The Pursuit of Happiness – #HappyDay

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Today being the International Day of Happiness compelled me to spend some time researching and thinking about ‘happiness’.

The Greek language has a beautiful word for happiness – ‘eudaimonia’ – the exact translation of which is ‘human flourishing’. Eudaimonia is central to Aristotle’s philosophy that ‘happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.’ I often struggle when I think about the purpose of my life, and reading this quote put my mind at ease. Is it really that simple?

Happiness means different things to different people. The World Happiness Report says income levels are not the only indicators of well-being in rich and poor countries. Political freedom, strong social networks and an absence of corruption are more important; and at the individual level, good mental and physical health, someone to rely on, job security and a stable family are central to happiness.  But then again, to people living in poverty, fighting for food and water – 3 billion people (!) – is ‘happiness’ even relevant?

Happiness was put on the global agenda because of Bhutan, a tiny ‘land of dragons’ with a population of about 750,000 people. Happiness has been an organizing principle for governance in Bhutan since the early 18th Century when it declared that “if the Government cannot create happiness (dekid) for its people, there is no purpose for the Government to exist.” In 1972, Bhutan launched the Gross National Happiness Index recognizing happiness as a more important measure of prosperity than the Gross Domestic Product.

Following their inherent way of functioning and to extend it beyond borders, Bhutan called for a high-level meeting at the UN headquarters to discuss the importance of happiness as a universal goal. In the meeting held on April 2nd 2012, it discussed the need to have a new global sustainability-based economic paradigm for human happiness and well-being of all life forms to replace the current dysfunctional system that is based on the unsustainable premise of limitless growth on a finite planet. The full report of the meeting can be read here; it’s fascinating to see how happiness can be incorporated into governance.

Some call the meeting a fantastic public relations stunt by Bhutan, but the concept of happiness is so engrained in the policies that govern the country, it’s definitely more than that. Hats off to them for getting the world to recognize this fundamental need for a better planet, even if it was just for publicity! This year happiness is even on Dubai’s agenda.

And then I was pleasantly surprised to find movements such as actsofhappiness, projecthappiness, actionforhappiness that work towards making people happy and encouraging people and companies to spread happiness and drive socio-economic change.

Today, fortunately or unfortunately Pharrell Williams owns the word Happy. And I really don’t know what to say about that except that you can’t hold anything against anyone who is promoting happiness J.

#Day 7, post 6.

It’s never too late…

Me dancing with Mohammed at a milonga. Picture courtesy Cesar Jaramillo from Latin Soul.

Me dancing with Mohammed at a milonga. Picture courtesy Cesar Jaramillo from Latin Soul.

The Tango community in Dubai is made of some really awesome and unique people. It’s like a big family with members from all over the world, that don’t really have much in common apart from their love of Tango.  In fact, I see them more than I do my own family!

There is one particular couple that inspires me every time I see them: Mohammed and Mary, an Iranian couple, married for around 50 years. Mohammed is almost 80, and Mary is a few years younger. They started learning Tango only five years ago. Today they do shows, still take classes, travel to Tango festivals, and are the life of many milongas.

Their hearts are young, their energy is vibrant, and they are clearly still wonderfully in love. They embody the spirit of dance: full of soul, spreading happiness, and ageless. I hope to be like them 50 years from now.

So do everything you want to. I’m 34 and have just started learning ballet – the average age ballet dancers quit dancing. Sometimes I feel a bit ridiculous in class when 15 year olds talk to me about their day at school before we begin dancing. But I love it, and I don’t care. And people like Mohammed and Mary, remind me that I shouldn’t care. It’s never too late to learn anything.

#Day 4, post 4.

Changing the world with a plastic bottle

Sanjna speaking at a TEDx event in Madrid.

Sanjna speaking at a TEDx event in Madrid.

She is 20 years old and the founder of a social venture that helps slums in Mumbai get free electricity during the day from solar energy. My little cousin Sanjna Malpani is an inspiration to me.

She founded Jal Jyoti (translates to ‘water light’) a few years ago and works with a team of youngsters on this project that is making a big difference to many slum dwellers in Mumbai.

The way it works sounds too easy to be true: You fill a 1.5L bottle with water and 10mm of bleach to prevent algae from growing, and install it in the roof of a house in a slum. The sun’s rays hit the bottle of water; the light refracts and illuminates the house by producing light equivalent to a 55watt bulb. The bottles can last 4-5 years. They also teach the slum residents how to make and install the bottles themselves, so that they can sustain it. Slums are often so densely packed and without windows that they hardly get any light. Most of the people living there cannot afford electricity, or they save it for nighttime. This tactic is saving them money and fulfilling a basic need that we take for granted.

