Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Mysterious Happiness.

This is what we strive for. It is the reason we do what we do. We write tips about it, we write blogs about it and yet we never really pay too much attention to it. A day without any glitches is a good day.  When all goes as planned, we feel accomplished. At the end of the day, we look at the picture and smile. When asked, "why are you smiling?" We answer; because I am happy. 

Where is all this coming from? It all began with me starting to read the book Engineering Happiness, By Rakesh Sarin and Manel Baucells) 

What is happiness? I am not talking about what happiness means to you. I am asking, what is happiness? Can we define it? Can we design it? Better still, can we create it out of thin air?   

Think about it for a minute, If you had to define happiness in a scientific way, what would that definition be? 

Any guesses? I decided to give it a try of my own: 

Happiness is a state of mind. 

Happiness is doing what we love to do

and so forth... 

But none of the above work for all. They are too subjective. We need objectivity. Trust the enginees to be objective :) 

Happiness = Reality - Expectations (Engineering Happiness, By Rakesh Sarin and Manel Baucells) 

So simple and so true.  It's one those definitions that I read and said, "now why didn't I think of that." :) 

It's simple, but it's not static.  Happiness will increase every time reality is higher than the expectations. This explains why we humans prepare for the worst. We expect the worst, and reality is so much better.. so our happiness is high :) Sadly, the reverse is true too. Every time we expect more, we are setting ourselves up for disappointment.  And as I type this  I now realize the brilliance of the age old advise, "don't expect too much, just go with the flow." :) 

Happiness is dynamic. 

Our expectations change at every stage in life and so does our reality. Let us go back to our teenage years. The reality was what our parents said;  "the more you share, the more freedom you get." Our expectation was total freedom with minimal sharing, so the happiness sometimes entered negative territory. As soon as we crossover from the famously infamous puberty into the young adult territory, the happiness graph moves back up and reality takes an upper hand.  At this point the expectations don't really go down, it's just that as young adults, we too learnt to evaluate all scenarios and prepare for the worst, and so the path to happiness began. 
So is the key to happiness keeping our expectations low? Not at all.  When expectations arise from within they become the motivation to do better than ourselves. On the contrary when expectations arise from comparison with our peer group, we see an upside down smiley face. This is the start of one's journey towards unhappiness. Comparisons with anyone but oneself, can only lead to unhappiness.  The engineers gave us the equation above, how we change the variables depends on us. As long as we maintain the balance between the two variables, we can assure ourselves of continued happiness.

The truth is, the glass will always be half empty, and you have to make a choice, either you fill it up or leave it half empty.

In a nutshell, happiness can be designed, it can be created via the choices we make. This got me thinking, if happiness is a choice, then how is it that we the intellectually advanced human race never make it a priority. We focus on our to do lists, and make a 5 year plan for life only to end up feeling exhausted at the end of the day. We spend hours dong a job that we are not passionate about and that one hobby that makes us happy, we have no time for. We fear taking the plunge because we have bills to pay. We dream of expanding it all even though we know that it will only lead to more stress and yet we fear scaling it down simply because we fear the expectations the world has from us.  Is the world our reality? If not, then having worldly expectations is a perfect recipe for unhappiness.  

Times are changing. This century is the era of paradigm shifts. Some brave souls are choosing to challenge the conventional expectations and some curious minds are finally putting more thought into the science of being happy. From curious minds creating the Happiness Quotient to the Happiness Scale, there is enough intrigue for the elusive happiness. Philosophers, psychologists and educators continue to wonder about the "why" of happiness.  

The corporate world is changing too. Companies are realizing that the secret to success and increased productivity are happy employees. Enter Chief Happiness Officer . Professionals who are finding ways of bringing positivity back into the otherwise robotic world. 

Take a look at this World Happiness Report, it ranks Denmark, Norway and Switzerland as the happiest top 3 countries in the world. Their criteria; real GDP per capita, healthy life expectancy, having someone to count on, perceived freedom, freedom from corruption and generosity. 

