katha-upanishad verse
(Yama said) One is good while another is pleasant. These two, serving different ends, bind men; happiness comes to him, who, of these, chooses the good; whoso chooses the pleasant forfeits the true end.  

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Imagine yourself somewhere middle of a long road. Your goal is to reach the famous and divine city, that goes by the name The Blissful City.

In this city, people are happy and satisfied with whatever resource they have. They live a simple yet extraordinarily complete life. This city is very far from you. You can only see it distinctly and somewhat recognize its beautiful welcome board. But you have to complete the journey to reach there.

You start walking toward the city but soon encounter a major problem. The roads that lead to the blissful city are not straight. It has possibly an infinite number of turns along the way (like a big maze). And probably one way to reach the city.

Luckily, you remember the directions to the city. If you try, you can easily decide which direction is correct and which one is not.

Now you confidently start walking on the correct path. Everything is going well, but then, on the way, you encounter a shiny and attractive path leading to another city named The Desire City. Though it wasn’t a correct path to walk on, you already knew it. But the path was looking promising and claimed to offer similar happiness that is found in the Blissful city.

Along with that, it seems that you need not have to walk much to reach Desire City. You can not resist this temptation and finally choose this new shiny path and start walking on it.

You walked, taking many turns after turns along the way in the hope of the desire city. But, after walking for so long, you realize that this city was nothing more than an illusion. And you have reached nowhere. The claim of happiness also turns out to be false.

You felt sad about your present situation and regret taking the wrong path earlier.

Our Choices

Probably one of the reasons why human life is the greatest in nature is because humans enjoy more freedom in life choices than any other life form on the planet. Observe your day-to-day life more carefully. From the moment you wake up in the morning, till you close your eye for sleep at night. You have to go through many decision-making processes.

Two road diverges leaving a choice

For example, in the life of a busy office worker. In the morning, when the alarm beeps, she has to decide whether to get up immediately or continue the sleep for some more time. What breakfast to have, what commute route to take to the office, what things to discuss in the morning meeting, what pending project to work on, and so on.

I admit, not everything in our life is under our control. Obviously, We can not choose to bend nature’s laws and start flying like a superman. But, still taking aside all the natural laws, which we can not change, there are significant amounts of decision-making in our life that are under our direct control.

That being said, here I ask you a few questions.

Can we choose a better life than what we are presently living?

Do we have a choice to bring positive changes in our life?

Interestingly, for the above questions, you can either have all yes or all no as answers. In this article, I will try to put forward some points, which will practically help you, not to choose the path that will end up in a miserable life.

1. Duties, Obligations and Procrastination

Recall those moments in your life, when you’re supposed to do something obvious and important, but choose to do something else.

For a student, who is supposed to be working on an assignment or do some reading from the textbook or go out to play football, but instead choose to play video games online. For an employee, who is supposed to be in touch with his client and prepare reports, but choose to surf social media. A husband, who should be planning for his wife’s upcoming birthday, but instead chooses to spend hours drinking in the pub with friends.

There is a sense of duties and obligations that is bestowed on us. We all can feel it, we all know about it. But somehow we end up in the hands of procrastination and distractions.

Procrastination may appear sweet and incredibly joyful in a short term. However, it is an evil habit with devastating long-term effects. It is not hard to understand, why it is so.

Procrastination consumes your valuable time and energy. Time, attention, and energy are heavily interrelated and are finite resources of human life, of which attention is the centerpiece. Whatever you put your attention to – takes away both of your time and energy.

Most of us stop our procrastinated work only after we have completed exhausted from it. As a result, after we are done with it, we do not have enough energy to do our actual work.  

A simple solution for this is to be in routine life. A daily routine can map your time with your important tasks miraculously. Yes, getting into a routine life is not easy. However, with consistent efforts, you will be very efficient at it and easily win over procrastination.

Also Read: How to use the Pomodoro Technique?

2. Setting Right Goals

In my primary school, my teacher asked me a question, “What do you want to be in your life?“. My honest answer back then was that I wanted to be like my father, who was a government employee.

I soon realized that my life goal was too small compared to what other kids were saying in the class. One said she wanted to be Doctor, then someone said, I wanted to be a famous actor and other extraordinary life goals started floating in the classroom, like District Collector, Engineer, Businessman, and whatnot.

