A Grateful Heart is a Happy Heart: Book Review & Summary of Janice Kaplan’s ‘The Gratitude Diaries’

At one dismal New Year’s Eve party, veteran author and journalist Janice Kaplan heard a woman gripe and grumble. While reflecting on this experience, Kaplan realized that she herself had much to be grateful for, but frequently wasn’t. She resolved to “spend the coming year seeing the sunshine instead of the clouds.”

That self-declaration was the genesis of an inspiring yearlong experiment in living gratefully and concluding that being thankful really does offer a conduit to happiness.

'The Gratitude Diaries' by Janice Kaplan (ISBN 1101984147) Kaplan recounts her transformation “from grumpy to grateful” in her book The Gratitude Diaries: How a Year Looking on the Bright Side Can Transform Your Life (2015.)

Throughout the year, Kaplan maintained a gratitude journal and wrote down three things that she was thankful for each day. She also decided to “find one area to focus on each month—whether husband, family, friends, or work—and become my own social scientist. I wanted to see what happened when I developed an attitude of gratitude.”

Here are a few highlights from The Gratitude Diaries:

  • Kaplan started her yearlong gratitude experiment by appraising her marriage and recognized all over again what a good man her husband was. “When you expect everything, it’s hard to be grateful for anything. So I decided that now was the time to put aside impossible expectations and start appreciating [my] husband.” After she expressed appreciation to her startled husband, “the warm feelings between us [grew] stronger than ever…. Gratitude was making us both a lot happier.”
  • Discussing the importance of not overlooking one’s blessings, Kaplan writes, “We get used to something—whether a husband, a house, or a shiny new car—and then forget why it seemed so special in the first place.”
  • One month, Kaplan instituted a “no-complaining zone.” Writing about the need to emphasize life’s positives over its negatives, Kaplan mentions, “If you can change something that’s making you unhappy, go ahead and change it. But if it’s done, gone, or inevitable, what greater gift can you give yourself than gratitude for whatever life did bring?”
  • Kaplan discusses the story of her heartfelt and earnest reconciliation with her sister. This meaningful experience was the beginning a “new friendship” and had both women “appreciating the good in the moment rather than fussing about the past.”
  • Kaplan concludes, “gratitude lodged deeper and deeper into my heart and soul…. Gratitude affected how I looked at every event that happened. Being positive and looking for the good had become second nature—and that made me much happier.” And, “by living gratefully, I’d had the happiest twelve months I could remember.”

'The Gratitude Diaries' by Janice Kaplan

Recommended: Speed Read. Janice Kaplan’s The Gratitude Diaries confirms that gratitude truly is an attitude—how you feel has less to do with events that occur in your life and more to do with your attitudes. Kaplan’s experiment substantiates that keeping a gratitude journal boosts your sense of wellbeing. With interviews on gratefulness with psychologists, friends, and other thankful people, The Gratitude Diaries encourages you to pause, take stock of your blessings, and be grateful for what you have in life in order to make life more pleasant, gratifying, and peaceful.

Confucius on Dealing with People

Confucius on Dealing with People The teachings of Confucius (551 BCE–479 BCE) have dominated Chinese traditions and philosophy for centuries. He taught followers to lead a virtuous and righteous life, love others, honor one’s parents, lead by example, and treat others as one would like to be treated:

  • Confucius on keeping one’s wits about one: “The superior man may let others lie to him but not make a fool of him. The superior man encourages what is beautiful in men; the inferior man, what is unbeautiful.”
  • Confucius on the spirit of humanity: “What makes a place beautiful is the humanity that dwells there. He who is able to choose and does not settle among humane people is not wise.” Moreover, “the superior man does not neglect his neighbors” and “the superior man honors the worthy and tolerates all men.”
  • Confucius on showing consideration for people of all ages and from all walks of life: “Let me respect the tranquility of the ages; let me be loyal to my friends; let me love children tenderly.”
  • Confucius on managing parents: “Serve them in life.” It is not enough to feed one’s parents “if respect is absent, wherein should we differ from the beasts?” If parents seem to be mistaken, we may respectfully argue and protest, but we must obey them.
  • Confucius on managing friendships: “Have no friend who is not your equal.” Also, friends should “loyally admonish one another and tactfully set one another right.” Friends should be dependable: “even if the season be cold, we know that pines and cypresses are evergreen.”
  • Confucius on the right conduct toward authority-figures: “A good official serves his prince in the right way; if that is impossible, he withdraws.” Further, a good official “will not circumvent the prince but oppose him openly” and “will not be chary of good advice.” Moreover, “if the country is on the right path, he may speak and act boldly; if it is not on the right path, he may act boldly, but he will speak cautiously.”
  • Confucius on the right conduct toward subordinates: “The superior man gives his servants no ground for complaint that he makes insufficient use of them, but (unlike the inferior man) he does not expect perfection; he takes men’s abilities into account and does not dismiss old and trusted servants without grave cause.”