The challenge hasn’t been the science behind it; it has been convincing extremely poor, uneducated strangers that you can give them free light if they let you drill a hole in their roof to insert a water bottle. However, once they see the result in a friends’ or neighbours’ house, they open up to the idea. Also, working with NGO’s who operate in those slums has helped Jal Jyoti gain trust from the residents. So far they have installed a 100 bottles.

Sanjna was inspired by Alfred Moser, a Brazilian mechanic who came up with the idea in 2002 and launched ‘A Litre of Light‘. Recognizing the potential of such a simple idea in India, she jumped on it.

I’m really proud of her. She took her first step towards changing the world at 18. Her ability to not only have understood a great idea, but envision it in her own country and then commit to implementing it, amazes me.

I’m inspired everyday by something, but it remains a fleeting inspiration. How I can change that and develop it into something, I still need to figure out.

Here’s a video of the work they do and how it impacts the community they work in. Do watch / share / like. And if you live in Mumbai, participate or collaborate!

#Day 3, post 3.

Incredible Times

Courtesy: Hugh Macleod, Gaping Void.com

If you are looking for some inspiration and are out of resources, subscribing to Hugh Macleod’s Gaping Void cartoons is a good place to start again. His cartoons, more often than not, hit hard the spots they need to hit.

His J.K.Rowling type of story definitely inspires, as do his daily thought-cartoons (above) and his book: Ignore Everybody.

Sometimes it’s all you need to get that kick you need.

The essence of his new book called  Evil Plans: Having Fun on the Road to World Domination is best summarised by the editorial review on Amazon: “Freud once said that in order to be truly happy people need two things: the capacity to work and the capacity to love. Evil Plans is about being able to do both at the same time. The sometimes unfortunate side effect is that others will hate you for it. MacLeod’s insights are brash, wise, and often funny. “

Another book to add to my “must read” list.

Tantalizing India

So I haven’t written in almost 4 months. Disgraceful, I know. No good excuse really. Anyway, I was sent something recently that did make me want to take the effort to write; perhaps posting this information nugget will spur the desire to shake awake this blog again…I dunno. Anyhoo.

3 Indian boys have decided to take some time off to travel every state of India: 16,000 km in 18 days; according to the Limca Book of Records, this has been done in 19 days, 23 hours — the guys plan to beat this.

It’s not often that you read about Indians taking time off to undertake traveling feats. When I was sent a message by the boys themselves, it was such a refreshing read that it got me quite excited for them. I’m a slow traveler, so am not envious of them traveling through 28 states in 18 days (they’re not going to see anything!) — but hey, it sounds like a fun time-challenge that will certainly test their limits in numerous ways. They will learn a tremendous lot about themselves as well as about the roads in our Bharat mahan, and they may even become new record holders.

You can read more about their trip here on their blog that will be updated regularly from their journey that begins on June 16; you can also follow them on Facebook.

They also seem to have done some cool stuff in the past. Ummm…not quite sure what, but they have some awesome pics from whatever they’ve done that you can look at here.

Good luck, guys!

On a separate though relevant note,  a site worth checking out if you want to backpack around India: oktatabyebye.

Update and thought for the day

I’m not doing very well with my resolution to write more on here. Oh well. Just got back from a lovely holiday in Japan and Taiwan. Went to visit two of my close friends who showed me the best time. I’m really lucky to have some awesome friends. Hopefully some posts should come out of the trip — I took notes on my holiday for the very purpose. Now just need to get my act together and write.

In the meantime I’m leaving you with a liberating quote. Found it on Facebook;  Googled it, didn’t find it anywhere so no information on the who’s and when’s.

It’s in Spanish and translates to: “Life protects those who decide to be free.”

Richard and his song

This is a story that reiterates a fact that we often forget: persistence and passion certainly pays.

I’ve known Richard for over 10 years now; we went to university together.

He was a big-talker, and not a good singer (sorry Rich, but this line is key to the story). I remember listening to him sing at uni and thinking, oh dear, someone please tell him that singing isn’t his thing — maybe he should just pursue playing the guitar, or playing golf, that’s where he has scope.  But, crushing someone’s passionate ambition is the most horrible thing you can do to a person. He wasn’t as bad as the crackpots on American Idol. He’ll figure it out, I thought.

And he did. He knew what he wanted and kept at it; nothing could stop him. Belief in himself and sheer desire to write songs and sing, today has lead him to have two bands, regular gigs at public live-music nights, and a recent appearance on Dubai One TV (which you can watch here). He sounds fantastic. The song you will hear is one written and composed by him, and very him indeed. And I love it.

If you like what you hear, you can often catch him at Peanut Butter Jam on Friday Nights (at Wafi).

Lesson: Any talent can be nurtured. All you need is the desire and discipline.

