28 Dec 2017 20:36 IST

Happy, healthy, wealthy and wise

This year has taught us many lessons and we need to reflect on what we can take away from them

As one year comes to an end and another begins, numerous New Year resolutions are made. There are several ways to do this and in the past few columns we have explored some structures and tools to help us stick with our resolutions. Now, let us reflect on what could be a framework to make these resolutions.

Again, we will draw inspiration form Benjamin Franklin’s quote, ‘Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise’. We’ll just use the second part of that quote and prefix it with ‘happy’. How do we get ‘happy, healthy, wealthy and wise’ through our resolutions for the coming year?

The gift of time

What could be ‘happy’ resolutions? Often our resolutions tend to be about what we can get — a great job offer, a new music system, a smart-gadget, a bike or car, or a holiday overseas. But what we often discover in life is that what makes us truly happy comes from what we can give rather than what we can get.

What could be our ‘give’ resolutions? The easiest way would be to give money to people in need. But what’s more difficult and often more fulfilling, is giving our time and our talent. Is there a teaching assignment we could spend time on, is there a cause we can get behind, is there a friend or family member whom we could support?

Sometimes, we chase the wrong things assuming that’s what will make us happy. When I meet students — both MBA and otherwise — and ask them what their goal is, their response usually is ‘I want to be a CEO in five years’. But as actor and writer Lily Tomlin said: ‘The trouble with the rat race is that even if you win, you’re still a rat.’

In an interview with Fortune, Salman Khan (not the one who enjoys dancing with his shirt off), the founder of Khan Academy, was asked why he chose to set up the educational institution as a not-for-profit . He said, “When I thought about the two home run outcomes as a for-profit or as a not-for-profit, as a for-profit, a home run outcome for Khan Academy is we reach a bunch of users, we capture a bunch of revenue, maybe we get acquired or we have some type of an exit, an IPO, and Sal will be rich. That’s not bad, not a bad thing. But the home run as a not-for-profit institution is just maybe we can be this new breed of institution that is kind of like a Stanford or MIT, but the brand isn’t built purely on its selectivity. The brand is based on its quality of what it’s delivering and it can reach millions, or maybe one day billions, of students and maybe be around for hundreds of years.”

Let that inspire us as we make ‘happy’ resolutions that are give-resolutions for the year ahead.

Stress-free living

Let’s also be sure to include some health resolutions. We must learn to eat healthy and ensure we exercise. Also, an important resolution to make for our mental health is to learn to manage stress better. The corporate world today is filled with successful managers and leaders who are a beat away from stress-related deaths. Learning to get perspective so that we don’t sweat the small stuff is an important health related resolution to make.

For our leadership growth and health, we should make a resolution to embrace some things that are tough— for example, a subject in the MBA curriculum that’s difficult for you, launching a business, kicking off a social project — something that we can take on, which is outside our comfort zone; which will help us test ourselves and therefore grow the leadership muscle we need.

UFC champion George St Pierre said, “I always train with better wrestlers than me, better boxers than me, better jujitsu guys than me. When you train with people who are better than you, it keeps challenging you. By challenging me it makes me better. It makes you better develop your skills than someone who is always training with the same people over and over again.”

How can our resolutions be inspired by his example?

Being content

Wealthy. This is often associated with money — with the assets we can accumulate; that prize we must win; those perks that give us the badge of perceived success. But it’s helpful to think about what writer Rudyard Kipling said when he gave an address at McGill University in Montreal. Talking about our want for money, position and glory, he said “Someday you will meet a man who cares for none of these things. Then you will know how poor you are.”

Of course, we must strive to be successful and our resolutions must definitely include the milestones of that success, but we must also learn to include detachment and contentment in our list. Naturalist John Muir, for whom financial considerations were a minor part of life, described the paradox of wealth and happiness perfectly when he declared himself richer than magnate EH Harrison: “I have all the money I want and he hasn’t.”

In our professional lives, we need discontentment with the status quo, a drive to transform, aim higher; but in our personal lives we must be careful to balance our wealth-related resolutions of reasonable aspirations for the comforts and needs of life with a contentment for what we are blessed with. Often, unhappiness is caused when we confuse what we need with what we want.

Making a habit of counting our blessings should be on our resolution list. For most of us, if we count well, we’ll discover we don’t need to be wealthy, we already are.

Essence of thriving

As truly wise people will often tell you, wisdom comes in three parts — humility, openness, and reflection. Real wisdom recognises our own strengths and weaknesses. Our resolutions should reflect this quality of humility. It comes from openness — to listen, to learn, to be non-judgemental and see the world with open eyes, without biases. Can we resolve to be more open in how we view our experiences and encounters? Do we jump to conclusions, do we make assumptions, do we label people? Can we build a habit of continuous learning?

Leena Nair, the CHRO at Unilever, said in an interview with Forbes, “At Unilever, we talk about ‘snackable’ learning, or little and often, because, as a society, our ability to focus on tasks has reduced over the years. So, all of our learning is underpinned by what we call curiosity and focus. Invest 15 minutes a day in a TED talk, or having a coffee with a colleague to keep your social skills sharp. When you feel capable you can thrive, so learning is the essence of thriving.”

And finally, can we build the ability to reflect on our successes and, more importantly, our failures and mistakes, and see how we can grow wiser from them? This year has many lessons for us and we need to make the effort to reflect on and filter what we can take away from it.

Wishes to all my young readers for a very happy New Year — may it be a year that sees you happy, healthy, wealthy and wise.

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