The Bottomless Cup

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.
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An introvert in a very extroverted world

Solitude is painful when one is young, but delightful when one is more mature. – Albert Einstein

INTP. Introverted, Intuitive, Thinking, Perceiving. That was the result of a Myers-Briggs Personality test that I took a few years ago, at a time when I felt like my life wasn’t going anywhere. I relied on a test that contained a bunch of “would you rather-”s to tell me who I am. I guess when we’re desperate to find answers we resort to almost anything, even our daily horoscopes to give us some direction.

The test didn’t do me much good. However, one part of the test caught my attention – the “I”. I received a 100 percent score in this area despite my recent, fairly successful, attempts to combat shyness. Again, the test suggested that I do some “back end” work where I limit my contact to people. I’ve heard this so many times that it makes me angry. I like people. I want to be a people’s person. A few years later, I came across a book called “Introversion Advantage.”

I’ve always thought that extroversion leads to happiness and success, especially for a young male venturing out to make a living. I’ve been taught this in Psychology too. This book suggested otherwise. The author argues that most psychologists who do such studies are often extroverts and end up using the wrong factors to measure such indicators. While most of the book was giving obvious facts, there were some eye-opening lessons in there.

Introverts get their energy from solitude. We need our downtime. When we spend a significant amount of time in social situations, we feel exhausted. This reminds me of a moment in Pittsburgh when I would go to my room to just lie down after coming back from a whole day of social interaction. A friend of mine thought I had a special someone to talk to on the phone, who I was hiding from everyone else. The truth is I just wanted to be alone.

Here are some other eye-openers:

  • During the IDC at Harvard, I had interacted with so many people in such a small span of time that I could hardly breathe (i’m not exaggerating!). Furthermore, I could barely find a spot where I could be alone. The anxiety was building up until it was too much to handle. I decided to give myself a break – I walked out of the building towards my hotel. I went into my room, took 5 minutes to recharge, and was back to socialize again.
  • Now I’m sure you’ve seen this. During University hours, I get so exhausted that social interaction becomes impossible. That is when my iPod comes in handy. I just pop in my headphones and exclude myself from the world. I was surprised to know that some people actually call me “the iPod guy.”

The fact is that we live in a time where extroversion is celebrated. “Go-getters” and outgoing people are considered smarter and more ambitious. Introverts have their advantage. We are intuitive people who make great listeners. We tend to be more perceptive and are able internalize our judgments. Just because we don’t talk as much or socialize as much as others does not mean that we are not engaged members of society .

Introverts make up 25% of the world’s population. However, many people who thought they were extroverts might be introverts or vice versa. Perhaps a lot of you can relate to what I’ve said above and realize that you might be an introvert as well. Think about what gives you your boost – you might be surprised.

Famous Introverts — Actors

Clint Eastwood, actor/director

Harrison Ford, actor

Tom Hanks, actor

Sir Alfred Hitchcock, film director

Jack Lemmon, late actor

Bill Macy, actor

Steve Martin, all around talented guy

Noah Wiley, actor

Other Famous Introverts

Johnny Carson, former Tonight Show host

Jane Clayson, host of CBS Morning Show

Matt Lauer, co-host on the Today Show

David Letterman, host of the David Letterman Show

Diane Sawyer, co-host of ABC’s Good Morning America

Barbara Walters, host of 20/20

source of famous introverts: http://theadventurouswriter.com/blog/famous-introverts-introverted-personality-types-traits/

The things I didn’t expect to learn from College

In 2007, when I entered college, I thought college was all about deliverables. It really was a means for me to get a job and hopefully make good money. Not only did my endeavors change, I learnt so much about what I wanted from my life. I am not even sure if I’ll have a job after I graduate, but I won’t regret being here.

A few weeks ago, I attended the graduation of the class of 2011. I was a bit upset because I was supposed to be a part of the class had I not been so indecisive. In fact, I would’ve been in the class before that. But I’m glad to have gone through this rollercoaster ride at this point of my life rather than further down in my career. If college is about learning about yourself, I have certainly made the most of it.

Here are some of the lesson I learnt along the way. Of course I have a year to go, so there is a lot more I will hopefully learn.

Happiness is all in the head

I think I’ve repeated this a million times on my blog, and perhaps one of the reasons I made this blog. Happiness is not about what you do or what you have but how you think. Over my time in college, I have seen how some of the smartest, most resourceful people spend most of their complaining about their lives and their work. Others, who have less going for them in college still manage to stay happy.

When you’ve seen yourself building towards a career in medicine and see it falling apart, you feel like whatever made you happy just got decimated. But if you think your career is the only thing that can make you happy, you need to find out what life has to offer.

