Book Excerpt: The Theory of Relativity


In a world obsessed with #Selfies, where people are supposed to be self-centric, it’s paradoxical that people rarely reflect, introspect, and focus on the development of themselves.

Original version of a #Selfie: Taking a photo of yourself rather than having someone else take it for you. You try out various filters and select the one that makes you look your best.

#Selfienomics version of a #Selfie: Reflecting on different aspects of your life and taking the initiative to improve so that you can be the best version of yourself.

Most of what we do is instilled in us right from when we were really young. We change a bit by looking at society and blend into it. We rarely think about why everyone behaves the way they do. When we read a books at school, we are told what the book means by our teachers. How often do we form our own opinions and interpretations? When do we stop and really think about everything that goes on around us?

I personally have a tendency to over-think and have random conversations with myself in the shower. I become excessively philosophical and question myself constantly to understand the meaning of the biggest things in life — relationships, money, health, and the like. I didn’t want all these thoughts and these dialogues with myself to go down the drain…so I wrote this book.

On one occasion, I found myself asking the mother of all questions — what’s the meaning of life? I literally looked it up in the dictionary (well figuratively… I Googled ‘life’ after the shower…who still uses a dictionary?)

Some of the definitions of life that I found on the Internet were very literal, such as ‘the period of time when a person is alive’ and ‘the experience of being alive’. Others were subjective such as ‘life is the sum of the choices we make’ or ‘life is like a box of chocolates (it doesn’t last too long for fat people)’. Since each of our lives is so different, any one definition would be inaccurate and incomplete to explain what life really means. Everyone has their own definition which we should aim to figure out in our time here.

In August 2014, I was 22 years old and I started my first full-time job. Just like any other fresh grad, I was chasing money. It felt great to make money for the first time in my life and I strived to make more and more of it — but I was lucky to realize earlier than most people that even money is not enough. Then I started chasing happiness and thought that the only reason to live was to be happy. In the last few decades, everyone seems to have been in the pursuit of either money or happiness. #PursuitOfHappyness #TheWolfOfWallStreet

For a 22-year-old, my life seemed perfect: a Wall Street job, a great social life, no significant worries. Was this happiness? I began to think that if this is what it means to be happy then happiness is quite overrated. Was it meant to be this empty and this fleeting – one moment you’re happy; the next moment you’re not (#KabhiKhushiKabhiGham). I discovered that in order to be truly happy, happiness has to come with meaning — a sense of fulfillment in which you see yourself moving forward.

My destination is still happiness but the path I’m taking to reach it is fulfillment. We start off with finding meaning in happiness, and with time we start finding happiness in meaning. (That is so deep, I can see Adele rolling in it.)

I wrote my own definition of life. According to me, life is a balance between making others happy and keeping yourself happy.

If you are neither happy yourself nor making others happy, you should consider re-prioritizing life immediately. In my view, everyone’s life is some sort of variation of the above definition. For someone who is very community-service driven, such as Mother Teresa, life is all about finding joy in making others happy. Others who are more driven by their own desires might be following Katharine Hepburn’s motto ‘If you always do what interests you, at least one person is pleased.’

For the most part, it is unsustainable to do just one part of the definition. Try to make just yourself happy, and it’ll soon lose its charm. Try to make everyone else happy and you won’t be able to do it for long if you aren’t happy yourself. Happy people are always consciously or subconsciously doing both.



All this talk about happiness is meaningless without learning how to be happy.

Most of us think that being a responsible citizen means just being a law-abiding citizen. That is in fact the very minimum that we must do — the minimum that we end up doing. In the summer of 2015, 2300 poor labourers in India died because of a heat wave. In the meantime some of my friends posted on Facebook, ‘Winter has come! New Game of Thrones episode is out!’ It’s not wrong to post about TV shows while people are dying due to the scorching heat, but let us remind ourselves how privileged each one of us is.

‘Once poverty is gone, we’ll need to build museums to display its horrors to future generations. They’ll wonder why poverty continued so long in human society – how a few people could live in luxury while billions dwelt in misery, deprivation and despair.’ @MuhammadYunus #1

The rich can never fully understand what privilege is. I have read books and watched documentaries on poverty. I have even stayed in remote villages and visited slums. I have seen poverty closely. But I have never felt poor. Every time I was at these villages and slums, I knew it was temporary. I knew it was voluntary. I knew I could always escape it and return to my luxuries. I knew it was not the same.

All of us feel bad and we have our heart in the right place, but we don’t take any sort of responsibility because there’s just way too much suffering. We feel the help we would provide would be insignificant in the grand scheme of things. Maybe if there was a little less poverty and hunger, we would have done something about it, as we would see the difference we are making but as of now we feel it’s out of control. When something is too big, it loses its significance.