'From The Great Philosophers, Volume I' by Karl Jaspers (ISBN 0156835800) Reference: German-Swiss psychiatrist and philosopher Karl JaspersThe Great Philosophers (trans. Ralph Manheim.) I recommend The Great Philosophers for its delightful introductions to the philosophies of four great minds from the “East” (i.e. east of the Danube river:) Jesus, Socrates, Confucius, and the Buddha.

Kindness: A Debt You Can Only Pass On

Kindness - Paying it Forward

Paying It Forward

Life is a journey enriched by the people you share it with.

Over the course of this journey, you’ve encountered many people who have worked hard and gone beyond expectations to support you.

They’ve been a great source of pleasure, celebrated your triumphs, and stood by you in times of distress.

From time to time, they’ve even sacrificed their interests to do you a favor or two.

How, then, will you return their generosity and affection?

Sometimes, life will have moved on and you can’t pay them back, even if you want to.

The only way to return people’s favors is through your own social roles—as a parent, spouse, child, brother, sister, friend, caregiver, facilitator, supervisor, teacher, mentor, manager, leader, volunteer, benefactor, or philanthropist.

Life assigns you these roles to help you honor your debt to the people who have touched you. That is a debt that you can never fully pay back, but must simply pass on.

Why Do We Have Children - Paying it Forward

“Why Do We Have Children?”

The following essay drives home the importance of paying it forward.

One day after years of trying, a father finally succeeded in getting his daughter to comprehend the love he felt for her. The young woman had just given birth. Naturally the baby became the center of her world. “Now you understand how much I love you”, her father said to her.

Except on rare occasions, a parent’s love is absolute. Children come first and get the best. Savings, housing, friendship and leisure time—everything revolves around the child. What is the cause for this strong attachment? Why do we happily sacrifice our pleasures, our money, sometimes even our lives? Why do we have children?

Many explanations have been given: we procreate to perpetuate the species, out of duty, for normal and religious believes, to reassure ourselves, out of carelessness or passion. But the focus, the center from which everything starts to make sense, is the child himself. We make babies because we need them: we need them because they need us.

We give our children everything: life, support, protection, tenderness. But in giving our all to them, we become the source of everything. This bond that makes us be sons to our fathers and fathers to our sons is indestructible. Nothing can undo the fact that we are born by this woman, our mother, just as nothing can undo the fact that we are parents of this girl, our daughter. A sage Jew, Rambam, once suggested to his son the objective necessity of this parental chain. “You are not only my son”, he told him. “You are also my father’s grandson”.

We have children to honor our debt to our parents. A debt that can never be paid, only transferred. Whatever the meaning and the price may be, one must marvel at the inexhaustible abundance of this love. It was the first and remains the basis of all the loves to come.

[Source: From an issue of Reader’s Digest India circa 1989. Author unknown.]

What Is the Point of Life, If Only to Be Forgotten?

While traveling around the magical Norwegian Fjords and contemplating life one day last summer, I recalled a young man’s story. He had spent many years in an Indian prison despite being acquitted because everyone had forgotten about him.

What Is the Point of Life

Forgotten

In 1988, Pratap Nayak was arrested at the age of 14 after getting caught in a violent clash between two rival families in his village in the state of Orissa. A corrupted lower court promptly sentenced him to life imprisonment.

Thanks to the Indian judicial system’s sluggishness, it took six years for a High Court to pronounce Nayak innocent. Unfortunately, nobody informed him or the prison officials about this judgment and his lawyer had died during the intervening years. Nayak’s family had assumed helplessness and lost touch with both him and with the lawyer.

