Somewhere over the rainbow Print
News - Final Word
Tuesday, 23 August 2011 13:01
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You know that feeling you get when watching the slow sunset turn from orange to a dirty, dark pink before fading into the purple of twilight? Or when watching a rainbow appear after a thunder storm?

You know the feeling I mean, don’t you? What shall we call it? Contentedness, peace, delight or how about bliss? Ever wished that you could take that moment of bliss with you into the rest of your life?

And how has that been working out for you? I mean, I’d really like to see you all blissful when surrounded by piles of dirty dishes and heaps of washing while you rush footpaths out of filthy floors, trying to meet a deadline.

Bliss is easier to conceive of when things are sort of going your way, isn’t it. And that’s precisely why bliss is so elusive, says Srikumar Rao. Nope he’s not a snake charmer or cave-bound oriental mystic.

Srikumar is an MBA professor who has lectured at some of the best business schools in the world, including Columbia, Haas, the University of California at Berkeley and London Business School.

He has conducted workshops for executives of leading firms, ranging from Google, IBM and Microsoft to American Express, United Airlines and Johnson & Johnson. Srikumar’s two books have fast become best sellers: ‘Are You Ready to Succeed’ and ‘Happiness at Work’.

Srikumar says that there is only one reason why we do not experience this feeling of bliss. It is because we have spent our entire lives learning to be unhappy. We learn unhappiness by buying into something Srikumar calls the if/then model: If my house is clean, then I will be happy. If I get the promotion, then I will be happy. And of course the goal posts keep shifting and the ‘ifs’ keep getting huger as you reach your previous ‘thens’.

We have fixed ideas of how things should or shouldn’t be done; ideas which we accept so completely that we live our lives according to them, while calling them ‘facts’, ‘reality’ or ‘truth’.

Remember the 1999 movie The Matrix? The film portrays a future in which reality, as experienced by most humans, is actually a simulated reality created by sentient machines. We similarly latch onto certain mental models that we never question.

For example, we’ve learned to label situations as either good or bad. When we end up in a situation that carries a ‘bad’ label, we try to use positive thinking to “make the best of it”. But surely you can remember times when something ‘bad’ turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to you.

Srikumar proposes that we try to stop sticking labels onto things. When you see something as neither good nor bad, that it just is, then you can deal with what is without the unnecessary stress created by trying to tackle a ‘bad’ situation.

So, you think this sounds like giving up? That only dead fish swim downstream? That business, for example, is precisely built on swimming upstream? Well, Srikumar has been teaching this ‘is-ness’ of things to vibrant, innovating businesses such as Google. No dead fish there.

We’re so used to only being happy when things go our way that we find it hard to interpret a not-our-way situation as beneficial. Maybe that is why we experience our rare moments of bliss in nature; with things that are so obviously beyond our control that we can temporarily step out of the my-way limitation.

See, what I mean is this: That feeling you get when watching a rainbow; well maybe it is because you’re not going to think: Okay, wouldn’t it look nice if the yellow could change positions with the pink? Or wait, it would have been perfect if we could move the rainbow just 300 metres to the left. On second thoughts, maybe the right-hand side could move just a little to the middle.

It’s because we don’t think like this; it’s because we just accept it as it is that a rainbow gives us a feeling of contentedness, delight, bliss. Isn’t that the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow?

May rainbows always remind you that bliss is your birthright. Just like the vivid colours of the rainbow, it’s always there. You just need the sun to shine in a certain way to bring it to light.