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!
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