Deprivation for Joy

The more that you give up, the more pleasure you will find within yourself.

Someday you are going to have to grapple with what deprivation means to you. Understanding how it relates to social status, cognitive decline, body fat, self-control, eating chillies and depression will be empowering if you want to have a beautiful relationship with yourself until death.

Deprivation, defined simply, is just a low level or lack of something deemed important for a pleasant existence. It could be about something that you consider important that others may not e.g., your unusual hobby. It could also be something that if taken away your life could cease to exist e.g., air to breathe.

During events that are out of your control such as a war or a natural disaster, you might be deprived of a roof over your head which adds to the already unpleasant experience. When under normal circumstances you consciously choose to deprive yourself of something you can create an opportunity for personal growth.

Let us consider some general principles and then address specific areas for action.

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You Came with Nothing
Ageing and Deprivation
Control and Mastery
Deprivation as a Stressor
Deprivation and The Unholy Trinity
Mindset and Framing
East vs West Motivation
Deprivation and Empathy
After-effects of Self-Control
Delayed Gratification and Marshmallows
The Deprivation Muscle
Deprivation and Mindfulness
Inclusion in Deprivation
Duration of Deprivation
Perception of Time – Deprivation vs Flow
When Far from Deprivation
Superhuman Portfolio Construction
Handling Failure in Deprivation
Depriving Yourself of Things
1234Powerful Cars and Pride
1234Clothing and Cosmetics
1234Sun Exposure
1234Movement & Activity
1234Education and Learning
1234Rules and Creativity
1234Social Interaction
1234Caffeine – tea, coffee, chocolates
1234Alcohol, Nicotine and Other Harmful Substances
1234Screen Time
1234Junk Food
Parting Message

You Came with Nothing [top]

You came with nothing other than DNA from both of your biological parents and hopefully good nutrition and clean air that the lady who gave birth to you would have consumed for many months. When you leave with nothing after some years, your body left behind will start to rot away immediately and fast and so is best buried quickly, burnt, or fed to vultures. In the time in-between birth and death, many things are layered onto your personality, pushed into your mind, and fed into your physical body. One hopes that the combination of the physical and the non-tangible inputs will nudge what we could think of as being your soul into higher states of being.

You do not have to believe in the concept of souls to appreciate that, for getting the most out of this short phase between birth and death, you must intelligently give up some things at the right time and for the right duration. Conscious self-deprivation is a key component of a joyful life.

Ageing and Deprivation [top]

As you age, you are deprived of many things in the physical realm – from reducing fertility to reducing vitality in appearance. Many of these you can slow down, but not eliminate. Of the things that are external to you, you may be deprived of status or power granted by others. You will even lose friends of your generation as you enter the 8th decade of your life. How you deal with each of these will depend on how well you can handle deprivation. Although losing a friend is not the same as losing hair or a presidency, in general, handling deprivation is something you can become better at. In that progress and personal growth, lies a long life of daily joy.

Control and Mastery [top]

History is littered with stories of those who exercised extreme control over others and eventually got their own personal world into a sorry state. Self-control is usually lacking in those who seek to control others or external events. No man or woman is truly free who has not mastered self-control. History is also glittering with stories of heroes imprisoned between four tight walls but who are still free and independent because of what they have mastered within themselves.

Deprivation, by the dictionary, is an unpleasant experience, but intelligent self-deprivation leads to a joyful life.

Deprivation as a Stressor [top]

A stressor can be traumatic if the dose is too large, insignificant if too little or a best friend if in a hormetic dose. The stressor can be the inclusion of something or the deprivation of something else. You can stress your body out in a harmful manner by feeding it junk that is injurious to your health or you can deprive it of food completely for many hours and benefit from fasting.

Deprivation and The Unholy Trinity [top]

To build a life of joy, escaping The Unholy Trinity and its temptation for saving energy, avoiding pain, and seeking pleasure, is often what leads you to the path of conscious self-deprivation.

Mindset and Framing [top]

If you are suddenly stranded without food, you can tell yourself to relax and reframe the situation as “I am now fasting for 36 hours until I reach safety.” You will benefit from that. Alternatively, you can get stressed about the deprivation and your mindset will work against you from benefitting fully from the awkward situation. This may sound strange and prompt you to ask – “how can the same 36 hours without food be both good or bad based simply on my mindset?”. The scientists studying mindset have not quite answered this question at a neuronal level yet but the effect is real and well-documented. Bottomline – we should approach deprivation with a positive mindset to benefit from it!

