Are you surviving or living?

19, Oct, 2012, by Seema Bhatnagar

Are you surviving or living? A question looks so simple to answer, in fact almost everyone would answer it as "living" but if you dive deep into introspection you might change your answer.

Survival is such a powerful word that it can make even the mightiest to lose power. Our each and every decision in life is based on this single word. Our whole existence as an individual derives its relevance because we are surviving. Over the last millions of years, nature is striving to ensure survival of all forms. The most primitive definition of survival is, having a safe shelter, stomach full and life without any threat, especially from animals during the caveman days. This is a most common definition we all know. But over the period of time, humans have evolved and got civilized and these basic needs of shelter and food are no longer posing a direct survival threat. But still many of us would find themselves under its grip.

If you are in business, you must have heard it quite often that so and so company could not survive the competition. Since childhood, we are taught day and night to survive the competition in class, college and finally in job and interestingly, true for relationships as well.

So, the big question - "What is survival"?

Nature wants propagation of all life forms to sustain life on this planet. To ensure that, nature has hardwired all beings to protect themselves from dangers and threats. Interestingly, nature has kept the triggering of survival mechanism so automatic that we don't even get a chance to think when to activate our response, it gets triggered in millionth of a second; an interesting example would be, imagine if you come across a deadly snake in your bed, without a second thought you will run away from that place to save your life first and then would think of handling it.

In a more everyday practical situation, if your boss is not happy with your work and criticize you, you automatically feel a sense of insecurity of losing your job. In relationships, if your partner/spouse is not giving you enough attention you would feel insecure. All such insecurities in life become a breeding ground for survival threats. Our reaction to these insecurities is called as "flight-or-fight", i.e. either fight with a situation there or leave the ground, check out more in my previous article How to live a stress-free life?.

In general, our mind perceives all negativities as life threatening. Tension, anxiety and stress are the indicators of negative situation one is going through inside. Since we cannot run away (or flight) from the situation, we decide to fight with a situation and hence tension and anxiety are the natural outcome of this tussle.

If we talk about tension and stress then in our so called "modern life" these have become an integral part and few of us take proud and feel happy to share the fact that we are in a great stress because people think that having more stress means living a powerful life replete with money and position.

New Age Survival Threats

Almost every day, you could read a news about so and so person committed suicide due to depressing state and inability of paying back loans, so and so because of overdose of drugs and many more such instances. In developed and in some of the powerfully emerging economies of the world, the meaning of survival has entirely changed. All big economies of the world encourage people to spend more and encourage them to become voracious consumers. Spending more creates a perception that if you earn more then you have better prestige and status in society. Since it is indeed the easiest way to catch somebody's attraction and interest, people find it quite attractive option to follow.

With this reality in front, it is obvious that our survival definition has changed to a large extent. Humans are no longer motivated to strive to earn to live simply but to consume more. It is like, if you have a house then you want a bigger and plusher one, if you have a decent food cooked at home you would like to go out to try out a new dish at restaurant, if you have enough clothes you would buy more to look more chic and this list is just endless.

Our thinking is completely conditioned by consumerism. In this scenario, when earning more is a mantra then earning less surely means a direct survival threat since it is a negative situation perceived by mind. So the possible survival threats in modern age could be:

  1. Not having enough money to buy a car or a nice big house.
  2. Not having a fleet of car and a mansion.
  3. Not able to go for exotic vacations.
  4. Not able to buy designer clothes.
  5. Not able to eat in five star hotels.
  6. Not having the latest version of gadget.
  7. Not able to give costly gifts to spouse or partner.

Inability to enjoy these luxuries creates insecurity of losing reputation, social respect and prestige in society, because individual attaches his/her self-worth with the accumulation of these items. In order to respond to these survival threats one is always thinking of overcoming these insecurities and ensuring that self worth is maintained at any cost.

