Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Happiness, US, et al

When you are living in the US a common topic, especially among the Indian community, is the elusive Green Card!
"Have you applied for the green card"?
"When did you apply ? I just got mine" ( followed by a 100 watt smile )
"You better apply for one as soon as you can. Anyway, even if you get your green card you can still go back to India" ( hahaha ......)

The other day I read an interesting article about immigrants going back to India , which got me thinking about the reasons why people like to stay back in US. Are there any valid reasons? Does settling in US enable a person to be more happy in the long run, or even in the short run for that matter ?  Why do people think that living in US will make them more happy? Is there any truth in that?  And, at a broader level, what are the things that really make us happy ?

Coming to the first question; why does a person want to settle down in US? A major reason is the high standard of living the country offers. You can own a car and a house in no time. The infrastructure is excellent. You can travel 30-40 Km in less than half an hour without any hassle, which may take hours in a city like Bangalore. The luxuries that the country offers is definitely much better than what it is back in India and is a major incentive for people to stay back.

The second reason is the quality of work and the career opportunities the country provides, at least in the context of the IT industry. You have a lot of opportunities to grow in your career and also choose the fields you would like to pursue. Though some amount of workplace politics is inevitable, meritocracy is still the king. If you are good, nothing can stop you from climbing up the ladder.
The third reason why people want to settle down in US is somewhat surprising - independence. Independence may mean different things to different people. One of my married friends who came to US about a year back was relieved to be here because in India most of his weekends and free time was spent on attending various functions organized by his relatives!  For unmarried guys independence might mean something different.

There might be many more reasons, but off the top of my head I could think of the above points.

Now, coming to the second and probably the more important question. Does settling in US enable a person to be more happy in the longer run, or even in short term ? A simple way of answering this question will be to compare if US citizens are happier than others. Though there are no credible instruments to measure happiness index of a country , there have not been any studies/surveys that I am aware of which says that US citizens are happier than others. In fact on the contrary, the Gross National Happiness index says that people in Bhutan are the happiest !

In my opinion, whether we stay in US, India or Bangladesh, it doesn't matter. The mere act of living in a specific country will not determine whether you are happy or unhappy. Happiness, for me , is determined by dynamic things, and not by static things.
By static I mean things that don't change a lot over the course of time, like a big house, an expensive car or good infrastructure. If you live in a big bungalow you might be happy for the first 10-15 days or so, but once that 'honeymoon period' is over your daily happiness is independent of the bungalow. The bungalow has absolutely no role to play in determining if on a given day you are happy or sad. The same applies for a car.
Static elements will give you happiness for a moment or two and then disappear. The happiness derived from them cannot be sustained, they wither away. 

Dynamic things, on the other hand, are those that are unpredictable. They constantly change and in my opinion happiness can be derived only from them. One example of a dynamic thing is the work we do for a living. If the work is interesting and constantly throws up challenges, then nothing can be a better source of happiness.
Similarly, personal relationships - like the relationship with your spouse, friends, children or parents - are also dynamic and are a great source of happiness.
The dynamic nature of work and relationships allow us to derive happiness from them.Probably that is the reason why we enjoy sports so much, as sports is an unscripted drama and is the epitome of unpredictability.

Coming back to the reasons why people like to settle down in US, I think most of the reasons are static in nature, be it the standard of living or the feeling of independence. We might feel happy initially, but the happiness is not sustainable and we eventually come back to a steady state.They are like spikes in a graph where the value is momentarily very high and comes back to a normal value the very next instant.

I am not saying that settling in US is not a good idea or that you are better off staying in India, but just that it ultimately doesn't matter where you live. Whether you are in US or in India, your happiness is determined by the little things you do on a daily basis, how you respond to challenges you face everyday, rather than the Ferrari parked in your garage.  A Green card or a US citizenship is not the panacea for all the ills afflicting you. In fact, I would compare getting a Green card with India winning the cricket world cup. You rejoice for a day or two and from the third day normalcy is restored !

To be really happy we have to go after the dynamic things . Their dynamic nature will ensure that periodically we will experience bouts of unhappiness, sadness and frustration, which is precisely the reason why we experience happiness when things go right.
Unlike the big bungalow, which never shrinks, never expands, keeps staring at you the same way day after day, as if it doesn't even exist.