A piece of hand-waving epidemiological evidence might be the following: you will notice that people who are fit and healthy in their 90s are optimists and rarely complain about anything. Conversely, if you find someone at 50 who is pessimistic and complains a lot, they are extremely unlikely to make it to 100.

East vs West Motivation [top]

Making a sweeping generalization, if the masses in the West have admired those who have acquired more, in the East, admiration has traditionally been for those who have been able to give up more. From Japan to Arabia, asceticism has been admired. In more recent times, the masses in the East have become increasingly ignorant of the wisdom that came from their lands, often unfairly blaming the West for their current sorry state. (You must not keep blaming colonialism even in the 21st century – think about what your own Governments have been doing badly for decades!) On the other side, spiritually tired Westerners, amusingly, flock to the East hoping to find themselves! Guys, here is a money-saving tipone need not fly across the globe to look inside oneself!

Deprivation and Empathy [top]

Having been through some form of deprivation it becomes easier to empathize with those who are being forced to go through something similar. It also helps generate what might be an appropriate level of empathy. For example, when you hear that someone with access to water had no food for 2 days during a storm, you might be glad they benefitted for a short while from fasting!

After-effects of Self-Control [top]

There is significant evidence documented in numerous studies on the after-effects of self-control i.e., following a period of self-control, individuals are temporarily attuned to seek rewards with greater intensity. Multiple theories have attempted to explain why humans and non-human animals become more sensitive to rewards and are happy to hurt themselves with short-term satisfaction rather than act logically towards a better long-term goal after the period of deprivation.

How can you work to avoid this phenomenon?

During the period of conscious deprivation, you will have been observing your thoughts and feelings. You will engage in self-talk to motivate yourself through the period of discomfort. Then, you typically end that talk when the period of deprivation has ended. It feels like time to celebrate. The personal growth will be complete when you ensure you plan for this celebratory period before the period arrives so that you do not let yourself wildly overcompensate for the period of self-control.

There is limited value in fasting for 18 hours and then overeating a lot of junk!

Delayed Gratification and Marshmallows [top]

When you deprive yourself of something temporarily it is often with the expectation of being able to have more of it later or to enjoy the reward more because of the delay in gratification. The famous marshmallow experiments suggest that the ability to delay gratification leads to greater success in life. How might you reconcile this with the after-effects of self-control and losing control? By making and keeping a promise to yourself to not be gluttonous when the reward tray is placed in front of you. Slow down and observe yourself.

The Deprivation Muscle [top]

If you have a growth mindset then you will know that you can develop stronger self-control by tomorrow than you had yesterday. The inner strength needed to go through deprivation and to control oneself after the period of deprivation is from an invisible muscle that you can make stronger. Just like you might go to the gym thrice a week, you can train your deprivation muscle many times and every day!

Deprivation and Mindfulness

To thrive as a result of deprivation will mean having to give up forever, to never give up or to give up for sensible durations many aspects of your current way of being. While preparing for the deprivation you will need to be mindful so that you plan things intelligently. During the deprivation, the various forms of perception – proprioception, nociception, exteroception, interception – will form excellent inputs for you to process. Do that process mindfully to stay the course. Remind yourself that it is meant to be unpleasant and that there is a reason you are doing the deprivation.

After the attempt at growth through deprivation reflect on what you went through. If you are truly interested in faster but safe progress, you will keep a journal and log any relevant data.

Inclusion in Deprivation [top]

When you exclude something through deprivation you are, by design, including something else. For example, when you stop breathing, you increase the carbon dioxide in your blood. When you deprive yourself of physical activity, you are giving yourself rest. When you deprive yourself of caffeine you are increasing the likelihood of some extra sleep that day.

Duration of Deprivation [top]

When it is consciously controlled, it is up to you to decide the duration of deprivation that will get you the most long-term benefit. Your goal is to achieve a hormetic level of stress – not a level that is too feeble or traumatic.

For food, that period of deprivation might be 5 days, for water 1 day, and for air, just 2 minutes might be good enough.

Perception of Time – Deprivation vs Flow [top]

It is quite likely that the unpleasantness during a state of deprivation is what makes the perception of the passing of time seem slow. Unlike when you are in a state of ‘flow‘ when you do not really perceive the passing of time, during deprivation often each second seems to go by painfully slowly. Though painful, perhaps this is one way to max out on experiencing one’s time on earth?

