One can look at one’s goals in life from a number of different perspectives, and the list can be endless, starting from achieving worldly success to developing intimacy in relationships, acquiring virtues, knowledge and wisdom, helping others, seeking personal growth and working towards spiritual goals for self-actualisation.
Today I want to discuss just one of the ways in which one can understand life goals in general terms that will apply to each one of us. This concept is borrowed from the ancient Indian understanding.
According to this the goals in life can be understood in terms of the following four broad categories:
First of all – Earning money – I don’t have to explain it further as almost everybody understands that earning money should be a goal in life.
The Second is about our sensual pleasures that is, enjoyment of all the five senses. This is also not difficult to understand that we want to have good experiences in life in terms of good food, music, pleasing visual experiences, the experiences of touch, warmth, sex and friendship.
The third goal would be – Doing your duty and doing the right thing. This goal in life can go against the first and second, as we may have to make some sacrifices in terms of the money and our enjoyment for the sake of performing our duty and doing the right thing.
One has to ask oneself what is my duty to my parents, to my spouse, to my children, to my siblings, to my uncles, aunts, grandparents, neighbours, fellow citizens and international community, and am I doing that duty.
If you are not doing your duty it may come back to haunt you and cause more stress later on.
I had a client whose father had suffered from alcoholism and due to some of his wrongdoings this client of mind had cut his ties off with his father. He did not see his father for about ten years although his father had lived in a nearby town. One day this client of mine came to know that his father had passed away.
During the therapy when describing his feelings towards his father he was inconsolable, and he had already contacted a number of different psychics, who he thought, would be able to put him in touch with his father.
This happens to us all the time, not keeping in touch with people who were very close to us at some point in time in the past like our grandparents or uncles and aunts, due to our busy lives, can be a source of stress later on, and when looking back we may realise that we have lost an opportunity to do the right thing.
Doing the right thing is along the same lines as doing one’s duty. If you are in a position where you have to make a decision that is going to affect others lives, and you do the right thing irrespective of what pressures you are under from others and also from within yourself, it may cause some upset in the short-term but at a deeper level and in the long-run it will be helpful.
The fourth goal in life should be acquiring the ability to undo your suffering or negative emotions and seeking inner bliss. I can give you several examples of celebrities and general population as well, who have been successful in amassing wealth and they have enjoyed all sorts of pleasures in life, and have also fulfilled their duties to their family, their friends and the fans but what they were lacking was that they did not have the ability to undo their suffering, their inner pain, the loneliness and sadness and their existential anguish, and as a result couldn’t come out of the negative downward spiral. They started relying more and more on alcohol, illicit drugs, unhelpful relationships and ended up having suicidal thoughts and mental illness.
It is therefore very important that one learns how to manage their negative emotions. This is something that is not taught in schools and colleges, and many parents don’t know how to help their children in this area, they simply say, “don’t be a cissy boy, pull up your socks, be brave and face the world, this is how it is, you have to take on the challenges, seize the day, etc but nobody teaches us how to do it. Perhaps this should be the most important subject to be taught in schools and colleges before they start teaching physics, geography or history.
The six-session stress management programme that we have developed at the emotions clinic offers an opportunity to learn dozens of coping strategies that can help an individual undo their suffering.
In addition to acquiring the ability to undo suffering one should also be able to tap into the inner bliss that one starts experiencing in the proportion equal to their suffering that they have been able to work on.
From the above discussion we can infer that there are two broad categories of life goals.
The first three will fall under the category of external life goals and the fourth one, and to some extent the third one, if consider our duty to ourselves also as a goal, will fall under the category of inner goals or internal journey.
One needs to work on both the external as well as the internal goals simultaneously. Some devote too much time on the external goals to the exclusion of their internal ones, not realising that working on their internal goals will also help them with achieving their external goals. This results in stress piling up inside and reaching a breaking point at some stage.
On the other hand, some devote a lot of time only working on their internal goals to the exclusion of their external one, assuming that the external goals will get sorted automatically once they have started working on their internal goal. That also may not be true.
It is also true that for those who have chosen to devote themselves to a spiritual path may find that pursuing external goals will come in the way of achieving their inner goals.
I hope you have found this discussion helpful.
Thanks for listening
© Kishore Chandiramani, Consultant Psychiatrist
Emotions Clinic, Education and Training Centre Cic, Staffordshire, England