Happy Birth Day – Measure of Happiness

Pattern recognition is my favorite pastime. I am not sure if it is really a pastime, because I do it all the time – consciously or unconsciously. Observing a certain trend in my writings in past few years, I realized that most of them are satire on  society or concerns for unacceptable behavior in society. Today, as I celebrate (really?) or observe another birthday, I felt the need to write something positive. Life does not always offer lemons, I just forget to cherish the taste of honey it brings every now and then in life.
“What makes you happy?”
“What drives you?”
“What has been your biggest accomplishment of MBA program?”
                                                “What has been your significant achievement since your arrival in America?”
These are the questions I face quite frequently. Sometimes interviewers ask. Sometimes friends ask. I live such a packed life that there’s no time to stop and reflect. For questions like, “Hey How’s it going?” , I literally have no answer because there’s no time to actually feel and know how is it actually going. There are times, I would much rather prefer inert greetings like, “shirt is blue” or “Hey, door is big”. But a life without examination is not worth living in long run.  It’s time to jot down.
Observing the pattern in times when I felt happy since the last fall when I arrived, I must say that people make me happy. My eyes just twinkle with excitement when I am able to strike a humorous and engaging conversation with someone. There are couple of reasons for this happiness. I feel that when people find value in what I say and feel entertained, then   I feel  engaged and encouraged to share more.  I get to learn from these people – learning is a big factor for my happiness. When these conversations involve aha moments, I feel so fortunate to have met that person and learned a piece of new knowledge through him. A sense of security comes when I find people who are in many ways similar to me. A sense of accomplishment comes when I manage to find a common ground with someone who is very different from me. My happiness knows no bounds when these people are different from rest of the world and fall in the category of what I call thinkers. I tend to look at these personalities with lot of awe and respect and put them on a pedestal. So the more my bucket of thinkers grow, the more I feel assured about the world and about myself.
People make me happy in other situations too, when I am able to drop my prejudice and manage to go beyond  their first uncomfortable layer and get pleasantly surprised by the person behind the first layer, that’s a very satisfying experience. I not just overcome a challenge but also get to know another thinker! Spending a quality time with person from another country and getting over the initial laziness takes efforts but with that comes the incentive of discovering another country and culture which I may not be able to see in real any time soon.
Is this to say that my happiness depends on others and I tend to give away my locus of happiness to others? Possibly. Let me explore what other things make me happy if I am not with people around.
Use of systems and technology. As mentioned earlier, learning and gaining knowledge is critical to my positive mood. When I travel to a new city like San Francisco and I manage to find ways around, I feel very proud. Figuring out how to use public transport, how to buy tickets from automated machines, how to reach different places, finding  what I want to eat from  a complicated menu, finding out places to go to and things to do that were worth doing or going to – they all make me happy. I must admit, I am not an early adopter of technology many times. Thus breaking away from that initial inertia is quite an achievement for me. I consider myself not excellent with directions. Therefore, getting familiar with locations, remembering the names of streets and doing it all without anyone’s help make me feel happy.
Cooking. Again, learning component drives the joy here too. I did not cook before coming to grad school. Now learning to cook not just complex Indian cooking, but successful experimentation with cuisines of other cultures gives me a sense of attainment. Recently, I started baking and learned how to use an oven. I never imagined that I would be able to cook fish and bake fresh vegetables and consume them in a healthy way instead of deep frying way. Experiences of shopping at Blooming Food, understanding complex pricing structure, going to farmers market are all very exciting. By opening myself to new vegetables like broccoli and basil I feel good about myself. Feeding my guests with  warm food that sends out  aroma and steam is also very satisfying. I can’t wait to go home and show my family these skills and vegetables.
Movies. Zoning out into another world. Experiencing the experiences that I might not be able to see otherwise is a huge joy. It gives me further confidence about my ability to write that dream project I envision. They make me aware of the immense possibilities.
Music. Oh well. Good music becomes  my companion for a long time. Whenever I get exposed to an interesting piece through accident – someone shared that Facebook, or I heard it at someone’s house or party, I get impatient unless I get to hear the full song  alone and then if it passes that litmus test, it becomes my hum tune and enters my running playlist for weeks. It’s not very frequent to find such pieces though.
TV shows. I form a very strong and personal relationship with the characters. They sometimes become more common reference in my real conversations than real people in my life. That’s the extent to which they at times end up impressing me. These shows are not one time transaction like a movie (even a movie also stays with me for good time). The evolution of characters season after season, development of relationships and stories around them and special insights into the lives of real people who play these characters are all not just entertaining, but engaging and educating as well.
Buying. Well, smart and inexpensive buying. Because of constant pattern observation, I easily get bored with same clothes or dressing styles. But as an international grad student, I don’t have lot of money at my disposal to buy stylish clothes frequently. Thankfully, Salvation Army store and others come to my rescue. One big drive of positive mood is discovery of really high end and fashionably diverse clothes at dirt cheap prices. The warm smile and welcoming nature of cashier and attendants in these stores are further bonus. These stores are not humongous and overwhelming so I take my time to find things and finally make good deals.
Discovery. Finding more about the campus, its history and its culture beyond my own grad school gives me more belongingness to the university. Spreading the wings and meeting people from other departments, meeting totally random strangers on bus station or university cinema and striking chords of friendship are quite joyful.
Here’s to another year of discovery, friendships, learning and journey.
Happy Birth Day!

