The Bottomless Cup

Category: happiness

Is your job supposed to bring meaning to your life?

A month ago, the television show The Office came to an end with a rather emotional series finale. It has been a show that my brother and I have followed religiously and I had waited to return to Pakistan to watch it with him. In that episode, the characters finally say goodbye to the small office floor of the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company for good. Most of them seemed to have disliked their work, but they were all having a hard time saying goodbye. When the episode ended, my brother asked me “do you consider these people successful?”

English: Logo of the fictitious Dunder Mifflin...

English: Logo of the fictitious Dunder Mifflin paper company. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I had to pause for a moment to answer that question. Come to think of it, a monotonous sales job in a dying industry seems like a nightmare. Yet, I couldn’t possibly say that they weren’t successful. Some of them found their spouses at work, others remembered it as the place where they made their best friends. They all seemed to have grown out of the experience at this seemingly horrid work environment. My answer to my brother was eventually a “yes.”

But what does this idea mean for my generation, who’re about to launch their careers? I personally am on the verge of turning down another high paying job offer, for something uncertain and definitely something with a lower salary. I will never know if it is right decision, but I know that I would not be true to what I believe are my capabilities if I accept it. This also means that I will have to wait longer for my future to materialize into something stable. The idea of that is terrifying.

Regardless of what these job decisions entail, we should always realize that our careers only define one facet of our growth. A friend of mine, Shivani, just advised me to stop worrying about wherever my career takes me and that I should continue to do the things I love.  She told me to “connect back with writing, running and anything else [I] would like to do.” This is probably the best piece of advice I could have gotten.

These words by Andy Barnard from the finale to describe his work environment really resonated within me:

“I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days before you’ve actually left them.”

We need to realize that if we have a job that we hate, or no job at all, we can still be successful individuals. Remember to make the most of the moment you’re living in.

Geography of Bliss: Qatar

Cover of "The Geography of Bliss: One Gru...

Cover via Amazon

“the entire nation of Qatar is like a good airport terminal: pleasantly air-conditioned, with lots of shopping, a wide selection of food, and people from all around the world.”

In an effort to keep myself somewhat intellectually stimulated, I read books now and then – that is between the breaks I take from learning fatalities on Mortal Kombat. The book i’m currently reading is “The Geography of Bliss” by Eric Weiner. It is intriguing to me not only because it deals with positive psychology but also because it is a travelogue – and its always interesting to learn about different ways of life. I’m planning to go on a trip completely on my own after I graduate in May and from what I’ve read about Bhutan in this book, I think that is where I want to go.

The book is divided into chapters, and it uses each country and its most well known quality to see if happiness is related to it. To my surprise, it includes Qatar and its wealth:

“…[a]nd if money can buy happiness, or at least rent it for a while, then surely Qatar, by some measures the wealthiest country in the world, must also be the happiest .. If you were to devise an experiment to study the relationship between sudden wealth and happiness, you would need to invent something like Qatar”

The author argues that, because of its new wealth or nouveau riche, Qatar craves validation. It uses extravagant amounts of money to be noticed in the world. The 2022 world cup bid and the barcelona sponsorship by QF proves it. Ofcourse there is absolutely nothing wrong with it. I couldn’t agree more. However, there are some very unfair assessments of Qatar made in this chapter.

The first comes from the comment on EC:

“Students earn the same education and earn the same degree they would in the United states only without the frat parties or the theater groups or, for that matter, any fun at all.”

Note to Weiner – for someone who is traveling around the world discovering happiness (that you yourself claim is not the same as pleasure), I would’ve expected you to have an open mind. The author doesn’t visit EC or talk to any student in EC. His only source of information is an american staff member at an undisclosed branch campus in Education City.

He proceeds to discuss the purpose behind  western expats coming to Qatar:

“Places like Qatar attract people running away from something: a bad marriage, a criminal record, an inapporpaite email sent companywide and other sundry unhappiness.”

– there could be absolutely no other reason.

Now i’ve not been in touch with many western expats, but many of whom I have talked to are here to experience something different. Some of them want to be a part of something deeper than a 9 to 5 job. They take their work seriously. One of them reads my blog, and takes a genuine interest in what the students she supports are upto. Sweeping statements are never good, especially for someone trying to explore a different culture.

History and Happiness:

The quote at the top of this blog addresses this. This is perhaps one of the most eye-opening part of the chapter. It discusses the need for culture or heritage in order for us to feel a part of something bigger than ourselves. Life is short, but we would like to believe that we are a piece of larger puzzle, that our presence matters and that we’ve made a difference. History and Culture provide us that. When we see cultural landmarks, we realized that the place we stand in matters, and that some day, we will matter too.

The author, after visiting an old museum with an extremely limited collection of art, agrees with his friend that Qatar has no culture at all. Firstly, I don’t think such a thing can ever be true. Culture can never ceases to exist. The way one walks, eats, interacts, gets angry, uses his/her body language are all indicators of culture. A friend of mine once said that “People watching” is her way of discovering a different culture. We therefore decided to sit at a cafe and watch people pass by. Culture  thus needn’t be in a form that is documented, and it can be felt through the lives of a place’s inhabitants.

I know it might seem that I hate the book. In fact, I found the book very enjoyable. There are parts of the Qatari society that it explores very well, particularly the importance of family and tribes – both the good and the bad sides. I recommend it to everyone. What bothered me was that this book is  a bestseller and the author should’ve written a bit more responsibly since the book will change the perceptions of many.

