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How to Succeed in Life? #370

What is Success? What brings us Happiness? And once we know what it is, then how to succeed? We begin the new year 2023 with an honest look at these questions.

Photo by Michael Dam / Unsplash
Woman smiling in flower field
Photo by Allef Vinicius / Unsplash
“You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.” - Albert Camus

As the cold mingles into even more colder temperatures, an arbitrary date decides a new turn of life.  It has no significance with respect to either the weather or an awakening of sorts.

Just a date.

2023 is here.  The New Year.

Wishing you and your own a wonderful year that will bring happiness and well-being.  And success.

There are many motivational speakers who give us all insight into how to succeed.

So what will be new that we from Drishtikone bring to you?

Nothing. And everything.

We will go deep into the human being and look at the real face of success.

And, that is one thing that no motivational speaker is even willing to stare into.

We will.

It will be nothing new because what we are going to check out will be someone who has been with you all along.

Meanwhile, here is a poem by the celebrated Hindi poet, Ramdhari Singh Dinkar - titled "Nav Varsh".  Or New year.

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Yeh Navvarsh hamein swikar nahin
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/1:52

With that let's get started on the first episode of the Drishtikone Newsletter.


Deaths of Despair

Dr. Sanjay Gupta looked at one of the most unlikely issues.  Someone that no one talks about.

With rare exceptions, life expectancy has been on the rise in the US: it was 47 years in 1900, 68 years in 1950, and by 2019 it had risen to nearly 79 years. But it fell to 77 in 2020 and dropped further, to just over 76, in 2021. That’s the largest decrease over a two-year span since the 1920s. (Source: Why life expectancy in the US is falling / Harvard Health)

So let us put it so it can sink in - the fall in the life expectancy of Americans in 2020 and 2021 was the biggest two-year decline in nearly 100 years! (Source: NYT)

Mortality is increasing in the US rapidly and deaths amongst US non-Hispanic Whites when compared to the figures in other White majority nations show a remarkable situation.  The American White population is in the most unfortunate situation among all the developed white-majority countries.

Source: Understanding the role of despair in America’s opioid crisis / Brookings

Keeping the COVID impact aside, what Dr. Gupta found was startling.  There was a spate of self-inflicted deaths.  He called it:

deaths of despair

The causes were drug overdose, chronic liver disease, and suicide.

A toxic, all-pervasive stress prevalent in society is the biggest killer.  

To better understand this issue, here are a couple of facts: (Minnesota Department of Health)

  1. The US has only 4.4% of the world’s population, and yet it consumes over 80% of the world’s opioids
  2. Americans consume 99% percent of the global supply of hydrocodone.  An opioid and a powerful painkiller

Stress.  That is the biggest killer of Americans.

Another factoid - "Over 1 million Americans died from suicide or drug or alcohol-related deaths from 2006-15, with 127,500 in 2015"

We are talking about a big deal here.

Stanford University neurobiologist Robert Sapolsky has been trying to understand the stress and its reasons by looking at the most unexpected subjects.

Baboons in Kenya.

His insight was very interesting.

Social rank can cause stress, especially where rankings are unstable and people are jockeying for position. But social rank is not as important as social context. What patterns of social affiliation do you have? How often do you groom, how often does somebody groom you? How often do you sit in contact and play with kids?  What’s clear by now is if you have a choice between being a high-ranking baboon or a socially affiliated one, the latter is definitely the one that is going to lead to a healthier, longer life. That’s the baboon we want to be—not the one with power, but the one with friends, neighbors, and family. (Source: How to Relieve Stress / Greater Good Magazine, Berkeley)

If you look at it, in the end, three factors give stress its potency.

  1. lack of control
  2. lack of predictability
  3. lack of social support

The power and control over the lives of the Americans have shifted unprecedently out of people's own hands.  

Into the hands of cold-hearted greedy politicians, profit-pandering businesses, and geopolitical games.

As the manufacturing jobs left the American hinterland for China, out-of-job families and lower avenues of employment pushed people to opioids to relieve pain.  And, that is where the pharmaceutical companies and the drug dealers were not found wanting.

