The New Year’s resolution we never thought to make (and could be the answer to our problems)

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In a frenzy of new gym memberships, guitar classes and flight tickets, this new year, like every other, we swore to focus on ourselves. We decided this would be the year we would finally begin to focus on our physical and mental well-being, our relationships with ourselves and with others. We resolved to reconnect with old friends, to turn back to old hobbies, to strengthen our identities and skills, to advance in our careers and so on; the aim, in summary, was to become happier.

But do these things, material or otherwise, really guarantee happiness? If yes, why do we seem to be stuck in a vicious cycle of unhappiness, trying different versions of the same solutions to the same problems every single year and giving up before the end of January? When we were kids, we wanted to change the world and save lives. Why do most of us forget this desire somewhere in that transition from childhood to adulthood as we struggle miserably to save ourselves?

They say that you could pay off your debts, build a full emergency fund, save up for your dream retirement plans, for your children’s college, but your true happiness would lie in the ultimate personal finance principle: giving.

The science of kindness and generosity is sadly underestimated. What we know is that giving to a charitable cause is a good habit encouraged by good parents who want to bring up good children. What we don’t know is that researchers have observed that when you give, your brain activity is similar to when you’re having sex or eating chocolate. In the long run, giving is believed to induce a sense of purpose and accomplishment, similar to a promotion or winning a medal in a sport. Instant pleasure + heightened confidence in oneself = happiness.

It doesn’t even have to be a giant donation to a local charity foundation. In fact, you can give so much more than just your money away. It can be an act of kindness as small as a weekly visit to an animal shelter. It can be as simple as making the choice to forgive someone. It can be an easy (and healthy) lifestyle switch like buying local produce to empower a farmer. Because when all else goes wrong, you can tell yourself this: no matter what, I made someone, somewhere, a little happier today. And that’s an important achievement, don’t you agree?

PS. I found the furry little guy in the picture above on myfanatic.com. However, dozens of strays like him are waiting to find loving homes in shelters like Save Our Strays, AMTM and so on. If you can’t adopt one, go on over to give them some cuddles and make their day!

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What I learnt from a 7th grade dropout

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This past week, I’ve been eager to write about an encounter I had had recently. The urge (among other things) propelled me to find and revive an old blog, one I’d abandoned at least a decade ago. It was only when I sat down to type did I hesitate. I realized I had no reason to tell this story at all. Readers on the internet (including me) always want to gain something. And who can blame us? We look to learn something new from the content we seek, the catchy headlines that stop the scrolling midway, the stories we choose to read, the countless “top tens”. So why would you want to read this story about a 7th grade dropout unless she had new valuable information to offer?

The truth is, I didn’t learn much from her. She was a stark reminder of something you and I are already aware of. But I’ll write this story anyway, because it’s just as important to be reminded of things we know as it is to learn something new. I’ll explain soon.

The wax was piping hot, and a curious bright green in color. “It’s aloe vera,” she stated, to explain the unusual shade. I held back a wince as she lathered the thick wax across my arm.

In my broken Hindi, I asked her about how she had come to work in a salon. She looked about my age, with a slim figure and sweet doe-like eyes. Which is why my eyes bulged in surprise when she told me she’d been working in the industry for ten years now. And she was somehow no more than 24.

“I was pulled out of school when I turned 14.” she said, as if it was an ordinary event she’d accepted. Given that this is India, I suppose it wasn’t uncommon, no matter how often we choose to ignore it.

“But why?” I asked, though I already knew what was coming.

“I was married off. Now I have two children.” She deftly pulled a strip of cloth she’d attached to my arm in one quick motion to reveal bald, smooth skin.

“Oh.” That was when I realized this was probably the first time I was interacting with a woman so close to my age, who was a wife and a mother. I didn’t know what to say, so I waited for her to go on.

She was surprisingly comfortable speaking about her past. “Three years later, my husband picked his things up and left me with our children. I can’t say I blame him. We were barely 18 at the time. He was a child. But I do wish I had been given one chance, just one, to study, to do more. But I’ve been working in salons for a decade now, and it’s been far too long to dream of anything else. Especially with the children to look after, I’m trapped in this life, destined to spend my days packing lunches, rushing back and forth from home and work, making sure my children do well in school so they don’t end up like me.”

Twenty minutes later, I pondered over her story as I absently paid and left the salon. A thought crossed my mind. Acceptance is the biggest evil those of us with the choice must not succumb to at any cost. This woman was one that was never given such a choice. She didn’t show a hint of remorse or sadness when she narrated her story. She had fully accepted her life as it was, because it was what the world told her was inevitable. And that was why I felt the need to have her story heard.

This woman is one among millions, each of whom was forced to grow up far beyond her years at a young age, who was pushed into the belief that her destiny was chosen for her, that she would never find the opportunity to make a decision or to rebuild her life into one she could be happy to lead. This whole-hearted acceptance seemed, in my opinion, hugely based on the trust that her children will one day experience the freedom and empowerment she longed for.

We mustn’t let our dreams shrink smaller as we grow older no matter how hard the real world hits us. If you’ve got access to the internet, a library, college education, a gym, guitar classes, fucking gift vouchers, use them all. Empower yourself to live life as you would have it. Make the choice to not believe in the concept of “too late” unless it comes with an expiry date.

Remember: you’ve got no one to chase your dreams but yourself.