Digital Learning Design – You Sure You Have all the Pieces?

Digital learning is gaining momentum as technology continues to disrupt every facet of modern life. We hear of newer models, thinking, approaches, tools, platforms, devices and network based education offerings. The adult learners, who form the significant part of corporate learning and general continuing education initiative, have been at the center of many such offerings. It is very surprising that the two key parameters – interest of the learners and the impact of the interventions, do not report any major improvements. Since eLearning came to be a part of mainstream education offerings, there have been parallel reports of low completion rates, lower assessment scores and certification and lowest confidence of the academic community about its ability to deliver significant value by itself. That however, doesn’t stop the digital learning juggernaut to spew more disruptions like flipped learning, gaming and simulations and Nano-degrees. Success of digital learning platforms like TED, YouTube, Khan Academy and many more has been unprecedented, and more initiatives are coming up at an accelerated pace. In this note, I look at this dichotomy and explore possible sources of the same.

The relevance of digital learning certainly needs to be re-established at one fundamental level – can they be generalized across all learner profiles? For e.g. the cognitive stage of a learner can be looked at as an indicator of learners’ capability to learn. We know that adult learners demonstrate maturity, self-confidence, autonomy, independent decision-making, practicality, multi-tasking, sense of purpose, self-directed, experience, and less open-mindedness or receptivity to change. All these traits affect their ability and their motivations to learn.

Just as Malcolm Knowles’ (see Andragogy Core Learning Principles) thoughts on adult learning made a significant impact on the redesign of learning intervention for learners of different ages, it is prudent to create similar demarcation in the digital world too. It is not a common sight to see any digital content openly proclaiming the suitable learner age mentioned distinctly.

While we mull over the point above, let’s go further ahead and highlight the next level of distinction based on the maturity of the learner. Even though there is a clear and definitive point legally to be considered an adult, we see great number of variances in the manifestations of rights and privileges an individual enjoys as an adult (for e.g. Voting, Driving, Owning, Drinking, etc.). It is an accepted basis to think of an adult as someone who-accepts responsibility, makes independent decisions, and is financially independent. These are very overt and visible real life signals. While in the context of learning, as we established in the earlier section, one rarely gets any visible signals to take a call on the learner’s “adultness”. It therefore is valuable to consider the intermediate phase of a learner that psychologists call “emerging adulthood” or “extended adolescence”. The psychologists also posit that there is a phased transition that an individual goes through from adolescence to adulthood. It would be logical to see this as a continuum of phases of a learner and incorporate it into the digital learning design. The idea of self-efficacy (defined as personal judgments of one’s capabilities to organize and execute courses of action to attain designated goals – Bandura 1977) is possibly the closest approximation on the thought of this continuum. Self-efficacy is posited to be a key component in social cognitive theory leading to performance capabilities. Using it as a basis Rickbaugh proposed a Learning Independence Continuum (2012). The idea of “Independence continuum” fits well to elaborate “adultness” aspect of learner better.

In the conventional world, the facilitator tries to use their judgment and ongoing feedback to adjust for the learner’s position on the continuum. However, in the digital world, this won’t happen unless the session is designed and delivered to a learner fully mapped for her level of learning independence. For certain, it would be difficult to objectively establish an accurate point on the continuum. Added to this, neither do we have well defined learning approach to configure learning interventions with such details, nor would it be viable to develop such customized program. Hence the idea is largely ignored possibly making the makes digital play fall short of being the panacea in the learning space as well. It is of value to dig deeper and elaborate the contributing factors to this divide and pave the way towards bridging it.

The learner continuum could form a good basis to design better offerings for the “range of adults” as they exist in the real world. I use the key traits of adult learners established well in the existing references and draw out the implications and imperatives for improved digital learning design.

Trait 1 – Increasing need to take responsibility and strong resentment if their privilege to choose is taken away. Without the control over their learning, they will resist learning and even disrupt the learning facilitation efforts.

Implication – The learners desire to take more control over their learning is both an indicator of the position on the continuum and the basis to get the learner involved.

