The Bottomless Cup

Month: March, 2010

The Recipe for Happiness 1: Synthesizing Happiness

I have decided to dedicate a couple of blogs to explore what we want to make us happy. My friend Aya Abu Jarbou, who is ALWAYS happy, says it is because she gets a lot of sleep!. Either way, I think we’re all a little confused about what it takes to be happy so I decided to do some research on experts across different fields (psychology, philosophy, economics, religion) to see what they claim to be the recipe for happiness.

I found this very interesting TED talk last summer and I had told myself that I would share it with people in any way possible because it teaches us so many lessons.

You must have heard people failing through some tasks in their lives and reflecting on them to say “it happened for the best. I’m better off now.” And you, in your mind must be thinking “yeah, Right!”

The crux of the talk was about how we sometimes “synthesize happiness” in our minds, as a result of our developed prefrontal cortex.

The author argues that “synthesized” or what seems like “yeah right!” happiness is just as real and of the same quality as “natural happiness”. For this he just doesn’t act on rhetoric, but actually provides scientific evidence to prove his point.

The doctor had asked patients who suffered Anterograde Amnesia (impaired long term memory) to order 5 pictures according to their preference. Afterwards, the doctor told them that they will own one of those pictures. After a couple of minutes, when they had no recollection of the doctor ever being there, the doctor asked them to arrange the pictures again. To our surprise, they put the one they “owned” at a higher order. (you have to watch the video!)

He also shows that after 4 months, two individuals – one who won a lottery and the other who lost his legs, rated equally in terms of happiness. WOAH!

Dan also adds that the freedom to choose is the enemy of happiness. The fact that we can go back to our previous choices or have other choices, prevents us from programming that synthetic happiness in our minds.

This is a very surprising research because it teaches us that having a structured, planned life is not the worst thing in the world. Modern society teaches us to be “free thinkers”, which is great, but it should be important that one sticks to one’s decisions and doesn’t get carried away with all that the world is to offer. For one, philosophers like Nietzsche suffered from chronic depression.I can personally speak for myself saying that because I have had the freedom to choose whatever I want, I have never been fully satisfied with any of my paths.

I think this is where religion connects to happiness. I cannot speak for all religions, but Islam is a way of life. It gives everyone a path to follow, towards happiness and it teaches to be happy with that path. Islam also encourages us to have “synthetic happiness” as we believe that whatever God does is for our best, without question. We are not even told to grieve for too long.

I also wanted to add that many people complain that I get a bit too judgmental at times, and this is a lesson that we do not really know what people go through. Just like my positive exposure post, it teaches us that happiness is a state of mind and not the objects that we posses. “Denial” is what we associate with synthetic happiness, and we should realize that masking one’s happiness until it changes into something natural might be the way to go.

I love this picture below. It shows how our perception of “popular happiness”.

Blue Happiness by ~daniellekiemel on deviantART


Sermon at Mt. Ararat Church

It was about time I realized that it was a bit too ambitious to blog about every single day that happened in those 9 days at IMPAQT. I therefore think that it is a better idea if i just give the highlights of the rest of the days, and hopefully make it more reflective than narrative. Fatima is going to post an Article on All Around about the trip  as well, so watch out for that in the next issue.

We had heard about this part of the trip back in Doha, and i was very apprehensive about whether it would be comfortable and relevant to us. I’ve been to churches before, and all I remember is a choir singing and then everyone leaving. But at the same time, our trip was a cultural exchange, so I realized the utility of such a trip in introducing us to other religions, especially because a lot of us hadn’t been to a church before.

I was soon to learn the distinction between a conventional church sermon and an African-American style sermon, which is far more lively to say the least. The first thing that struck us was that everyone was so warm and was welcoming us, even though we were the odd ones out. They referred to us as “brothers” and “sisters” something very similar to how we refer to each other in mosques. Except, that people seem very cheerful, something that we can learn from them.

The procession started off with a choir, which was a very different experience. It was hard for us to follow the lyrics but due to the screen we were able to mumble stuff now and then. As soon as the sermon finished, the Pastor approached the podium and i can say that all of us, no matter how devout we were as Muslims, were awe struck by the message of the sermon. It touched fundamental aspects of everyone who has any sort of faith. The best part was when the pastor was discussing about how the modern world perceives people who are religious as people who don’t think much and are irrational. The pastor argued that people who are religious are actually more rational, as they think deeply into their existence, the meaning of their lives and the order in the world. The other point that really struck me was about our nature to always blindly wanting the ideal opportunity, and being disappointed when we do not get it. The Pastor argued that God has that opportunity ready for us, but that he is waiting for us realize that he does. We need to change ourselves in order to change our surroundings.

The passion with which he spoke was mind boggling – we were all surprised that he had so much energy, especially because he does three such sermons every Sunday.