When Far from Deprivation [top]

When you are not depriving yourself of something, it makes sense to focus on the quality of what you are including. Be it the air you breathe, the food you eat, the material you consume on your screens, or the company you keep.

Superhuman Portfolio Construction [top]

The path to becoming what others might look upon as being almost superhuman is simply one of intelligently including in your portfolio many forms of hormetic stress and recovery. The stress can be from inclusion (going to the gym) or deprivation (fasting between yesterday’s last meal and getting home from the gym session today). Like with an investment portfolio, knowing how much to include is as important as knowing what to include. To be able to speak 10 languages, exercise in 50 °C, go without food for many days, and hold your breath underwater for the entire duration that your national anthem plays 4 times in succession – we can do all these if we know how to construct an appropriate portfolio of action.

Handling Failure in Deprivation [top]

As with any challenge, there is a chance of failure when you attempt a deprivation exercise. Ironically, that failure is also a deprivation of success and viewing it thus should motivate you to try again, to learn to handle failure i.e. successfully handling deprivation of success, is also a success!

Depriving Yourself of Things [top]

When you go through the list below you will notice that each item forms part of what you can wrestle with almost every single day. Some things you should deprive yourself of for short periods, some never, and some forever.

Powerful Cars and Pride [top]

There is a great deal of short-sighted immaturity in wanting to own an expensive vehicle with a powerful engine when you live in a city where you cannot get anywhere close to experiencing that machine’s potential safely or legally. Giving up years of your life to proudly wear diamond studded watches and other jewellery on the outside of you will not make you truly happy inside. Gloating about your penchant for single-malt whiskey or “fine” wines will sound like lunacy when you open your mind to the scientific fact that it is poison from the moment it crosses past your lips.

Clothing and Cosmetics [top]

What lies at the interface between your Internal and the External is the easiest to experiment with. What can you thrive without, that someone convinced you that you “needed” as you emerged through childhood? Sunscreen? Cosmetics and hair dye? Clothes and shoes? Jewellery? Handbags and other accessories?

Shelter [top]

After the initial dismay from being caught in the rain without an umbrella, you might have noticed that it can also be an exhilarating experience. You do not have to destroy the earth’s resources and fly on a mountain holiday to experience the exhilaration of a connection with the rawness of nature.

If you have not yet experienced the exhilaration of doing some form of labour or exercise in the hot sun, give it a try. Notice how, along with some discomfort, you also feel pleasantness like when you are in a sauna.

Food [top]

You already do this for a few hours overnight. If you do it for longer than most people, others will label it as “fasting”. If you do it for many days, a prolonged fast that I call MDFx, you will already know the excellent reasons to do so. I have already written about different aspects of fasting as part of your lifestyle here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Water [top]

A dry fast (i.e., no water either along with no food) done for even just 17-18 hours while you are active through the day reaps benefits. Pushing it to durations longer than 24 hours can lead to complications if not balanced off with appropriate safety protocols.

Air [top]

This is not yet popular outside the community of freedivers and a tiny fraction of yoga practitioners. To live for as long as you can without taking a breath is not easy and each time you do it, it is a crazily enlightening experience – to face what is like near-death but in a self-controlled manner.

Light [top]

It is good to sleep in pitch darkness. On the other hand, if you try to live your waking hours in low light you will find it affects your health negatively. Keep your light deprivation for sleep hours. Start your day with bright light and then start to deprive yourself of light by dimming it in the 2-4 hours before going to bed.

Sun Exposure [top]

If you are one of those who think that it is only plants that need exposure to the sun, you are probably also one of those with some health problem already or they are on their way.

If your ancestors just 2-3 generations ago spent hours in the sun daily but your skin cannot handle it now, you know you have been doing the wrong things with your life. You need to rethink the total value of the sun salutations (suryanamaskar) you proudly do indoors on your yoga mat!

Movement & Activity [top]

Though food, water and air are needed for survival – if we can get them without activity, many of us are happy to laze around. Just like we have evolved to thrive with sun exposure, being deprived of activity will make us sick. Many of my heroes who have been forced into solitary confinement in prison have ensured that even when deprived of sunlight they do not deprive themselves of physical activity in their tiny cells.