Nayak remained in jail for eight more years after acquittal until a prison system auditor realized that Nayak wasn’t supposed to still be in prison. When he was finally freed at age 28, he was astonished and said, “no one bothered about me … not even my own family.”

When Nayak was finally reunited with his impoverished family of bamboo craftsmen, his father cried, “How shall I take care of him? We don’t get enough to eat ourselves. Had he completed his education, he would have had a good job by now. They ruined his life.”

“Life’s but a walking shadow … then is heard no more”

Shakespeare’s Macbeth (Act 5, Scene 5, Lines 22–31) contains one of the most eloquent expressions of our lives’ cosmic insignificance:

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

The Meaning of Life

What Difference Does It Make What We Do with Our Lives?

Whenever I’m enjoying the splendor of the mountains and the waters—as I did in the Norwegian Fjords—and marvel at how these natural elements came to be millions of years ago, I meditate upon the fact that what we identify as our lifespan is but a tiny sliver in the grand timeline of the cosmos. We’re born, we live, we die, and then, as Shakespeare reminds us in Macbeth, we are “heard no more.”

In the grand scheme of things, everything is pointless, irrelevant, and ultimately insignificant. Our lives are impermanent and almost everything that most of us accomplish during our lives will someday become obsolete and be forgotten.

Yet, we rouse ourselves out of bed every day and engage in various activities that are all somehow tied to a purpose or mission—a mission we’ve either consciously created for ourselves or subconsciously accepted as an assignment from somebody. Central to this mission is that we hope to bring about more meaning to the lives of people around us.

This mission imbues us with a sense of purpose—invariably, it is a manifestation of a strong desire within ourselves to bring value, meaning, and joy for others and ultimately for ourselves as well. Even the prospect of smiling, complimenting, or expressing gratitude to another person feels good and adds to our own happiness because we know we’re adding more meaning to the other’s life.

The Key to a Life Well-led Is to Make as Big a Difference as You Can

Idea for Impact: The Key to a Life Well-led Is to Make as Big a Difference as You Can

The utmost measure of a life well-led is how you use your unique talents to do the most good you can. Enrich your life by trying to make a difference. Better yet, try to make the biggest difference you can. Perhaps if you’re fortunate enough—as the Buddha, Mahatma Gandhi, Albert Einstein, Richard Feynman, Bill Gates were/are—your contribution can create ripple effects and create an enduring legacy that lasts long after you’re gone.

If you want to be remembered and appreciated for having contributed something to the world, strive to live in the service of others and make the largest possible positive difference you can. That’s the key to a life well-led.

The Buddha Isn’t God or Superhuman

Today is Vesak (or Wesak) in South East Asia, the most prominent of Buddhist festivals and a celebration of the birth, enlightenment, and death of Gautama Buddha, the historical Buddha. Vesak is celebrated on a different day in South Asia.

I’ll take this opportunity to clarify a common conception—or misconception—taken up during casual comparisons between Buddhism and the Abrahamic faiths. I’ll also shed light on Buddhist gods and deities.

Was the Buddha God or Superhuman

The Buddha Never Considered Himself Savior or the Guardian of Truth

According to foundational Buddhist scriptures, Gautama Buddha claimed to be an ordinary man—not a God, superhuman, or prophet. The Buddha even denied that he was omniscient, though he did emphasize that what he knew was all that really matters.

The Buddha presented himself as a philosopher, an enlightened human being. He was only exceptional in having deeply contemplated the true nature of reality. He claimed he had identified the sources of pain and suffering.

The Buddha taught that humans are fundamentally ignorant about the nature of existence and that everything in life is unsatisfactoriness (dukkha) caused by ignorance (avidya) and selfish craving (tanha.) As a teacher, the Buddha was deeply interested in the ethical remaking of a person and declared that it lay within anybody’s capacity to follow his life experience to achieve awakening. The Buddha insisted that his teachings should not be accepted on blind faith—Buddhism is therefore a ‘religion’ of reason and meditation.

Siddhartha Gautama, the Historical Buddha

Do Buddhists Believe in God The entire philosophical edifice of Buddhism centers on Gautama Buddha’s enlightenment. He was born into royalty as Siddhartha Gautama during the sixth century before Christ. According to tradition, at Siddhartha’s naming ceremony, Brahmin astrologers predicted that the newborn was predestined to become an extraordinary ruler of humans, as a great king or holy man. His father desperately wished the former for his long-awaited heir. He isolated Siddhartha within their palace’s protective boundaries and took precautions to ensure that Siddhartha would never experience any trouble, sorrow, or suffering that could cast even the slightest shadow on his happiness.