He also introduced us to the entire church mass and told us to stand up. The whole crowd roared and cheer and applaud, and i think it was an overwhelming moment for all of us. It gave me hope that all religions can coexist peacefully. Ok i know i am taking this a bit too far but I was actually thinking that.

I can safely say that the sermon inspired me to become a better Muslim and realize the similarities between the fundamentals of of most religions.


We woke up early in the morning extremely sleep deprived but excited to see all the different sights in NYC before we departed for Pittsburgh. We packed all our luggage, checked out of the hotel and headed off to a famous bagel shop somewhere near our hotel. This was the first bagel i’ve ever had, and even though i had heard a lot about them through american television, i couldn’t have imagined them being so good! even the variety of cheeses at the bagel shop was confusing. But what i did not get is how american people manage to walk fast, with a cup of coffee and a bagel in their hands. We tried doing that and ended up having a lot of accidents, especially fatima – she tends to be very ungraceful with food.

We then headed off to Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum, which was just a couple of blocks away. It was an interesting experience taking pictures with wax models of famous celebrities, politicians, historical figures etc. Some of the figures were better than others. For instance, the Beyonce one was just terrible as it was hard to figure out whether it was actually Beyonce or Jennifer Lopez.  Varun did a very funny social experiment. There was a placard saying “George Clooney” and an empty seat but no one was sitting there. He went and sat there for around 15 mins, completely still, like a statue and two people approached him:

Person 1: is that George clooney?

Person 2: No! it doesn’t look like him at all!

Person 1: Maybe it’s him when he was young.

I wasn’t there to witness it but we had several people testifying to this. Oh and we also song “Down” (Jay Sean) at the american idol karaoke stage. Simon Cowell said it was “It was extraordinary …. extraordinarily terrible”.

Soon, we were back on our feet walking from block to block trying to reach the Rockerfeller Center to go to the “Top of the Rock”. It was funny how a lot of us thought it would actually be a rock and it ended it up being a skyscraper ( i know it sounds really dumb). The view of NYC from there was amazing and we ended up taking some pretty awesome pictures from there. After our visit, we were short of time and were hence divided into people who wanted to go to central park and those who wanted to go to the really awesome Apple store right across the street from the park. I opted to go to the park, since its one of NYC’s signature locations. But before I get to that, I want to mention that I FINALLY got the Dwight bobblehead! Jill was actually getting annoyed by my keeping the group waiting as i stood in line to buy the bobblehead, but when she saw what i had bought, she totally agreed that it was worth the wait! And ofcourse, everyone agreed that i look like Dwight. Yeah, i know its not a compliment, but its still cool to have a celebrity lookalike.

Central Park was really nice, with the trees and grass covered with snow. I took a picture with this guy dressed up and painted as the statue of liberty, which was funny.

The most interesting thing that happened that day was when we were at this bridge at the park. There was this freelance photographer there, trying to capture the “human element of Central Park.” When he saw a group of Hijabis walking across central park, he thought a picture with them and the central park would be perfect. He therefore took several pictures with them, which was pretty cool in my opinion. I wonder if he ever sent them the picture as he promised. The guy was really nice though and I took a picture with him and his awesome camera (right).

Fast Forward – JFK airport, tons of security checks , delta flight to Pittsburgh.

We arrived at Pittsburgh airport and it looked extremely gloomy at that point of the night, a big change from the 24-hour lively NYC. I don’t really remember what we did that night; i guess we just crashed when we got to the hotel.

Positive Exposure – In So Many Ways

How did a man who shot models like Cindy Crawford for magazines such as Elle and Marie Claire become one of the most inspirational people I have come across? It all started with a decision to head off to Cornell and attend a lecture entitled “Positive Exposure”

When I first heard of the idea, I thought it was nice, but nothing special, especially considering the various other philanthropic organizations doing great work out there. The website did not do it justice either ( As Abdullah adequately said, it was the anecdotes that made all the difference.

Photographer Rick Guidotti started his career in the glamorous world of celebrity photography and achieved much success in it. He shot for some the most renowned magazines and ad campaigns, involving the most “beautiful models” of the time. However, just like any good photographer, he saw beauty in the world around him. Furthermore, he was not a big fan of having beauty “made up” through artificial products and effects. There was this time when he saw “the most beautiful Albino kid” at a bus stop and was just struck by how stunning she was. Soon he was going through medical textbooks learning more about the disease. As he was browsing through them, he was appalled by the images of albinism used to describe the disease. They were all serious and lifeless, like a subject to be studied. Media coverage didn’t help their image either. From the evil albino in the DaVinci Code to the estranged twins in the Matrix, the media, in effect, showed that al

binos were anything but normal members of the society.

This is what lay the seeds of Positive Exposure. He was soon vowing reluctant magazine editors to have fashion spreads to change the way people see difference. Most of the victims of genetic differences such as albinism carry very low self esteem, as seen by their posture and body language. Rick faced a challenge of taking confident fashion shots of these people, and hence had to show them their beauty that was there all along. For one of the girls, who was an albino, he showed her a mirror and asked her to see how beautiful she was. Suddenly, her face lit up and her shoulders pushed backwards (see the shot)!