Digital Design Imperatives

  • Overtly include the adult in the configuration of individual learning plan
  • Build self -assessment and evaluation to establish readiness for the outcomes
  • Build an equal relationship with the learner, rather than a hierarchical one.
  • Ensure that there is greater availability of instructions so that the learner at various points of the continuum can be in control of their learning

Trait 2 – A greater reservoir of life experiences. They need to link any new learning to their prior knowledge. The validity of new ideas and concepts needs to “fit” their existing view.

Implication – Based on their position in the continuum, the learner would bring their experiences and it can be used as a resource in their learning efforts

Digital Design Imperatives

  • Harvest all the experiences and prior learning of the learners in the area
  • Make it convenient to link them to the new ideas
  • Engage in active and mature idea sharing activities to find the fit with the prior experiences

Trait 3 – Their learning is voluntary and they exercise personal choices to learn professional or any specific skills. Their motivation to learn is a function of the perceived fit of the choice made.

Implication: Based on the position on the continuum the learner’s level of motivation for the learning would be established

Digital Design Imperatives

  • Put higher efforts and time on facilitating the areas that the learner is motivated to pursue
  • Ignore/minimize the efforts to justify the importance of an area to learn in any way other than linking them to their personal choices

Trait 4 – They evaluate the value of any learning immediately applicable to their situation and needs. They don’t give the same value/enthusiasm to “Abstractions” and “theory” of future relevance or learning unless they develop the generalizations themselves.

Implications – “Reality orientation” is an indicator of a learner position on the continuum. The practicality of the learning needs to be established upfront.

Digital Design Imperatives

  • Understand the desired outcomes of the learners
  • Let the application needs of the learners define the core body of the program
  • Integrate self-assessment and learning alignment to ensure stickiness
  • Start with the real-world view, allow the learner to theorize and close with compelling evidence of outcomes

Trait 5 – They let the learner role and not their self-identity fix the priority for the learning. They play multiple roles and these create conflicting and competing demands on the learner limited time and energy to read or study

Implications – The primacy of self-identity as a learner in the mind of the learner is a function of their position on the continuum

Digital Design Imperatives

  • Allow flexibility in the programs
  • Ensure clear expectation setting and alerts for reading or studying efforts from them
  • Ensure that there are intermediate and quick goals and ensure that they understand the need to move ahead to accomplish their final goal
  • Design multiple efforts to get better priority from the learner
  • Leverage learner’s other roles and responsibilities to achieve the outcomes

Trait 6 – They allocate lower priority for learning, as they allocate all the energy to primary roles and often compromise on the personal commitment made to learn

Implication – Use the position on the continuum to create more aligned basis for them to see sustained value and resist procrastination in learning

Digital Design Imperatives

  • Account for counseling to establish the value and priority outside of the learning design
  • Provide guidance to help learners to be realistic about the demands of learning
  • Provide initial and intermediate time management and learning efforts suggestions.

Trait 7 – They hold negative perceptions such as eroded study skills, meager grasp, assessment apprehension, or sometimes devise more novel barriers to learn

Implications – The self-confidence in their learning skills is a function of their position on the continuum. There is a need to reassure them of their ability to learn what they find useful.

Digital Design Imperatives

  • Design approaches that reinforces confidence in the learners
  • Start by initiating the learner on some basic study skills and ways of improving comprehension
  • Use collaborative learning approaches to address anxiety
  • Continuously reassure them of the progress
  • Keep a look out to identify and address any learning breakdown or gaps

Trait 8 – They tend to be resistant to changes and feel learning is not making them any better and find the outcomes unpredictable

Implications – Position on the continuum is an indicator of the expected resistance to learning from the change perspective. Idealistic and far reaching changes are often discarded.

Digital Design Imperatives

  • Concentrate on the “why” questions in the beginning of the program
  • Do not abandon or discount their current learning to emphasise the need to change
  • Build new concepts based on older, understood, and accepted concepts
  • Design for sustained, demonstrable incremental changes through their efforts
  • Encourage exploration, self-pursued concept build up and basis to reject status quo
  • Involve the learner in designing the “how” of the changes by themselves

Trait 9 – They over compensate all the learning limitations by leveraging the learning curve and what they learn is learned at a deeper and more integrative level

Implication – Their position on the continuum is also an indicator of their ability to leverage the learning curve to make the learning efficient and engaged