At a country level, the above criteria works. However at the individual level they don't work for me. GDP, perceived freedom etc etc is all about world expectations. Individual happiness is about individual expectations and individual realities.  Its interesting to note that what the developed world is still trying to measure and understand, Bhutan: a tiny country nestled in the Himalayas and bordered by  success frenzied India and China, has  Happiness measured to the very last detail. Bhutan has a holistic approach that factors in spirituality amongst other soft emotions and can be applied to individuals, families, communities and businesses alike.  

Now if only we could get the gurus to go to Bhutan and see what they do differently, for they not only have a Gross National Happiness, but they are also able to identify in sub categories like extensively happy, narrowly happy :) and plain unhappy :( .

The waves are changing, Google the word "happiness" and you will find everything from blogs to "to do" lists to stay happy.  In my recent trip to India, I was introduced to Happiness Studio by a friend. It's a novel concept for a country that breathes and chants the mantra's to stay calm and peaceful. It is impressive to see the paradigm change coming. 

Going back to our equation, remember they are your realities and expectations. Choose them wisely and keep the happiness flowing. 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

In remembrance ...

My blogpost today was on a Happy topic. As I logged in, realize the date .. 9/11...

13 years gone by and yet the images come up like it was yesterday. I was at work, and I remember my colleague asking me.. what's your take on it? I asked him "what do you mean?" He asked, "you know, all the bombing etc?"

I thought to myself, do I need to have a take on this? And I realized,  he is THE intern in the company .. the golden eyed kid that everyone loved. The intern that the rest of us interns had to compete with.

I told him;  "I don't have any take on this. I have dealt and heard about religious warfare ever since I can remember. It is a feeling of violation and annoyance that I don't know how to put in words."

He had the quizzical look on his face.   I grabbed my coffee and went back to my nook.

In remembrance of all that was lost and in honor of everyone who is doing their best to make this world a better place I invite you to listen to this talk on   It's about how one person chose peace in the most adverse situation. He was taught animosity and yet he found love and friendships. It is impressive and humbling.

Reaffirms the belief that life can spring in the most dire situations.


Thursday, September 4, 2014

India Rediscovered.

Going to India is not a vacation, it is an experience. An experience that moves you emotionally, intellectually, spiritually and sometimes even gastrically.

Taking our trip to India this year was beyond what I could have wished for. It was a trip that allowed us to visit India as a family, it allowed us to visit India with friends and most importantly, it allowed my children to discover India and  make their own observations.

A typical trip back home is about hanging out with the grandparents and eating an assortment of yummies that are a delight to both the tongue and the tummy. This time though, we decided to do it a little differently.  We decided to travel. The destinations were Mussoorie, in the foothills of Himalayas and to Mt. Abu, a hill station bordering the desert state of Rajasthan and the land of Gandhi, Gujarat.  

More on these places in another post, first my undocked thoughts on rediscovering India. 

After twenty two hours we land in India and find our way through the lines and edge towards the exit, the conversation goes;

Kids: "Eww, what's that smell?"
Me: "It's India." 
Kids: "You mean, India smells?" 
Me: "Yup." 

We then spot the grandparents and we hug, and hug some more and after a debate on why it is still okay for us to push our bags through a storm of people, we find our way to the SUV and drive home. 

Fast forward 5 weeks, we are back in US, we land in US and as we exit, the conversation goes;

Me: "What do you smell?"
Older kid: "Nothing."
Younger kid: "I am tired, can we just go home." 
Me: "Exactly." 
Older kid: "What do you mean?" 
Me: "Remember, when we were exiting the airport at India, you noticed the smell, and I told you it is India." 
Older kid: "Ya, so?" 
Me: "So, the point is, It is impossible to go to India and not notice it. India moves you in ways no other country in the world can move you."
Older kid: stays silent. 
Younger kid: "Can we just go home? I don't see daddy, where is he?"
Me: "Hold on, he is outside those big doors." 

