The World Owes You Nothing

The problem when we get something, is that we tend to assume that the world now owes it to us. This can apply to houses, cars, jobs, friends, partners, status and wealth. When we achieve or acquire these things, we start to get comfortable and start to take them for granted. We feel we deserve these things.

But in reality, the world owes you nothing.

Firstly, complacency can take away your job and relationships, because you stopped providing the same value as you did at the beginning. Or, causes outside your control can occur – your car could get stolen, a natural disaster could destroy your home, deaths of loved ones, someone tries to shatter your reputation, market forces turn your investments sour.

Understand that all the beautiful things you may have right at this moment will not be here forever. Do what you can to make important people feel loved. But also recognize that we can decide to loosen our attachment to things, so that if they desert us we can be grateful that we were lucky enough to have them in the first place.

Chasing Daylight: Eugene O’Kelly’s Three Months to Live

In May 2005, Eugene O’Kelly was diagnosed with late-stage brain cancer, and given three months to live. Within two weeks, he quit his job as CEO of accounting giant KPMG and scrapped all the plans he had made with his wife and two daughters.

One night at the dinner table, O’Kelly drew a map of his relationships, and grouped them into five circles. His aim was to “beautifully resolve” his relationships, starting with the outer circles and working his way inwards.

In his outer circle he contacted them by phone or email, highlighting favorite memories and appreciation for the other person. He decided to meet his third and fourth circles in person – he would meet them for an exquisite meal, or in a beautiful park for a walk, to share memories and gratitude for what they had done for each other. O’Kelly called these encounters “perfect moments”, and it was his mission to create as many of these as possible in the little time he had left.

By August, he was focusing on his inner circle, and spent his time with his closest friends and family. A couple of weeks later, on September 10, 2005, O’Kelly died.

O’Kelly wrote a memoir, Chasing Daylight, where he began with, “I was blessed. I was told I had three months to live.” And he took it literally – he was told he had three months to live, not to die. O’Kelly “felt like [he] was living a week in a day, a month in a week, a year in a month – meaning he condensed his life by having more perfect moments in three months than he would have done in five or ten years of living his normal life.

So what if we could have more perfect moments too, without the news of a terminal diagnosis to motivate us to do so? In fact, not all of us will be as lucky as Eugene O’Kelly – some of us might not be given any warning at all when our time is up.

The Dalai Lama’s Eight Pillars of Joy

At the end of the day, human beings just want to be happy. So how do we do it? The Dalai Lama tells us how in The Book of Joy.

Perspective: Take a step back and view your situation from a variety of angles. Reframe it positively. Understand that things that may seem difficult now will seem unimportant in a few years’ time. Shift from focusing on I and me and mine to we and us and ours. Move away from self-centeredness into viewing the world as interdependent.

Humility: Lose the labels and simply regard yourself as a fellow human being – one of seven billion. When we view each other as the same, we understand how much we have in common. Just like in nature, growth begins in the low places, and being humble means you are willing to learn. Thinking that you’re special leads to isolation and loneliness. Instead, think of yourself as essential. Humility isn’t the same as timidity – still take responsibility to use your gifts to help others and share with the world.

Humor: Laugh at yourself and don’t take yourself too seriously. It punctures your own sense of self-importance. Humor is an effective way of dealing with the anxiety and stress of uncertainty in life.

Acceptance: Let go of the expectations of how life should be and just accept what is. Let go of the attachment to a goal or method, because in the end we don’t control the result. Instead focus on doing your best.

Forgiveness: Forgiveness doesn’t mean that we accept or approve of wrongdoing, it’s choosing not to develop anger or hatred and remembering the humanity of the person doing wrong. Forgiveness is the only way to heal ourselves and be free from the past – until then, someone else will hold the keys to our happiness, and that person will be our jailor.

Gratitude: It’s easy to forget how much we can be grateful for, starting with the opportunity of simply being alive right now. Feeling gratitude simply makes us happy. It makes us accept reality and give thanks for everything that has led us to this point.

Compassion: This is probably the core of the Dalai Lama’s teachings. The more time you end up thinking of yourself, the more you suffer. Think of how you can bring joy to others, and as a by-product joy will appear for you. Compassion makes our heart healthy and happy. Wish for the happiness and joy in all sentient beings.

Generosity: They say money doesn’t bring happiness. But spending money on other people does. Being generous makes us happy. In giving, we receive happiness. Sit loosely with your wealth and status – we are simply stewards of these positions and possessions and be generous. But don’t view generosity as a burden, give with joy. That too, is a great gift.

Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules For Life Rule 12: Pet a Cat When You Encounter One on the Street

When I first read through the list of the 12 rules, this one was the most startling. What is the significance of this? Also, at the time I don’t think I had ever petted a cat I’d encountered on a street before. I preferred dogs.

In my line of work as a door-to-door salesman I encounter many cats on the street. The street is my office. I actually wanted to be a bin-man (refuse collector) when I was a very small child. My rationale: I liked the color of their green trucks. Seems like I’ve settled for second-best and as I work in the streets as a salesman instead. I apologize, I’ve digressed.

While at work, cats seem to want to approach me and rub up against my legs as I knock on doors, waiting for homeowners to answer so I can begin explaining why I’m there. Some cats annoyingly follow me around for a while, but by the time they get distracted and go elsewhere, the annoyance is replaced with the feeling that I have lost a trusty companion.

This twelfth and final rule is more of a metaphor than it is instructive. It signifies taking time out of your busy day, even if just fifteen seconds, to stop and appreciate the simple and seemingly insignificant things in life. At best it is an extra thing to brighten up the day. At worst it is a few moments of respite in the ineradicable suffering of Being.

Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street.