Movie review: MJ’s This Is It

This Is It

I went to the premiere of MJ’s This Is It with child like eagerness. This was really it. His last days on the planet were spent practising for his final world tour, one that he had no idea he wouldn’t be on.  The elation and the glory behind all of it reeked through the screen with a strange, sad, and strong undercurrent of finality. 50 sold-out concerts were cancelled. Cause: death by drug-related cardiac arrest. What fucked up fate.

Irrespective of the controversies that cocooned MJ over the last few years, there is no doubt that his effect on people was unique and overwhelming. The man was pure passion, talent, energy and understated (perhaps even undermined?) genius.

The film glorifies MJ in his most natural state of being: pre-concert rehearsals. That time when you function with pure excitement as you put everything into prep for a performance that promises to take you and your audience to a land never been to before. The film does well to give us genuine and unmanipulated glimpses of the man the world loved but never really understood completely.

Physically, however, he appeared a mess; a blaring fact in the film that I suppose just could not be hidden; it was sad to see him physically ruptured and strangely skeletal. But, you overlook it as a minor flaw in his otherwise phenomenal element of being. He was not a normal person, not physically, nor mentally — something that seeps through the entire film; but then which world famous legend was?

Other than MJ’s musical talent, the film sheds light on what MJ was like to work with and his relationship with crew, musicians, and dancers.  The movie is filled with genuine sound-bites and anecdotes from them, on and off set. You’ll notice an interesting chemistry between MJ and his gang: formal yet warm and loving, fun yet peaceful, thrilled yet patient, determined and disciplined, yet having the time of their lives. I can’t imagine how traumatic MJ’s death must have been for those people.

What is also amazing to see in the film is what goes into putting together a massive, mind-blowing concert: the sets, the lights, the outfits, and the mechanisms involved in making every second on stage special.

One of the key differentiators of MJ was that he has always told a story through his music. He never just sang. He invented, he created, he dared to imagine insanely — and then he took you there to experience it all with him. That’s what made him stand out from the rest and that’s what would have made MJ’s final world tour unforgettable.

The film cleverly tells a story that is insightful an interesting. It also weaves in beautifully rehearsal performances to almost everyone of MJ’s blockbuster hits — you’ll often find yourself tapping your feet and lip-syncing to the songs.  The man’s energy, passion and genius exudes throughout the film.

After watching the film, I felt like I had been part of his prep to give the final concert of his life, and that I got a peek into otherwise unchartered territory. I think the film aimed to re-capture and portray all the aspects of MJ that made him magnificent, and it succeeded.  A must watch for anybody who can sing  along to one or more of his songs.

Here’s his latest track in case you haven’t heard it already: This is it. Beautiful.

Overwhelmed by TEDxDubai

IMG00054-20091010-1626TED is the best thing that has happened to the planet. When TED went online about 2 years ago, it became the best thing that the internet has given the world. TED reminds us that we all have the power to change the world, and gives us the inspiration to do something with that thought.

So when TEDx was coming to Dubai, I was thrilled. However, as hype for it started building ferociously, I was afraid that it would turn into a large commercial gambit where corporations would banter about their success and people would hob-nob for the sake of it.

To be brutally honest: I went expecting the worst, but hoping for the best.

I stayed for all the 20 speakers (10am-6pm), yawned perhaps only once, and left feeling motivated and truly inspired. TEDxDubai truly over delivered.

There was a standing ovation at the end, which is when I lost the little black book I was taking notes in the entire day. I was going to share all my learnings from the day and some of the fabulous quotes from speakers that really stuck. But, unfortunately I don’t have them anymore. Luckily, the TEDx bloggers have posted their notes from the event, do check them out to get a speaker by speaker summary of key points.

All the speakers were fantastic. Really fantastic. They included a 13 year old film-maker; the creator of Freej and THE 99; the catalyst of the Arabic stand-up comedy revolution; the founder of Independent Thinking (inventor of  the concept of “thunk“); the founder of the 8-Day-Academy, and the CD at IDEO.

The production quality was almost on par with the real TED (global). Well, it’s Dubai, not a surprise I suppose. Well-organized, good food, enough supply of coffee, and not a penny spent by us attendees. It couldn’t have been better.

Those who didn’t come, you really missed out.

The only thing lacking was, in a room where 500 odd people  got together for the whole day to listen to some great ideas worth spreading, there was no way to interact with other members of the audience, unless of course you went up to them randomly and introduced yourself. Which perhaps I should’ve done (but it’s so not what you do in Dubai!) :).  In previous events such as BarCampUAE, you left knowing new and interesting people. Perhaps because they were much smaller groups with interactive sessions. Anyhoo.

All in all, thank you TEDxDubai. Look forward to it again next year!