The term “deaths of despair,” meanwhile, suggests an economic or social crisis rather than a health one. It is all three, and it is both demand and supply driven. Since the 1970s, the decline in manufacturing has hit particular regions and communities much more than others. As Justin Pierce and Peter Schott show, the mortality crisis hit places with industries where Chinese competition increased most intensely. More generally, it reflects an increasing trend of automation replacing low-skill jobs. The same communities that saw pronounced declines in employment also experienced decreases in marriage rates, increases in the percentage of prime-aged males out of the labor force, higher rates of reported pain, and higher opioid prescription rates. The latter two trends relate in part to the toll that manufacturing and mining jobs take on workers’ health. Higher levels of reported pain and related opioid use are also due to strategic supply strategies, first by the pharmaceutical industry and subsequently by drug traffickers. The outcome was literally a perfect storm. (Source: Understanding the role of despair in America’s opioid crisis / Brookings)

As the families fell apart, so did the social structures and relationships.  There was no one to be with.  No one to fall back on.  Everyone was for him or herself.

It was a perfect storm for the American population specifically in middle America.

A population that no one even cared to look at.

In 2018, French sociologist Christophe Guilluy wrote a seminal and insightful article in "The Guardian".

Source: France is deeply fractured. Gilets jaunes are just a symptom / The Guardian

The two forces - Globalization increasing average wealth in Western countries Vs Manufacturing jobs moving out creating extreme income inequalities - were working to push the West towards a place that would lead to unintended consequences.

Political polarization is extreme is rampant and increasing.

Feeling disrespected by the elites and betrayed by those to whom they long had been loyal, large elements of the working class found somewhere else to go — new parties such as AfD in Germany, National Rally in France, Lega in Italy — and new leaders such as former President Donald Trump, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the United Kingdom’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who responded to these voters’ economic and cultural alienation. (Source: "Leftist political parties abandoned the working class for globalization"/ The Hill)

The Left-wing parties or politicians hitherto aligned with the unions were no longer the go-to saviors of the poor and the working class.  The extreme right parties filled that gap.

Who could have thought that lack of control over their lives, predictability of what happened to them, and disappearing social structures would tear Western societies apart?

Unhappy and miserable societies even when they are "wealthy" at the overall level could break more easily than the ones that are poor and weak.

Success, therefore, is not just an individual phenomenon. Its consistent absence from a substantial population could break societies!

It is for this reason that the success and well-being of people are central to a living society.

So let us understand, what success and well-being really are and how one can achieve them.  For the good of society and the world.

A Life of Health and Well-being - predictors and causes

Grant & Glueck studies were done at Harvard.  These studies tracked the well-being - emotional and physical - of two groups: Harvard grads and people from the poor strata in Boston (268 male graduates from Harvard, as well as 456 poor men growing up in Boston from 1939 to 2014).  The researchers did many tests - brain scans, blood samples, self-reported surveys, and interactions with these men - to get to their conclusions.  

Source: Adult Development Study / Harvard

Their verdict:

Close relationships are critical to a person's well-being. Loneliness or inadequate relationships can hurt people's lives.

In another study, researchers at Brigham Young University found that social isolation can increase the incidence of premature death by a whopping 50%! (Source)

Isolation can break a person, a family, and therefore a society apart.

Turning Isolation and its impact on its head - the Spiritual Way

Given all this - is there any society that lends itself to the well-being of an individual and therefore that society in general as a matter of policy?

Yes.  Bhutan.  

It was King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, the Fourth King of Bhutan in the early 1970s who first questioned - rightly - the ability of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to ensure the happiness of the population.  That led to the promulgation of the concept of Gross National Happiness (GNH).  If society as a whole was happy, then that meant it was developing.  

if the government cannot create happiness for its people, then there is no purpose for the government to exist (Bhutan's ancient legal code of 1629)

Development, after all, was not in the material things, but in the joyful nature of the people in any country.  Which certainly has not happened in the US at least.

Four pillars were identified for the GNH measurement.

  • fair and sustainable socio-economic development;
  • conservation and promotion of a vibrant culture;
  • environmental protection; and
  • good governance

With these four pillars and nine domains, the GNH indicator was calculated.

Source: Gross National Happiness Center Website of Bhutan

When Bhutan became a democracy in 2008, Article 9 of the Bhutanese Constitution clearly enunciated the need for GNH to remain central to the objectives of the government in power.

“The State shall strive to promote those conditions that will enable the pursuit of Gross National Happiness.”

In a world where politicians are bought and businessmen or the intelligence agencies of the adversaries who buy them are greedy, ruthless, and diabolical; Bhutan is one country where people's happiness still matters.

It seems there were 12,000 Buddhist monks in Bhutan in 1980 (Source: Nepal and Bhutan: Country Studies).  The population now is around 780k.  That is something like 2% of the population are monks.  Not religious or believers.  

But monks.

They have given up society and their families and are working hard to delve deeper inside to search for the truth.

Monks, by design, are without any relationships.  They move away from family life, eschew material life and intimacy, and dedicate themselves to personal liberation or Nirvana.

