Tomorrow is a beloved grandmother’s death anniversary. Hindu customs require one to undertake certain rituals, prominent among them being to symbolically feed three generations of ancestors who are with us no more – as a means of gratitude for what they have done for us and wish them well. It is believed that these rites accrue them good fortune in their future lives – and that is a strong inspiration for the descendants to continue the practice.
As I reflect upon the Hindu life of old, I see that this “gratitude economy” was everywhere to see. Three times a day the sun was (and continues to be in many households even today) honoured for its generosity (at dawn, noon and dusk) – the sun you see just gives – it doesn’t exert itself more for either the millionaire or the saint, anyone can choose to bask in its warmth (or not), and either way it just goes on giving. Nature and the ecosystem were honoured in many ways (through worship of cows, the morning rituals of kolams which become food for the ants and so on), guests were revered and fed without preamble (the apartment culture and urbanization put brakes on this one) and the sages were remembered and thanked forever. The traditional meeting translates to roughly “I salute the divinity in you” (or so I think). Gratitude seems to have been the fuel on which society ran.
Today, we seem to be getting onto the “feel good” economy. We exercise to feel good about our body, meditation is done to make us feel more at peace with ourselves. The friends we keep, the titles we go after – they are all predominantly aimed at ensuring a high “feel good” score. No?
Now, there isn’t anything wrong with either – the gratitude economy seems to bring in a sense of awe for the world (and takes us out of the equation!). The “feel good” economy on the other hand is strongly focused on ourselves and how we interact with the world. We become “awesome” here.
Look a little deeper, and you realize that in the gratitude economy, we have nothing to lose really – it’s just a celebration of what is. Live to serve (and don’t go capturing matrices on how many you thanked or served). Pressure is zilch here but don’t go looking for a sense of personal fulfillment. If our eyes are turned toward a better body or a bigger title, make no mistake – following the gratitude economy alone will leave us unfulfilled.
On the other hand, the “feel good” economy perceives success as a series of milestones achieved – and more often than not these are milestones coveted by society at large. You are one among a million fellow runners in the marathon – and if we aren’t careful (or very good at running) we can start feeling very lonely in a crowded race. Its very easy to adopt someone else’s goals in the “Feel good” economy and feel low when we don’t succeed enough.
And this brings me back to the starting post. Perhaps, it’s best to have a bit of both – and we consciously need to choose the mix that works best for us. Are you more for being the guy who prefers doing “unremembered and random acts of kindness” or the guy who wants to be remembered for living and making a difference?