It’s all about relativity!

There are no absolutes in life. Whether it is for the better or for the worse, life is all about relativity. Not Einstein’s e=mc2 theory of Relativity, but looking at things in a relative way. Unless we do that, we will never be able to reconcile with events and situations. And while we are about it, why not look at our situation in a good light? At least it will make us feel better, right? Perhaps that is why we have so many phrases/idioms/proverbs that show us the futility of crying for the moon or lamenting our fate.

So what is the first one we have? The admonishment that things could have been worse — delivered with an invisible finger wagging at us for complaining.

Is it easy? Of course not! When one is going through what one considers the worst situation, it is hard to imagine a worse situation or look at someone who is worse off than us. This one must actually be on the banned list of psychologists who would rather one focused on the positive side of things. But actually, this is a positive statement in a backhanded way. By imagining something worse than a terrible situation one already is in, one can find reserves of strength to cope with it. Isn’t it a positive thing then? I am one of those who do and come out on top every time.

And if you don’t like the worse analogy, you have a positive sounding Everything happens for the best.

I am not sure that psychologists would approve of this one either, because it sounds fatalistic and passive. I however feel that when we look at something as the best thing that could have happened even when it is not, we would actually try to find something good in it. If that is not a positive thing, what else could be?

There is even a story that illustrates this one. The minister in a king’s court was in the habit of saying, ‘ellam nalladhukke,’ (which is the Tamil translation of the phrase) for everything that happened. Once when the king lost an earlobe in an accident, the minister repeated the fateful words and was promptly fired. The king was furious wondering how losing an ear could be the best thing. Sometime later when he was on a hunting trip in the jungle the king was captured by cannibals, who offered human sacrifice to their gods. He was examined by the tribal priest and rejected because of the missing earlobe as the sacrificial humans had to be perfect in body. He gratefully remembered his minster and his words, for the missing earlobe had spared his life. Needless to say that he reinstated the minister.

And the second part ‘that Suresh has added in his comment: The king asked the minister how his being jailed had been good for him. The minister replies that had he not been jailed he would have accompanied the king to the forest and might have been sacrificed since he was whole in body! So it is all for the best, after all.

This was my father’s favourite. He would say Ellam nalladhukke  for everything whether good or bad. In my youth I used to secretly think that he didn’t mean it. But with advancing years, I have come to realise that he sincerely believed his words. Of course, he would sometimes attribute things to karma if he couldn’t justify his statement. But that is another story!

Well, so much for adverse situations in life. What about comparisons we make with those who are seemingly in a better position than us?

Ah, for those situations we have: I cried because I had no shoes till I saw a man without legs.  Practically every mother worth her salt would have scolded her kids with this one at least once in their young lives! This is actually an extension of ‘Things could have been worse,’ the only difference being that we now have a concrete example as a point of reference instead of some vague ‘worse’ thing that could happen.

I especially like this one as I feel it makes one sensitive to another’s misfortunes making one’s own problems appear smaller or even inconsequential by comparison.

I can hear a lot of voices crying: ‘But why should I look at those less fortunate than me, when I can see expensive cars whizzing past me and palatial buildings mocking my one BHK apartment?

The fact that you have wheels, even if it is a two-wheeler is a blessing and a roof over your head is nothing to sneer at, even if it is a small one. Come to think of it, I don’t think even Mukesh Ambani is living in bliss in his monstrously big house with all those millions he is spending on his wife’s birthday, do you?

According to psychologists, social media  causes depression in many users who feel that they are stuck in a hole while everyone else is having a whale of a time vacationing, partying and shopping. Who knows, even they are only trying to cheer themselves up after looking at the timelines of millionaires and celebrities? The truth is, everyone seems to be looking for something better than what they have, little realising its futility.

I am sharing an animated clip that manages to convey this profound message in a few frames made by my friend Farida’s son, Rayyan.

If you still insist on comparing yourself with those better off trying to match up, there is a cautionary one that says that keeping up with Joneses can bring grief. Believe me, it is not so easy to ignore the Joneses especially if they have all the things that you have always wanted and ostensibly live life king-size.