At age 29, Siddhartha strayed from his palace’s simulated paradise and chanced upon an old man, a diseased man, and a corpse. He also encountered an ascetic who strove to find the cause of human suffering. Depressed by his encounters with human suffering, Siddhartha resolved to follow the ascetic’s example. Leaving his wife and infant son behind (they later became initial disciples), Siddhartha left his affluent palace and lived as a beggar. After pursuing six years of ascetic practice and arduous meditation, he attained new depths of understanding about the nature of life, ego, consciousness, and reality. He achieved enlightenment and thus became the Buddha, the “Awakened One,” or the “Enlightened One.”

Theism is Incompatible with Buddha’s Teachings

The concept of an omnipotent God does not feature substantially in Buddhism. Indeed, scholars quote verse 188 of the Dhammapada, “Men driven by fear go to many a refuge, to mountains, and to forests, to sacred trees, and shrines,” and state that the Buddha believed that the concepts of religion and godliness stem from primal fear, just as sociologists and psychologists have recently posited.

Unlike people of other faiths, Buddhists believe neither in a creator God nor in a personal God entitled to their obedience. Consequently, Buddhism does not derive its system of ethics from any divine authority, but from the teachings of Gautama Buddha.

Buddhism: Gods and Deities

Buddhism: Gods and Deities

Buddhist doctrines have evolved over the centuries. In some schools of Buddhism, the worship of the Buddha is merely an act of commemoration for the founder of their ancient tradition. Others defy the foundational Buddhist teachings that the Buddha is not an object of prayer or devotion and worship him as a deity who holds supernatural qualities and powers.

Gods in Buddhism Religion - White Tara To account for the misconception of a Buddhist God, the more-religious forms of Buddhism added gods to serve as objects of meditation. According to these schools, living beings can be reborn into various realms of existence, one of which is the realm of the gods. The Buddha was said to have taken various animal and human forms and reborn as a god several times. The gods (those born into the realm of the gods) are mortal and impermanent—i.e., they are born and die like other living beings. These gods do not play any role in the creation or sustenance of the cosmos. Adherents can meditate upon these gods and pray to them for practical (but not spiritual) benefits.

The Mahayana schools of Buddhism also believe in many supernatural beings that feature prominently in Buddhist art: various Buddha-figures, ghosts, demons, and bodhisattvas. Bodhisattvas are would-be Buddhas who represent various virtues of thought and action. In Tibetan Buddhism, for example, the Sitatara or the White Tara (‘star’ in Sanskrit) is a female Bodhisattva. She is a meditation deity who embodies compassion, longevity, and tranquility.

Buddhist God or Deity - Pu-Tai or Budai Finally, the Laughing Buddha (Pu-Tai or Budai in Chinese and Hotei in Japanese) is a holy person per Chinese folklore. He represents a future bodhisattva and epitomizes contentment. His popular image is often mistaken for that of Gautama Buddha. Rubbing Budai’s belly is said to bring good luck and prosperity.

Recommended Books & Films

  • English poet Edwin Arnold’s “The Light of Asia” (1879,) a book that deeply inspired Gandhi. The Light of Asia illustrates the life of Siddhartha Gautama, his enlightenment, character, and philosophy.
  • German theologian Rudolf Otto’s classic “The Idea of the Holy” (1917) explores the mystic, non-rational aspects of the idea of God and contains abundant references to foundational Buddhist teachings.
  • Italian filmmaker Bernardo Bertolucci’s “Little Buddha” (1993) includes an remarkable visual retelling of the life of Prince Siddhartha Gautama. Bertolucci also made the epic “The Last Emperor” (1987.)

Gandhi on the Doctrine of Ahimsa + Non-Violence in Buddhism


Non-Violence in Buddhism

“Thou shalt not kill.” This command forbids committing murder—specifically slaying a fellow human. The seventh of the Torah’s Ten Commandments (the Decalogue) allows for the execution of animals.