‘The death of one man is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic.’ @JosephStalin #2

When we have too much to do, we end up doing nothing but when we have just a few things to do, we do them. Suppose we were only one poor person away from a poverty-free world. You being kindhearted and fortunate enough to have money to spare, would probably help that person. Now that there are billions who are poor, instead of helping more people, you help no one because you think it would be inconsequential. But why? At least help one person — because to that person you are making a world of difference. #Cliché #TrueThough

‘I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.’ @EdwardEverettHale #3

You want to be happy? Do yourself a favour — help those who are not used to being helped. Be selfish. You’re not doing it just for them, but for yourself. Our ability to help people is the greatest privilege we have.

Along with helping those who aren’t used to being helped, give recognition to those who are helping others. I’ve heard of some people who used to volunteer at non-profits to boost their chances to get into grad school. To me that’s better than meaning well and doing nothing. Regardless of whether someone has a selfish or a selfless motive, you should appreciate any kind act so that they are even more motivated to take more responsibility. Even the most selfless people need recognition. I enjoy volunteering at an NGO, but hey — a Nobel Peace Prize would definitely help keep me motivated. Passion along with social recognition can do wonders. If you look at the bigger picture, it doesn’t matter what their motive is, what matters is that people in need are being helped in the process.


When you start looking at the bigger picture, you may notice that everything is relative — happiness, money, greatness, and even success (success is relative; the more the success, the more the number of relatives #ChanduKeChachaIsAlsoMyChacha). There are two types of relativity. #TheoryOfRelativity

Negative relative scale, which is feeling negative looking at how you are doing worse off relative to others. The grass is greener on the other side. ‘I’m the poorest among my friends circle.’ #FML #Jealous

‘I scored 100 hundreds; I have been awarded a Bharat Ratna, and I am the first person ever to score a double-century in an ODI. So what? Sharmaji ka beta scored 264 in an ODI and has won the IPL 3 times.’ @Sachin

Positive relative scale,which is feeling positive by focusing on how you are doing better than others. ‘I’m richer than 75% of the people in the world. I have a lot of even richer friends who I can potentially take favours from. The richer the friend, the better the networking opportunity.’ What is jealousy for one person, can be a networking opportunity for another. (#FriendsWithBenefits) There is a patch of grass that is greener on the other side, but there is also a patch of grass, which is greener on your side. Well, go ahead and find that patch.

‘You have a car, a bank balance, and a bungalow. So what, bro? I use the positive relative scale. ‘Mere paas maa hai.” @RahulGandhi

I won’t go as far as Rahul Gandhi who had once said that poverty is a state of mind, but affluence is definitely a state of mind. You are rich. Feel rich. Your life could be better, but it could also be a whole lot worse. Most people don’t have any grass at all. The amount of stress and worry you go through to make your life slightly better doesn’t really help. I’m not suggesting that you stop striving for more. Being grateful is not an excuse to be unambitious. Nor should it be confused with arrogance. Those who are arrogant are satisfied with what they’ve achieved while those who are grateful are satisfied with what they have, but not necessarily with what they’ve achieved. Being grateful is giving recognition to the things and people we value in life.

Negative to Positive

Most of us follow the negative relative scale. We compare what we have to those who have more than us, and feel sad about ourselves. In school we receive marks on a scale ranging from 0 to Sharmaji ka Beta. We have the Forbes 100 richest people in the world list but we don’t have lists for the 100 poorest people in the world. We try to keep up with the Joneses, while the Joneses are busy keeping up with the Kardashians. #TooMuchIsNeverEnough

Life is hard no matter how rich a person is, but it’s crazy that so many privileged people believe that they have horrible luck. I’m like ‘Bro, you’re living the dream of the majority of the world. You’ve already won the lottery of life.’ There are trillions of living beings in the world, what are the odds of you being born as a human? There are 7 billion humans, what are the odds of being born as a privileged human? ‘There are people praying for the things you take for granted.’ Stop cribbing. #LotteryOfLife #BigPicture #NegativeToPositive

If you want to gain perspective on life, look at two things – space and history. Look at the sky on a clear night and think about how vast the Universe is. There are more stars in the Universe than grains of sand on all of Earth’s beaches. Look at history. Billions of people have kept coming and going. People have fought meaningless wars to conquer land to satisfy their ego. After looking at space and history, you’ll realize how pointless it is to worry.

Your company paid you a lower year-end bonus than you had expected. So? You dropped your iPhone, and the screen cracked. So? An autowallah scratched your car. So? When you’re on your deathbed (hopefully at least 60-70 years from now) and you look back, you will be happy that you didn’t waste your energy getting stressed about these things. You’re here for a limited amount of time. Have fun. Do something meaningful. But most importantly, chill out. ‘Don’t take life too seriously, no one gets out alive anyway.’ @Anonymous

When we look at things keeping the bigger picture in mind, we start appreciating the little things and we stop getting worried about trivial things at the same time.

So… should we always use the positive scale?

I’ll give you the typical consultant answer. ‘It depends.’