It is at such times that we should remind ourselves that the grass looks greener on the other side of the fence.  It sounds suspiciously like the sour grapes story, but it is an undeniable fact that things do look attractive from a distance.

Finally, it is all about contentment as the last frame of Rayyan’s film illustrates. Not passiveness but genuine appreciation of what one has. Striving for betterment is only good as long as it does not become a consuming passion giving rise to negative feelings like jealousy, ambition, aggression or depression. We have to constantly compare and evaluate the merits and demerits of a given situation before falling apart or going into overdrive trying to correct it.

So the next time the status message on a virtual friend’s wall on FB or a share on WhatsApp threatens to drown you in self-pity or depression, just remember Erma Bombeck’s twist on the greener grass adage. She had noted in all her wisdom that the grass is greener on the septic tank!

P.S. I have used some proverbs just for illustration. For a delightfully light-hearted take on a range of proverbs and phrases, do read the wonderful series by my blogger friend Suresh.

Homepage image courtesy:Aldomoller.net 

38 comments

  1. Well, if we are lamenting the loss or lack of material comforts in our life, I agree that we have gained the right to be taunted! But, I hate that homily being delivered to people who suffer a genuine loss in their lives!

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    1. All the sayings and proverbs are meant to be said to ourselves. I am sure if anyone else says them to us, they would not only sound intrusive but also condescending. As for genuine loss, one has to work one’s way out of it sometimes by oneself, sometimes with the help of loved ones.

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  2. I see that my iPad keypad didn’t keep up with my typing speed…. 😁
    Note it’s – *like…not lie ; *’you’..follows ‘surprise’….in the song line.

    My fault for not checking…😟

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  3. In our convent school we had a song whose words went like..
    ‘Count your blessings, name them one by one,
    And it will surprise you what The Lord has done..’
    It’s my anthem when I feel low, upset…with the world around….and it sure puts me back up !
    I too believe that “everything happens for a reason”, though sometimes I can not fathom the reason…..

    As always, a beautiful post Zephyr ! 👍

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    1. Hey, nice to see you after a time! When I tell myself that everything happens for a reason, I am not able to honestly understand it. So I flog my brain with a worst case scenario and wham! My mind begins working to see all the GOOD in the present situation in comparison to the terrible things that might have happened. I know, I am terrible that way. 😀

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  4. Zephyr it is so satisfying to read your posts as I find a reflecton of my beliefs in your lovely posts! This time there has been a delay in reading but was worth it to have gone through these pearls of wisdom! May you continue to keep us grounded with your posts in times to come!

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    1. Thank you for the words of appreciation, Rahul. It feels good to know that others share one’s ideas and thoughts 🙂

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  5. Nice post Zephyr, I liked the story. The phrase ‘ellam nalladhukke.’ reminds me of a kannada version of the same – yella olledakke :). Kinda intriguing how languages are so similar :). And of course the famous phrase from 3 Idiots :)..

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    1. Thanks for visiting and the comment, Vinay Nagaraju. You know such wise words are part of folklore of many regions not just in India but even in the world. Which is why we have the stories in different languages with the same message/moral. Yes, sometimes popular fiction and Bollywood have their words of wisdom too 🙂

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  6. I remember a bit more in that story, Zephyr! The King asks the minister, “I jailed you. how can that be good for you?” The minister replies, “Had you not done so, I would have been with you in the hunt and be captured by the cannibals. AND, since I have no imperfection, I might have been sacrificed. SO, it turned out to be for the best for me as well.”

    It is, perhaps, ideal for you to be able to be grounded in yourself without needing the crutch of any comparisons. Unfortunately, humans are imperfect – so, the better of the possible options is to be able to seek comparisons that show your life in a better light than to torture yourself by the comparisons that make it seem drab, if not outright tragic.

    Thanks a lot for the cross-link. The bigger source of happiness is that those pieces have lingered in your memory.

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    1. As I said in my reply to Vijayaa, I have a terrible memory and so had forgotten the second part. Thanks for filling it in 🙂 As for the ideal, how one wishes one could be grounded! But when adversity strikes or one feels shortchanged by fate, one is fairly flying off the handle, isn’t one? At least I find it best to look at my situation as the better one compared to something worse that might happen or someone worse off than me! You are right. why torture oneself by unfavourable comparisons?

