Sunday Self-Scaler 15
3 profound life lessons from an age-old snake charmer, a perspective shattering book you NEED to read, and a tiny but powerful night habit I want you to develop.
He takes a deep puff of his beedi before continuing, “That’s what most don’t understand about happiness, kiddo” — to which 10-year-old me nods solemnly despite understanding nothing.
The other day, I was leaning on the terrace, imbibing the orange of the setting sun and the brown of a cup of coffee. Then, just like YouTube’s algorithm recommending an 8-year-old 144p meme video, my brain decides to summon this memory.
Young me and a cackling old man with tired eyes, a leathery face, betel-stained teeth, and beedi puffing mouth come into focus. We are conversing or to be more exact, he’s talking while I am listening with a blank and bored look on my face.
But looking back, I realize that what young me thought of as the eccentric droning of an aging man was actually a discourse on wisdom.
It’s the Snakes that Try to Charm Us
“Do you know how I ended up charming snakes, kiddo? I fell prey to the charming of snakes,” he says with a wistful smile.
He was the son of a rich landlord and when his dad died, a few of his father’s old “friends” and “well-wishers” flocked to him. As a naive 15-year-old, he welcomed them.
Flattery, servility, and “sincerity” soon made them his trusted confidantes. With them insisting that he needn’t bother himself with the records, accounts, and other “trivial” matters, he didn’t.
“Snakes are everywhere, kiddo, not just in forests, swamps, or deserts.”
Through a mix of Ponzi investments, record manipulations, and pure deviousness, they soon made him a pauper and disappeared — 17 years old, no education, and no family.
“Snakes are everywhere, kiddo, not just in forests, swamps, or deserts. They’ll gain your trust then bite you. Be good-natured and trustworthy but don’t expect others to be the same.” he says and I stop myself from interjecting, “But in the city I live, there aren’t any snakes.”
Be wary of the snakes.
He’s right. Trust isn’t something to bestow upon everyone you see. Not everyone is trustworthy, if everyone was, the world would be a much better place.
Be trustworthy but be careful about who you trust. Keep your eyes peeled open for red flags such as excessive flattery, over servility, and inauthenticity. Better being a bit cynical than being sorry.
There Are Only Two Options
He takes a deep draw before saying, “Left utterly ruined, I saw that there were only two options — either curse, lament and seek revenge or accept the situation and move on. I chose the latter son and I am glad I did.”.
“Acceptance gave me bliss kiddo. I’ve lived a long life, a decently good one at that. Had I instead gone hunting for them, seething with a desire for vengeance, the mental anguish would’ve killed me long ago.”
Life can hit us hard and when we find ourselves in undesirable situations, we have only two options — either change the situation or accept it if it can’t be changed.
It’s black or white. The grey of complaining, cursing, and lamenting achieves nothing.
The key to true acceptance:
“Wandering, I came upon a group of traveling snake charmers that took me in and taught me the craft. Given the alternatives of begging on the streets or doing spine-breaking work, this was a godsend.
In fact, I soon grew to sort of enjoying it. There was something thrilling about locking eyes with the cobra and swaying with intense concentration. Sure, I would have loved to lie in a palatial mansion, doing nothing with the servants running the household and sharecroppers farming my lands but I can’t anymore.
That’s just how it is. In life, you can’t always do what you want to and that’s when you should try to find enjoyment in what you do.”
We can find joy in anything and everything, even in an undesirable situation. By finding and appreciating the positives, acceptance gets easier. As Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
A Profound Truth About Happiness
“The funny thing is that when I was ruined, I assumed I would never be happy again but here I am, as happy if not happier than what I was when I was a wealthy landlord’s son.”
A stark observation indeed, one that most of us fail to make. We chase external things like money, fame, power, sex, etc. to achieve happiness but all we are doing is running on the hedonistic treadmill.
“We chase the spikes instead of trying to elevate the baseline.”
Take a pair of twins and let’s say that one of them wins a million dollars in a lottery while the other loses a leg in an accident. How different do you think their happiness levels would be a year later?
Exactly the same. Jean-Jacques Rousseau explains it beautifully:
“Since these conveniences by becoming habitual had almost entirely ceased to be enjoyable, and at the same time degenerated into true needs, it became much more cruel to be deprived of them than to possess them was sweet, and men were unhappy to lose them without being happy to possess them.”
Happiness is a state and external good or bad things can only cause temporary spikes or dips in our happiness.
This is where we are wrong about happiness — we run on the hedonistic treadmill or in other words, chase the spikes instead of trying to elevate the baseline.
How to elevate the baseline:
“It’s all about the way you look at things kiddo. There are positives in everything, you just need to look hard. Take my present life for instance. I enjoy my craft, the people watching enjoy it and express their appreciation by giving me some money.
“There are positives in everything, you just need to look hard.”
It ain’t much, just enough for 3 small meals, but it’s meaningful, much more meaningful than the money I would have earned as a landlord by leeching off the efforts of the sharecroppers.”
He takes a deep puff of his beedi before continuing, “That’s what most don’t understand about happiness, kiddo.”
Yes, finding meaning is the answer. It’s widely believed that the will to meaning is the primary driving force in us human beings. So happiness is a direct side effect of finding meaning in everything we do.
A few hours of binge-watching a TV series might be much more pleasurable than say writing but the latter makes me much happier.
“So happiness is a direct side effect of finding meaning in everything we do.”
I don’t know where he is or even if he is alive now but his discourse is something I am unlikely to forget any time soon. Here are the three lessons from his discourse or rather from my memory of the discourse:
Be wary of the snakes. Be trustworthy but be careful about who you trust. There are snakes lurking around every corner.
In every situation, there are only two options — either change it or accept it if you can’t change it. For true acceptance, strive to find and appreciate the positives in the situation.
Stop running on the hedonistic treadmill. Happiness is internal, not external, and a state, not a feeling. So stop chasing happiness in external things like money, sex, power, etc. For happiness to ensue, adopt a positive perception of life and strive to find meaning in everything you do.'
A Perspective Shattering Book You NEED to Read
As a fiction lover, I am always immersed in some mystery or fantasy book. But the other day, having run out of fiction on my Kindle, I reopened a book I had paused a few weeks ago.
And now I am UNABLE to set it down - the mindblowingness of it even made me lose quite some sleep last night. The book I am talking about is The Beginning Of Infinity: Explanations that transform the world by David Deutsch.
This book is hard, really hard to read - every page makes me do a double-take and reread it. The ideas are so deep and the things we axiomatically take for granted such as the Sun rising in the East are challenged that it will need some mental chewing.
This will easily be the most thought-provoking book you’ll ever read. I am barely 10% in but I am in no hurry - I want to properly digest the ideas, not race through the book.
A Tiny but Powerful Night Habit
We never seem to have enough time, do we? No wonder more than 60% of us don’t finish even half the things on our ToDo lists.
But the problem isn’t the lack of time - but overcommitment and the lack of prioritization.
So what I want you to do is - every night before bed, mentally decide 3 things, just 3 things to achieve at any cost the next day.
3 I’ve found to be my sweet spot - 5, 7, or 10 ToDo items is overcommitting whereas 2 is just being lazy.
Do this every night and let me know how it turns out. Every single person I have recommended this has reaped amazing results.
I hope you do the same.