The Eternal Wish: Make Happiness Last, Just a Bit Longer


By our hotel room in Phuket

By our hotel room in Phuket

We are on a beach vacation in an exotic island; wake up late, mosey along a beautiful path adorned with pink water-lily pads on both sides, enter a beautiful open room with fresh papaya and guava juice to welcome the warm day; after a morning filled with adventures in Kayaking, retreat to our beautiful room overlooking a ravine, into afternoon siesta. Few hours later, after a wonderful head and neck massage on the beach, we jump into the pool, as the sun sets in the horizon.

There are moments in your life when you know, that you are having a truly amazing time. Enjoying life and sipping away!

These are moments, you don’t want to end.

Why do beautiful vacations end; or why does that fun party, when everyone is laughing and having a jovial time, have to come to an end.

Why does Cinderella always have to run off before the clock strikes midnight?

Fresh Papaya and Guava for Breakfast in Phuket

Fresh Papaya and Guava for Breakfast in Phuket

I have discovered that, integral to every episode of happiness is, that it’s fleeting .

On reflection, having been through some difficult times in my life, sadness is also episodic.

Neither high notes of your life, lasts forever. It cannot be permanent state of mind. Otherwise, it won’t be as euphoric or meaningful.

The key to extending happiness is realizing the temporary nature of it and letting go of our fears, when happiness shows up at our door, planned or unplanned.

For me, there is happiness in certain things: like a swim in a pool on a hot day, or a group adda with some childhood friends, accompanied with hot-milky tea; there is guaranteed happiness in a hand-crafted meal of my choice – a game of frisbee, volleyball, or racquetball. Or simply a walk by the creeks around Katy Trail. It’s those moments of happiness, when unadulterated joy takes over. And I keep wishing that these good times never end!

Every day, do more of what makes you happy; hang around people who add to your happiness. Conversely, abandon things that you don’t care for and filter out those people who add negativity in your life. This is a choice only you can make. And yes, you can detox your life from toxicity that comes from some of what surround us.

Take a piece of paper and write a list of 10 things that made you happy in the last 30 days. Next Sunday, take one-two-three (or as many as you can) from that list, and repeat. It’s really not that difficult.

This Sunday, I choose to do three things that I truly enjoy. Ok, maybe four things.

With Shania, I make Porotha (crepe like flatbread) with eggs and cranberry marmalade, and enjoy! Together, we watch the Sunday morning news shows and criticize the commentator on their botched journalism. In the afternoon we run off to a theatre to watch a great movie that has been on the wish list for a while. Later in the day, the pool beckons with cocktails. In between, somehow, I manage to squeeze in an hours afternoon nap.

And I am happy, for just a bit longer.


Kayaking by James Bond Island in Phuket! Amazing

Kayaking by James Bond Island in Phuket! Amazing

How You Do Anything, You Do Everything: February 2015


My Serenity: On the Blue Atlantic (Photo Courtesy of Peter Stringer and Toby Blades)

My Serenity: On the Blue Atlantic (Photo Courtesy of Peter Stringer and Toby Blades)

Yesterday, I heard this quote mentioned in my yoga class; it makes me think about the things I do, almost in a pattern, and how they connect together to form the person that I am.

After a day of tumult at work, I seek refuge in my temple: my bedroom, where the it’s serene, flowing curtains, low-rise furniture, bubbling water-features, calm whites, greys and blues. The smell of mahagony touches my soul; soft cotton is the base for everything.

This desire to calm the space around me, has been a craving for a long time – maybe even a carry-over from quiet Joypahar, where I spent my early formative years.

I fulfill this inner need on most Saturday mornings, when everyone else is asleep.
My routine is to wake early, make myself a cup of milky “cha”, put the diffuser on Lemongrass, a mild meditation music, and wander off into the world of newspapers – searching for what happened around me this week that I missed; this is the time, when I do my best thinking, and planning.

Even during some recent, more difficult times, I never let go of that feeling that, a calm place exists, somewhere. I just have to go find it; sometimes, I may have to re-create it.

Because, I never let it go, invariably I do find it. It may not be in a very expensive home, but it’s wherever I am, at that moment.

At work, when I interview a new team member, characteristics I intently look for are, calmness and rationality. Will I get a rational, mathematical response to the problems we need to solve; or will it always be surrounded by grandiose drama.

I have figured out that I don’t work well with dramatic people. Drama is necessary at times; but I know that I do my best work surrounded by calm and stillness.

On a vacation to Santa Fe and Sedona over the last two months, I realize how much I crave this silence of my surroundings. I feel the clear air and ability to look forward in the amazing blue.

