What Is the ‘Perfect Life’ After All?

March 2020, Bhaktapur, Nepal: Men sitting outside a temple in Durbar Square area

“His is a perfect life. He runs a successful business, has a big house, the latest car, a gorgeous wife, adorable children. Oh, his life is perfect!”

“She is living a perfect life. She was always so attractive. Now she is married to a successful businessman, they live in a big house, and have adorable children. Her life is set.”

Movies, TV shows, commercials, news, magazines — everywhere you look, people are talking about this magical word called the perfect life. It seems like the whole world is conspiring for you to enjoy a perfect life. And however hard you try, you can’t help but think your life sucks.

For some reason, people think that by having this perfect life, all their troubles will magically vanish and they will be flaunting a bright, beautiful smile forever after. And they spend their entire life trying to make this magic happen. They are so busy chasing it, they don’t have enough time for anything else. “I don’t have time, man,” they say.

When I was in Malaysia a few weeks ago, I visited a land reclamation site referred to as the sand dues of Malacca. I sat there in silence, thinking about my own life and about what I was seeing during my travels. I started thinking about this myth called the perfect life and it led me to an Instagram post on this topic. This article is an extension to that post where I would like to share my views on perfection and happiness based on what I have learned from my own life.

The Perfect Life: How Real Is It?

The word ‘perfect’ requires a quick look at the dictionary to understand what it exactly means. “Free from any flaw or defect,” is one of the definitions of the word perfect. And that is something we are usually running after — to have a life without flaws or defects, a life where nothing can go wrong, where there’s no trouble, where you don’t have to worry about anything. A life where everything is as you had always dreamed it to be.

We want everything to be perfect. From our mark sheets to our job, from our spouse to our children, from our passport photo to our selfies, we want things to be perfect — without flaws. From the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the body we have to the way we look — we are obsessed with perfection.

April 2019, Bardiya, Nepal: A young girl smiles as she poses for a picture

The reality, however, is always different. The grades on your mark sheet can be a little lower than expected, our boss can be a nutjob, after many years of living together, we might realise that we are not really ‘made for each other,’ our children turn out to be completely different from we expect them to be, our passport photos — they usually look like mugshots, and our selfies — well, that’s a whole different story.

In short, life isn’t fair or flawless. It’s not perfect, it’s not meant to be. Ironically, we already know this truth but that doesn’t stop us from trying. What we read in those newspapers and magazines, what we see on that TV, computer, or phone screen keeps fuelling our expectations from our life. And we spend our precious life wanting to be like someone else.

This world is designed to force you to make you want more. I have seen people unhappy in their relations despite of being together for years, parents still dissatisfied with their kids who scored 90% marks. There are people who have their own house complaining about its size, people with the privilege of enjoying delicious meals complaining about the number of calories — the list goes on. There are people who will always find a reason to be dissatisfied with something.

Somehow, we never think we already have enough. Nothing satisfies us. We want our life to be like those TV and movie celebrities or characters, and nowadays, those so-called ‘influencers.’ What we don’t know, however, is that their life is as flawed as ours. They might face issues different than us, but they do face them. Funny enough, we judge their life from a mere social media post nowadays.

Perfect Life or Happy Life?

As I grew up, I too was destined to chase this perfect life. In order to achieve that, I was supposed to earn a degree or two, score a well-paying job, attract a beautiful woman in my life, marry her, and have kids. The life in the movies and fairy tales seem so easy. You work hard to achieve all these goals and then you live happily forever after.

But growing up and observing the life around, I saw people who weren’t actually happy with their life. They had everything a perfect life required them to have, but still, they were not really satisfied. Those with a job, house, car, spouse, and children had everything to complain about but nothing to call their life perfect.

Slowly, I grew distanced from this idea of chasing the perfect life. In fact, I ended up doing everything against its requirements. I left my job, I had no money, no car, no property, I wasn’t in a relationship — everything spoke of my demise. People around me — those who weren’t ever happy in their own life — suggested me to re-consider my choices to avoid living the life of regrets.

My life, however, is perfect — not by the definition ‘without flaws’ but by the definition ‘having all the desirable elements.’ I have everything I have desired ever since I grew up and started understanding what real life actually looked like. And the elements that I always desire are called happiness and satisfaction.

As I travelled and met more and more people in different places, I realised that I had made no mistake with my decision. The happiest and the most satisfied people I have met are not the ones who own every material possession that comes with being rich. They don’t own a big house or a shining car, they don’t have the latest gadgets, they don’t wear perfectly-fitting and crisply ironed clothes, they don’t get to eat three meals a day. Despite all of this, they are the most satisfied people.

In countries like Bhutan which focuses on happiness instead of GDP and material possessions, I have met people who are satisfied with a life we would consider “backward.” Walking through the streets of Nepal, Vietnam, and India, I have met people who are happy with what they have and their desires are different than those who are chasing a perfect life. However ‘little’ they possess, they always have ‘enough.’ A glass of water, a cup of tea, or a plateful of meal – I have had the privilege of being invited by people whose only relation with me is of being human.

Money can make your life more comfortable. Agreed. It can bring everything at your fingertip and make your life easy. Money can help you live short-lived moments of satisfaction through material possessions. But money can’t buy happiness for you. It can’t buy you real joy or a heartfelt laughter. Or can it?

Perfection Is A Myth

I read a small book called Spiritual Link published by Science of the Soul Research Centre. This book mentioned a disciple who prayed not for delicious food but for hunger, not for a car but for strength in his legs, not for a comfortable bed but for sleep. This is exactly what helps me live a content life. What’s the use of a comfortable bed when you can’t enjoy a good night’s sleep? The food doesn’t matter — however delicious it may be — when you are not hungry.

This is how happy people I meet along the way stay happy. They don’t have endless desires to deal with, they are not jealous by seeing someone having a big house or a car, they don’t compare themselves. What they do, after all, is to simply live the life the way it is. By the mediocre definition of the ‘perfectly happy life,’ these people might need to achieve a lot. They might even be considered ‘unfortunate’ for not being able to own a big house or for being unable to enjoy a three-course meal.

A mother and her little girl photographed in Ahmedabad.
A homeless mother and her little daughter photographed in Ahmedabad.

The aim is not to say that earning money or owning material things is bad or that everyone should stop earning and leave the social life behind. What is toxic, though, is to have a constant desire to make your life look like someone else’s. This comparison makes us feel inferior in different ways and can eventually leads us to depression.

Do the job you are proud of, be with a partner who embraces you including your flaws, eat what you want to eat without worrying about calories. Life is meant to be enjoyed, not to be spent chasing a myth.

Eating a home-cooked meal, sipping a cup of tea, and enjoying moments of laughter with complete strangers — these are some of the things that satisfy me. Who cares whether my life is perfect. I am enjoying every moment of it — and that’s all that matters.

The moment you stop wanting a perfect life, you will realise your life doesn’t really suck. When you learn about problems in others’ lives, your problems will seem tiny. And the moment you realise your life is already wonderful in every sense at this very moment, you will start appreciating it more.

What are your thoughts about the perfect life? What makes your life perfect. What satisfies you more? Material possessions or moments of happiness? Do share your views.

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