Digital Design Imperatives

  • Ensure easier pace of learning in the early part of the program
  • Leverage the learning curve as the learner moves ahead in the program
  • Ensure that all the relevant background and dependencies are overtly included in the learning design
  • Use intuitive pre-session content to trigger current knowledge connections

It is established that adult learners (in contrast to younger aged learners) need a different approach but if we see closely at the traits demonstrated by them, there is an equal diversity that exists between them too. eLearning blindly followed the “one size fits all” policy of conventional learning. This will not work if we are looking to leverage the power of digital innovations in the learning space. As the technology becomes more intelligent and intuitive, the design and use of technology needs to follow the suit. There have been many innovative products and services that have made significant impact on learning, but it might not be wrong to say that we are still scratching the surface. At the most fundamental level, we still follow linear and organic growth models. While technology will maintain the exponential development pace independent of the endorsements by the users, it would need efforts to concentrate on cultural change, learner focus, and factual analysis if the value of digital innovation is to be realized by learners. As we breach the frontiers of our understanding of the universe, learning remains the prime mover at the apex of all human endeavor. The critical question to ask is – would we keep the progress linear or do we have the conviction to opt for exponential digital disruption?

 

 

Learning as a Facilitator

Learning is a very delicate idea and helping someone else to learn adds a few new dimensions of challenges to it. To start with, we all assume that we know how to learn. It might be possible for us to pick some of the simple intuitive actions and ideas by just aping our environment, but we need a through grounding to learn with explicit progress. A true adult learner should have three simple capability – to come up with an original idea, connect it with reality and see through its implications.

Let’s test the three aspects with the idea of learning. Can you come up with an original view of the same? Let’s say you do, that would itself place you in an elite group. Connecting it to reality might seem simple as in all likeliness, you reached this idea by processing the “real world facts” you hold. But herein lies a small catch – you might be working on perceptions, alternative facts, or even plain hoax. Much far away from fact – a piece of information “presented” as having objective reality. Finally, looking at implications, we are now treading in the realm of fiction, speculation, conjectures, and comparatives. Future rarely follows the mandated outcomes of the present and past premises. This would possibly get you thinking how challenging the process of facilitation, i.e. helping others to learn, could be.

Why should I be using a less used term like “facilitation” as against the more popular one like teaching? I intend to kick start our own learning process though this. Teaching as a word has a few inherent challenges. Probably more because it is associated with the idea of responsibility, authority, expertise, unidirectionality and to some extent unquestionability (more because of first two points) which undermines the idea of learning. Some of the other words like lecturing, training, professing, and many words associated with the education profession follow the same trend. Facilitation instantly orients the act more effectively with the learner’s interest, capability, ownership, and goals. However, there is a need to elaborate the idea of facilitation and the role a facilitator plays. But before we debate teaching versus facilitation, let’s look at the complexities around the act of learning itself.

Learning as a Facilitator Thought Point 1: Understand that Learning is a counter-intuitive

Let’s start at a seemingly counter-intuitive aspect of learning. Is learning logical? I have seen most natural response to be – of course. But if we look at the idea a bit deeper, you might begin to doubt your intuition. Learning is a paradox. The famous Meno’s paradox given by Plato explains this beautifully. Simply put it says “you can’t learn anything that you don’t already know”. If this is true, then is the idea of facilitation futile? On the contrary the sooner a learning facilitator recognises this anomaly, more effective are her efforts to help learners. Why so? Because you now have a necessary precondition – start from what is known, to be able to deliver the intended outcomes.

The learning paradox is not the only illogical aspect of learning. It’s an accepted fact that to be the fittest and survive, one needs to evolve, i.e., learn and change continuously. If learning is a continuous process, what motivations can one really hold to learn? Not everyone would get excited like Socrates with an idea like “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing”. If one needs to run just to stay at a place, why get on the treadmill at all? Right from the Greek philosophers’ dialogs to modern thinkers like Eckhart Tolle, many have delved into this question. We all know multiple answers to this question; but as a facilitator be ready to face this challenge. Offering the act of learning as a “progressively futile exercise” is not an easy sale.

