My grandfather used to tell me stories when I was a kid. They were witty, caught my interest as a child, and usually had an associated moral even though I didn’t recognize the value of the last part at the time. One of the stories that he told was about an elephant and four blind men who wanted to ‘see’ it. They walked around the elephant, explored its various parts and came away satisfied and elated.
Trouble started when they started reminiscing. The first man had fond memories of the elephant as a pillar with wide, circular shape. The second man who had felt the ears strongly pointed out that the elephant was thin as a paper. The third person was shocked at this and put forth his view that the elephant had a soft spherical shape. The fourth person who had held the elephant’s tail opined that an elephant is definitely like a snake.
Their argument went on a for a long time before a curious traveler listened to them and explained that there were all right but were also all wrong. They were looking at the parts and mistaking it for the whole. And the whole was definitely more than the sum of the parts.
We tend to approach life like these blind men too. Many tend to mistakenly equate happiness in life to financial success. Few focus on physical health. Some others focus on spiritual pursuits as the path to a great life while few choose a path of caring and sacrifice. All of these are critical to success in life. All of these are hygiene factors. However, it is equally true that any one of these alone is not sufficient to lead a happy and fulfilling life.
The key challenge here is to know the right blend. How much money is enough? How much can we care about others before it hampers our personal growth? Should we work to earn money or should enriching work be its own reward? These are all very valid questions that all of us face in our life.
The first step towards answering these questions is the realization that these questions are part of the broader question regarding the meaning of our life. To know that we need all answered and not one is a critical element in our path to happiness.
The equally important next step is self awareness. We all intuitively know about our strengths and weaknesses. But we also harbor illusions about our abilities and challenges. Application of cognitive psychology tools like Johari Window can help us uncover the true bigger picture with patience and persistence.
The third step is becoming mindful. Being mindful is to live truly in the present. It is to experience life as it unfolds. Enjoying simple tasks like drinking coffee and soaking in the beauty of nature while walking. By continuously making the best use of the five senses that are offered to us, we get to learn and enjoy the beauty of nature and science as it was meant to. This also shifts our perspective gradually. We do not get carried away by any one aspect of life. We do not see a failure as the end of life. It is just another step in life.
And by careful and continuous practice, we also get to a stable state that is unique to us. And necessary for us to lead a happy, fulfilling and mindful life.
We get to see life as a whole and not as the sum of parts.
[originally posted in elephantjournal.com – https://www.elephantjournal.com/2020/09/elephant-and-the-blind-men-path-to-happiness/]