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“Expiry date for grudges”- 18 February 2018.

Written by Rita Aggarwal
Wednesday, 04 April 2018 18:15

I am always amazed with the huge emotional baggage that people carry on their heads and hearts for years! They can go into a rewind within seconds and bring out the vivid details of the past hurting event as if it was still wet and fresh. This can happen only when the hurtful event has been revised and replayed in the mind or with other sympathisers again and again in totality, hundreds of times over. Generally if the person who has inflicted the hurt has been forgiven, the hurt gets forgotten as life moves on. But holding on to grudges over long years builds up resentment and hostility in the mind which eats up your vital systems and blocks your positive thought process and overall optimism. The dark negative blinkers can colour black your perceptions and impact your relationships and overall mental health.

We see individuals who are grief stricken with some fresh episode. That is understandable. Mrs. Y broke into tears with the fact of her husband ‘cheating’ her. She was a happily married person with two lovely daughters until last week. She could not decide alone by herself how she should react to the terrible episode that shook her world and what she should do about it for future. We asked her what she felt like and what she would like to do- to which her answer was also not unusual to us. ‘She would love to hit him hard many times and wish he was dead’. The dilemma was that she loved him and had a family to maintain. It’s a horrible situation to be in and many who have experienced this would agree to the trauma. Mr. X who had ‘caught’ his wife red-handed not once but a couple of times lost his trust and faith in her ultimately and decided for a divorce. It seemed inevitable as he could no longer forgive her nor ‘kill’ her. So he decided to clean up his house by breaking up completely. That was his way of coming clean of negativity and starting fresh.

These are hurts of severe intensity that are very hard on humans and require super-human energy to reconcile and continue living with the person who has inflicted the hurt. Hurts such as physical abuse, betrayal by spouse, marital infidelity, compulsive lying by a spouse, getting ditched and divorced without a preparatory dialogue or discussion, getting cheated financially and other pathological behaviour, generate intense emotional upheavals and are difficult to forget and forgive. People affected feel ‘victimised’ and ‘destroyed’ by the other in such acts.

There are hurts that appear to be more routine and simpler in nature but nevertheless upset people. Most times such hurts make us tougher and smarter as we learn to negotiate through relationships. They also help us accept the frailties of our friends and families. We realise that most people are not perfect and clear in their minds and neither in their communications. People also play games with others to keep their vested interests intact and to maintain their sanity in a complex world. Most times people forgive small misdemeanours of friends and family and get going again. Many are not able to do this much too and hold onto them resentfully.

Holding grudges big and small are damaging to the head and heart. When people get hurt, they have to find a method of handling it. There has to be a coping strategy to handle such intense emotions. There is no one classical way to handle it- each one finds a solution to the dilemma that gets generated by the trauma. It depends on multiple variables in the person’s life that decide the solution and the resolution to the problem. Whatever may be the level of hurt and the level of grudge, what is imperative to know is that it needs to be cleaned and healed before it becomes poison and destroys you. Someone said, ‘holding grudges it like drinking poison and hoping that the other may die’!

The fact of the matter is just the opposite. If you hold a grudge close to your heart for too long and do not work on resolving it, it will eat you up from within and make you sick. Chronic illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension, migraines, allergies, depression, anxiety, begin to develop in your body which could actually be psychogenic in nature. They later become a higher grade illness as they become psycho-somatic. People have an option to either change the stressful situation or get out of the situation and create a new positive one. Some who do not want to exercise that right to get out of the situation or actually feel there is no escape from the situation are in a ‘catch 22’ situation.

Whatever may be the reality, resolving the issues, dissolving grudges, forgiving the other and moving on with a clean positive mind is an imperative. A hostile, resentful, and grudging person is like a skunk spreading the foul smell all over the house and disturbing the family. Nobody is happy with a disgruntled person around. Neither the person and nor others.

Mental hygiene is of utmost importance to all mankind as physical hygiene is. We ignore the mind as we polish the body, decorate it and put it on public display with an air of normalcy. The heart needs cleaning too. The mind has to rise above the human frailties, accept people as they are or reject them judiciously. But at no time should you carry your emotional baggage forever for it is too heavy a cross to bear. Each one should learn to put an expiry date to their grudges and learn to throw it in the garbage bin to be sent to the incinerator for a permanent dissolution.

“Love and care for your mind”- 4 February 2018

Written by Rita Aggarwal
Wednesday, 04 April 2018 18:13

‘When you suffer a physical illness, you get sympathy. However when you suffer a mental illness, all you get is shame and ridicule’.


