there is always a possibility to learn from each other. Having a dialogue with different organizations and looking into different practices can benefit all.

 


Don’t shy from doing good even if you are bitten

January 30, 2020

Our response often depends upon the way people treat us. We get respect, we give it back; and if we receive harsh treatment, we reciprocate the same way.

However, we need to ponder if this is the right thing to do.

A Zen Master saw a scorpion drowning and decided to pull it out of the water. When he did, the scorpion stung him. Feeling the pain, the Master let go of the animal, which fell into the water and started to drown again. The Master pulled him again to save him but the scorpion stung him again. A young disciple was observing this. He asked the Master, “Every time you try to pull him out of the water, he will sting you. Why do you still do this? “
The master replied, “The nature of the scorpion is to sting but that will not change mine, which is to help.” Then, with the aid of a leaf, the Master drew the scorpion from the water and saved his life. He then told his disciple, “Do not change your nature if someone hurts you, just take precautions.”

The wisdom shared by the Zen Master is profound. We don’t need to change our nature because of others.  We must continue to help others even if we receive a scorpion-like response.  But, this is not easy.

How can we develop such an attitude?  Following tips might help:

Lower your expectations

In most cases, we get hurt when our expectations are not met.  It really helps to lower your expectations from family, friends, relatives and colleagues. We need to understand that no one is perfect. Like them the way they are, not what you would like them to be. Someone has rightly said, “Don’t blame people for disappointing you, blame yourself for expecting too much from them.”

Forgive people

If we don’t forgive people, we are the ones who suffer. Holding on to hurt, pain, resentment and anger harms us more than it harms the offender. Forgiveness helps. Life is too short to carry the burden caused by the doings of others.  I have already written a post:  If you don’t forgive,  you harm yourself.

Learn to control your anger

Ask people around you. Almost everyone would be repenting about things they have done due to anger. We need to find ways of dealing with anger.

Our response under unpleasant, painful and stressful conditions defines who we are.  The phrase – once bitten, twice shy – is good only to the extent of drawing lessons, not to stop us from doing what we believe in.