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.


Anonymous said...

Very Nice comments. US or India?

Bharat said...

Agreed :) Good write-up!

Vikram Pyati said...

Thanks Bharat :)

Destination Infinity said...

Your penultimate paragraph just laid the foundation for being happy. Many people may not accept, but their happiness is dependent on the amount of grief they experience. It's Yin and Yang and they are very much interdependent.

I agree with your view that it doesn't matter where one lives as much as what one does, where ever they live. I have noticed that people who have lived in the US become haughty and fall into the 'I should be happier than people elsewhere, especially back home syndrome'. That's why their happiness starts depending on the amount of envy they see in others eyes, than what they have achieved/posses.

I like reading such frank posts.

Destination Infinity

Vikram Pyati said...

Hey Rajesh, welcome to the blog !!!

You have analyzed the post very well and hit the nail on the head with you comment. Thanks !

astrosunilnomy said...

Well, a nice insight into happiness..i think this is a much bigger topic, this is a much bigger subject which can be analysed from philosophical, spiritual, yours is a practical perspective & your article is one case study of the subject, in ancient days in India there were no climate abnormalities people need not worry about keeping themselves warm or cold, so they meditated..they went deeper levels of consciousness, may be they found out some truths or enlightenment or whatever u can call it. they got the ultimate bliss..Well in such a case life being static or dynamic does not matter...its just the life they choose that matters to them..there are people who sit on a couch & be happy more than anyone else...they just don't care for challenges..or they have tried their hand in lot of challenges & successfully solved them, now they are done with that...hence they want no-changes state ..just relax on a couch at home ...well in case of Thilak..he was more than happy here in engg days..he just had no reason to be dull any day...his life in US is spikes all the time..i suppose so he is the one who just loves dynamic life...whether fast paced or slow...his life is just a integration of all the instantaneous spikes or highs in life i must say...& believe me he is high on life all the time..So i think the general mass or public tend to go with associating happiness with dynamic life or changing scenarios..there are few people who stand apart & say this is what i want in life...though it seems awkward or abnormal but this is what makes more sense to them or makes them happy...heart wants what the heart wants...& BTW to travel 30-40 kms in Bangalore may take a few days soon i suppose :-)

mithil293 said...

Eloquent and simple ... completely agree. However these days happiness plays a second fiddle to 'efficiency and convenience' when i go for material stuff

Prerna Subramanian said...

Very simple yet great.

Vikram Pyati said...

Sunil.. you have set the record for the longest comment on my blog till date, Thanks!!

What you wrote makes perfect sense, but I feel your understanding of 'dynamic' is somewhat different from what I had in mind.
When I wrote that we need to go after dynamic things, I was not associating 'dynamic' with partying , noise, shouting etc. In my opinion dynamic means anything which is unpredictable. It can be something like solving a challenging physics problem by sitting in front of the computer.

Also, regarding the spikes, I somehow don't think it is possible for anyone to have spikes 'all the time'. If that is the case, then it no longer will be a spike, it will be a plateau !

Vikram Pyati said...

mithil293.. hmm.. efficiency and convenience may be the apparent objective, but I somehow think that the ultimate goal of any act of ours is happiness.
But yes, yours is a different perspective.
Thanks for commenting.

Vikram Pyati said...

thanks Prerana :)

Fatima said...

The way you've dissected and analyzed each and every aspect of staying in two diverse nations is brilliant!

I guess people now-a-days look at the exterior and are impressed, and standard of living is a part of it..somehow US gives them that.
But on the other hand, I completely agree with you that what matters at the end and makes us happy is not always where you live but how you live!

You could be happy even in a small cottage and a pristine palace would suffocate you...weird analogy to compare US and India yet it makes a difference!

I quite enjoyed reading you and I wud love to come here again! :)

Take Care

Giribala said...

Very insightful post!! It is true that happiness lies within us! We all have to go through ups and downs where ever we live....

Vikram Pyati said...

Hi Fatima, welcome to the blog...

You have analyzed the post perfectly... Thanks for reading and commenting

Vikram Pyati said...

Thanks Giribala and welcome to the blog :)

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