Grading life

I recently sat with some colleagues at the end-of-the-school-year lunch and asked one of them “So, how is life?” He was surprised and amused by my question, and chose to answer by giving his life a grade out of ten. We asked him if he was pleased with the grade he gave to his life, and he replied, yes. Sooner than later we all started asking each other to grade our lives.

As an IB teacher, I started playing with the idea of “the criteria” to set a grade: marriage, kids, work, material comfort, and so on. I asked myself, what are the strands? Many of us were struggling to set a grade. What does a 10 mean? Can anyone reach a 10? Is my 10 the same as your 10? Many agreed that we all had our basic needs met and more.

Playing with this question during the last few days, I have come to the conclusion that no matter what is happening in my life, no matter what I have and don’t have, the best way to grade my life is on how I feel inside. My inner peace, my attitudes, and my general flow of thoughts.

Yoga teaches us that the world around us is transient, and that how we perceive this world is a result of our minds. Each mind has its own perceptions and limitations, so my 10 is of course not your 10. Furthermore, since the world is impermanent and ever-changing, if I put my well-being in what the external world can offer, I most probably will never be fully satisfied. Once I acquire something, I will discover that there is something else to acquire, or I will eventually have to go through the painful process of experiencing losing it.

We can agree that setting a grade to life is a silly exercise, but it is also a good way to reflect on what really matters. Maybe a 10 is not necessarily the goal. To me, what makes the most sense right now is to continue working with my inner world to better function in the outer world. It seems like a safer investment in this unstable and fluctuating world.

This reminds me of an important concept in Yoga that we find both in the Bhagavad Gita and Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras: santosha or contentment. Contentment is developed inside out and it is directly dependent on our attitude towards life. Cultivate contentment, and the rest will just flow.

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