      Once I began writing the post and linking it with proverbs I realised that I had to link back to your series. They were really good.

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  7. Ah, what a post! I read it twice. At different times in my life, I guess I must have used each one to look at things objectively. Of late, I realized that gratitude helps a lot. It helps me keep my anger and frustration in check especially with near and dear ones. Keeping their positive qualities in mind and their place in our lives helps me tide over the negative situation with patience and sensitivity. For others (those not in the immediate circle), I use other coping techniques like counting my blessings or going back to my self esteem to prop me up when I am hurting. Luckily, I was brought up in Mumbai in one of its poshest localities where the richest of folks lived. I had long understood that I could not compete with them in material belongings so I aimed to be a fantastic student and a good person so that they would love me. It helped a lot. 🙂 A great post that makes one think.

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    1. Oh isn’t it just like the spunky girl that you are to have decided to turn to assets like intelligence and goodness to compete with the moneybags! We all find our coping mechanisms when things turn upon us and as long as we use positive ones to do it, it is great. Falling apart or going into depression certainly aren’t. And yes, counting one’s blessings is another most positive way of coping with bad situations too.

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  8. Rayyan’s film is very good! Simple cartoons conveyed so many things!

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    1. Ah, I am so happy you liked the film too. Farida says he is a very sensitive and intense young man — it shows 🙂

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  9. I also feel that whatever happens, happens for a reason. We might know the result later. I too get upset easily for small and big things, but later tell myself the above reason and the reasons you have stated beautifully, in this post!

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    1. Cribbing and getting upset — I do aplenty too. The only difference is that I tell myself that things could be a lot worse than they already are, and that sobers me up double quick.

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  10. Great post, Zephyr! And one that makes us think.

    Contentment is a state of mind, after all. It’s not really dependent on the amount of material wealth one has.

    I’m reminded of the story of the King who ordered his servants to bring him the shirt of a contented man. They roamed all over the kingdom but realized that no one was truly contented- all had some grouse or the other. Finally they came upon a poor farmer who said he was satisfied with what little he had. But how could they take his shirt to the king? He was so poor that he did not own one!

    Loved the quote about grass being greener on the septic tank. 🙂

    And Rayyan’s film is lovely. Lots said in just a few clips!

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    1. That is a great story about contentment. As you have pointed out, it is just a state of mind, and sometimes more makes one only more restless as it catapults him into a never ending upward spiral. Been missing your posts. I am glad you liked Rayyan’s short film. It stuck in my mind ever since I saw it some months ago.

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  11. I am one of those “everything happens for a reason” type of person. I can’t say whether the reason or the consequence of whatever that happens is the best, simply because I am not sure I can figure out what is for my best. These things are really so deep, how are we supposed to know them through our limited perception or understanding. Regardless, the idea that everything that is happening is for a purpose (even though I may not know the purpose) helps me find some iota of peace when things around aren’t that peaceful or rather are stress-inducing. Does that make sense? 🙂
    Lovely post, Zephyr.

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    1. I guess the idea of ‘everything happens for a reasons’ sounds better than ‘everything happens for the best.’ But as I mentioned in the post, when we say it is for the best, we begin looking for something good in the event that might actually materialise if it already has not. And oh yes, we never ever know what is for our best, which is why elders advise us never to ask God for anything specific, which in our limited perception might look good but actually might not be. Not that God grants all our wishes, but that is matter for another post may be 😀

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  12. Great post Zephyr
    whenever you are going through a lot of suffering you are actually exhausting the bad reaction of your equally bad action righ!! So instead of crying “foul.”” you should say, “Things. could have been worse “”.as you have very aptly summed up.After all”” you reap what you sow”.

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    1. Hey Rashmi, nice to have you here! Reaping what one sows is the theory of karma, but when one is going through some terrible times, karmic retribution is the last thing that pops into one’s mind. Who has the strength to accept that one is paying off one’s actions in the past? That is why we need examples that can be concretised and held up for comparison — for better or worse.

