Lesson 17: Greed is nothing but a path to misery

On multiple safaris in Africa, we had some of the most breathtaking sights. We got to experience many animals, including the Big Five (The Lion, The African Buffalo, The Elephant, The Leopard and The Rhino), Hippos, Monkeys, Baboons, Cheetahs, Warthogs, Hyenas and many others. The experiences in Namibia, Botswana and Zambia were breathtaking. We couldn’t expect anything better until we reached Tanzania. In Tanzania, the safari experiences at the Serengeti plains and the Ngorongoro Crater were ridiculously mind-blowing.

Hundreds of Wildebeests and Zebras roamed the Serengeti Plains. We got to experience a black rhino in the distance. Due to the intense poaching efforts, the Rhino populations are endangered. As explained in an earlier chapter, traditional Chinese medicine considers a rhino horn to have medicinal properties. As a result, the poaching business is very lucrative. Sadly this has resulted in the decimation of the rhino population.

During another safari, we saw a pair of young lions on a hunt. They formed a formidable team. Both of them worked with each other to track the prey. The lions kept at a distance of each other and co-ordinated their efforts. They searched different parts of the plains for a target while within sight of each other. Soon they spotted a warthog. At a distance, it seemed that the two lions communicated with each other. Without any noise, both dashed off at the prey, closing off any area to which the warthog could escape. The poor warthog had no choice. Within seconds it was caught by the lions. We heard a cry, and then a fair bit of dust floated to the skies. It was all over in a matter of seconds.

Many moments looked like scenes from a David Attenborough documentary. We were thrilled with the experiences and sightings. We were immensely grateful to have had the opportunity to experience these animals in the wild.

Later, as you do, we met with another group who had their own experiences. We were in a state of euphoria. We had witnessed some of the most beautiful natural sights the African landscape had to offer. We shared our experiences over a few beers. The other group too had remarkable experiences. They managed to see an entire pride of lions, including cubs feasting on their kill. We had not. It did not matter to us. Well, it did not matter for most of us except for one young girl.

She was devastated. She felt her entire safari experience was a letdown because she hadn’t seen any cubs. She had come to Africa with a bucket list of experiences, and now that she knew that someone else had experienced cubs, she felt very disappointed.

All our experiences could not cheer her up. She sulked over the next few days, upset that she hadn’t had the entire spectrum of sightings in Africa. The Big Five and the kill did not matter. The Black Rhino, another rare sighting, did not matter. What mattered was missing out on experiencing a pride of lions.

Her reaction is quite common. I too am quite guilty of focusing on what I have missed out rather than what I have gained. It has led to disappointment and sadness.

I have seen this reaction quite often in my travels and life. Many people are doing incredible things. We learn about their achievements through social media, either on social platforms such as Instagram or on professional platforms such as Linkedin. Many of us tend to go into a comparison mode, comparing ourselves and our accomplishments to others. There are too many stories shared across the internet of feeling inadequate and unworthy. Somehow it feels the entire world is doing so much more except for you.

It is this feeling of inadequacy that could cause mental health issues such as depression. It is borne out of the innate desire to want more and to do it all. The emotion of greed drives the feeling. Greed, in this context, is the need to have more. It is the need to be better than everyone else. It is the desire to have it all. Anything else has an emotional equivalence of not being good enough or worthy enough, resulting in feelings of inadequacy.

The antidote to this emotion is gratefulness. It is better to be grateful for what you have rather than lament what you are lacking. The world is not wealthy – the majority of the people in the world struggle. There are enough people in developed nations and developing nations struggling to make ends meet. In the United Kingdom, we have families on food banks. In many parts of Africa and Asia, people are barely surviving. I have seen contented people in some of the most impoverished regions of the world.

In Cambodia, there are numerous villages called floating villages. The houses are on stilts, hence the name, and well adapted for the rainy season when the water levels rise. Housing is basic. Multiple generations live under the same roof. Yet, people seem content and happy. There is a strong community spirit in Cambodia. It keeps the people engaged and gives them a sense of belonging. I have felt the same in Soweto, South Africa, numerous small villages in the Americas, tea houses in Nepal etc. The moment in Cambodia reminded me of a podcast on depression. On that podcast, Johann Hariri, one of the world’s experts on depression, shared his Cambodia experiences.

When Western doctors first introduced chemical anti-depressants in Cambodia, the local doctors were confused. They did not understand what the medications were supposed to do. After being explained, the local doctors confirmed that Cambodia already had anti-depressants. They told the western doctors about a farmer who lost his leg after stepping onto an unexploded mine. He lost his only form of livelihood, which was farming. The farmer was depressed. The local doctors got him a cow and taught him how to milk a cow. The farmer had a new source of income as a milk farmer. Over time, he became less depressed, and soon he was back to his old self. He had found meaning as a dairy farmer.

It is a simple story but with a powerful message. If we focus too much on what is missing, then we will be overwhelmed with negative emotions. If we focus on being grateful for our experiences, we develop the strength and resolve to deal with any adversity. Though others might be thriving, we don’t get caught up in the vicious cycle of negative emotions. Instead, we can rise above these emotions and be content and happy.

Greed leads only to misery.

Gratefulness, on the other hand, leads to feelings of content and happiness.

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