Religions and Cultures can coexist

The state of the world might suggest otherwise. However, when you’ve been welcomed so warmly in a church in Pittsburgh and Rwanda, and when you see cultures coexist in a multicultural campus, you know that there is still hope. When you’ve been a part of a melting point of diversity and see that society working, you begin to imagine why this can’t happen at the macro level. Read about my experience at Mt. Ararat in one of my former posts.

You can’t live your life window shopping.

Window shopping to me is like looking at everything but not committing to it. The american education system allows you to explore your options, but be sure to realize what you have to offer to others. In a place where there are talented people from all walks of life, people want to know what perspective you bring to the table. For me, it wasn’t anything to do with the numerous majors I pursued; it was global development. While at Harvard attending the International Development Conference, I realized that my passion alone was enough to make me participate with leaders in the field.

You can still hear me talk passionately about Rwanda or any other topic I have read or heard about. It makes me describe myself without really describing myself (how boring would that be?). We all need to find one thing we can interest the world with. And that can only be something we’re passionate about.

It is Ideas rather than Money that can make a difference

Since I’ve been a kid, my mother, with the best of intentions always told me that “If you make a lot of money, you will be able to give more back.” While at college, I have realized that it is not true. Considering the amount of donations and aid we give out, poverty would’ve long been eradicated. The world needs ideas. Ideas such as those that come out of the “Entrepreneurial Finance Lab” at the Harvard Center of International Development or from the MIT Media Labs (One Laptop Per Child?).

People need to be empowered, and charity does the opposite of that. The world is realizing this now.

Accept the ‘unfair’ facts of life and be fine with them

People complain about how people “pull strings” to get into college or get that awesome internship or job. That’s life; accept it. Pure meritocracy only exists in a utopian society. We live in a world where connections matter. Accept that and build upon them.

Being selfless can reap the highest gains

Last summer I read a book titled “Never eat alone” (very sad, I know!). The book gave me one of life’s most valuable lesson: if you don’t expect anything in return, you’ll build a connection that will last a lifetime. Give a helping hand to whomever you can, because somewhere down the line, you’ll need one too.

Everyone has a story

This is something that a friend of mine taught me and it is something I’ll always hold close to my heart. She said that there are no bad people in this world, just misunderstood ones. Take a moment and listen to their stories, and you’ll realize where the bitterness is coming from. I try not to take people at face value, although it does become a challenge sometimes. The trick is to have patience and listen.

During my recent candidacy for an internship spot, I was asked about how many finance courses I’ve done. Unfortunately, I had done zero. Not undermining the importance of vocational skills, the life skills I’ve learnt will be invaluable to me.

A year from now, I’ll be graduating. And I can say with confidence that I’ve learnt so much more than I expected.

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.

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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.

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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.

Pakistan: A nation that needs to slow down and catch a breath.

Everyone has their own theory about why Pakistan is undergoing such difficulties. Some attribute it to corruption while others say that it is the fundamental beliefs and values of its people that have lead to such turmoil. As I’ve said before, a nation is never built by its leaders, but by its people. And this current age where self determination is valued, there is no reason for us to solely blame our leadership.

The death of the governor of Punjab was an extremely sad setback for the nation. It marked, dreadfully, the beginning of a time where people have realized that speaking up for the rights of others can lead to dire consequences. Pakistan has become a country where the concept of fraternity has been replaced by a philosophy of every man for himself. Aren’t all these signs chaos?

I am not here to give a lecture on what went wrong; I am here to give one aspect of change that the nation seems to be struggling with: rapid freedom of speech. Mr. Musharraf was noble enough to allow freedom of the media, but he never thought how such an overnight change can have devastating results. Neither did he think about whether our new media sources would be responsible enough to guide instead of mislead the people. Suddenly, public debates, where fundamentalist ideologists were allowed to appear to the world appeared in front of a nation where people weren’t fully capable of deciding between good and bad sources of information. They were never given the power to do so.

What I find particularly distasteful is the way the assassin was shown repeatedly on television, with a calm and composed face claiming his martyrdom. As I walked across the streets and in the shops of Lahore, it was common to hear people sympathizing with this so-called martyr and discussing how at peace he was with himself. Hundreds, thousands, and perhaps even millions of people in the country were brainwashed by the footage that was shown by the media stations. It is very unfortunate that this fanatic was seen as a hero for so many.

We might criticize the middle east for its limited freedom of speech laws, but at least they realize that leniency in this area needs to be gradual instead of sudden. This is just one of the many instances where I feel the people of Pakistan are trying to cope with rapid change whilst holding on to their values and traditions.