Rick went on to talk about about the kind of genetic diseases he has covered, including the Costello Syndrome and Epidermis Bullosa. Furthermore, he has travelled around the world, taking pictures, setting up organizations and just meeting these people. Some of his accomplishments include the setting up of a support group for albinos in Malaysia and starting educational programs to prevent discrimination against individuals with genetic diseases. One of the saddest stories he mentioned was that of Tanzania, where witch doctors claim that albino limbs can give one extreme wealth. As a result, albinos are being killed and/or their limbs amputated. Rick has been working closely with the government to fight against this height of ignorance.

There is so much to learn from Rick’s achievements that go far beyond pictures and photography. As rick puts it, it’s a simple equation where self acceptance=self esteem= self advocacy. These individuals, rather than being ostracized by society, are empowered to become ambassadors of their own cause. They realize that they can make their worlds and their surroundings change. Also, the pictures help show the human side of these people, and that despite their hardships, they still play and laugh like we all do and aren’t completely miserable.

The effects of such an initiative shines light on the power we all possess. I felt that after leaving medicine, I’ll have less of an opportunity to make a difference in the world. Rick’s work shows that we need to hone our own skills in a way to positively contribute to the world. Positive exposure has people from all fields, be it doctors, photographers, computer experts (they are building this awesome touch screen system!) and writers. As one member of the audience points out, it has far reaching lessons to world leaders who believe that cultural differences cannot be bridged.

I think photography should also open doors in the field of psychology as it presents a new field of visual-psychotherapy, where images result in an emotional change. These individuals learnt a lot by looking at their own pictures in a positive mood, and learning that they are indeed beautiful. For one, i can clearly see these techniques working on individuals with depression, low self esteem and social anxiety disorder.

I hope this blog fulfills a part of my responsibility to share the great things that Rick and Positive Exposure are doing. They are extremely welcome to exploring new avenues of helping individuals with genetic disorders and I encourage everyone to visit their website to send some suggestions.


(and yes Zaid, good photography CAN involve people)


(this is my first blog post so if it is corny, just bear with me; I’ll get better)

I had told myself that there is light at the end of the tunnel as I battled through a week of gruesome midterms. Finally, it was Thursday and I had decided, as did everyone else, to pull an all-nighter dedicated to packing so that we could sleep on the plane.

I had definitely over packed, especially since we didn’t know what to expect from the trip (in terms of formal events and such) but it was all good since we had plenty of luggage space. However, as soon as it was 3 a.m. i crashed and the next thing i knew it was 20 minutes to leaving time (thank God Zaid woke me up!). I was the last person to enter the bus and I was late as usual.

The airport time involved plenty of security checks and taking off our shoes (a first for me at any airport) but the good thing was that everyone had to go through it so i was not singled out (as was the case in future security checks!). We were all assigned random seats but me and Fatima managed to get seats together. During the tiring 15 hour flight, i discovered several new sleeping position through Fatima, some very creative ones involving the meal table! I was bored to death as she managed to sleep through most of the trip. I watched a lame movie called the stepfather (i try to resist watching proper movies that involve thinking on that tiny screen with poor sound quality) but I managed to rewatch (some for the third time) episodes of the office!

It was snowing in NYC as we arrived and as usual, the pakistani living in Pakistan had to go through some extra security checks. I held the entire group back for one hour as the security officers took their sweet time joking around with their friends and flirting with the Qatar airways lady who came to ask my about my luggage. The questions they asked me were absured, such as whether I have fired a gun before or whether I am affiliated with the Pakistan army.

On our way we were extremely psyched to see Times Square and all the lights in NYC! it was truly a sight to behold.

We experienced our first culture shock when we realized that the hotel bathroom didn’t have a lock! it was particularly surprising since it was a twin room.

Later in the day, after getting ready, we headed towards Broadway but had to have dinner on the way. We stopped at this pizza place where the pizza slices were so huge that one slice was hard to finish. It was nice and I had Dr. Pepper after so long.

We then headed towards the phantom of the opera and there is just one word to describe the show: unbelievable. It was simply mind boggling to think of how they managed to change between those breathtaking scenes so easily and how they actually set up the stage in the first place. Of course the highlight was the huge swinging chandelier that swept above the front row audience.

As unbelievable as it sounds, some of us slept through parts of the show because we were so jet lagged and most of us had pulled an all nighter the night before in Qatar. I think we all regretted the fact that we couldn’t give the show the attention it deserved.

We then had some free time to drag ourselves and make the best of times square! we went to the overpriced but awesome m&m store and bought I heart NY t-shirts.

Overall, the first day was extremely exhausting but beyond amazing.