Pursuing Happiness in three simple steps
“Do you deserve to be happy?”
A few years ago, a dear friend asked me this question. I was not sure of my emotional state at the time, and the inquiry shocked me. I was not alarmed at the question, but I was concerned that my answer was not an emphatic “Yes, I absolutely deserve happiness.” Instead, I tried to search for the meaning of happiness. I thought about whether my karmic philosophy and Buddhist leanings on dhamma allowed me to consider happiness as something I deserve or should earn, or if it’s too late to contemplate this very tough question.
Since then, I started the journey to seek out happiness — but resisting the transactional urges of buying, relationships, and other immediate gratification plans. Instead, I focused on growing myself out of my emotional Mariana Trench from just a few years ago, when I thought that I was born to suffer and did not deserve happiness.
Quantitatively, the year 2021 has been a great year for me personally and professionally. As I compare and contrast this to the “Mariana Trench” period six years ago, where I was struggling on all fronts just to survive, things couldn’t have gone any better. Our platform subscriptions rose over 300%, gross revenues increased by 250%, and we moved from holding over a very significant loss to operating as a profitable company during this time. In fact, N2N was selected in the Inc 5000’s list of fastest-growing companies in the United States this year.
Personally, I have hiked over 60 miles this year, three of my poems were selected for publication, and I finally found a game that I have a chance to be good at — golf. I started playing golf a few months ago after a 15-year hiatus, and I joked to my friends that my handicap was 18: that’s how many balls I would lose before turning away from the course for that day. Needless to say, I was absolutely terrible at this game. I sometimes got anxious, most of the time got nervous, and was miserable at it. As Varoon started spending more time with his friends and college applications, this year opened up more time for me to get back into this game. I joined Laurel Springs Golf Course, a private golf course close by, and practiced almost every other day. Within a couple of months, my “ball handicap” almost disappeared, as I am now able to hit fairly consistently. I have a long way to go to get to my target score of 80, as I am shooting about 88–92 on a good day. I am still quite grateful that I am finally getting the hang of a game that I never thought I could understand, never mind getting good at it. In fact, my improvement at golf is a direct result of the mindfulness journey I started a few years ago after the fateful question on whether or not I deserved happiness.
Once I resolved that I do deserve happiness, I decided to pursue this by implementing certain “policies and procedures” for myself. These eventually got converted into resolutions. I am pleased to share my resolutions for the year 2022, in hopes of helping someone who is similarly depressed as I was during my crisis.
Resolution 1: Stop chasing the ghosts of my past
In the last decade, I lost my entire life savings overnight, went through a very contentious divorce, came very close to filing personal and professional bankruptcies, was forced to let go of my entire offshore team within a week, and went through life-altering events that explicitly questioned my abilities as a leader, spouse, parent, and a decent human. I went through all phases of grief over the last six years — second-guessing myself, rewinding the events and trying to change specific scenarios again and again, and explaining to myself (for the hundredth time) why I had to do what I did and how it ultimately resulted in personal and financial turmoil. During one of those darkest nights deep down in the abyss, I seriously questioned the worthiness of my existence and whether it was worth continuing this journey called life.
At this precise moment of assessing the value of my existence, I was reminded by a dear friend of mine about the purpose of my life. She asked simply, “Kiran, do you think you deserve happiness?” The more I thought of this question, the more I came to terms with the fact that I have not lived life on my terms at all. In fact, I forgot my preferences on things like my favorite movie, a dish I loved, or preferred outdoor activities as I suppressed these tastes to focus on others. When we began sharing the custody of children after divorce, I found more time and freedom to explore and pursue my own happiness. I decided to focus this time on discovering activities and adventures that I yearned to do.
This was the beginning of my transformation a couple of years ago. However, there were brief moments of skepticism and “would’ve, should’ve, could’ve”s that continued to plague me during the years 2019 and 2020. Every time I had this thought, instead of suppressing it, I wrote it down in my journal. I let all my anxieties, fears, concerns, and worst-case scenarios play out in these journals. I read about this strategy in psychology books and heard of it in philosophy podcasts, and I can now attest to the fact that the more I wrote about my deepest insecurities, the more I felt secure. The more I jotted down about my worst fears, the more courageous I became. I am not sure if this applies to everyone, but this process of writing to get closure surely worked for me. The more I wrote, the more I was able to let go, overlooking the perceived indiscretions of others, and most importantly — forgive myself.