The stigma attached to mental illness is huge and hence a big barrier for patients who suffer it. The stigma affects the individual patient at all levels, from the simple level of seeking counselling and therapy. Firstly the person affected may not have the guts to confide in her family that she needs therapy, secondly the family may dismiss her plight by a laugh and ridicule instead of taking her seriously and thirdly they may shy away from actively searching for a good therapist and taking the final step of seeking an appointment. Most times clients come to us when they have tried everything in their control, have failed and allowed the disease to grow due to negligence. I see a client in her 12 Std and realise that she has been depressed from Std 5. She herself being a child is not aware that something is amiss and her family is equally ignorant about the signs and symptoms of depression. They only comment and pass judgements about her ‘being lazy and always aloof from people’. They keep coaxing her to mingle and open up and be more social and friendly and criticise and reprimand her for not being so but their concerns do not go beyond that to seek help from a counsellor and psychologist.

The stigma hence also comes from ignorance about what constitutes ‘mental health and mental illness’. Everyone and I repeat everyone should read a bit of basic psychology and familiarise themselves with it. Parents, teachers and guardians must know child psychology, teen psychology and adolescent behaviour. Just as common medical emergencies are handled with first aid by laypersons, first level mental signs and symptoms should be treated with seriousness and people should not allow or wait for it to escalate into a full blown illness. Nip it in the bud, a stitch in time saves nine, wise people say. Ignorance is not bliss in this matter- in fact ignorance is a curse, a burden and a liability. Your education is a sort of waste if you do not understand what constitutes a healthy mind and a healthy body. Schools have a physical drill and sports for promoting physical health but no preventive and immunisation measures for good mental health. The mind is taken for granted and mental health a given. But this could not be further from the truth.

A child of Std 7 began avoiding school and complaining of stomach aches. This went on for a month. The parents realised that when she stayed back at home after a few hours she would begin to play and be happy and the complaint would vanish. They took her to all sorts of doctors from different specialities and subjected her to all sorts of medical investigations to the extent of CT scans and MRI’s besides pathological tests. Huge amounts of expenditure was done for she was their single child and doted on her. The last resort was counselling and she was okay within a week of therapy. All she had was an ‘emotional upset with anxiety’ which needed to be addressed in detail. The symptoms vanished and the girl resumed school happily.

The stigma attached to mental illness acts as tremendous deterrent to it getting its due attention and the needed resources. All of us working in the field know that the burden of the disease is enormous. Six to seven persons among the population suffer a mental disturbance and one to two percent fall in the severe mental illness category. In contrast the resources allocated to mental illness is meagre and insufficient, the ratio of the availability of trained professionals to number of patients is hugely deficient. The rehabilitation centres for indoor and outdoor care is just not visible because they are so few in numbers. The mental hospitals are less in number compared to the need, the beds in such hospitals are again hugely insufficient. The result is the increase in costs to the families and care givers in terms of money, time and stress. We also realise that parents are willing to spend large amounts of money on medical tests and medicines but feel pinched by the counselling fee. Counselling involves time and lots of time.

Stigma is a risk factor leading to negative consequences in mental illness. We need to remove the stigma towards mental illness and develop a positive attitude towards it. 85% of disturbances are emotional in nature and can be dealt with psychological therapy and counselling. They do not need medicines and a doctor. Every disease follows a psycho-social-bio model. In only ten to fifteen percent of cases or even less the biology takes over and needs a medical intervention. In other cases the psycho-social model prevails and needs no medication and no doctor. It needs a psychological intervention to help diagnose the emotional and the social stressors that are causing the symptoms of distress. Once the disturbance is identified, a strategy is devised to handle the emotional reactions to the social situation and the client is trained in them. It is a well developed science and has progressed tremendously in the last few decades. Multiple therapy modalities are there to suit the specific individual personalities.

Mainstream cinema can do wonders in removing the stigma to emotional problems. ‘Dear Zindagi’ dealt with a seemingly simple problem of the deep rooted ‘fear of abandonment’ and the need for a psychologist, who is fondly called as ‘dimag ka doctor’. The youth in the film make an important statement when they say, ‘everyone needs a dimag ka doctor’, so what is the big deal’. Nothing can be closer to the truth. We all need a ‘dimag ka doctor’ once in our lifetime!

“Bridging the communication gap”- 21 January 2018.

Written by Rita Aggarwal
Wednesday, 04 April 2018 18:09

‘Mom, why do you always see the negative side of reality?’ asked her daughter Tina. ‘What negative side are you talking of’, asks Mom? ‘Why do you always look at the bad side of things and go on ranting?’ Tina says again. ‘You went on yesterday about the golden times of yesterday and the horrible times of today’, explains Tina. ‘You went on and on about how children respected their parents and cared for the old and today’s kids don’t as if today’s kids are monsters.’