Non-Violence in Buddhism This specific tenet can be interpreted as comparatively lenient, even indulgent, compared to the mainstream Hinduism and the derivative Jain and Buddhist philosophies. Within these contexts, non-violence is a fundamental building block of ethics. Naturally, this idea of refraining from cruelty proscribes murder, but it also surpasses that guideline. In fact, practicing pacifism deters all varieties of violence against any sentient being, be it a human or an animal. Under the rule of non-violence, these creatures are protected from aggression, hostility, cruelty, sadism, and savagery—all unacceptable forms of conduct.

In accordance with the concept of anatta (the idea of there being no self,) Buddhism teaches us that, should we cling to the illusion of possessing autonomous ‘selves,’ we will fail to fully comprehend non-violence. Upon removal of the sense of the individual self, inflicting damage on another in turn damages the perpetrator. Should you inflict violence upon another, you too will suffer its effects.

Gandhi on the Doctrine of Ahimsa

Violence is the utmost form of asserting oneself over another. An alternative to aggression is Ahimsa or non-violence. This peaceful method was recognized as an entirely credible ethical code when Gandhi adopted it. He took up non-violence in his struggle against injustice and oppression, first as a peace leader in South Africa and then as the leader of India’s independence movement. Gandhi’s own definition of Ahimsa is as follows:

'Mahatma Gandhi: Essays and Reflections on His Life and Work' Edited by S. Radhakrishnan (ISBN 1553940261) Literally speaking, Ahimsa means “non-killing.” But to me it has a world of meaning, and takes me into realms much higher, infinitely higher. It really means that you may not offend anybody; you may not harbor an uncharitable thought, even in connection with one who may consider himself to be your enemy. To one who follows this doctrine there is no room for an enemy. But there may be people who consider themselves to be his enemies. So it is held that we may not harbor an evil thought even in connection with such persons. If we return blow for blow we depart from the doctrine of Ahimsa. But I go farther. If we resent a friend’s action, or the so-called enemy’s action, we still fall short of this doctrine. But when I say we should not resent, I do not say that we should acquiesce: by the word “resenting” I mean wishing that some harm should be done to the enemy; or that he should be put out of the way, not even by any action of ours, but by the action of somebody else, or, say, by divine agency. If we harbor even this thought we depart from this doctrine of Non-Violence.

Source: ‘Mahatma Gandhi: Essays and Reflections on His Life and Work’ edited by S. Radhakrishnan

No Duty is More Pressing than that of Gratitude: My Regret of Missing the Chance to Thank Prof. Sathya

I’d like to relate an incident that reiterated the value of human relationships and genuine outreach.

Guruswamy Sathyanarayanan, Lehigh University and Indian Institute of Science

Prof. Guruswamy Sathyanarayanan was a Fulbright scholar at the Indian Institute of Science, where I worked as a research assistant in the year 1999. “Sathya,” as he was fondly known, was a visiting professor from Lehigh University, Bethlehem PA.

Upon our acquaintance, I had observed that Sathya seemed stressed out from his work and had struggled to get his computer programs to run. I had offered to help him with computer programming and research on manufacturing processes. Our interaction had quickly evolved into a bond of mentorship. He was not particularly joyful, but was always genial and inquisitive. Over coffee breaks, we had many an interesting conversation about the relevance of Eastern Philosophy in the modern world.

At that time, I was applying for graduate school in the United States. Sathya had advised me on the schools to which I should apply based on my specific interests, the nuances of the application process, and the many components of the applications. On a particular day when my applications were due to be dispatched, he had me revise my personal essay repeatedly until he felt it was succinct enough to reflect my academic ideas and interests. When I thanked Sathya, he asked me to thank him only after receiving an admission and to keep him updated on my applications.

Three months later in March 2000, one late night, I received a call from a prestigious school. The school had admitted me to its graduate program with a 100% tuition waiver and a generous stipend for research in my area of choice, a precursor to 3D Printing. I was extremely delighted, but did not call Sathya because it was late at night.

The next morning, I learnt that Sathya had died the previous night of sudden heart attack. When I visited his home that afternoon, Sathya’s wife informed me that he had complained of uneasiness after a heated debate with a fellow-researcher on the progress of their research work. Sathya’s death came as a shock to me since he was only 47 years old and had a six-year old son.

I profusely regret not having called Sathya on that fateful night to express my gratitude for his mentorship of my application process. I am given to wonder if my success could have cheered him after his tense conversation with the research colleague—I’ll never know.

