Kids, Dogs and The Truth About Life

Kids, Dogs and The Truth About Life

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kids and dogsMY heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began,
So is it now I am a man,
So be it when I shall grow old
Or let me die!
The child is father of the man:
And I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety
– William Wordsworth

“What is happiness?”

“How does one become happy?”

I believe no other question has been more thought about, discussed, debated and disagreed upon in human history than the two I mention above. Over the years I have heard many interpretations of what consists of ‘happiness’ in one’s life. While they did resemble some sort of an answer, it always felt like I was in the presence of some pre-historic witch doctor whose language was hard to understand even when he seemed to speak words I was familiar with.

‘Happiness’ was to be defined as clearly as ‘Love,’ which is abstract and obscure even today. Happiness was an emotion that could be felt but never explained. It was vague, mystic and remained that way for the high priests of worldly wisdom and intellectual superiority. I have a problem with that. I personally don’t believe when our great-great-forefathers coined the word ‘happiness’, they were either vague, mystic or ambivalent about it.

In my personal opinion one of the greatest disasters in our present culture is the ambivalence words have come to have. The absolute irreverence for accuracy in communication is appalling. I have said this before and I will say it again – we live an age of approximates. Approximates in terms of emotional and intellectual truths. We do not want nor seek exactitude in anything. Yet the truth is, reality is precise. It is concrete. Non-negotiable. An apple is an apple. A bird is a bird. A tree is a tree. They are not semblances of what they are said to be. They are what they are. Completely. Truly. Absolutely.

If 10 million people today say, “I am happy,” it seems to me that they would all be meaning different things. That is simply insane. How can we communicate with one another if the meaning of words became subjective. How can I speak with you, or you with me, if we decided that the words we speak can mean anything that we want them to. That is preposterous. If I say pineapple and you understand it for an apple, we will have chaos on our hands. Yet it goes on. The arbitrary dilution of meaning words carry in our world. It hinders us from understanding ourselves. From understanding the world around us. From engaging in life truthfully and meaningfully. One reason why, happiness is still a chimera in most lives.

I have wanted to be happy. Just like you do. The only problem was I did not know how to be happy because I did not know what it was and hence how to consciously seek it. Happiness was like everything else in life. Something that happened to me in spite of myself. I had no control over it. Yet I knew that life was not a random procession of undefinable, unrelated events or emotions. Happiness was to be acquired, consciously. Like one seeks knowledge. They are not automatically granted to one.

I know that happiness is not what those witch doctors spoke of it. It is not some paragraphs quoted verbatim from popular self-help books. It is neither vague nor mystic. It’s not a religious eventuality or a philosophical mirage. It is concrete and like all concrete things in our world, definable and achievable if we are willing to work for it. It is not a gift. It is not a miracle. It is not magic.

Surprisingly, I have learned about this fundamental and essential truth of life not from books I have read or the men I have met. I have learned it from those who seem to be most happy in life – kids and dogs. They don’t seem to be confused about the concept at all. Their lives are goal oriented and their only goal is happiness. We claim so about our lives too but mostly seem to be working against everything that could and would make us happy.

Today I want to share a few things that my canine and kid friends have taught me. I am grateful for that.

[1] Be Loyal To Life

Life is nothing but a conscious pursuit of happiness. Happiness is the supreme value. (A value is that which one acts to gain and/or keep. A value is an object of action. In this sense we can say that everyone pursues values. All of us do what we do to find and keep happiness.) Kids and dogs seem to do this naturally. Their everyday life is nothing but a pursuit of happiness. They are aware of what or who makes them the happiest and let that emotion guide their actions. In other words, they are extremely loyal to happiness.

For example, if someone or something other than their parents/owners makes them happier, they will not hesitate in spending more time with that other person or thing. The rules of our society don’t stop them from pursuing their happiness. They don’t wonder if it is OK to openly show their appreciation and love for the company of that someone or something even when social dictates rule against it.

If and when they spend time with you, they do so only because of themselves. Only because of their happiness. Their happiness is the touchstone with which they evaluate their relationship with the world around them. Nothing else, except force and fear, will make they betray that truth. Kids and dogs do not live in a world where ‘I have to’ exists. Their lives are driven by one truth, and that is ‘I want to.’

[2] Live In The Moment

I am yet to see a kid or dog that held grudges or ingratiated itself to someone they did not like to gain something tomorrow. Yesterday and tomorrow do not exist for them. Hence it has no significance and no control over them. They live in the moment. Their responses are to the here and now. They respond to Life, not to a memory or a fantasy. Not sharing their mind and heart with a past that is no more and a future that isn’t yet makes them fully available to moment that is. And that is what is called living life to the fullest. Their responses are an answer to the reality that exists – the moment that they live. Their lives are not reactions to figments of their imagination. ‘What was’ and ‘what will be’ do no exist for them. The live for ‘what is.’

