Down the ages, there has been a recurrence of three themes in human goals:
1) Children wish to live life to the full by doing everything that comes their way.
2) Young persons wish to live life to the full by doing only what they wish to do.
3) Older persons wish they had lived life to the full by achieving a perfect life.
The three statements above may seem overly simplistic. If so, they still truly reflect the bent of my own observation of life.
I have seen that children or childlike persons like to do everything for the sheer joy of the thing itself. All of us have some hobby or even passion that we enjoy in this absolute fashion, without any distracting forays into ends and means. That is why children love splashing in a mud-puddle and some people painstakingly create art out of junk.
Adults, on the other hand, might be defined by their ability for calculation. Every effort and end is measured and so is the profit and loss of every enterprise. The enjoyment of the moment is lost in ceaseless thinking of what might have been or will never be. They make choices where none are required, just to ‘prioritise’ and save time. Then, they rue the choices they made.
The worst of such thinking is when it is needlessly applied to those who enjoy doing something for the sheer joy of it. Haven’t you seen parents berating children for ‘wasting time in worthless pursuits’? I have also seen parents comforting their teenagers with that very useful statement when things turn out contrary to their expectation, ‘I told you so!’
It is not surprising that everyone grows up carrying an increasing burden of guilt where life is concerned. This burden consists of guilt from not having made the right choices, done the right things at the right time, listened to the correct advice, and at some point, the guilt changes to regret at not having lived a perfect life. Usually, regret sets in with the perception of it being too late for any remedy.
Now, are there any persons who take all the right decisions, do all the correct things at the apt moment, and achieve a perfect life? Yes, there are! Such persons, however, all live on the other side of the fence, where the grass is always greener.
Let us look at our own side of life’s fence, where the grass grows, if at all, sparsely, and interspersed by bald, dry patches of barren ground.
We must, poor souls, either eat out our hearts about the poor prospect before us, or find comfort in the little success we have. This is where science comes to the rescue of a brain infested with sentimental longings. Relativity is the remedy, here. In so far as all human experience is relative, quoting Einstein, we can be relatively happier than we actually have reason to be.
Look at our exam results, our salaries, perks and promotions, our houses, cars, bank balance and other possessions, our spouses, in-laws and children, and so on, until last, but not least, we stand before the mirror, face to face with the creator of our own destiny.
There is great satisfaction in that last phrase. It is my destiny, created by myself. It is my indelible mark on the universe, which has given its events a unique bent, marked by my presence and my actions. There is food for thought here, beyond facile smiles and tears. Relatively, it takes our identity beyond its everyday limitations, anxieties and hopes.
There is no need for envy, looking at the other side of the fence. Relatively speaking, both sides of the fence are ‘other’. The mental trick here is to achieve a fine equipoise in the act of fence-sitting.