Here is something to think about then -

What in the West - Isolation and loneliness - is the single most important reason for stress and "deaths of despair" has been turned on its head in the Eastern framework and has become the entry point to a life of bliss.

That is what we need to fully grasp about the different lenses that Western studies use versus what the Eastern spiritual practices have long discarded as irrelevant to social well-being.

The only difference in one society - clearly the inferior one in terms of things that matter - is that it has created the Harvards that entitle its 'studies' to be the only truth that is out there.  Whatever the other societies come up with, however profound, is brushed aside as pedestrian.

What these studies are really true about are the Baboons.  Or Humans who have not yet empowered their consciousness beyond the wherewithal of the earlier primates anyway.

Hope, Action, and Karma - Why Hope is Not Worth it

One of the worst inventions of mankind, specifically the Middle Eastern/Western belief systems - has been a god that "gives".  And "takes away".

Because, while the "taking away" power of this entity (which has never been found anywhere as far as the Hubble telescope can see) is to create punitive ways for the people in power to subjugate people; it is the "giving" power that has made people weak, hallucinatory and open to manipulation.

Hope is a direct consequence of a "god that gives".  

If there was no "giving god", the very idea of hope would not have arisen.  

For, what is hope really?  

That you are in such a situation that whatever you have planned to do or are capable of doing will not improve your situation and you are 'hoping' that some extraneous entity will suddenly and in unexpected ways will change things even when you are not sure you really 'deserve' it.  

Except for the fact that you 'prayed' to or (in your calculative mind) 'made that god happy'.

It's deal-making at its worst.  

Because you have a pandering and insecure god who can be swayed by promises of a few bucks or empty praise sitting in the chair of a 'giver'.  

What even a 10-year kid can see through as complete falsehood and insincerity is supposed to work on an entity that has supposedly created everything!

If that isn't the work of hallucinatory minds, one does not know what can be.

So let us take a quick and important lesson in growing up.

You are it - a lesson in responsibility

In the celebrated process that Sri Krishna took his disciple Arjun through for his enlightenment, he shared one verse that is the most repeated and yet, the most misunderstood.  

Let us look at it.

कर्मण्येवाधिकारस्ते मा फलेषु कदाचन |
मा कर्मफलहेतुर्भूर्मा ते सङ्गोऽस्त्वकर्मणि || 47 ||

karmaṇy-evādhikāras te mā phaleṣhu kadāchana
mā karma-phala-hetur bhūr mā te saṅgo ’stvakarmaṇi

karmaṇi - karma or action; eva - only; adhikāraḥ - right;  te—your; —not; phaleṣhu—in the fruits; kadāchana—at any time; —never; karma-phala—consequences of actions; hetuḥ—cause; bhūḥ—be; —not; te—your; saṅgaḥ—involved / attachment; astu—must be; akarmaṇi—in inaction

Your right (within the area of influence) is only in performing an action (which can be in the realms of body, mind, emotion, and energy).  The consequences of those actions are not within your right/entitlement/area of influence.  So never perform your actions for the consequences or fruits that you think they will bring.  Nor should you be attached or wound up in those imagined fruits of your actions.

So the question is why should one only remain focused on the action and not have any entitlement to the result?

What if I want to do some good in this world?  Shouldn't that be something that one should focus on? Some altruism or doing good for someone?

If one is so full of himself that logic abandons him, then this kind of megalomania may be justified.  But let us put it to a bit of logical test.

When you say you want to "do good", what are you really saying?  I mean REALLY saying?

That I want to do an ‘Action’ that will yield a ‘Good Result.’  Just see that Good is not the adjective for Action, but the Result.

Action is colorless.

Those who assume they are doing Good, are also assuming that their Action will necessarily and absolutely give a Good Result.  Good as defined by them!

Playing God, isn’t it?

You can just “Do”.  Not “Do Good.”

Anyone who says the latter is either delusional believing he is God or a scoundrel.

Most of the moral busybodies and aspiring do-gooders are one of these.

Those who take up  “Doing Good” as a business are not delusional.  They are scoundrels.  For, they will invent misery.  And work to address it.

More importantly, they will invent a misery that pays.

You see, every misery is a power tool.  So those who are in the business of power, use certain kinds of miseries to create outraged masses who can be unleashed on adversaries.

And who to help in selling and addressing those miseries than the moral busybodies?  The “Doing Good” scoundrels.

These moral busybodies are the religious leaders and the faith-peddling pastors and mullahs.