Fast forward to the present time, when I am just about to cross 27 years of age, I am nowhere close to the goal I set in primary school. A similar story is with the other kids. Most of them are far away from the fancy goals they set in their schools.

The reason I mention this anecdote (which I believe is common to all) is to draw your attention to the simple point that – setting the right goal is far more important than simply setting a goal.

In the twenties and also in the early thirties, people start making money, which is good and also necessary. But again they set their goals way too high, like their starting salary should be six figures and later go on to become a millionaire. These goals are then followed by other related goals like buying a luxurious house, possessing some expensive items, and so on.

There are two extreme ways a person can set their goals. Either it is too easy or it is far more difficult for anyone to ever achieve it. For example, one of my friends has put more weight and decided to lose in it in 2-3 months.

A too-easy goal for him will be to have a 15 min walk any time of the day and retain previous old eating habits. A difficult and near to impossible goal will be to start jogging for a hours in the morning, eat only home-cooked low-fat food, an hour work-out in the evening every single day till his weight is under the desired level.

An ideal goal is neither too easy nor too difficult to achieve. Rather it should be achievable with a gradual increase in challenge. Goals aren’t meant to be on a constant term, instead, they should have some level of inherent flexibility.

3. Not to Cancer Your Mind

Your actual world is in your mind and not somewhere outside. Hence, the one who has decent control over his mind can steer his life quite comfortably in the world.

mind-thoughts

Try to think in this way, for any action, whether it leads you to desire or blissful city, the decision is first processed in your mind. Your thoughts of comparison, complaining and criticizing each leave some imprint in your mind. And with time (if not controlled), these thought processes only grow rather than fade away.

As a result, even you have the capability to fulfill your every heart’s desire, because of cancer in your mind you will still feel unhappiness.

A simple solution to keep your mind calm and free from any cancer is to practice meditation and incline toward a simple life.

4. Your Relationship With What You Own or Desire For

One of the hard-hitting truths of life is that it is finite and one day it will surely meet its end. Another beautiful way to look same truth is to recognize that every moment of your life is unique and immensely valuable.

People desire lots of things like a teenage boy’s desire for a new bicycle, a young man’s desire for a beautiful wife, a businessman’s desire for more profits, and so on.

Ask yourself a question, what do I desire right now? I am sure your mind will echo an answer.

What leads us to our miseries is not what we desire for, rather the relationship we build with it. People may experience immense pain in difficult situations of life, like losing a dear person or failures in their career paths. Here again, the true cause of pain is the attachment you established, which one finds it difficult to allow it to go.

Two students who meet the same failure in the Engineering entrance examination can take this situation completely different way. One may drown himself in the depth of depression and might commit suicide. While the other one, learning lessons from his failure, may work harder and ultimately becomes a successful person in the future.

When life itself is not permanent for each one of us, then why permanently attach yourself with a single life form, life situation, or external object. I always say to myself that this life is already offering you less time, so why not live the best way possible. And to do that you have to be experience freedom from all attachments of life.

Again, this freedom from attachment is not from the real external world, but from that mental world that we have created in our minds.

5. Ignoring Your Health

One of the easiest ways to reach the world of miseries is to ignore your health. Generally, people find talk related to health quite boring and difficult to follow.

Have a proper sleep cycle, perform daily physical exercise, eat nutritious home-cooked food, drink plenty of water, and so on. We all know about it. But since they are cumbersome to follow and make it into a habit. Most of us either partially follow them or ignore them completely.

The number of cases of mental health-related issues is staggering. Bad habits developed using technologies (like smartphones and the internet) have amplified this issue.

Special care for mental health is much needed in this present age. A healthy mind and body is a prerequisite to actually live life properly otherwise, miseries of life will keep knocking at your door.

Conclusion

What are the real causes of miseries in one’s life? Are we all in the driving seat of our life or it is completely dependent on external factors? What choices do we have? Can I do something?

A few months ago similar questions like these were floating in my mind. I was at the lowest point of my life and in an extremely poor mental state. The article presented here is a concise list of points I found to be the answers to my miseries. If I had to concise this article further to a single sentence. Then, the answer given by God Yama to Nachiketa in itself is complete (The opening slokas of this article). The choice of the true path over desires sets the pivotal point of your future experiences in your life. Such is the power of choice.

Hopes this article might have added some valuable knowledge to you. For further information related to this topic, I have two recommendations. You can watch the CGP Grey’s youtube video or Randy J. Paterson’s book on a similar topic.

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