I am reminded of the time I spend on my boat, out on the calm, azure blue, with nothing but the gentle movement of the ocean to accompany me.

I know I am perfectly happy there.

Realizing and accepting that the world around is often going to be stormy and tumultuous, is the other side of this equation.

As long as there is also the ultimate surrender: at some point, I will return to this calm again.

During the last four years, after almost eighteen months of tumult, I started a new chapter in my life; as I have made new friends in this new life, I believe, that my best friends are also those that bring that calm to my life.

Deliberately, one by one, I have let go of friends (and relatives) who bring chaos and confusion to my quiet stillness. Once you “de-tox” your relationships, you find your calm space, very quickly.

No relationship is worth the tumult that creates the inner conflict with who you are.

I am learning to accept who I am. I need that calm of the ocean blue to bring out the best of me.

That is how I Choose to do anything, everything.

One of my favorite places at sunset on Pompano Beach

One of my favorite places at sunset on Pompano Beach

Seven Years, Seven Jewels of Fort Lauderdale : July 5, 2014


Sunset at Pompano Beach

Sunset at Pompano Beach

Fort Lauderdale is a quintessential beach resort down; as if you’re on one long vacation, 24/7/365; there’s not a lot of history, arts or super-character core community here. The core here is formed of water – it’s either the azure blue Atlantic – with amazing sunrises – or the magnificent, man-made, inter-coastal waterways that weaves around town.

The Mesmerizing Blue of the Atlantic

The Mesmerizing Blue of the Atlantic

Often my friends from elsewhere would say, you live in Miami; they could not be farther from the truth! In seven years, I haven’t ventured to Miami twenty times for pleasure! When you have a wonderful inter-coastal waterways, and a great beach – that you can actually access, without putting up with traffic, construction, need to learn Spanish, or less attitude– you rarely need to go to else where!

photo of sunrise on the Atlantic

In fact, I rarely ventured west of I-95, hence, my bias is restricted to a small geography. To complete it’s touristy nature, you are not surprised by, the number of wonderful places you can go to eat, or just hang out!

As a tribute to my seven years here, I wanted to point out seven jewels that have the best foods and memories held for me, in this magical city of Fort Lauderdale.

While there are 25 other great places that may have great food, what authenticates these, are their service and warm hospitality.

Breakfast at Jukebox Diner is always a treat

Breakfast at Jukebox Diner is always a treat

Jukebox Diner: By far the best breakfast place in town; if you haven’t tried their Banana’s Foster French Toast – you have truly missed out. Bring friends and family and hang out at this bright and cheerful location in Pompano Beach, right across from the iconic Houston’s on the inter-coastal. Great value, great food and simply the best service from the two co-owners who will personally greet and serve you.

Chill Wine Lounge: hang out with friends, or your loved-one, order a bottle of wine with some olives or cheese, listen to music on Saturday evening, and just let the evening melt away. Very knowledgeable servers will recommend good wines, if you ask; the music scene, is mostly local and always lively. This is not a bar set for really young people – the crowd I experienced around 10 or 11 pm was usually in their 30s/40s and had a relaxed vibe to it.

Eggs Benedict

J Marks: J Marks is a local restaurant with two locations; whether you want brunch on a Sunday morning, or just want to hang with a cucumber martini (appropriately named, A Day at the Spa), this is the place to go; great food, great service – just wonderful ambiance and warm, friendly service. We invariably went to brunch their after our Sunday morning spiritual services – with a few friends and family. Two of my favorite salads in town – their chopped salad with tangy lemon juice – or their Kale Salad – with Chicken!

Don't miss the Dessert with the eclectic cuisine of Hot & Soul

Don’t miss the Dessert with the eclectic cuisine of Hot & Soul

Hot and Soul Café: relatively new to this area, I have found the food here to be eclectic and soulful; they call themselves, “world cuisine” – I found the flavor distinctive and cocktails and the different brews – a great combination. This is not a place you go for fancy dining – but if you want a great atmosphere, coupled with some unusual and fun food – I would definitely try this. By the way, do take a look at their amazing dessert menu.

Red Cow: If you like funky, open, industrial looking environments with a large screens playing cartoons from by-gone days – yes, Red- Cow is your place to go! Amazingly flavorful bar-b-q, tasty sides, a great selection of wines and beers and excellent service makes this a local favorite. Really, really good beef brisket – if you are into that! I always order the sweet-corn bread for a starter and then usually their toasted greens as one of my favorite sides. The owners of Red Cow also own two other great places, Coconuts and Foxy Brown – but I find this the easiest of all to hang out at!


