The Bottomless Cup

Month: April, 2010

Project Rwanda

I am so excited (and a bit anxious) about this. I am going to Rwanda (its a country in East Africa in case you didn’t know) to be part of the One Laptop Per Child Initiative. I can say a lot about what this organization does, but I think this video will suffice:

What i particularly like about this organization is that it goes beyond fund raising and manual work – it allows individuals who are fortunate to get quality education to use their skills to make a difference in someone’s life. It is ideas like these that can change the world. I can just imagine how the children who get this laptop will not only change their own perceptions, but also those of their communities. They will have a wealth of knowledge in their hands, and they will be empowered to dream bigger.

So we are going to be a team of 10, 3 students in Carnegie Mellon Qatar and 7 students from Carnegie Mellon USA. We even have a blog running: where we introduce ourselves and do the planning for the project.

P.S: I have lizard-phobia. I really need to overcome that ASAP!


The Divide Between Ethics and Faith

I belong from a country that is in constant battle against terrorism and I wonder if it will ever stop. If it will, how? Clearly military action is not working, and is in fact heightening the problem. This also leads me to think about whether the word “terrorist” will ever be dissociated with us.

It has become clear to me the fight against terrorism is an idealogical one. Where military power falls short, the power of the pen takes control. History has seen how dialog through literature and the arts has caused revolutions. I remember my philosophy professor, Dr. David Gray, talked about how important interfaith dialog is in achieving peace, and I couldn’t agree more. In fact, I think dialog that helps us dig in to our fundamental beliefs and identity, can solve many, if not all, the problems faced by muslims today.

The reason why I wrote this post is to talk about the idea of Faith and Ethics inside the minds of many Muslims. To us, they no longer appear to be the same. In fact, faith is at a much higher level to ethics, when it should be complementing it (they should be in fact, considered the same!).  It is sad to see that many of us lie, cheat and abuse others but still pray 5 times a day and claim to be good muslims. Faith stems from Ethics. The 5 pillars that define Islam has some fundamental basis. For example, if Zakat is one of the pillars, it so much more than just giving alms; it is teaching us fundamental lessons about taking care of those who are financially less fortunate to us. I therefore find it funny that the arab world gives so much in Zakat, but has a controversial human rights record when it comes to migrant labor workers. What I mean to say is that ethics is a component of islam, and that component is often ignored, because faith is taken to be this seperate entity and placed at a very high level, with ethics coming secondary. If you understand faith properly (at least in the case of Islam), you will perform ethical acts and faith and ethics will be indistinguishable.

Terrorism, in my opinion, perfectly exemplifies this paradox. To terrorists, their so called “Faith” has been taken to a level so much higher than ethics, that killing in the name of faith is considered acceptable to them.I am sure no one, not even terrorists, consider killing innocent women and children ethical. Had ethics and faith been one, the idea of terrorism in the name of religion would cease to exist.

I think this is where our society should move towards. We need to instill in our future generations the fundamental ethics in parrallel with the teachings of a particular religion, so that they become adults who can make life decisions with integrity.

Recipe for Happiness 3: Creative Happiness

The first thing that I would like to mention is that I realized I haven’t really written about my inspiration behind the Happiness Series, so InshaAllah I’ll include a page called “Themes” where i discuss the rationale behind the themes I discuss.

This post is special to me because I hope that it will encourage my readers to take a step back and think about exploring their creativity. I’m sure we’ve all done some activity to blow off some steam, like listening to music or watching a TV show. However, a few of us actually have a creative outlet and even fewer of us actually relate that to our careers. Research has shown that people who have creative hobbies are less stressed, depressed and of course have more of a sense of purpose.