Perhaps we need to live in a place instead of visit it in order to gain a full understanding of what it offers. I remember my first few weeks in New Delhi were very unpleasant. But as time went on, I began to love the huge, lively city where there was a greater sense of freedom than i’ve ever experienced. First impressions are, well, just first impressions.

Citation added:
Weiner, Eric. The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World. New York: Twelve, 2008. Print.

Recipe for Happiness 6: Happiness Tea and Loving Yourself

 

I’ve been depressed. You know the feeling when you give your everything, and are so sure that things will work out but they don’t? make that ten times worse and that’s what I’ve been feeling. I was empty, and the little self esteem I had had been crushed. The past few days have involved me sleeping endlessly, getting up only to feel more depressed and going back to sleep.

I was determined to do something about this, because deep down I knew there was a lot in my life worth celebrating. So, I headed down to Virgin Megastore and looked at some books that would help me deal with the worthlessness I was feeling. Perhaps if I learnt a bit more about destiny, or some “rules on how to lead one’s life”, i could get some closure.

IMG00011-20110113-2242

I then thought about my blog; and all the little advice and observations I was sharing with the world. I felt like a hypocrite. It’s easy to preach positive psychology when you’re at a high point in your life. It’s almost impossible to do so when you need it yourself. I therefore decided not to buy any of those books. Instead, as I lay in bed, I started thinking about what all my friends said. “If you are depressed, there is something wrong with you, not in any other person” and “love yourself”.

One of my friends was helping me get over this phase, but I told her that I still need some more time be sad. What I realized is that I didn’t deserve this sadness, that I had done nothing wrong, and that I don’t deserve to be punished. I realized that if you are depressed, it is probably because you have a low perception of yourself, and once you realize that you deserve better, you’ll get out of it in no time. Don’t say its ok to be depressed, hit yourself and snap out of it.

Maryam got me this  “Happiness Tea” to make me feel better.

IMG00014-20110113-2356

 

 

 

What the tea said was extremely silly, and it didn’t taste special. But it worked; just because while I was drinking the tea, I realized that there are people out there who care about my happiness.

So in a nutshell, if you’re feeling too sad, love yourself. If you have no success to celebrate about, know that you are being hard on yourself. Redefine your success. As one of the speakers at TEDxDoha said, define your success by just being alive.

Recipe for Happiness 4: Friendship

Like any child, I’ve been instilled with values that my parents have learnt throughout their lives. In fact, I think I take their idea of right and wrong as my guide for life. However, over time, as I have faced my own life lessons, I have been able to challenge what they have taught me. My father used to tell me that friends are not important, as they come and go. This, having resonated in my mind since I could remember, has made me into a person who does not open up to people that easily. To the contrary, I used to take pride in the idea that I do not need to make friends, as needing friends was a sign of clip_image002weakness. I think this idea spreads across upbringing in the south Asian culture, and hence could be a possible explanation of the lack of social and the abundance of academic skills that we possess.

Don’t get me wrong, I was in no way a loner. I just didn’t think friends were an important part of my life. This idea got me into a great deal of psychological mess as I came to live alone here in Qatar. I realized that the only way for me to survive is to have trustworthy friends. After a very long time, as I made friends, I realized the joy that friendship can bring. The meaning of friendship changed for me.

I therefore wish to explore in this post the basic need for friendship and affiliation, and how it relates to happiness. Of course I need to do some research as I really hesitate in giving any opinion without scientific evidence to prove my point.

Happiness is infectious. It should come as no surprise as we watch movies and also real life events where we see other people’s happiness and we get a smile on our faces. However, the effects of such happiness are underestimated to say the least. Research done at the University of California, San Diego has significant evidence to prove that happiness is contagious for up to three degrees of separation, as there is a chain reaction that starts off when one person is happy. What’s even more surprising is that this happiness affects people for a year. And guess what? Its not the other way around – sadness isn’t contagious. This enough should be evidence that friendship results in happiness (of course I am talking clip_image004about it in terms of the bigger picture).

An even more interesting research was done in the UK (Warwick University) where it has been found that the amount of extra income one would need to compensate for the lack of friends (and still be equally happy) is £50,000.

I don’t remember the source, but I watched this podcast on positive psychology  and the psychologist was talking about how social interaction can reduce our depression over an issue. I think this is important because we tend to shut ourselves out whenever we hear bad news, as that is the easiest thing to do. I encourage everyone to force oneself to socialize even more during a hard time, as I myself have seen its positive effect. It wasn’t long ago when I would just sit at home and “sleep out” a bad day, only to wake up and feel worse.

I think adding Aristotle’s idea of happiness is appropriate here, because it has been something that has been stuck in my head ever since I’ve heard it. He believed that happiness is achieved through, what he called, “practical virtue” which he refers to as the best kind of happiness. This is based on friendliness, truthfulness, ready wit, lack of shame, balance of ambition and control of anger. All these are virtues of a good friend.

If this kind of happiness cannot be achieved for whatever reason, one should attempt for intellectual happiness.  (see my previous happiness post on Creative Happiness and the idea of “flow”.)

I remain an introvert, and I need my own private space every day. But that in no way means that my friends are any less valuable to me.

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.

PLAN YOUR LEISURE TIME

  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

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

OKAY I REALLY NEED TO GET TO WORK NOW! FINALS IN A WEEK!