TAP 42: This is by far my favorite place to enjoy a crazy-goat burger with one of their delectable brews on tap; food is always hearty, the sweet-potato fries are served on a wooden cutting board. Again service is excellent. The place does get crowded – even on week days; I have found a place to eat here on weekday afternoon. If you have a short stopover at the Fort Lauderdale airport – this is less than 2 miles away.

Sequellea Café: This is one of the first places I discovered, during the relocation from Denver. There aren’t a lot of places in Boca that I have experienced that has great service; Sequellea is different because it has great food and good service, consistently. Love the brioche egg sandwiches, Italian style coffees and the freshly squeezed orange juice any day. They also have great Gelatos. People can eat outside with their dogs or inside in the air-conditioned setting. Even though it’s set out in a plaza setting, you get the typical Florida feel, with palm-trees swaying in the gentle breeze

When someone has the opportunity to live in two of the most beautiful places on earth: Denver, Colorado and Fort Lauderdale, Florida, it’s tough to go anywhere and say, this is more beautiful than where I live, or have lived.

After seven years of Fort Lauderdale, where life-long relationships have been built, and defining moments of truth accepted, Shania and I are headed to start a new life, in the megalopolis of Dallas, Texas.

There are cravings, to come back to this town – one day – re-anchor my heart in these azure blue waters. Until then, we will enjoy the sounds and flavors of the prairies of Texas!

Watermelon Salad at Thasos Greek Restaurant

Watermelon Salad at Thasos Greek Restaurant

A Father’s Presence: Approval and Affirmations; Fathers Day June 2014


I keep searching for a particular black-and-white photograph of me and my Dad. The photo was taken on my fifth or sixth birthday, at Joypahar; Dad wearing a suit and me a corduroy jacket with large golden buttons! Dad was holding my waist while sitting on an ottoman, and smiling – I was sad (because I had lost some game!).

Every time I go to Dhaka, I look for this particular picture in all our old albums.

1967 - Atiya and Zain with Dad

1967 – Atiya and Zain with Dad

After years of soul-searching, I have recognized an innate need that I have had, for almost thirty years, of seeking my father’s approval in almost all major decisions of my life.

College, Degree, First Job, Marriage, Buying a House, Raising Children, Divorce…. There hasn’t been a major decision, where I haven’t thought about how he would react to this or that.

The last decision he directly influenced, was in 1985, over a milky cup of tea, when he asked me to consider a different college major: Industrial Engineering over Economics (my favorite school topic in those days); and the decision was made.

Last Formal Mahmood Family Pic - 1985

Last Formal Mahmood Family Pic – 1985

I have noticed this same tendency, in many of my friends and family, where our father’s shadow hang over us. For son’s and daughter alike, it’s this need to seek approval of major decisions. The more silent the Dad is, I think, the need for their approval becomes stronger.

I have a friend who often tells me about his absent father – almost in antipathy towards him; but as I notice his actions, it becomes clear that his own relationships are reflections of his relationship with his dad.

Often times, without our own choosing or knowledge, we become one of our parents.

I am finally learning to acknowledge, after thirty years of his passage, however much I try, he is not there to give me that approval directly. That doesn’t mean he disapproves – he is just not capable of delivering it personally.

As a father of two daughters, I notice a similarly interesting pattern developing in my life; my nineteen-year-old texts me throughout the day and bounces ideas off me. At first I felt an urge to give my opinion on what she asks; I have learned that often she asks me test the boundaries – or to just let me know what she is thinking; she doesn’t really want me to solve her problem for her.

It’s natural to seek affirmations on the steps we take, and decisions we make. I wonder why that affirmation cannot come from within us or from the supporting environment around us.

Today, I wake up thinking about my Dad; last I saw him, he was about my (current) age; I can see his acknowledging, smiling face. I am learning that, in my heart, he is still there – as he probably will be, for the rest of my life. I can stop looking for that black-and-white picture from Joypahar.

As a father myself, I am learning that this sense of approval (or disapproval) comes with a heavy responsibility – to make sure that we nudge them, without guiding them – we help them without making them dependant on us – we love them without suffocating their own love.

Zain Shania and Daiyaan Jun 2014

On this Father’s Day, as I may take my boat out for a few more hours, with my two princesses together, when Daiyaan asks me about a Tattoo she would like to get, or Shania keeps holding on to my t-shirt when we go fast on the boat – my role is to be there – the best gift I can give them – is to be there – when they need me – without judgement, or confirmation.

A Father’s presence is his best gift.

When Happiness Just Shows Up, Without Notice: May 2014



This week I had a series of text conversations with my nineteen-year-old, over happiness.