Whether you can do good or bad is not within your right to decide.  It is the final vector of every action within the sphere of your existence - the society, the family, the world, the different actors, and the invisible but real actors (like say a virus).

It is a consequence.

Not a result.  For result needs a judge.

Just as when you throw the ball up, its trajectory is decided by (a consequence) the various forces at work - your action of throwing, gravity, air friction, wind, etc.  It is not a result of 'someone' directing it somewhere.

There is no 'someone' involved.

Now, we will turn to another remarkable conversation between a Guru (Sage Vashisht) and a Disciple (Sri Ram).

Fate or divine dispensation is merely a convention which has come to be regarded as truth by being repeatedly declared to be true. If this god or fate is truly the ordainer of everything in this world, of what meaning is any action (even like bathing, speaking, or giving), and whom should one teach at all? No. In this world, except a corpse, everything is active and such activity yields its appropriate result. No one has ever realized the existence of fate or divine dispensation.

The fact is that there is no 'interventionist force' to dispense anything.

No one has ever realized the existence of fate or divine dispensation.  

Anyone who says they have are merely repeating things that they have been brainwashed into believing by the very moral busybodies we talked about earlier!

Vasistha's Yoga and Bhagwad Gita

So is hope - that sneaking prayer that you get something that you are sure you don't deserve on the merits of your actions - that useless a thing when it comes to your life's survival and success?

Let us look at it in a more contemporary example.

The Stockdale Paradox

One is often faced with situations that seem impossible.  Some snake oil selling “Positive Thinking” experts almost suggest avoiding even seeing the difficulties in the eye.  But is that the right way to handle things?

In an interesting story related by Vice Admiral James Stockdale to Jim Collins in his book Good to Great, Stockdale tells of how he and fellow prisoners were held up in the so-called Hanoi Hilton.  Stockdale had created a way for the prisoners to interact with each other so their morale and sense of being alone and isolated could be reduced.

Stockdale shared his secret of how he survived and came through that entire captivity and torture.  It was his ability to never lose faith at the end of the story!

Source: Stockdale Paradox: Why confronting reality is vital to success / BigThink

Dreams and optimism are great and fine.  But losing touch with reality and hard facts is damning!  In the end, it is not optimism that succeeds, but resilience.

“I am in trouble”, is one way to look at things.  “I see no trouble, things are great” is another way to look at things.  “I am in trouble, but I will prevail in the end!” is the way of resilience.

Jim Collins also calls it "confronting the brutal reality.'

Isn't facing the irrelevance of a 'fate or divine dispensation' - just that?

You and you alone are the designer and architect of what happens to you.

There is no one involved.

You are your own responsibility.

Loneliness and Responsibility

So, if you are your own responsibility because no one is coming to help - god or what/whoever you conjure up as your savior - then what does it say about your need to face your loneliness?

Running away from your own self - for loneliness is just another way to say being with yourself - leads to disease and disaster.  For, if you cannot even stand yourself, then who else can you really work with?

In that state, you are a walking disaster.

Those who commit suicide or consume this planet's almost entire inventory of opioids or painkillers are the folks who cannot bear to face themselves.

Humans have lost themselves in the "pursuit of happiness that comes from wealth".  They have become their own worst caricature.

Left alone one faces a horror that is difficult to handle.  

In fact, if you truly see - social relationships are nothing but a proxy for an opioid.  

When you want to run away, one option may seem socially more acceptable than the other.

But your own abyss stares at you.  Relentlessly!  Whether you fill it with a social relationship or an opioid is just a matter of distraction.

The point is - can you face yourself without the crutches of an external distraction?

You can.

Ask the monks of Bhutan.  For, in their solitude, they have turned the concept of being alone into their greatest power.

Of a blissful life.

That is the real success in life.

Facing yourself.  Solitude, not loneliness, is your greatest test and success!


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Please do subscribe to our channel because we will start bringing discussions that complement our newsletter and address questions and topics that we may not address here.

After the "Is Yoga Hindu", we discussed the state of Pakistan.  It's economy, polity and internal security situation in detail.  Please do watch it, like it and share it.  And, of course, subscribe to the channel.


Video Corner: Vajra is Watching!

A Chennai-based Indian company Garuda Aerospace Pvt Ltd has created a reconnaissance-level unmanned aerial vehicle.  A Stealth UCAV!

Called Vajra.

Vajra will have cameras that can transmit thermal and optical spectrum images in real-time.  

With a flight range of 160 km and a flight time of 5 hours, a cruising speed of 108 kmph, and the ability to handle a 5 kg payload, these UCAVs will be used to monitor the borders with Pakistan and China.

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