Action Implications: When you acknowledge, the logical dilemma associated with the learning you are trying to facilitate you would:

  1. Appreciate the illogical thoughts and actions of the learner
  2. The resistance and disinterest you might face from the learner
  3. Look deeper than just transferring the thought or idea
  4. Keep the focus on learning process as much as the learning outcomes
  5. Reaffirm the transient nature of learning

Learning as a Facilitator Thought Point 2: Recognize that Learning is to change

If that made sense, we are ready to move to an abstract level. Have you thought of a metaphor for learning? Some of the common ones include a light bulb, a flame or even a flash of light. They usually represent the visibility associated with the knowledge that learning gives. Another way to understand learning is to think of learning as a metaphor. Why so? because, here we look at learning as an outcome itself rather than it being an intermediary leading to another (possibly more important) outcome. As a learning facilitator, your role is limited to delivering the first outcome. It’s important to realise our own scope of control and the true promise we can make to a learner. So, if we look at learning as a metaphor, what do you think this metaphor represents? There could be multiple answers to this question and some I can offer are evolution, destruction, progress and possibly the simplest one – change. Change is the most fundamental and necessary precursor to learning and hence a powerful idea that learning could be a metaphor for.

One of the biggest proponent of learning being change is – Dr. Michael Merzenich, professor emeritus of neuroscience, of University of California, San Francisco. He says “To learn is to change how you think”. He is an authority on brain study and its ability to actively re-wire itself. Before him many philosophers and thinkers have associated learning to change. As a facilitator, it is important to understand and embrace this idea for two critical preconditions – a basis to help a learner assess if learning happened and more importantly to acknowledge that you are working against a belief that needs to change.

Action Implications: When you acknowledge, the change associated with the learning outcome you are trying to facilitate you would:

  1. Recognise the current idea held by the learner that you need to change
  2. Build a logic for the learner to accept the change
  3. Design actions that learner needs to undertake for the learning (change) to happen
  4. Help the learner understand the learning outcome achieved
  5. Establish the transient nature of learning

Learning as a Facilitator Thought Point 3: Recognize that Learning is caused by and causes Questions

The preceding two thoughts aligns one to the idea of facilitation in contrast to teaching. If you are still wearing the teaching hat, you might want to ask yourself one simple question – Do I really have all the answers? Or, more importantly, is it enough to just have answers addressing the current needs? If we know the question, post fact we most certainly know the correct answers. However, if we start with an answer, how certain are we that we will know the question. If you remember Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, you know 42 doesn’t reveal much. Now ask this question to yourself as a facilitator – To learn, is it more effective to help a learner ask right questions to unravel the future thus enabling each question to lead to a more powerful question digging deeper or just giving them a simple answer of how you see the future to be? This brings us to the next challenge a facilitator needs to overcome – Do I give the answers or build the capability to ask questions?

The idea of learning as a skill is greatly supported by the idea that questions help one learn. While an answer could be right or wrong, it carries the ego of the person giving the answer, it is contextual and laden with assumptions, and most critically it comes with an expiry date. Answers are not poor or unimportant or even marginal in value, just that questions help learners to learn better. As a facilitator, it is important that you make learners dig deep into their own realm of knowledge and understanding and ask questions. Noel Burch of Gordon Training International (GTI) gave us a very powerful framework to understand our learning process – four stages for learning any new skill as depicted in the figure. It is an important idea to recognise that facilitation is primarily a play between levels 2 and 3 – the idea that learning is triggered by getting conscious of an incompetence as a vulnerability. It is also an equally important realization that awareness precedes learning. Embedded in this realization is the fact that, awareness leads to questions.

Action Implications: When you acknowledge, the importance of questions in the process of learning you would:

  1. Encourage more questions from your learner
  2. Give the learner the confidence to be vulnerable and identify their triggers
  3. Free yourself from the burden of being the possessor of all answers
  4. Help a learner to dig deeper into their understanding to address their vulnerability
  5. Keep the focus on continuous evolution of learning outcomes for the learners

Learning as a Facilitator Thought Point 4: Recognize that when a facilitator doesn’t learn, no one else does

You are a learning facilitator and not an expert who is expected to know it all. You don’t help a learner to learn by giving precious pearls of wisdom from your all-encompassing knowledgebase. In the modern context, there are many sources right from google to AI assistants and so on which can act as the knowledge repository with more currency and ease. So, is the age of teaching dead? In the adult learning space, it has been dead for a while now. Our attempts to flog this dead horse has been giving us horrible results in terms of little or no relevancy of the graduates to the modern tasks, roles, and career paths. Unemployable graduates are a hard reality hitting the global job market for a long time now. Being a facilitator is possibly the new avatar every teacher need to transition into. The natural realization of this act would be that no one’s learning is ever complete.