There are many interesting researches that one can find on the web that corroborate with the idea that having a creative hobby increases happiness. I relied again on my friend TED to find some inspiring talks on this topic. The most interesting lecture I found was by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi who has been one of the pioneers in the research of positive psychology. His take on creative happiness was from a scientist’s perspective (go science!) in which he related happiness to the amount of cognitive resources needed in a creative assignment. He found that  when one is doing something creative (that involves both skill and challenge), one is in a state of a creative “flow”. This state requires so much brain power and attention that one forgets one’s identity.This is a state of  suspended existence. It is precisely that moment when one forgets about one’s problems or worldly issues and is in a state of ecstasy. He actually talks about the traumas post world war II and how people were never able to recover, and one of his reasons for that was that they never had creative activities to take their minds off what had happened.

Many people are unsure about what creative hobbies to pursue. I found these steps by another blogger very interesting.


  1. List 20 activities that you have enjoyed over the last ten years. For example, going to the seaside, having friends over for dinner, walking in the country.
  2. List 10 activities that you do not do, but think you would like to pursue.
  3. Make yourself a promise now to do one activity from each list in the next month. Write down what you will have to do to fit in these two new activities.

Click here to visit her blog.

My Extremely Creative Friends

I would like to take these opportunity to celebrate the creative talents of one and a half of my friends (yes Fatima you’re just half a friend).

I think Hiba is by far the most talented person I’ve been friends with. Not only is she crazy smart, she’s good at almost anything. She has an awesome sense of humor, can play the bass and is an amazing artist. I’d like to share some of her artistic masterpieces on my blog (Hiba you owe me!). image


Click on the pictures above to check out her entire work.

The other is my recent friend, Fatima Mujahid – I’ve been blown away by her photography skills! When i was with her in Pittsburgh, I used to wonder why she would take pictures of the most random things. Then when I saw the pictures themselves and I was amazed at how beautiful they looked. Here is some of her work:

ny! by CarnegieMellonQatarslime n plants.JPG by CarnegieMellonQatar

Again – click on the pics to take a look at some of her other work


“Six Quotes”: A lesson in Narrative

I’ve been trying to find ways to be a better blogger and my friends have been amazing  in giving me positive criticism and pointing out areas where I can improve. I’ve gone so far as to read a book “Blogging for Dummies” to help me find my niche in the blogosphere.

The day before yesterday, I was supposed to go for this session on interfaith dialog organized by Northwestern University but I don’t remember how I ended up going for my Dean’s farewell speech instead. In retrospect, I’m glad I did.

The reason why I thought the speech, “Six Quotes from Six Years in Qatar” was so inspiring had little to do with its content. Speeches about one’s memories, especially those spanning over 6 years, are often told chronologically, with major events being highlighted along the way. Such presentations, almost always lose the audience’s attention half way through the presentation, as they are presented with monotonous PowerPoint presentations along with their explanations.

This one was different. Each quote was so excitingly strange that the audience would anticipate how that specific quote would be so important for the dean to summarize such a long and fruitful tenure. My favorite quotation was the second one, “A4” (yes, just A4!). He talked about how the Chief Information Officer (CIO) at Carnegie Mellon Qatar said that the biggest challenge they were facing while setting up the IT infrastructure in the yet to be opened Qatar Campus was adopting to the A4 size paper instead of the US 8” x 11.5” standard. From a superficial level, such an issue seems small – but when one is sending faxes back and forth, important texts ended up being cut off!. From this very trivial quote, the Dean managed to put his message across – that details matter. He also managed to put across the idea that we should take nothing for granted. From this he managed to call events where the people from US felt lost in this completely different culture and way of life as an “A4 Moment”.

Another thing that I liked about the Dean was that he never had this elitist attitude about him, and I felt like he really accepted the Qatari culture for what it is. It was obvious that he had not come to Qatar to Educate the Uneducated, but instead to cause a change so that Qatar could hold its values and move forward with them. As he aptly said

“Education is not filling a bucket, but lighting a fire.”

He will surely be missed in Qatar.



Updates on the Blog:

More on the happiness Series Soon: I’m thinking of doing either a Philosophy or a Theology piece on Happiness.