There are a few people who even apply the negative relative scale positively by using jealousy as a source of motivation to work harder to improve their position. There are also people who use the positive relative scale negatively by getting too complacent. The scale we should use depends on several factors and varies on a case-by-case basis. For the most part, the best strategy is to move from negative relative scale to positive relative scale and from the relative scales to an absolute scale.

What is an absolute scale? An absolute scale is basically not needing to compare something to anything else. ‘I have 10 lakhs and it’s a lot. I honestly don’t care whether your grass is greener or my grass is greener. I’m too busy working on my own grass.’

(Disclaimer: Since everything is relative, nothing is absolute in its true sense; and an absolute scale is also relative to our own needs, preferences, and prices.) #TheThirdScale

Relative to Absolute

In college, we used to have group assignments in which there would be teams of four or five people. Each member of the team would get the same grade, regardless of the effort they put in individually. Everyone wanted the team to get the best grade, but wanted to contribute just a little more than the worst one. As long as someone else was contributing lesser, they felt they were not the problem. Even though they would not be taking up sufficient responsibility, they would be satisfied with their performance.

Most of the times, when we take responsibility in society, we follow the same practice.

All of us want India to be developed and have the best facilities. But when it comes to responsibilities, we don’t do much and continue complaining about the country. So if you give back only 10% of your potential to society, you would feel content (positive) and justify it by looking at someone giving back 5% of his potential (by using the positive relative scale negatively).

I call this phenomenon the ‘Second-worst survivor condition’ because this sort of mentality is for those whose goal is to survive. You can use this strategy to do well in reality shows for example. In shows like Roadies, Survivor and Bigg Boss, if you are second worst in each round, you will actually end up winning the show. It would also work well, if you were with a group of people running away from a lion. You just need to be faster than the slowest runner, in order to ‘survive’ the lion chase. When your aim in life is to survive, you can be content being the second worst. But when your aim in life is to excel, then take up more responsibility.

That said if everyone were trying to be the second worst it would work perfectly well. Everyone would put in at least some effort to prevent himself or herself from being the very worst. However, what works for reality TV doesn’t translate here to reality. In actual society, there are always some people gladly accepting the worst position, so it’s not that hard to be the second worst. #UnhealthyCompetition #SurvivalOfTheSecondWorst

If we are to compare ourselves to anything, it should be to our own potential. Comparing ourselves to our potential will make us work towards our goals and help us be the ‘best version of ourselves’. Don’t strive to be the second worst. Don’t even strive to be the best. Give your best and strive to be excellent.

By understanding the two relative scales and the absolute scale, we can learn how we look at the world currently and how we should be looking at it. ‘If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.’ @WayneDyer #4



I know most people skip these kinds of sections of books. Even I used to always avoid reading them, but only after I started writing this book did I realize that these parts are the most useful. I highly recommend that you read and practice the suggestions and questions I have raised below (as much as possible).

    1. Though compassion is a positive trait, no one can or should be too compassionate. We’re only able to function because we’re capable of turning our hearts to stone and closing our eyes to the injustice around us. A little heartlessness is necessary to not go completely insane. (‘And anytime you feel the pain, Hey Jude, refrain; don’’t carry the world upon your shoulders.’ @TheBeatles #5 #NaNaNaNaNaNa).
      Some may say, instead of watching a movie at the theater, we could use the money to feed a few kids. Yes we could, but this way of thinking isn’t sustainable. Don’t forget, life is a balance between keeping yourself happy and making others happy.
    2. Write down seven positive things about the previous day. Every day. Set a particular time when you can do this. This is the best form of meditation. When I started writing down seven positive things about the previous day, I started paying attention to the small things that made me happy. The days I felt like I did not do enough to make myself happy, I would take a more proactive approach and make myself happy. I would initiate conversations with strangers, take the stairs instead of the elevator, and drink more water just to have something constructive to write the next day. #6
    3. Ask yourself, ‘Are you really happy or are you just comfortable?’ A lot of times we are chasing a comfortable rather than a happy life. This sort of comfortable life may provide you with a lot of discomfort when you look back at your life in your last days. What would need to change in order to make you happy?


Additional Observation

The movie PK annoyed many Hindu fanatics. Funnily, they weren’t upset about what the movie said about Hinduism. They had a problem that the movie did not criticize other religions equally. They don’t mind losing, as long as others are losing with them. All of them use the negative relative scale.

If they interpreted it using the positive relative scale, then their thought process would be like ‘Hmm so the movie PK mainly criticized Hinduism. Since Hindus react to criticism better than other religions, the makers of PK aren’t scared of showing the flaws of Hinduism. Receiving criticism is a positive sign for Hindus and proves that Hinduism is a tolerant religion.’

The best would again be the absolute scale. ‘Ok, PK highlighted these aspects about our religion. Was PK right about the flaws? How can we improve as a whole?’

Excerpted with permission from Selfienomics by Revant, Bloomsbury Publishing. Get your copies here.

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