In 2021, I began the process of completely ignoring the ghosts of the past, both consciously and subconsciously. I am not sure if it was the process of writing, the change of events in our family, or my own metamorphosis. I am planning to continue this journey and follow Emerson’s recommendations in this poem:
“Write it on your heart
that every day is the best day in the year.
He is rich who owns the day, and no one owns the day
who allows it to be invaded with fret and anxiety.
Finish every day and be done with it.
You have done what you could.
Some blunders and absurdities, no doubt crept in.
Forget them as soon as you can, tomorrow is a new day;
begin it well and serenely, with too high a spirit
to be cumbered with your old nonsense.
This new day is too dear,
with its hopes and invitations,
to waste a moment on the yesterdays.”
Resolution 2: Never take my breath for granted again
What started as an attempt to begin self-exploration to understand the true worth of life has prompted a full-fledged expedition in the last few years. However, this sense of adventure was put on hold during the year 2020 because of the COVID pandemic and related travel restrictions. In fact, as we locked ourselves down during the initial confusion of the pandemic, I wrote a poem called Good Ol’ Days reminiscing about the pre-COVID times. Despite COVID, I backpacked in the Grand Canyons during the year 2020, and that adventure truly allowed me to reflect on the momentous climb I had ahead of me that I needed to tackle to truly find the best version of myself. The lockdowns and working-from-home scenarios during the year 2020 have helped me look inward and resolve open wounds by performing the needed analysis and therapy,
I decided to get back to experiencing and appreciating life as much as my time permits during the year 2021. I got the vaccine at the first available opportunity and truly tried to experience all the adventures I have put on hold for the last few years. I started a podcast and interviewed over 50 guests this year. I jumped off a perfectly good jet plane from 12,000 ft and skydived for the first time. I backpacked in the wilderness of the Yosemite mountains. I joined a golf course and self-taught golf in four months. I flew to Brazil with a couple of friends with no prior planning on a whim. This is just a small list of adventures I took on and completed this year in my pursuit of happiness. Yes, I finally came to terms with the fact that everyone deserves happiness and that our life is only worth living if we feel that we deserve to be happy.
These adventures were not without cost, consequence, or skepticism. Some of these activities made me question the potential consequences of a fatal incident or the impact on my life savings or some other drastic side-effects. Every time I felt like backing down, I read the last five lines of my poem to get inspired to move forward from fear to action:
I yearn for those
good ol’ days
where I can
take every breath
for granted again.
In fact, I have implemented this mission to “live life to the fullest” at the company as well. Once everyone was fully vaccinated, we celebrated team birthdays, went out to restaurants, all visited ballparks, enjoyed watching Hamilton in the theatre as a team, and to top it all off — celebrated our tenth anniversary at Georgia Aquarium with friends and families.
This pursuit of a happy life has opened many new relationships for me and also reformed my previously frail relationships in a radically different way. I will continue this journey of exploration and seek out new adventures in the year 2022 and beyond.
Resolution 3: Live a radically authentic lifestyle
During the throes of the political turmoil and disinformation campaign during the last few years, I decided to commit myself to become a “protruther.” I announced that I don’t want to just be against falsehoods, but that I want to be explicitly pro-truth. I decided to experiment with this by paying attention to my own personal dealings and truthfulness.
The more I assessed my truthfulness, I more I realized that I was not 100% honest in my dealings with my friends, family, and colleagues. I was subconsciously lying to myself all the time, and in this process, being dishonest with others as well. None of these variations from the truth were harmful to others (at least I hope not), and most of them were just done to sugarcoat the issue or sometimes to justify my actions. In most cases, they are considered white lies one gets accustomed to accepting as normal. I always found it incredibly difficult to explain pesky problems like cash flow issues impacting payroll to employees or discussing bad sales quarters with the board or getting into details about my dating experiences with my kids. I would gloss over details at times or sugarcoat the scenario to make the listener less worried about the actual state of affairs.