[3] Be True To Life

Being true to life means not practising artificial responses to the reality that is. In simple terms, do not pretend. Kids and dogs show us what they feel. Not what you want them to feel or what you expect them to feel. The don’t try to be someone else to please you. If they don’t like a particular kind of food, they don’t eat it to make you happy. If they don’t like a toy or biscuit, no matter how expensive it is or where it was made or who bought it, they won’t waste their time on it. If something doesn’t give them pleasure, they move on to whatever that does. They don’t corrupt reality. They don’t change it to fit your needs or wants. They accept it as it is and react accordingly. Your emotions are not their reality. (By the way, emotions are personal and only a response to reality. They are not reality itself. They are subjective, varying from individual to individual.) Kids and dogs, they remain true to themselves by being true to Life.

In other words, they are emotionally and intellectually honest. For them, what is is. Hence they are who they are and not who you want them to be. They are free of your emotional demands or needs.

[4] Do Not Try To Control

Control is our need to alter reality to fit our expectations. It is one of the main reasons for unhappiness among humans. An individual cannot change another. Not in any real sense of the word. Yet he or she tries to. With love, with fear, with force. Knowingly and unknowingly. In love, we speak of their best interests. When we want to use fear as a weapon to control we threaten them with consequences. We use physical, financial, intellectual and emotional force to control. Somehow we have come to believe that if only people behaved the way we expect them to we would be happy. Of course, we never doubt that they would be happy too. Yet it is an illusion. Control does not exist. Even a slave who is in physical subjugation does not give in spiritually to his master. No man or woman can. It is against their nature.

Even the wise ones in us want the world to fit into their view of it. Albeit, secretly. When we fail, we get angry, frustrated, unhappy.

Kids and dogs don’t seem to have that need. No kid or dog tries to change its parent or owner or any one else for that matter. Their happiness is what keeps them alive to life. If you are capable of giving them joy, and you do, they will enjoy your company. If not, they will find someone who does make them happy. Their relationship with you is free of ‘need.’ There is no fear or force. There is no manipulation. The love they offer you is not something they use to get something from you. It is their response to the joy you give them. They don’t try to make you better parents, better owners or better humans. That responsibility is left entirely to you. Your life is your business. They understand it better than we do.

[5] Have A Self-sufficient Ego

An insufficient ego breeds insecurity. And insecurity breeds fear. Fear does not allow happiness. So an insufficient ego can only derive happiness from anything or anyone who abates it. You have to tell them how wonderful they are, how beautiful, how intelligent, etc., to make them happy. They don’t derive happiness from engaging in a pleasurable activity with you. Because the activity as such does not mend their broken self image. Such a happiness is neither real nor lasting. It is reactive and holds other people or things responsible for it. What it is is not happiness, but a desperate need for validation. The moment the external stimuli is taken off, the very same ego will go back to its permanent insufficient stage and either get angry and hurt or just wallow in self-pity, depending on the personality of the individual. People with insufficient egos hold other people and things responsible for their emotions. They never learn to have a healthy relationship with themselves and hence with the world around them.

Kids and dogs don’t seem to have such a problem. Their love is never an emotional need. Hence it sets no demands on you. It is a response to your ability to give them happiness. You play with them, they are happy. You tell them they are beautiful a hundred times, they don’t care. Simple.

Since they are NOT seeking validation for their being from you, your inability to love them is never held against you. The fact is, it doesn’t bother them at all. They never get sad because you do not love them. Their sadness is not a response to lovelessness in their life. [Lovelessness in one’s life is equated to one’s personal worthlessness in adult world. We cry not for the absence of love but because the extreme pain, shame and guilt the feelings of worthlessness create in us. That is a conditioned response.]

Dogs and kids become sad when they are not happy. Elementary, isn’t it? Their responses are to reality. Not to words. You hit them, they feel pain, they cry. You scream at them, they get scared, they cry. They don’t cry because they think you don’t love them. Likewise, you hold them close to your heart and tell them I love you, they instinctively feel the warmth of your body and respond appropriately. The word ‘love,’ no matter uttered in what language, means nothing to them. But what you do to show it does.