As a facilitator one needs to continuously learn, more so, when they are facilitating others to learn. In my view if the facilitator is not learning, no one in the session is. A simple self-check to assess your own performance as a facilitator is to ask yourself – did I learn in the session today? A 20th century American physicist, Frank Oppenheimer was a true visionary to have recognised that “The best way to learn is to teach (to help others learn).” This way you have more people searching their understanding and asking questions that could trigger your own learning process. The facilitator also needs to keep her own interest and excitement with the context, content, and concepts in a learning session at the highest level, regardless of repetitions. This is possible only if the facilitator actively interacts with the happenings and learns along. The critical need is to pay attention to the questions being asked in the session – by you as well as by the learners. Be more attentive to the questions that make you vulnerable. Once you start experiencing the gaps in your own knowledge and understanding, the energy of your interaction would also rise. The excitement of learning is critical to propel learning and if the facilitator is not herself learning, maintaining the energy is a difficult act. This also gives a facilitator an exit from their worst nightmare – being asked a question in the class that they don’t know the answer of. Instead of trying to find a smart exit or just plead ignorance, celebrate your success in taking the learning of a class beyond themselves. More readily you realise that your key role is to help the learners to learn, the faster you are liberated from the burden of knowing it all and opening your mind to learning.

Action Implications: When you acknowledge the value of learning yourself as a precursor to your learners’ learning, you would:

  1. Recognise yourself as a learner before claiming your place on the learned pedestal
  2. Interact with and shape your ideas and thought as you share them in a session
  3. Have the confidence to challenge your own comfort zone and go beyond your conscious limits
  4. Free yourself from the burden of being the repository of knowledge
  5. Help a learner to be comfortable in exposing and challenging their vulnerability

Learning as a Facilitator Thought Point 5: Recognize that the eventual goal of facilitation is to enable a learner to facilitate

It is not just that our learning is transient, even our need to learn anything specific is. The only enduring aspect is our motivation to keep learning. For this to happen, it is important that we develop our own basis, synthesis, inferences, and the resulting conviction. YouTube has a piece of a pub scene from the 1997 Gus Van Sant movie “Good Will Hunting”. The dramatization of a poor unsuspecting undergraduate being taken to task by Will Hunting, an MIT janitor, is very entertaining. Will ridicules him for his lack of having original ideas and the victim accepts his limitation. Likely, any A+ ivy league student will have a developed sense of smartness to face such situations more deftly. However, as a facilitator, one needs to wonder whether we prepare the learner to answer such questions? Have we even ventured around making a learner reach such notions and outcomes of learning? This makes learning facilitation a more meaningful place to be.

The Frank Oppenheimer quote, from above, is a very apt way to look at your responsibility to the learner. Our aim is to help a learner to learn and the best way to learn is to help others learn. By logic, we should keep our end goal as enabling the learners to be facilitators themselves. This would be an apt way to not just appreciate the 5 thought points in this note, but to exemplify them in your facilitation style. Take the necessary steps to help a learner develop their own basis, synthesis, inferences, and the resulting conviction. Help them go beyond you and ensure that the learning doesn’t stop for anyone when the session, the course, or the program ends but endures and the learner learns the art of lifelong learning.

Action Implications: When you acknowledge, your role as an enabler who prepares a learner to facilitate you would:

  1. Help a learner go beyond the stated outcomes of a session
  2. Enable a learner to synthesise the session and develop their own original ideas
  3. Recognise a facilitator in every one around you
  4. Evaluate your own facilitation effectiveness and keep improving it
  5. Help a learner to be comfortable with the idea of lifelong learning

Take a closer look at the stages of the learning here, the facilitator essentially needs to bring some very basic thoughts to help you learn as a learner. This includes:

  1. Understand that Learning is a counter-intuitive à Going beyond obvious and looking at learning less intuitively
  2. Recognize that Learning is to change à Keeping an open mind to learning and accepting the change
  3. Recognize that Learning is caused by and causes Questions à Looking within your known space and searching for more questions while learning
  4. Recognize that when a facilitator doesn’t learn, no one else does à Accepting and enjoying “not knowing” or your vulnerabilities, and
  5. Recognize that the eventual goal of facilitation is to enable a learner to facilitate à Looking at learning as a lifelong process

Looking at the 5 Learning as a Facilitator Thought Points, you might have recognised a virtuous learning cycle that it creates. You start by recognising learning to be a counter-intuitive. You can only learn things you already know. And you do this by bringing a change, thus be open to giving up what you already know. This is learning to start with. Change is an outcome of recognising vulnerability and asking questions to address it. The more questions you ask the more you learn. When you learn, you can help others to learn. And the cycle repeats infinitely. I call this the “Spiral of learning as a facilitator.”

Taking the idea ahead, one could look at learning as a facilitator as a precursor to making learning a self-facilitated act. The modern era of digital learning rests heavily on the premise of self-learning – that is we can learn by ourselves as methodically as we learn by being taught by others. We see the reports on the promising potential of digital learning. There are parallel reports about its ineffectiveness and low completion rates. Is the failure of digital learning with the current limitations another point against the relevance of traditional regulated teaching, specifically for adults? As we proceed in the VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) world, limiting learning to such regulated and directed approach would be inadequate. Digital learning could ride the “spiral of learning as a facilitator” to find the next orbit of maturity more effectively. While we claim that we are moving at the speed of thought into “the age of learning”, we seem to be ignoring the idea of learning itself. Can we imagine an industrial age without understanding the idea of industrialization? Possibly we are guilty of doing this as the green activists keep pointing to the perils of industrialization. It is then prudent that we learn from such oversights in the past and ensure that when it comes to learning, we learn to learn before we begin to teach.

Success and Happiness Together

Two friends are walking down a fairway after hitting their first shots. They are no pros and of course their balls chose entirely unintended flights. One on the right side of the fairway, and another far left somewhere around the trees. Well, for anyone who plays golf, this is a very common occurrence! As one of them approaches his ball, of course relieved to find it, he sees that he will need to waste a shot to get the ball back into play, possibly by hitting in a direction opposite to the hole. Only if, the ball had stopped a foot earlier or rolled a foot more, he would have had a clear shot at making it to the green. No one around, he is tempted to push the ball a bit… after all they are competing – a princely sum of 500 bucks on stake for this game… he takes his chances, kicks the ball with his feet, eyes still searching for his play partner. Just as the ball comes to rest, he sees his friend emerging from nowhere. The friend asks him instantly “found your ball?” Not sure the friend saw him moving the ball, doesn’t seem so, he just nods. Then he asks his friend, “What about you?” “Ah!” the friend says, painfully, “Got stuck under a rock, had to take a penalty drop!” “No worries” he retorts, “I took one too!” almost immediately… Still reading his expressions, mightily relieved but partly concerned – I still did cheat…

Did you notice the topic – Success and Happiness Together? Did you feel uncomfortable with the topic? What’s wrong? Should happiness come before success? I think, that’s where the dilemma and possibly the root cause of the disconnect starts. So, let’s start with the fundamental question – does success lead to happiness or happiness is the way to success?

Back to the golf story – I must admit that it is a real one. I was tempted to make it sound like any one else’s weak moment but this time I am holding my stead – I wronged. Surprisingly it makes me far more relieved than the relief I felt on eventually losing those 500 bucks. Possibly because I won’t have to carry the burden of “will I get caught”, may be also because I will not be haunted by the thought “did my friend play fair”, or plainly because I will have a freer mind (or heart as some might say such emotions play into). We all have debated the notion of means and ends justification sometime in our life and that isn’t what we are discussing about here.

I have spent countless hours analysing that golf game and my behaviour with these usual questions:

  • Did I concede that I had moved the ball because I saw a chance that I was caught?
  • Did I concede only because my friend conceded first?
  • Was winning important; would it have been different if money was not involved?
  • Did I lose because I let that single moment cloud my mind and distract me from my game?
  • Was my friend being honest all the time?
  • Is it more about competing that personal excellence?
  • Am I naturally an opportunist?
  • Should I be bothered about all this, or am I making myself more miserable by going through these unnecessary emotions?