‘What is this fashion about positive and negative statements all the time,’ shouted Mom. ‘In all channels too they keep harping on the negative and positive. We never heard of such words before. What was fact was a fact,’ said Mom with finality.

‘But mom this is the greatest revolution in the field of psychology discovered by William James, that the thought can be changed by human will,’ tried explaining Tina. ‘You see in the ancient times it was thought that what was thought was final. That was it. But now this discovery created a storm and created whole new theories of psychotherapy. That is how powerful the human thought is they say.’

‘What’s new about that,’ enquired mom? ‘We were always told to think good thoughts and never allow bad thoughts in our mind. That is not the case now. Minds have been polluted too much’, she sighed.

‘There is a great difference Mom between the two- one says think good thoughts and the other says change the thought to positive,’ said Tina.

‘This positive negative emphasis is too much and useless,’ she repeated. ‘I don’t understand it and it has no sense in it.’

Trying to explain her point Tina said, ‘you see when you have a restless mind and a disturbed mind you get all sorts of nightmares and bad dreams at night. Why does this happen? Because your mind has hidden fears and uncertainties and they come up during sleep. Now if you fill your mind with good thoughts and good images you will not get bad dreams and your fears will not come up.’

‘Does it mean that I cannot discuss my issues and you won’t listen to them? If there are doubts in mind I can talk about them. Why should you stop me from doing so she stated.’

She always had a point to make to shut you up. But Tina was not giving up either. She realised that her thoughts would always clash with those of her darling mother. She knew that her mother was a good person and had all good intentions for her children but what troubled her many times was the difficulty in getting across to her with her ideas. It was frustrating at most times because it created a wide gap which could not be bridged which made her unhappy. She wished there was some way to cross the bridge peacefully. Her mother was an intelligent and spiritual person but never superstitious. She could see reason in many old rituals and laugh at the illogical fallacies and question them too but at heart she was a conformist and not a rebel. She would soon fall in line to traditions and customs. She never had the heart to be rude and disrespectful of traditions. That is where the whole crux lies thought Tina innocently.

Today’s youth would love to rebel and throw off the yoke of senseless and useless customs and put their enjoyment in priority. They were ready to explore, experiment and experience but not her mom’s generation. They would eventually toe the line set up by their elders and fear rebellion whether it was out of respect or cowardice she was not sure. It could be a mixture of both. She could not understand the unconditional love her mom had for her parents and elders in her family. Today’s youth questioned everyone and everything and did not bother for age or elderly persons. The elderly too had to prove themselves on the scale of reason and if they did not answer properly they were written off as ‘old and traditional’ which meant ‘not very worthy of respect’ but ‘let us tolerate them somehow’.

The generation gap was evident. And it would always be there for there is no progress without change. And change we must for that is the only constant as they say. Beliefs systems have changed, the values and principles of personal morality have changed, cultural and behaviour patterns have changed and even life styles have changed. But every change and everything new was not necessarily good and nice but inevitable.

Questioning everything for the ‘sake of reason’ was a waste of time which served no purpose ultimately. For example, questioning the love of your parents, questioning their beliefs systems, their cultural practices, questioning their past decisions and mistakes made, for the sake of arguments and for the sake of denigrating them seemed not only futile but also offensive. Accepting them for what they are and what they have done for you, seems to be more respectful and appropriate. Talking to them regularly rather than writing them off and making them ‘see’ your point of view would be more appropriate. Communication in a positive sense would be a better way to make them realise that you ‘beg to differ’ and ‘agree to disagree’. This could be the best way to ‘bridge the gap’.

“The many faces of happiness- Part 3”- 7 January 2018.

Written by Rita Aggarwal
Wednesday, 10 January 2018 18:54

Happiness is the most needed virtue today as we realise that so many good aspects of life are on the decline- such as mental health, physical health, ethical values, moral behaviour, social decency, honesty in relationships, community engagement etc. Hence we witness an increase in rates of depression, suicide rates among the teens and youth, criminality, and rise in evil in general. At present more than ever we need to answer these two complex questions- what is happiness? How do we get there?

Most governments of countries world over in the last several decades have had economic growth as their main objective in their central policy. The rationale has been that by increasing national and individual incomes, people have more purchasing power and more choice and control over their lives that will make them happy. Frey, and Stutzer 2002, in their study say that- ‘the relationship between growing economic prosperity and both individual happiness and social well-being that may have existed in ‘developed countries’ appears to have broken down’. Shah and Marks 2004, comment, ‘whilst economic output has almost doubled in the UK in the last 30 years, life satisfaction has remained resolutely flat... Meanwhile depression has risen significantly over the last 50 years in developed countries’. They go on to argue that many people are ‘languishing’ rather than ‘flourishing’ in their lives. Estimates from the US suggest that less than 20 per cent of the population are flourishing and over 25 per cent are languishing, with the rest being somewhere in between.