Rules of Communication – redefined?

Last Sunday afternoon, as I finished up my lunch and jumped on Facebook to see if there was any notification from the week I needed to attend before I ended the week, I noticed a friend request on Facebook. Thankfully, Facebook shows the number of common friends you have with the person sending you the friend request. Now, I had never met this gentleman, never had any form of communication so far. Our only connection was that we had common friends. There was no accompanying message as to who he was.
In the past few months, I have been noticing this kind of initiation of communication over many e-channels including LinkedIn, dating apps and website. Emergence  of these new patterns of communication fascinates me, surprises me, irritates me , sometimes cracks me up, and in rare moments, makes me consolidate the thoughts in this form! Let’s dissect them one at a time.
We often see that red alert on those blue heads on Facebook from people different spheres of our lives, and sometimes from no sphere of our lives – total stranger. There are times I get request from a first year undergrad student from my Alma mater and our only connection is the common college. There can be an argument – what will someone possibly write in that introductory note that you can’t figure out from his or her Facebook page anyway? But by expecting the receiver to find the information, we are shifting the obligation to seek information on to the receiver. It’s not a power game, it’s not to say that, “Hey you gotta talk to me? You better have a reason” .. no!  but it’s a matter of courtesy. In a conference, where everyone is wearing a name tag, people still go up and say their names while saying Hi (equivalent to Hit “Add Friend” or “Connect”). During our orientation at grad school, one professor told us that one should make such connection requests only after having some exchange, preferably in-person. That line of thought appeared very logical to me. I will be honest here. In the past, I too added people without meeting them, and now looking back, I am not proud of that. But in each of those add requests, I ensured to write something. I often question myself if I got this habit of  expecting introductory note after coming to America, because I do not add people any more without meeting them. Probably the lesson from that professor stuck too hard in my head. But then even while I was in India, prior to this present immersion in American culture, if I would send request to Indians in different cities or non-Indians in different countries, I would send a note along – unless the person of interest is some celebrity, who I would definitely treat differently! Interestingly, I  came across another possible explanation of sudden rise of these unaided friend requests in the recent times – the absence of message box upon clicking “Add Friend”. Earlier, a message box would popup, writing message would be optional though. But since it was right there in front of you, you would not hesitate to write something. But now there’s an extra step. One needs to separately hit on message and send a message after having sent friend request.
This is a professional networking, a different party from a social networking.  From how I understand LinkedIn, people play in this field to make business contacts, to move ahead in career or business. Thus sending a request with a defined purpose for connection is all the more reasonable. Even here, it’s not rare to see connection requests with default message. At times I see blind connections, from someone with just no immediate or obvious connection. That surprises me. At times I get default requests from people in very senior positions in the companies. That surprises me.

Dating apps and websites
This seems to be a jungle. Anonymity is probably the only rule here. Interestingly, the communication violation here is not as much about creating new relations, as it is about not creating new relations! Such websites do not necessarily have add-friend button. You can favorite others. I do get messages with contents like “Hi”. Or “How are you?”.  Since most people have handle on such apps or messengers or websites, so you don’t necessarily get to know even the name of the other person through these ultra-brief introductory messages.
But the bigger pet peeve comes when I make efforts to go through the potential candidate’s profile and write a message that contains brief information about who I am and some curiosity to know the other person more than what the profile says, and all I get in return is NO REPLY. I was not expecting an I DO from the other side. But the least I would expect is “Thanks for your message, but sorry I am not interested or we are not compatible” . Here I am, waiting for something and after  few days, I figure out the candidate has read the message, visited the profile and chose to observe silence as a reply.  Now, ‘dating experts’ give many plausible explanations for this. One is that people get many messages and it’s a lot of effort to reply to all those messages from the non-matching dating candidates. Well, unless you are a Jessica Alba or Tom Cruise, entire world would not be bombarding you with messages. Another is that people find it hard to write a rejection message because of the fear that it may annoy the other person. Well, ignorance is biggest disdain, bigger than an honest NO. I think they teach in high school or elementary school, to say hello back when someone says hello. I am told that I should not take it personally, because they are dishing out that ignoring response to all anyway. It’s not the rejection that bothers me, it’s the unresponsiveness that irritates me because that is to do with things beyond dating.  
When I think deeply,  I have few questions to ask – have the communication standards gone so low these days? Are introductions considered formalities and no introductions or lack of communication considered casual or the norm?  
My further discussion with few  psychologist friends of mine resulted in realization that I have very exacting standards with myself. If I show up late at an event, I feel as horrible as I would if I had committed some felony. That gets mirrored in my expectations. Probably I need to let myself lose. Wouldn’t it be so much easier to simply click “Confirm Friend” on Facebook or “Accept Connection” on LinkedIn or hit the big RED block button on the apps and dating websites upon no response after a week than spending time on thinking why communication in this day and age taking this form of shape that I am unable to fathom?