"When you are content to be simply yourself and don't compare or compete, everybody will respect you." ~ Lao Tzu

Self-worth which determines individual's self-confidence and trust in self, when gets externally controlled, even a mild threat is perceived as a direct attack on self. So the sole objective of an individual becomes "EARNING MORE and SPENDING MORE". In this vicious cycle of earning and consuming more, an individual experience groans of doing things which they would dislike doing otherwise.

Thousands of people are committing suicide because they could not respond well to these new age survival threats. Millions of people who are in job feel themselves as slaves because they are constantly working under stress without any hope of respite. The compulsion behind undergoing stress is either they have to run their families with a decent living or they have to pay monthly EMIs for new and bigger home or some other new age threat.

Possessing more materialistic paraphernalia in life determines prestige in society to gain power over others which creates a false notion of strong self worth. A common man gets influenced by money power and hence people believe that money is the ultimate power that ensures survival. But you may refer history and see how many millionaires died of depression and overdose of drugs.

If consumerism is such a strong force then does that mean, lack of money is the only threat to survival or there are other pressing conditions which compels us to feel as if we are simply surviving? Losing a relationship, losing a position at work, losing a job, losing parents, having some impairment or old age are some of the other threats which makes one feel as if one is merely surviving.

Even though, one is earning to personal satisfaction and has accumulated enough for life time, but deep down one feels groans of hollowness and "something is missing' feeling. You must have heard from people saying, "Life is not perfect", "oh…I do not have this", "I am struggling with finances", "I am overcoming my recent break up" etc.. Why is it so when every possible gadget is available which promises world's happiness available at a mouse click? It is because we are living with a survival mindset and constantly thinking about surviving the competition and how to impress others and our focus of life is on the things which are not really essential but nice-to-have ones.

The ugly effects

Living with a survival mindset has its own detrimental effects which are not clearly visible to us. Following are some:

  1. Loss of creativity
  2. It arrests creativity and one cannot dare to live life with full expression. It is simply because mind is busy in ensuring that it has to save body from external dangers however mild it may be. Creativity arrives only when survival threat is absent and mind is dead sure of no negativity or external influence. In fact, why we see so many copy cats and very few creative people around because majority of people are living with a survival mindset.

  3. Selection of limited careers
  4. To enhance the possibility of surviving the tough circumstance of life, we all are conditioned since our childhood with a continuous pressure to choose only those careers which can guarantee regular inflow of money. This compels individuals to choose very conventional and limited careers and hence opportunity of choosing a career based on one's interest and talent gets lost.

  5. Low consciousness
  6. Living under constant survival threat lowers individual's consciousness. Instead of taking decisions consciously and using free will, one is always thinking of surviving the threats which makes individual to experience anger, hatred, jealousy and contempt towards others. This reduces the collective consciousness of the world. This is another reason of rampant crime and corruption prevailing all over the world.

What is the way out?

As long as our self-worth is dependent on approval from others and externally controlled the feeling of survival threat is natural. You cannot beat everybody in the competition of accumulating more and more until you reach the top of Forbes list, in fact even that change quite regularly. It is very well true that everybody has to survive in order to enjoy life, so what is the way out. Does that mean renouncing everything in life and become saint or create distance from people who are better off then you?

Before we delve into finding ways for responding to survival threats, let's understand what could be the other and powerful perspective of looking at life. The other perspective towards life is "Living Life" than surviving life; it is simply a different mindset of looking at life.

start living life

Living Life

Living life is doing what you love and feel fulfilled and satisfied to your deepest core. It is not about comparing bank balance, the size of the house, the number of owned latest and costly gadgets. It is about living life with full expression of self. Remember, no amount of money can buy you the satisfaction which you can achieve when you do things which aligns with your true nature. The moment you go against your true nature, our mind perceives it as negativity and hence consider it as a survival threat.

Why living life is important?