I am doing a roundtable on "Personal Branding” with regard to my blogging experience on Sunday as a part of CMU’s Professional Fluency Series! yay!

I also need a name for my blog. I’m really having a hard time choosing one. Your suggestions will be greatly appreciated (you may read the “About” page to get an idea about what my blog is about.

Recipe for Happiness 2: Commercial Happiness?

I decided to attack this aspect of Happiness because of a certain dinner I attended last week. It was called the “Big Questions Dinner” where a bunch of students and faculty members have a fancy dinner (awesome InterCon Food!) and discuss some deep philosophical questions – questions that one would almost never discuss with anyone except one’s very close friends, let alone faculty members. It was a very nice experience. One of the things that I brought up was how when I go back to Pakistan I have to suffer in the heat due to the very frequent power cuts, and how I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night drenched in sweat. Dr. Sham Kekre (My Fall 09 accounting Professor) was of the opinion that the luxuries of life do not make anyone happier, and he encouraged us all to watch the Movie “The City of Joy”, which is based in India. I haven’t watched movie yet, but I’ll be sure to write my opinions about it if i do.

I was thinking about what Dan was saying in my last week’s post about how our economic systems run on the fact that “more is better” and that we need money to make ourselves happy. I am sure we’ve all been a victim of resorting to “retail therapy” when things are going wrong in our lives. He also gave us the example of the lottery winner whose happiness “high” had worn down after 4 years.

My aim for this blog is look at happiness through an economist’s lens to see how we can learn about what their thoughts can teach us about how to be happy.  It

imageis clear that advertisers rely a lot on giving their target audience the perception that buying their product will give them happiness.  Look at the coke advertisements on the left: could it get any clearer than that?

One of the earliest studies on happiness by Erlstein came up with the following conclusion

Average happiness levels did not increase over time as countries grew wealthier, nor was there a clear relationship between average per capita GDP and average happiness levels across countries.

This became known as the Erlstein Paradox.

And then there’s Dr. Yahya Al Mezrakchi, who I was just having a conversation with over the phone:

Me: “What do you think of Wealth and Happiness?”

Yahya: “Obviously, if you’re wealthy, you’re happy. I mean, if you have money, you can get whatever you could possibly want”

Wise man, I must say.

Even though I do agree that financial wealth has very little correlation with happiness, I cannot help but think that financial gains can make many people much happier. For one, when I go to Pakistan, I see so many people in a constant state of depression just because they are worried about how they are going to make ends meet. Furthermore, In a society such as Pakistan, where wealth commands respect from almost everyone in the society, the less wealthy often feel like they are at the bottom of the food chain. However, this requires a societal awakening rather than the pursuit of more wealth.

On the other hand, you meet these wealthy people who are emo, suicidal, or just trapped in their own Beverly hills issues. Furthermore, money brings with its own set of problems. The stress with one’s big financial empire, disputes of property and inheritance, and the inability to enjoy the finer things in life. Furthermore, many “rich people” tend to feel that their money is what defines them, and have a tough time having honest and trustworthy relationships with people.

I feel like a lot of people telling me to look at all the misery in the world and feel happy. However, the fact of the matter is that no quantifier can ever tell anyone to be happy or not. At the end of the day, happiness is a state of mind, and no one can dictate you to be happy. Economic research works because it asks people, who are the only ones that can assess their own happiness, to rate their happiness. If they give an honest response, It can give us insight into happiness v/s wealth.

My conclusion would be that wealth does play a role in happiness, but a very minor one. I am sure that people who have worked their entire lives to seek financial wealth would agree that other aspects, such a healthy relationships, a support system and a sense of purpose play a much bigger role.

PS: When you buy something: take a step back and think about whether the product will actually lead to making you happy, or if you are being fooled by the media and its propaganda. It should be an embarrassing moment for you if it is the latter.