The best part of having an self-sufficient ego is that they will never indulge in emotional blackmail, something I personally abhor. That is, they will never hold your love for them against yourself to gain something. Most of us grown ups do that. And every time I see someone engaging in this worst kind of behavior, I feel sick to my core. Only someone with an insufficient ego can indulge, be depraved enough to indulge in emotional blackmail. It stems from their desperate need to feel un-broken. So they turn every possible emotional transaction with you into an opportunity to validate their being. They will wait for you to call them first, they will sulk if you spend a minute longer with their friend, they will not speak with you for turning up late for dinner, so on and so forth. They never learn to deal with emotional and intellectual maturity. (Honestly speaking, such people can be a real drain on your time, energy and happiness)

Look at a kid or a dog that loves you. If you walk into your house, and he or she is there, they won’t sit in a corner waiting for you to come to them. They will jump up in glee and run up to you. The reason is, they are not making sure you love them. They don’t want validation from you. They are happy to show you how happy they are to see you. Their love is not a search for fixing their broken selves. They don’t use love as medication or therapy. Love is a pleasurable emotion and they just enjoy it. It is an expression of life. A boundless energy that makes them want to go on and on and on.

[6] Be Responsible For Your Own Happiness

If you haven’t noticed yet, go ahead and look now. Kids and dogs don’t wait for you to make them happy. They are self-reliant when it comes to the fundamental need of life. They seek and find their own means to be happy. You are only one of the many people and things that they derive happiness from. If you are incapable of offering them joy, they don’t sulk. They don’t hold it against you. They just go and find other things and people. I am amazed at their dedication to their own happiness. They are not passive but active participants in their lives.

[7] Hold On To Your Innocence

Kids and dogs live in benevolent world. They start out by trusting you and the world they live in. They are unafraid of the unknown, be it people, places or things. Their only teacher is experience. If they have bad experiences, they avoid that which makes them feel bad. A kid won’t touch a hot plate twice. A dog won’t try rotten food twice. This trust with which they face the world makes them fearless. It helps them build instant relationships and opens up the whole world to them. Their only condition being, does this thing or person make me happy? Innocence, I believe, is a value to be cherished. Once lost, it is never to be regained. Never.

[8] Live Without Prejudice

Kids and dogs don’t care if you are black, white, rich, poor, young, old, beautiful, ugly, politician, priest, beggar or beauty pageant winner. If they are happy with you, that’s all that counts. Lack of prejudice allows them to respond naturally to every single opportunity for happiness without hesitation, without thinking twice. It makes their life richer. It gives them the advantage of an ‘open-mind’ and soul. They never live inside self-created prisons. A mind and heart that is not restrained by the silly and superfluous gives them absolute freedom to explore and enjoy life. Kids and dogs, they are free in the true sense of the word.

[9] Don’t Lose Your Sense Of Wonder

Boredom is often cited as the reason for a dull life. Yet kids and dogs never seem to have a dull moment in their lives. I believe it is because they are ever curious. They are curious about everything around them. They snoop around everywhere. The world is an exciting place for them to live because it holds mysteries and magic for them. It hides unexplored treasures. Life, for them, is an adventure. And adventures are never boring. They are never dull. The unknown captivates those who seek with their mind and soul. I don’t believe there is a dog or a child that wakes up groggy in the morning and thinks to itself, ‘Holy Crap!! Another Day.’ They get up and get going – its time for fun and games. I am yet to read about a dog or child that suffered from depression either.

If we were to treat ourselves like a child does and each other like children do, I believe we would have lasting, healthier relationships that offer joy and fulfilment. We would be engaging with life in a much more exciting and meaningful way. We would be living a full life.

If I have to sum up what I understand, I will say that if you want to be happy, remember three things. Follow your heart. Stay true to yourself and life. Live in the moment.

There is one more thing I have to say before bidding you farewell today. Something that I want to say. Because I am afraid. I am afraid that in our search for happiness, one of the first victims are our children. I am afraid to think what happens to the them in the name of love. In the name of discipline. In the name of a future their parents dream of. I know that parents hold great power in their hands. And power without understanding is dangerous. It destroys quicker than it can create. Creation demands conscious thought. Destruction is mindless.

I am afraid of mindlessness. Children have nothing to protect themselves against mindless adults. Adults who punish them for following their hearts. Adults who teach them to be afraid of being who they are. Adults who take away their happiness by giving them only the grown-up version of it. I know that gradually most children will give in and give up. I can see their egos shrivel and die. I can see them grow into automated robots without a mind or soul. I can see them learn to destroy what is best in them – their own self. Most of the parent’s will never even know that they have become their children’s worst enemy. By loving them the way you do. For them, your version of love may be the cup of poison Aristotle drank.

Ajit Menon

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