Transportation [top]

When the distance to today’s destination is vast, you have no sensible choice other than to catch a flight, take a train or get onto a bus. Most of your daily journeys are local and there exist eco-friendly options for modes of transport. Can you deprive yourself of transport powered by fossil fuels or, at least, use mass rapid transport like a bus or train?

Sleep [top]

Humans have evolved to survive and even thrive without food for many days. The same cannot be said about sleep. Sleep deprivation produces many negative outcomes as a result of even the first night of poor sleep. It is best you do not experiment with sleep deprivation. So, say no to socializing that deprives you of sleep. Consider paying that higher airfare to get on a flight that does not disrupt your night’s sleep.

Education and Learning [top]

The absence of education leads to ignorance and ignorance is not bliss. Do not deprive yourself of lifelong learning or you will increase your likelihood of facing chronic stress at some point. At the same time, each day, set aside time when you are awake but not actively getting formal input (reading, listening, watching) so that you can think creatively when you zone out.

Rules and Creativity [top]

A child growing up with no rules turns into a disastrous adult, as does a society crumble where rules are not followed. You need to have a system of rules and guidelines to provide structure for growth and development. Your lifelong education or that of your child requires structure, but you also need to deprive yourself of that structure for periods so that creativity can flourish.

Social Interaction [top]

Loneliness, we are told, is the new epidemic in the West. It is probably also a rising epidemic in both developed and developing nations in the East. Humans enjoy and thrive with social interaction. That does not mean you are always better off with a lot of it. It is essential to deprive yourself of it for parts of the day. When you do that, you are left alone with only your own thoughts to interact with – hopefully, that prospect does not frighten you.

Sex [top]

A common problem in most societies is that people cannot always have sex when they want or where they want. In addition, religious fasting where food and, often, water are not to be consumed typically prescribes abstention from sex for that duration. If your religion forbids contraception then you must also learn to deprive yourself of sex during certain days of the month. Whatever the reason, how you frame the situation in your self-talk will help you benefit from the time when you consciously deprive yourself of sex.

Caffeine – tea, coffee, chocolates [top]

If you do not already consume caffeine other than through the occasional chocolate, that is likely to be a good thing. Certain individuals would be better off with moderate consumption of caffeine to reduce all-cause mortality or the risk of some illnesses e.g., age-related cognitive decline. If you consume a lot of caffeine, that is very likely to be a bad thing. As a psychoactive substance caffeine whether through green tea or black coffee is a double-edged sword to be best timed intelligently within your circadian cycle and timed appropriately around your nutrient-dense meals.

Besides staying away from caffeine in the 2nd half of each day, it is a good idea to deprive yourself of it for segments of the year so that when you return to it, you are more sensitive to it again.

Alcohol, Nicotine and Other Harmful Substances [top]

Alcohol is toxic the moment it enters your body – I cannot suggest anything other than depriving yourself of it for life. If you were caught in the big social lie and did not know it was a Group-1 carcinogen, you do now. Cigarettes hasten your death and bring no pleasure to those around you when you smoke them – again, best to deprive yourself of them. There are many substances that published scientific evidence makes clear are not good for you – be it food, drink, or substances you breathe in – deprive yourself of those, perhaps in a gradual manner, until you are no longer dependent on them and can enjoy a healthy life.

Screen Time [top]

While improving productivity, technology can also enslave you. Deprive yourself daily of screen or device time during some of your waking hours to be able to do deep work. Remember, technology itself does not train you to be wise in using it.

Junk Food [top]

Many adults who eat junk food today started young when their parents fed it to them as a treat. Animals in their natural environment seek healthy food as a reward for effort – that is natural. If you think you are intelligent and civilized, why do you provide harmful food as a reward for someone you say you love?  Do not think you are depriving your child of their childhood when you deprive them of junk food. If you encourage them to eat junk food, you are depriving them of good health!

Parting Message [top]

The more that you give up, the more pleasure you will find within yourself.

If everything you do is consistent with your core beliefs and desires, then a long and healthy life of joy is pretty much guaranteed to be yours. If you want to be guided in detail, you know how to reach me, and if you found this useful, please do share it with others.



Dr Purnendu Nath spends his waking hours focusing on helping individuals and organizations reach their goals, to make the world a better place. He speaks, writes and advises on topics such as finance, investment management, discipline, education, self-improvement, exercise, nutrition, health and fitness, leadership and parenting.

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