Regardless of the reason, scale, and context, I quickly came to terms with the conclusion that I was not naturally a protruther at all. I embarked on a journey during the year 2021 to fix this by committing myself to radical authenticity.
I am sure there are many definitions of radical authenticity, but here is how I defined it for myself:
- When someone asks me a question, I will answer it truthfully, no matter how uncomfortable the answer may be for either of us.
- When I feel like admitting my insecurities or vulnerabilities, I will do this no matter how inconvenient it makes me feel.
- When researching for information, I will purposefully seek out counterpoints to my argument and make an honest evaluation of such opposing views before making the final conclusion.
I decided to implement the commitment to truth not just in my professional life but in my personal life as well. Throughout 2021, I wrote several articles on my views on religion, support for working from the office, and my own personal growth at age forty-five. All of these have been documented and published to make my commitment to authenticity a public record and not just something I am doing in the comfort of my friends and family.
From my personal experience, this commitment to an authentic lifestyle has been quite relieving — both to me and the people who interact with me. Varoon and Veda, my two kids, who are 17 and 14, respectively, now know that they can ask me any question no matter how it might be construed by others; and they will always get a straightforward answer from me. Whether it’s about sex, drugs, alcohol, and my own vulnerabilities and failures as a spouse, father, or entrepreneur — they know that their questions will not have any negative impact on our relationship.
In full disclosure, radical authenticity might impact our relationships, but those short-term negative interactions from the truth can be healed over time. I have seen my interactions with board members drastically change when I decided to stop sugarcoating any negative issues with our balance sheet and/or growth and just explain our shortcomings without any spin. Instead of attacking me, my board spent time understanding the issues and provided the much-needed support and confidence to grow. I have seen similar advantages when we were running short on funds for payroll — instead of giving some vague excuses, we just explained the issue and all employees appreciated the transparency.
Based on my own personal experiments with radical authenticity, I revised goals from my 2020 recap and 2021 goals as follows:
Instead of just focusing on company revenues, I will focus on becoming a more empathetic CEO.
Instead of only targeting kids’ college savings, I will plan on being more present to my kids’ needs.
While authenticity helped me begin to realize my 2021 goals to become a more empathetic CEO and a more feminist parent, the best side-effect of this approach is the feeling that I can finally accept myself — for all my faults, weaknesses, shortcomings, and imperfections — just as much as I can accept myself for my strengths and successes as well. This acceptance has made it easier for me to begin to realize the following goal I set for myself at the beginning of 2021:
Instead of being completely enamored by the highest mountains, I will aim for the experiences that teach me the meaning of life instead.
I marked 2022 as a landmark milestone in my life almost 15 years ago when I was planning out my timeline as part of retirement planning in 2007. 2022 is the year that Varoon, our oldest son, is scheduled to go to college. Varoon was about two years old at the time, and like any sleep-deprived father tired of changing diapers and trying to get an overenthusiastic child to bed, I mentally marked 2022 as the beginning of the “end” of my responsibilities as a “family person.” I never contemplated that I would be divorced by now and spending more time with my two amazing children and a cute dog this cornerstone year, but I knew then that 2022 would be a year of pivotal change.
Frankly, as this year came closer, my enthusiasm for the changes ahead has only become more pronounced. In fact, I have been preparing for this year for the last three years by experimenting with activities that test my physical skills, creative abilities, and emotional grit (or lack thereof). In this process, I backpacked in the wilderness, vowed commitment to truth, and wrote poems and articles that articulated my inner securities and vulnerabilities. I made these all lifestyle changes in preparation for the year 2022 to see if these activities will keep me engaged and excited for the rest of my life.
While most of these changes do not need the departure from the life of a “committed parent,” some of these changes required flexibility with time and financial stability that I lacked previously. Regardless of the timing and circumstances, I have truly begun the process of living (and loving) life on my own terms during the year 2021 and would like to continue this journey in 2022 and beyond.
I will continue this journey to grow and evolve during the year 2022. I seek no big milestones or quantitative outcomes this year; I just seek to find a better version of myself — physically, intellectually, and emotionally at the end of the year.
“Heck yeah, I deserve all the happiness in the world!” will be my answer to the pivotal question that changed my life. What do you think? Do you deserve to be happy?