Sunday, August 31, 2014

Denying yourself can be a source of joy

Strange as it may seem, there is quiet satisfaction in denying oneself. It is self-control or self-discipline in its purest form. It means relinquishing our selfish wants and desires, the capacity to say no to the things we think we need or want.

Not surprisingly, our mind is trained to do just the opposite—crave for things, hanker after stuff that we don't need or use. We do this almost every day of our lives, whether it is in a restaurant where we order more than we can eat or in a shop where we buy more than we actually need. Anything in excess is harmful. It bores a gaping hole right through our psyche and our pockets.

Mahatma Gandhi was perceptive when he said, “There is enough for everyone's need but not enough for everyone's greed.” What he meant was that, while we have enough, we never have enough, do we? He is telling us to deny ourselves and learn to say no.

Let’s take a familiar scenario. The next time you go to a buffet dinner, don’t tuck into every dish that you see, like it was your last meal. Serve only as much as you are going to eat. Don't heap your plate with food. Chances are you will waste it and if you don't feel like a glutton, you will certainly look like one.

Saying no to ourselves can be a good thing, and profitable too, as this real anecdote shows.

A young man once went into a bookstore and came across a hardbound book he had been planning to buy. The price was Rs.450, around $8. He picked it up and was about to pay for it when he asked himself, "Do I really need this book? Won't I find it in an used bookstore at a much lower price?”

After all, Rs.450 was good money that could be used to buy something more valuable. He put it back on the shelf. A week later, he found a near-mint edition of the book in a secondhand bookstall for Rs.125 ($2). Sometimes, self-denial pays off in more ways than we know.

Life provides us with enough opportunities to exercise restraint in the face of temptation. Saying ‘no’ is not just about sacrificing or rejecting something, like eating one slice of cake instead of two or buying one shirt in place of two or taking public transport instead of the car or offering the only empty seat on the bus to a fellow passenger. It is also a good habit, not to mention a healthy and positive way of life.

Saying no is winning the battle. Saying no and having no regrets later is winning the war. The mystics assure us there is more peace and contentment in self-denial than in self-indulgence. The latter invariably results in excess and regret. It is a sort of renunciation that helps us regulate our life and for our own good.

Bottom line: first learn to say no to yourself before you say no to others.

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