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  13. alkagurha · · Reply

    I always thought that the green grass on the other other side is an astro turf. Thank you for the septic tank analogy. But seriously, comparisons are a recipe for unhappiness.

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    1. Astro turf should work just fine 🙂 No Alka, some comparisons soften the reality and make it acceptable.

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  14. What may seem to be the most terrible thing to have happened to us may turn out to be one of the most learning experiences of our lives. Like decisions that wait for time to be labelled as good or bad.

    I’m part of the ‘whatever happens is for the best’. It has helped me so far. But grief makes us lose objectivity. I feel, moping and cribbing is part of the healing process but one should learn to move on.

    Lovely post, Zephyr.

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    1. You have put it better than I have in the post, Purba. Even if an event or experience is not the best it can be a valuable learning opportunity. About grief, moping and cribbing are indeed part of the healing process but when they go out of hand or turn into bitterness and depression, then it needs to addressed. Because the former is a positive way to get out of it, while the latter is negative and counter productive.

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  15. I agree with what you say, BM. Lately, I came to learn in life to ‘Count your blessings’. How much can you run after? There have been times when I felt, it could have been better…it could have been worse. Many more times when I asked myself, “Why me?” and at the same time told myself, ‘ellam nalladhukke.’ Antha mana manchike 🙂 It helps sometimes, it doesn’t sometimes…so it’s all relativity like you said. When I look back and see from where I came and where I stand now, I love my life. I don’t think I want something better than this. There is no limit, is there?

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    1. We all keep learning and growing, Latha. All through our lives and if we ever stop, we are finished. And maturity in thinking and reacting are two of the things that we learn with age and experience. You are doing just fine. And I am happy to note that you are way ahead of me in the quest! One thing I never do is ask ‘why me?’ Because dear, if we only cared to look long and hard, every human being is put through hard times at many points in their lives and appearances might be deceptive. So the first step comes with accepting that hardships are part of life.

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  16. vijayaa108 · · Reply

    Aamaam ellam nallathuke than aharaddu aanaal anda samayathule kashtama than irrukku.
    Nallathu pollathu ellam manam poley!
    Yes – this is the best way to console oneself when passing through hard times as nothing else can be done to change the situation.
    By the way the link to Suresh your blogger friend’s proverbs and phrases does not work.
    Could you please re-send the correct link.
    Thanks!

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    1. You are right. It takes a lot of strength of will to look at everything as for the best. That is why I look at the other one — things could be worse. It helps me better 🙂

      Sorry about the link. I have rectified it and even added links to the series. I am sure you will enjoy reading his other posts too.

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      1. vijayaa108 · · Reply

        Thanks for such prompt response and rectifying and adding more to the link.The story narrated by you is very similar to the one told to us children when we were little by my mother.
        The story is of Raja Bhoja & his minister Sumati who go hunting into the forest and continues……on the same lines.
        Raja Bhoja tells Sumati about having cut his thumb and Sumati says -whatever happens happens for the best!The King is angry and thinks of revenge…..
        And my mother used to recite a couplet in Sanskrit – that ended with the words तत् सर्वमेव शुभाय!!!!!
        Shall have to ask my brother for the beginning.
        If I remember the couplet shall post it for the language of Samskritam has a beauty and charm if its own.And yes Sanskritam is in the air causing quite a ‘tsunami’ in political circles.

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        1. I have a terrible memory for stuff like names in stories. Maybe it was Raja Bhoja’s story, maybe it was a folktale I read somewhere. You know how folktales have similar storylines? Well, Suresh in his comment has given the other half of the story that I didn’t write 🙂 The couplet sounds interesting.

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  17. Yes…ellam nallathukku!
    Enjoyed the thinking post

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  18. Yes…” ellam nallathukke!”
    Nice post

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    1. Thank you for reading, adsunsri.

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  19. A brilliant piece using the well known and oft uttered phrases to minimize the hardship one finds oneself in and enhance contentment with what one has..Thank you

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    1. Thank you for your kind words, KP! They always lift my spirits 🙂

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