I never thanked Sathya in person, but I dedicated my master’s thesis to his memory.

Thesis Dedication: To the memory of my mentor and a great friend, Dr. Guruswamy Sathyanarayanan, Lehigh University

Call to Action: Practice Gratitude

There’s plenty of anecdotal and empirical evidence that practicing gratitude can considerably increase our sense of social well-being and happiness, yet we fail to acknowledge our blessings and thank people who’ve made a difference in our lives.

“The learned have prescribed penance for the murderer of a pious man, a drunkard, a thief or for one who has violated a solemn vow. But there is no pardon for the ungrateful,” asserts the Panchatantra, a collection of animal fables from ancient India.

Dear readers, there is no excuse for not conveying your feelings to your loved ones today. There is no excuse for not expressing your gratitude and appreciation today. There is no excuse for not taking a few minutes of your time to check-in on somebody who has influenced your life with his or her gift of kindness.

NOW is the time to appreciate the people who have helped you. This is your opportunity to do it—RIGHT NOW, while there is time.

Feed the Right Wolf

The two wolves inside us

A traditional American Indian story features a young Cherokee boy who once became annoyed that another boy had done him some injustice. After returning home, the young boy expressed his frustration to his grandfather.

The old Cherokee chief said to his grandson, “I too, at times, have felt a great hatred for those who have taken so much with no sorrow for what they do.

“Hatred wears you down, and hatred does not hurt your enemy. Hatred is like taking poison and wishing your enemy would die. I have struggled with these emotions many times.

“It’s as though a fight is continuously going on inside me. It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves.

“One wolf is good and does no harm. He is filled with joy, humility, and kindness. He lives in harmony with everyone around and does not take offense when no offense was intended. He will only fight when it is right to do so and in the right way.

“The other wolf is full of anger, envy, regret, greed, and self-pity. The littlest thing will set him into a fit of temper. He fights everyone all the time and for no reason. When blinded by his anger and hatred, he does not have a sound mind. It is helpless anger, because his anger will change nothing.

“It is hard to live with these two wolves inside me. These two wolves are constantly fighting to control my spirit.

“Young man, the same fight is going on inside you and inside every other person on this earth.”

The grandson thought about it for a moment and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win inside you, grandpa?”

The old Cherokee chief smiled and replied, “The one I feed.”

Dear readers, which wolf inside are you feeding?

The Right attitudes beget the right attitudes.

Humility is a Mark of the Great


Humility is a Life-long Pursuit

“Before destruction the heart of man is haughty, and before honor is humility.”
* The Holy Bible (Proverbs 18:12)

We live in a world that misconstrues the virtue of humility as a sign of meekness, timidity, lack of resolve, and, in general, a personal and leadership inadequacy. Could anything be more imprudent?

As the following narratives of great people will illustrate, humility is the bona fide characteristic of the truly accomplished and well-adjusted people. These great men and women live the life of modesty, unpretentiousness, and supreme confidence. They do not bear a sense of self-superiority and pride.

The Humility of Dr. Albert Einstein

“Einstein taught the greatest humility of all: that we are but a speck in an unfathomable large universe.”
* Time magazine, recognizing Albert Einstein as the Person of the Century

Albert Einstein, Theoretical Physicist, Philosopher Author Sometime in the ’50s, Don Merwin, a producer of the ‘This I Believe’ radio program, visited Albert Einstein‘s home in Princeton, New Jersey. He was to record Einstein speak his essay, “An Ideal of Service to Our Fellow Man” for the program. Don Merwin later recalled his experience: “I started setting up [the bulky tape recorder], and Dr. Einstein, who was a very amiable man, was chatting with me and expressed curiosity about tape-recording, which was fairly new in those days. He said, ‘How does it work?’ I started explaining the electronics of it, the way that the recording heads imprinted a signal on the moving tape. All of a sudden, I froze up. I said, ‘I am lecturing to Albert Einstein on physics!'” [Source: Allison, Jay, et al. (editors) “This I Believe: the Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women.”]

The Humility of Dr. M. Balamuralikrishna

M. Balamuralikrishna and Gangubai Hangal, celebrated Indian Classical vocalists Look at this 2007 picture from Deccan Herald, via Churumuri. Dr. M. Balamuralikrishna, the 79-year old celebrated Indian Classical vocalist, expresses deep reverence and seeks the blessings of the 96-year old Dr. Gangubai Hangal, another legendary vocalist.