Maslow's hierarchy of needs says that when an individual is above basic needs of life i.e. food, shelter and clothes then only s/he can pursue higher causes in life. Higher causes mean living and helping others, being creative, being innovative or in plain simple words when one is aligned with true self. Interestingly, if one looks into history and read about people who changed the course of history, were those who never mulled about survival even when they were facing the harsh realities of life, the most important aspect for them was the purpose they had in mind and rest everything was unimportant and redundant. The most perfect (my favorite as well) example would be of M.K Gandhi. He was almost penniless when he was in South Africa fighting against racism and injustice for local Indian businessmen. But during those tough times he never bothered about how he would survive and simply focused on his work with pure dedication and devotion. People were worried about his health and survival but he said I need only two meals a day, getting that would be sufficient to run my life. This is just to highlight the fact that when you love your work you feel less tempted towards inessential things in life.The real intellectual inside you shines only when you are not grappling with any survival threat.

Live life - How?

With a deep and sincere respect for individuality for every human being I feel, there cannot be any guideline but still there are certain practices which were followed by great personalities who left indelible mark behind.

"Man falls from the pursuit of the ideal of plain living and high thinking the moment he wants to multiply his daily wants. History gives ample proof of this. Man's happiness really lies in contentment. He who is discontented, however much he possesses, becomes a slave to his desires. And there is really no slavery equal to that of the desires. All the sages have declared from the house-tops that man can be his own worst enemy as well as his best friend. To be free or to be a slave lies in his own hands. And what is true for the individual is true for society." ~ Mahatma Gandhi

Once again, I would take an example of M.K Gandhi's life, as he is my inspiration for life. He proposed and practiced a powerful concept of simplicity. His whole life is a message of "LESS IS MORE". According to him, needs of human beings are very less, mostly it is the greed which makes people to accumulate. When you have less things you can focus on more important things in life especially the personal growth. This is such a simple truth but it has enormous depth. You can understand and appreciate the idea of simplicity only when you have reached to point where you know the difference between living life and surviving.

If you are serious about fighting back the survival threat then probably following simple ways may prove helpful.

  1. Simplify
  2. Check out on your needs, how much you need to in order to run your daily life. Buy things which you really need. Make conscious decisions of buying things and do not succumb to temptation of buying NOW. I am sure; you would arrive at a very simple list which would amaze you. Initially, you might feel that people are mocking at you for adopting simplicity but do not pay any heed to them as they do not have that level of maturity to appreciate this powerful concept.

  3. Develop focus
  4. Focus on your talents, strength and skills and strive to develop them to a level of excellence. If your work is aligned with your talent and skill then that would mean you are spending at least fifty percent of your time in harmony with self.

  5. Get Involved
  6. A general convention says, if you are doing a job you are considered as busy and involved, but in my terms, I would say people are simply occupied and busy and not involved, for majority, it is a 9-5 grind. Getting involved means, deep interest in the cause, you feel yourself deeply identified with what you do. You do it because you want to do it and not compelled to do it. Many people feel involved with deep satisfaction when they help others, some may be when they do something creative. It varies from person to person.

    You must discover what is that cause which makes you feel deeply involved and satisfied. Strive and live for it. Check out my previous blog post on Should I do what I love to do?

  7. Create choices in life
  8. An English proverb says, "The burden of choice is not felt", yes, very true, once you makes choices in life you would rather love to handle challenges rather than responding to it as a survival threat.

    This is another way to empower self. Figure out the available choices you have in a given situation. I am 200% sure, you always have minimum two choices i.e. "Accept" or "Reject". But both these come with their own set of consequences. If you are willing to invest time and energy in thinking choices for a given situation, I am sure your problem is half resolved. Personally, whenever I am in a tough situation, I try to assess all the available choices and embrace only that which makes me happiest and peaceful irrespective of the cost attached to it. The positive side of this is you never feel that you were compelled by the situation and gave in; rather you feel that you had choices and you embraced the one which gave promised maximum pleasantness and that matters most. Apply this thinking in your work, in developing relationships or for any area of personal development, you will get excellent results.