India moves you. It is hard to visit India and come back indifferent. You are either going to hate it or love it. There is no middle emotion here.  If you have never been to India, the "smell" of India is like the fusion of smog, fresh jasmine flowers being sold on the sidewalk, tea being brewed on the road stalls, cows crossing the intersections and in monsoons the secret ingredient in this vibrant potpourri is the smell of the first rain on the soil that has been heat baked for 3000+ years. 

We drive through the freeways which as my kids observe are very nice and almost like US they tell me.   
The "just like US" freeways :) 
We arrive home, get pampered and days start rolling away.  One evening, we were watching the news channel and came the second thought. I realized that while the Indian media covers everything USA,  we in US, hear about India only when a major event is happening. Until recently Apu from Simpsons or Ravi from Jessie were the only thing India, the western kid knew.  Good or bad, that's debatable. The lack of knowledge of the world around can be the source of knowledge of all things US and hence the country stands tall and proud. The lack of knowledge of the world around can also be responsible for the changing face of the global economies.  

India maybe old, but it is global.  A country where every state is a country in itself has 18+ nationally recognized languages and yet boasts of the largest English speaking educated population.  So fear not, when you visit India, unlike France or Japan, every one there from the cab driver to the corporate executive will be able to communicate with you. 

Our travels included being driven through the mountains and packed megapolis cities. We refrain from driving in India. Why? Well simply because we don't have the skill set needed. Skill set, yes! It takes stellar driving skills to meander through a myriad of transportation entwined with cows and human beings crossing the road.  For a bystander, it is total chaos. Fight this chaos, and you will be swept away. Flow with the chaos and you will reach your destination.  India teaches one to be patient.  The patience in India has been a boon and a bane. Boon for it has allowed the country to thrive despite a century of slavery. Bane because it has taken the country decades to come of of its slavery mindset. 

The CDC warns you to not eat street food. But then that's where the flavors are
This is corn being roasted on open fire coals in drizzling rain.
The romance of this experience cannot be expressed in words.
India is a foodie heaven. Indian food is often considered synonymous to hot and spicy. I disagree!  Yes, we like it hot, but so do folks in Mexico or Schezwan. What makes Indian food unique is the amalgamation of different cultures and flavors. From the paleo diet of the Indus valley civilization to the chilli and potatoes introduced in India by the Portuguese, India accepted it all. The Mughals introduced India to the concept of "cooking is an art." Food in India today is a passionate love affair that has been simmering amongst the exotic spices for centuries now.  Interestingly it offers something for every diet. Vegetarians, vegans, gluten resistant diet, only meat diet, no dairy diet or just plain paleo; you name it and the cuisine has something for everyone readily available everyday in the street food stalls. No need to find expensive restaurants and request customization. As long as you have the guts to try it, the food is there and it is awesome.  

As we wrap up the first phase of the experience and get ready for the second. the third realization comes through, it is still not safe to travel alone in India.  It is sad, but true.  After hubby came back to US, I did venture out on a short vacation with my friends... mommy and kid thing.  Every one who heard had the skeptical look on their face. While the look first confused me, in retrospect I now know why? It doesn't happen very often in India that 5 moms decide to take their kids on vacation by themselves.  But we did and did well. The key is to use some common sense rules and stay away from trouble and stick with your guts.  

The most interesting and funniest thing happened as we toured the sites of Mt. Abu with friends.. the mommy and kid thing. 

Tired and with kids desperate to use the restroom (or washrooms) we enter Cafe Coffee Day ( Indian equivalent of Starbucks) only to find the sign "Out of order" on the restroom door.  We frown and settle the kids, give their orders and as I was paying the bill, I start a conversation with the cashier. 

Me: "Why is the washroom closed?"
Cashier: "No Mam, you can use it." 
Me: "But there is a sign.."
Cashier: "Mam, that sign is there so that customers like you can use it." 
Me: (thinking in mind .. and wondering and then it hits me.) They have the sign there so everyone passing by does not use it. 
It was brilliant. India thinks out of the box. 

India is a country of opposites. It is beautiful, muddy, magnanimous, heartless all in one breath. 
Traveling to this incredible stunning country is a far-fetched dream for the western world. 
Blessed am I for I was born there.