How to decide what to do

Innumerable times would I have gotten stuck in situations where I was clueless as to how to choose between the alternatives that the life presented. The parameters to make a choice differed depending on the situation, but given the complexity involved in weighing the importance of different parameters and how different alternatives performed on them, I think a lot of choices were purely random.

Lately, I have figured out a better and less demanding method of figuring out the best way in any given situation. This figuring out is a result of reading a number of texts, especially Anita Moorjani’s articles and book. However, this method is supported by Gurbani as well.

So, let’s get started.

First of all, let me state my fundamental assumption. It is that our well-being or happiness (present or future) is the most basic criterion for any decision. In other words, we choose one alternative over the other because we believe that the chosen alternative will make us happier than the other alternative. It doesn’t mean that we never do anything for other people. We definitely do when we love other people or in other words, when our happiness is tied with the happiness of the other people.

I have observed that feeling good about ourselves and happiness are very closely linked. Rather, I can say that

You can be happy if and only if you are feeling good about yourself.

In more technical terms (borrowed from my GMAT teaching experience  😉 ), it means that

Feeling good about yourself is the necessary and the sufficient condition to your being happy.

Both of these statements imply that

  1. You cannot be happy if you are not feeling good about yourself
  2. You will be happy if you are feeling good about yourself
  3. The extent of your happiness is directly proportional to the extent of you feeling good about yourself.

What it means is that

If you want to be happy, you should make decisions that make you feel good about yourself.

But then, how do we know which decision will make us feel good about ourself?

The below three questions will help you to make such kind of decisions:

  1. Which decision would make you feel great about yourself?
  2. Which decision would make you love and respect yourself more?
  3. If someone else were in your position, which decision of that person will make you respect him/her more?

The answers from all the three questions would be the same since they are essentially asking the same thing, but depending on the situation, one question may give you a clearer answer than the others.

Usually, we believe that to be happy, we should do things that make us happy. It makes sense also. But there is a slight problem.

When we are making a decision, we look at our impulses and not pay attention to the end result of the decision. For example: let’s suppose you wake up in the morning to go for a morning walk. But as you are about to get out of your blanket, you feel that it’s much colder today. So, you feel like lying down back again. Now, you have to make a decision:

  1. follow your feeling or impulse and go back to sleep
  2. OR get up and go for the walk

If you take the decision the usual way (doing things which make you happy), it is likely that you’ll go back to sleep, preferring the feelings of immediate comfort. However, if you ask yourself that if you were reading about a person who woke up in a chilly morning, would you love/respect him more if he

  1. went back to sleep
  2. OR got up and went for the morning walk

then, I think it is likely that you’ll feel motivated to go for the walk.

Now, think about the situation: after an hour of making the decision, you could be in the one of two situations:

  1. Waking up from your sleep
  2. Coming back from the walk

In which situation would you love and respect yourself more? Wouldn’t you be happier in that situation?

I am not saying that going for the morning walk will always make you happier than going back to sleep. On the contrary, I think if a person is overly strict with himself over his morning walks to the point he feel suffocated by his own rules, then he may actually feel better by breaking the rule and continuing to sleep.

The point is that the decision doesn’t matter. I think whatever decision you take that makes you feel better about yourself will make you happier.

Let’s look at a few more examples:

  1. Situation 1: There’s a shy guy who is always afraid of public speaking. He gets an opportunity to speak in front of a crowd. He is not required to speak, but he has an opportunity to speak. If he follows his natural instincts, he’ll likely refuse to speak in front of the crowd since there is a high probability of him making a fool of himself. However, if asks himself what would make him feel great about himself, then it is likely that he’ll choose to take a risk and speak. Even if he does a bad job at speaking, given his thinking process, he would be happy about himself for taking a courageous decision.
  2. Situation 2: You are upset over some thing. Your friend calls you up to share the difficulties he is facing in the job. You are dealing with your own issues and are not in a mood to listen to anyone else’s cribbing. What would you do? Would you respect yourself more if you just hung up or if you listened patiently to him and tried to help him out? Would you feel great about yourself that even with your difficulties, you could help out a person? Or would you feel great by honoring your feeling of hanging up the phone? Whatever the answers are, I believe if you follow them, they will take you to your happier state.
  3. Situation 3: Let’s suppose there is a person who is trying to malign you at your workplace. How will you respond? If you are a meek person who wants to get out of his meekness, then you will feel better by confronting the person, rather than by avoiding him and focusing on your work. The reason is that confronting the person will mean growth for you, out of the meekness. When you’ll feel that you have overcome your weakness, you’ll feel good about yourself. On the other hand, if you are an aggressive person trying to rein in your aggression, then you may feel better by ignoring the person. So, depending on the mindset of a person, one action may make him feel better than any other action.