The educational policy makers and school system too focuses on attainment of degrees and vocational skills for better economics rather than character building and happiness. Formal school system follows the government philosophy and supports it. This is now proving to be lop-sided and needs radical reforms. “On the basis of a review of 90 American studies,” Witter, Okun, Stock and Haring (1984) concluded that educational attainment accounts for between 1% and 3% of the variance in adult subjective well-being.” In their broad overviews of things that contribute to happiness or wellbeing, Myers and Diener (1995) and Diener and Seligman (2004) did not even mention education. Layard (2005) wrote that “education has only a small direct effect on happiness, though of course it raises happiness by raising a person’s income.” No wonder then modern and aware parents, frustrated and disgusted, are opting out of formal school systems and looking for healthier alternatives to education, such as “Homeschooling”, and other “Alternative education”, for their children’s well being and balanced growth that would foster creativity and personality development.

The search and study for happiness has been a major preoccupation for centuries in India as well as the Asian countries. Philosophers and sages have written about it in different ways. We have mentioned in our last columns what our ancient text, specifically the ‘Advaita Vedanta’ and the ‘Bhagavad Gita’ define the concept of ‘happiness’. We also briefly mentioned the western movement on ‘positive psychology’ that started two decades ago and its definition of ‘happiness’.

However the major breakthrough in the ‘Happiness’ debate came in July 2011, when it claimed centre stage globally, when the UN General Assembly passed a resolution on “Happiness: Towards a Holistic Definition of Development” thereby inviting member countries to measure the happiness of their people and to use the data to help guide public policy. The first World Happiness Report was released on April 1, 2012 as a foundational text for the UN High Level Meeting: Well-being and Happiness: Defining a New Economic Paradigm, drawing international attention. This was chaired by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Prime Minister Jigme Thinley of Bhutan, a nation that adopted ‘gross national happiness’ instead of ‘gross domestic product’ as their main development indicator. This sounds familiar and closer home!

The report outlined the state of world happiness, causes of happiness and misery, and policy implications highlighted by case studies. The experts include thinkers from the field of economics and psychology. Each report is organized by chapters that delve deeper into issues relating to happiness, including mental illness, the objective benefits of happiness, the importance of ethics and policy implications.

World Happiness Reports are issued yearly from 2012, with the exception of 2014. The data used to rank countries in each report is drawn from the Gallup World Poll. The Gallup World Poll questionnaire measures 14 areas within its core questions: (1) business & economic, (2) citizen engagement, (3)communications & technology, (4) diversity (social issues), (5) education & families, (6) emotions (well-being), (7) environment & energy, (8) food & shelter, (9) government and politics, (10) law & order (safely), (11) health, (12) religion and ethics, (13) transportation, and (14) work.

India unfortunately, the land of the Bhagvada Gita and Vedas, ranked 122 out of the 155 countries in 2017 measured in the ‘World Happiness Report’ and has gone down 4 notches from 118 in 2016. It is sadly behind its neighbours Pakistan and China. It could have learnt lessons from Bhutan but obviously we are chasing different and wrong role models.

Six variables have been highlighted as key differentiators between happy and unhappy countries. They are- income, healthy life expectancy, having someone to count in troubles, generosity, freedom and trust, with the latter measured by the absence of corruption in business and government. Norway has taken 1st place this year, followed by Denmark, Iceland and Switzerland. All of the top four countries rank highly on all the main factors found to support happiness: high levels of mutual trust, shared purpose, caring, freedom, generosity, honesty, health, income and good governance.

The Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama asked Magsaysay award winner humanist Baba Amte, a simple question- “Baba, are you happy with your achievements in service to humanity?” Baba Amte, who left his flourishing law practice, to found a multi-utility colony called ANANDVAN, (forest of joy) where he created the potential of honorable living for the leprosy affected persons, visually impaired and the physically challenged and the socially challenged persons. In the process he created an unimaginably large network of social good-will that became a fuel of public good. To Dalai Lama’s question Baba smiled politely and responded –“your holiness I am happy but not contented. Because the last man on the final frontiers of human existence is yet to be liberated and happy.”Though he looked askance the Dalai Lama replied, “then Baba you are becoming ONE with the Universal GOD”.

Both the great men were following the tenets of Vedanta, the principle of DHARMA, translated into action, which is the ultimate form of happiness. We hope the New Year will bring new thoughts, new hopes and new resolutions for a happy society.



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