Life | The Pursuit Of Happiness

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The Pursuit Of Happiness
Text by Madhu Jain
Published: Volume 17, Issue 5, May, 2009

Fantasy cars and all things fashionable have taken a new spin. Madhu Jain ruminates over the meaning of life in an age of bling bliss

The other day a friend’s friend came over. He had come to visit my friend from across a couple of oceans who was staying with us. The 15-minute drop-in inflated to a good two hours, most of which was taken up by the visitor boasting about the gazillion dollars his son was making for his hedge fund boss. The rare survivor of the current gloom-doom scenario of the financial world was not only keeping his head well above the swirling waters, he was actually making so much money he did not know what to do with it.

Or, for that matter with himself.

So papa in Delhi got some of the spillover: two swanky cars now stood in his garage. The son with the evident Midas touch – and adrift on the less sunny side of his 30s – was so busy making all that money that he didn’t have the time to fall in love or marry. Or, even have a life. Nor, did he have the time to visit his parents. It had been nearly two years since they had last met him: he was too busy to come to India and they never visited him because he was never in one place longer than a few days.

I bring this up for a reason. Mr X (if I may call him that) started his discourse on his son’s ability to play the market with an animated voice. However, a half hour into the monologue the voice lost some of its bravado, and his eyes their spark. It happened soon after our common friend began to talk about her new grandchild: his eyes turned all misty. What Mr X really wanted, he finally said wearily, was a little nipper to bounce about on his knees. The seldom-aired BMW in his garage had long lost its lustre for him. Loneliness had settled in comfortably in their large home, in which he lived with his wife. You couldn’t quite bounce a BMW on your knees, could you?

The image of Mr X’s wistful face keeps springing to mind these days. Pundits of all kinds decrying the ‘money is king’ mantra have become ubiquitous. Wise people are now telling us from diverse pulpits that the current financial crisis is actually offering us a chance to re-examine what is important. In other words, to press the pause button and to look back at the road or roads not taken, those that would perhaps lead to a more satisfying career and, perhaps, a life. As one pundit so cogently put it: ‘never waste a crisis’.

Well, to begin with, desi parents could stop pushing their offspring down educational paths that would lead them to careers where making money is an end in itself. In his cautionary column in The New York Times the other day Frank Rich wrote that Harvard president Drew Gilpin Faust had stepped into the ‘moral vacuum, zeroing in on the huge number of students heading into finance, consulting and investment banking.’ Harvard University’s first female president had in her first baccalaureate address last summer urged the class of 2008 to ‘find work you love’. The ‘most remunerative’ job choice according to her would not necessarily be ‘the most meaningful and the most satisfying.’ Faust (some irony there in the name) has something there.

Feel-good factors
Could it be that we are finally going to move away from the ‘me-first, me-only’ doctrine that has dominated the last decade? If you go by the booming business of therapists, even in India, we have obviously been going the wrong way in the pursuit of happiness. A new study by Professor Mario Beauregard of Montreal University’s centre for research into neurophysiology and cognition demonstrates that ‘unconditional love’ (selfless love you could say) probably increases the ability to experience pleasure and euphoria.

Professor Beauregard used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to find out which areas of the brain get activated with ‘unconditional love’, which is quite distinct from romantic love. The study was conducted with low paid assistants who worked with people with learning difficulties. Ergo: those with empathy and minimum self-interest. Interestingly, some of the areas activated in the brain were those that also released dopamine – the chemical involved in ‘sensing pleasure’ and the feel-good factor.

Now, all this makes me wonder about our yummy mummies like Madonna and Angelina Jolie and their rainbow families with an assortment of children of diverse colours. Dopamine, not dope, is the answer for those looking for sustainable pleasurable highs.

Frugal Fashionistas
Recession or whatever else you might want to call it, has spawned a burgeoning army of frugalistas: the term has even entered the lexicon. A frugalista is a frugal fashionista, the newly christened breed of recession warriors. A frugalista is determined to remain fashionable, au courant and with it, both in her wardrobe and in her lifestyle. But she does this on a tight budget. Ever on the look-out for a deal, she is into clothes swapping (there are sites for this) and buying secondhand. She even grows her own vegetables and herbs if she can. You could say that she is a recessionista with the smarts.

Frugalistas have suddenly become cool in the currently chilling age of credit crunch squeeze and a downwardly mobile society. There’s a trendy buzz about these ‘style mavens on a budget’. Not too long ago they would have been looked down upon and seen as Aunty Scrooges. Today the elegant ladies you may chance upon, on the streets of Paris or New York picking up bits and pieces of furniture and household debris dumped on the street, are no longer looked upon with disdain. With a little gumption and savoir faire they can whip up something that could pass for a cousin of a Louis XIV chair from their street pickings. A friend of mine did so, recently!

Madhu Jain is an author and a journalist. She writes for several publications and is currently working on her second book. She also curates art shows.

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