Since our life is the summation of all the choices and the decision we make, the key to happiness in the life is making decisions which make us happy i.e. decisions which make us feel good about ourselves.

If you go back and look at all the examples in this article, or if you reflect on your life experiences, you’ll see that the decisions that make us feel good about ourselves, in a lot of cases, are not our instinctive decisions. Instinctively, we may prefer sleeping over walking or hanging up the phone over listening to the friend’s problems; a shy guy may prefer keeping quiet over speaking in public. But such decisions do not help us feel better about ourselves over alternate decisions.

But then, why do we make such decisions? Simply, because we get driven by the instincts, and ignore the path of our feeling-good or happiness. We feel good when we listen to our heart or our conscience. The conscience is the voice of the soul, whose purpose is evolution and growth, not in terms of career or money or fame, but in terms of character. When we do things which grow our character, we feel good about ourselves. Any act that reflects any virtue (be it humility, kindness, fearlessness, compassion, selflessness etc) in its true sense grows our character.

On the other hand, when we are driven by vices such as fear, greed, lust, anger etc, we do things which make us feel bad about ourselves. No matter how much we may feel relieved by expressing our anger by hurting someone, if we look inside ourselves at that time, we’ll realise that we don’t feel good about ourselves and the relief is only temporary. Similarly, when we are driven by other vices, we get ephemeral highs of happiness, but since we don’t feel good about ourselves, it is the feeling of unhappiness and discontent that is our constant companion.

Virtues grow our character and make us feel good about ourselves and thus, make us happier. On the other hand, vices diminish our character and make us feel bad about ourselves, and thus, make us more sad. No one needs a list of vices and virtues to guide his or her life by. The voice of conscience knows these lists and guides us at all the moments. One who follows it keeps growing, and thus, leads a happy life. One who ignores it keeps falling and thus, leads a miserable life.

I suggest that you don’t just accept blindly that you feel good only when you hear and follow your voice of conscience; you can test it out in your real life.

At times, it becomes difficult to differentiate between the voice of conscience and our instincts, which can be called as the voice of our mind or the voice of our past actions. You can use the three questions listed above in this article to find out the voice of your conscience. Any decision that helps you feel great about yourself, that makes you respect yourself more, comes out of your voice of conscience.

It might add value to acknowledge here that following the voice of conscience or the voice of joy is not easy, no matter how common sense it seems to follow our joy. The voice of conscience is not the voice of the mind that plans and estimates based on the past data; it is an inner voice that only knows the future. And if you start following it, the mind will repulse it, mostly through fear. Since the path of joy is ever new, it requires us to put down all our fears aside, the fears that reside in the mind, which works on the past data and can only extrapolate the past onto the future.

Helen Kerry said,

When we do the best that we can, we never know what miracle is wrought in our life, or in the life of another.

A life lived doing the best in every moment is a life of miracles and thus, cannot be extrapolated from any past data by the mind.

The path of conscience or joy is that path where you make the best effort every second and not worry about the result. Why? Because the result will be estimated by the mind, which works only on the past data and is not aware about the path of the conscience. Since the path of conscience is completely unknown to the mind, the mind will project all the worse scenarios in the future.

Gita says,

Focus on your efforts. Don’t worry about the results.

Because if you worry about the results (which are projected by your mind), you will not be able to follow the path of conscience or joy.

The mind will ask you to follow the well-trodden path, a path that the mind knows from its past data, but this path may not lead you to happiness. The choice to choose the path is yours, every moment of your life.

Gurbani says,

Follow the Divine will that is written with you.

The divine will is the voice of the soul or the voice of the conscience that guides us every moment.

I wish that you follow your voice of conscience as much as you can and make decisions that make you more and more happier. I wish you a life filled with happiness and joy!

Please do leave your comments and feedback!

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