I had generally accepted the last point as the best question to ask. Of course, I was making my already complex life gruesome by letting such frivolous thoughts bug me. Isn’t this what Buddha preached – be in the present or the Greek philosopher Euripides philosophised – don’t grieve the past. Well I had stopped worrying about all this until I saw that it’s just not me who is fighting these dilemmas. The clear wrongs (or even the grey ones) of our past are our burdens and we just can’t bury our heads in the sand hoping that the storm would pass. It is critical that we take a moment to learn our lessons and make necessary adjustments to get back to a comfortable mental state.

Most of us believe success brings happiness, but if we spend a moment thinking about it, we all get no clear answers. The question was rekindled in my mind when I read and watched an article/video about a foundation Ms. Deepika Padukone has founded – #TheLiveLoveLaughFoundation. Kudos to her and the other mature youth of today who see their human side with as much an energy as they see at the professional or fun side. Brad Hogg, the Australian cricketer, much loved and seen so jovial all the time, made a shocking revelation in his book – The Wrong ‘Un, that he considered suicide!! But to me the revelations point to a more fundamental question – is happiness a luxury today or are we all in some way misinterpreting a basic duty we have to ourselves?

In my personal experience (for once I am more comfortable taking my own example to illustrate) I have learnt that this journey is full of questions and questions alone. I have seen myself finding temporary solace in few premises, conjectures and even paradoxes, but unfortunately I am far away from an absolute right (or an absolute wrong) answer. I am no saint and I don’t see myself having the foresight to absorb all the sufferings or be detached from the material world. I have also seen myself asking some basic existential questions – is all this worth living, have I done justice to my life or even will it be better to just move on? But then I have laughed them off because I value happiness. To me the key to life is held in honest and absolute happiness.

Isn’t it paramount that we do anything because it makes us happy? Possibly some of us have not found our own definitions and triggers of happiness. We seem to be caught in a classic group think problem – if it makes the group happy, it would make me happy too. But then, some of us realise that we have wasted a significant and scarce resource in chasing outcomes that were at the best alien to us. If we add another dimension (which most of us usually do) to this – I need to do better than my nearest competitor, we have put ourselves on the path to misery.  Let’s try and see if we can use this note to elaborate. Today there are host of people who write blogs both professionally and as recreation. If you are a professional writer, you would be gauged by the impact you create and possibly be rewarded for it. but as a recreational writer, what should your triggers be? Number of views/likes/comments? Just more than all the other bloggers in my friend group. Or should it be simply the thought that I could flush/flesh one idea to some outcome? if it is former, you could be disillusioned? In the current digital clutter, it is unlikely that people, including your friends and family, would have any chance of going through the points you laboriously wrote and hence you are unlikely to see the response. But if you are pursuing the second agenda, your happiness could be instantaneous as your outcome is internal and in your control.

Many a times, we do not have such distinct differentiation. Our professional life could also seem to be passing without any impact. We could see ourselves left by the side of the ocean of humanity that just keeps throwing those occasional showers as the waves after waves of people pass by us. We seem to be left at the shore, while rest of the world seems to be enjoying the sail. Dark, discouraging and depressing, isn’t it? We have seen a host of people from seemingly successful and enviable life shock us by taking this extreme step. Robin Williams, Ernest Hemingway, Whitney Houston… the list goes on. While they sure had their friends and family reach out to them, tried their best to get the best professional help – where did it all fall short? We might never know.

What is important is that we value what we have, for it’s truly only little things that could make us happy. More often I have realised that the moments that I am happy are moments when I am myself, so fulfilled and so positive. It is important for all of us to discover them and treasure them. I have found a few of my triggers for my happiness, they are

  • Humility – as it makes me learn and learning excites me, makes me happy.
  • When I am honest – I have no burden, no anxiety, not even a need steal a few moments out of now to remind me of what I am pretending to do – makes me happy.
  • And most critically hope – it makes me patient, given me the basis to look ahead and believe that my journey of happiness will get me the success I seek.

Do we have it in us to first extract happiness from all that we do? Can our definition of success be – any journey that makes me happy…

Happy success to all of us!