My Personal Experience

I must admit, I was also smitten by consumerism but not to the extent that it could influence my self-worth. There was a time when I used to love shopping and would buy things which I do not really need. In all those moments of weakness, I would think that this is the best and last opportunity to buy this particular thing, if I do not buy now I will miss this opportunity. And then, I would buy the thing and would make it as a most important part of my collection and then would forget that I have other things also lying in my closet. In today's date, I have so much that I am simply looking for opportunities to share my belongings with others. I have already given out many things to others, believing that I do not need much in order to live a simple and ordinary life. On the name of shopping, now I buy only those things which I really need to run my life, be it clothes, accessories or any other essential item.

As I worked on international assignments for long years and lived independently, I had all the required money and opportunity to spend like crazy but I always kept my boundaries defined and allowed myself to splurge only on some very important occasions. Have always loved the idea of simple life. The habit of living with frugality and simplicity has been given by my mother, thanks to her, since my childhood, she always taught me and my other siblings not to waste money on things which do not last longer. She herself is a simple person who believes in saving and recycling things to manage home. She always encouraged us to save for future so that in bad times you do not have to beg from others. This habit has become so ingrained in me that it constantly reminds me that I should not borrow from others and must not waste on things which I do not need.

I sincerely admit that on certain occasions I deviated from this habit but those deviations were minor enough to be ignored. I am so happy about the fact that only because of this habit; today I am able to afford a life free from survival mindset and living a peaceful and powerful life without feeling any burden of paying monthly EMI, payments for credit cards and paying back loans from friends.

The message I want to drive home is, if you are under any survival threat then assess your needs, develop trust in your capabilities and skills and analyze the current situation from a new perspective and create choices. This will enhance your confidence and trust in yourself. Rather than attaching your self-worth with things which you do not even need, attach your self-worth with your talents, strengths and skills, you would feel the power inside and would be able to lead a powerful life.

Always remember, you are in a much better position than those millions who are homeless, starving and have no certainty in life. Many have taken a route of committing suicide as the final response to survival threat, but I would say, except in a very rarest of rare situation, there is always a way out and one must not lose the opportunity of testing one's endurance and tenacity.

Start Living

If any area of life, be it work, relationship, career or finance is posing you any negativity and you are constantly thinking about coming out of it then you are living under survival threat. Leave everything aside and attend to that negativity and get rid of it at ANY COST. You must live your life in perfect alignment with your true self. Having plush home with ultra modern gadget is meaningless if you are not able to enjoy them fully. Such a life is burden and you must not burden yourself with this undesirable baggage.

Start living your life, identify what you love to do, it might sound crazy initially as we are deeply conditioned of living a prescribed life written by society. The most important underlying message is DO NOT ATTACH YOUR SELF WORTH WITH BANK BALANCE AND NUMBER OF COSTLY ITEMS IN YOUR HOME or plain and simple NO SHOW OFF. Instead, identify your strengths, talents, skills and your uniqueness in this world, adjust your lifestyle and think of practicing simplicity. If you have skills and the required will you will get what you want in life, it is only a matter of time and right opportunity. You are born to live a purposeful life and not to earn and spend like an idiot, you are full of wisdom.

Successful people are not worried about the amount of money they are earning and how much they have accumulated rather how much they love their work, money is just a byproduct of that love. For them, their work is another form of meditation. It reminds me of Albert Einstein, it is said that he used to say, he understand people by deriving mathematical formulas. Amazing, isn't it, how deeply involved he was.

One must live life to fullest rather than simply overcoming the survival threats of everyday life. A survival mindset simply makes you feel week and fragile from inside. If you are not living life, you are simply wasting the abundant resource of creativity which nature has gifted you. Through this resource you too can leave an indelible mark in a history and it starts with a simple realization that "Life starts after survival". So, Start living NOW….

image©Seema Bhatnagar Bhatnagar

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Seema Bhatnagar
, Blogger, Writer, Life Coach and Founder of Abundance Thinkers, site for personal growth and development. Empowering people in achieving and living the best of personal potential.

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