The Humility of Sri Veerendra Heggade

Veerendra Heggade, guardian of the Dharmasthala temple How about this 2009 picture from Karnataka News (via Churumuri?) Sri Veerendra Heggade, the widely respected guardian of a prominent temple in South India, holds an umbrella to shield from sun blaze the chairman of a culture convention at a parade in the latter’s honor.

The Humility of Peter Drucker

Peter Drucker, the 'Father of Modern Management' I have read of many an instance of the humility of Peter Drucker, the most influential management philosopher of the modern era. Here are two anecdotes:

  • Executive-education student Cathy Taylor remembers Peter Drucker conscientiously writing down autograph seekers’ names on a napkin to get the spelling correct before he made the formal inscription.
  • Forbes magazine publisher Rich Karlgaard remembers Peter Drucker “apologizing for taking so long to answer the doorbell at his modest home in Claremont, California. He said he was still adapting to his new artificial knees.”

Call for Action: Try to Practice Humility

Humility is simply the absence of pride. Humility and modesty are the marks of a genuine individual. However, practicing humility is often easier said than done. Deplorably, our society and world of work characterizes humility as significantly antithetical to the impression of the intelligent professional and competent leader. It is rather easy to succumb to the temptation to enhance our ego.

Hard as it may be, try to practice humility whenever an opportunity arises. Here are few remainders to bear in mind.

Don’t Let Perfect be the Enemy of Done

Don't let 'Perfect' be the enemy of 'Done'

Google’s Marissa Mayer on Perfection

In an interview with the Fast Company magazine, Marissa Mayer, Vice President of search products and user experience at Google, compares two product launch strategies:

Some [programmers] like to code for months or even years, and hope they will have built the perfect product. That’s castle building. Companies work this way, too. Apple is great at it. If you get it right and you’ve built just the perfect thing, you get this worldwide ‘Wow!’ The problem is, if you get it wrong, you get a thud, a thud in which you’ve spent, like, five years and 100 people on something the market doesn’t want.

Marissa Mayer, Google's Vice President for search products and user experience Others prefer to have something working at the end of the day, something to refine and improve the next day. That’s what we do: our ‘launch early and often’ strategy. The hardest part about indoctrinating people into our culture is when engineers show me a prototype and I’m like, “Great, let’s go!” They’ll say, “Oh, no, it’s not ready.” … They want to castle-build and do all these other features and make it all perfect. I tell them … to launch it early on Google Labs and then iterate, learning what the market wants–and make it great. The beauty of experimenting in this way is that you never get too far from what the market wants.

By releasing new products and features before they are completely refined, as ‘beta’ releases, Google and other technology companies can gain significant advantages over the competition. The products can be marketed earlier and initial users can identify problems with unfinished products and suggest new product features. A case in point: Google’s popular ‘Gmail’ or ‘Google Mail’ application has remained ‘beta’ since April 2004.

The approach of releasing ‘half-baked’ products is limited to certain industries and products. And, for sure, these ‘beta’-products are expected to include all the critical functional features expected of the product. Airlines will not fly a new aircraft that has not yet passed comprehensive tests and regulatory certification.

‘Perfect’ Is Often THE Enemy of ‘Done’

When you aim for perfection, you discover it’s a moving target.
George Fisher

Fighting perfection to get things done On our personal and professional initiatives, we tend to wait for the perfect time, the perfect team, or the perfect conditions. The end-result is that we never get started on the initiative. If we do start and then aspire for a perfect design, we may never get done.

Some of us, yours truly included, are chronic perfectionists. We tend to be excessively self-critical and demanding of ourselves. Our struggle for perfection habitually turns into an endless quest for making ‘better’ a ‘little better.’ Any state of perfection ceases to exist when we question the perfection–when we ask how perfect the perfection is.

Make ‘Perfect Enough’ the New Perfect

We need to accept the prospect of compromises to our goals and aspirations. We need to acknowledge that our expectations are often excessive and uncalled for. When we develop a ‘good enough’ or ‘perfect enough’ mindset, we realize that imperfection is, after all, a negotiable outcome. There will always be a chance to improve.

Credits: Marissa Mayer’s photo courtesy of Google