On Monday, she texts me, saying, “Daddy, I don’t know what really makes me happy; I am kind of always satisfied; that’s not right! ” I advise her that this is normal and she will know when she is truly happy.

On Friday, I get a note from her that her roommate just spontaneously invited her to go to Key West and since she had no classes that day, and had the day off from work, they were leaving for Key West within the hour; later in the afternoon, she texts me to let me know how happy she is suddenly, to get away, enjoy the blue sea, not have anything to worry about.

I sit back and think about our Tuesday conversation and text her back asking if she realized that happiness, just shows up sometime, like this, without any notice!

Throughout the afternoon, I get a series of IPhone pictures of her feet hanging on blue waters, selfies, the blue ocean, the amazing sunset; just by the tone of her texts, I can tell that my princess is happy for these few moments.

A couple of years ago, I wrote something about Designing Your Own Happiness; where, I talked about doing exactly what makes me happy on my birthday.

When you sit back and think about all the things that really make us happy, and wonder how much of it comes spontaneously, accidentally – and how much of it can really be crafted for execution.

There is a marked difference between things that make you unhappy and those that make you happy. I think it’s important to distinguish that it’s not a linear equation – in fact if you visualize it, most likely on a completely different plain.

If you choose to do the reverse of what makes you unhappy, somehow are not going to necessarily be happy.

So, as example, eating chocolate me happy; and I also know that when my kids are hurting, that makes me unhappy.

But eating no cake will not necessarily make me unhappy – and if my kids are just all “well” doesn’t necessarily make me rejoice with happiness (it’s kind of my basic expectation!)

If you accept this premise that happiness comes from a different plain than the sources of our unhappiness – It becomes a lot easier to “craft” or plan for happiness!

I believe, the first thing to do, is to understand those independent sources of happiness within us.

I notice that I become joyful, when I hear an old favorite song suddenly play on the radio; I become super happy, to run into a friend at the supermarket. These spontaneous sources of happiness, teaches me that I like spontaneity in my life. That makes me happy.

Now, one of my children, on the other hand, is petrified by spontaneity and resists everything new I propose to her. So, it’s important to recognize that spontaneity may not be everyone’s source of happiness.

Occasionally, it’s nice to sit back and think what are 5 things that made YOU happy, over the last 2 months: make a short mental list. Try to replicate that again, sometime over the next few weeks. See what happens.

Today, on this beautiful sunny Saturday morning,  spontaneously, we invite a couple of friends we like to hang with, to come swim with us at the pool and bring something to grill and just catch up on life. Of course, over a bit of wine!

I think, that will make me happy! Will keep you posted.


The Taboo on Tattoos: April 2014



It’s a warm Friday evening and we are on our way to get some cake-batter flavored frozen yogurt; my eight-year old casually asks me, “Are people with lot’s of tattoos, bad people?”

She follows up, by assuring me that she didn’t think I was a bad person; because, I have only one tattoo.

As a single-dad, raising two daughters alone, this is not an unusual situation; often, I get asked uncomfortable questions – that I can’t just delegate for someone else to answer.

Someone at school must have made this comment; something she either overheard or became aware of this in a group conversation. Usually, children pick such things up from their families – most likely from parents, older siblings or extended families.

You wonder where these dogmas come from and why people would say things like this; when I think back at my childhood, I was told (and sincerely believed) that men who wore gold-chains (or pendants) around their necks, were either hijackers or smugglers (“Lafanga” or “Bokhatey” are the the words in Bangla, that I have a tough time transliterating).

We carry these harmful untruths all our life; most of the time, it’s someone in our families, who instills these values in us – to create this perception of “judgement”. Instead of getting to know the person (with the tattoo, or wearing a pendant) – just start judging them on their appearances – and somehow you will be safe!

In the 70s and 80s of Bangladesh, where I spent my childhood and teens, there are no racial divisions – but there still are atrocious economic inequalities and discrimination. You will not play with a certain type of children – or you cannot be friendly with children who don’t go to school with you!

However, in this twenty-first century America, where Shania enjoys the best of a private school education, it’s difficult for me to accept where these taboos originate from.

I have noticed similar negative biases in workplaces. We often make hasty decisions, on recruitment or results, based on outside appearances. About 10 years ago, I was surprised to know that one of our best technology leaders had an armful of tattoos and smoked a pack-a-day.

As we park at the Yogurt place and emerge from the car, I speak to Shania about not judging people by their external appearances. We talk about colors – how orange is different from blue – how we like different books or music – how some days are cloudy and others are not.

We conclude, people have different tastes; we cannot udge them on the basis of their height, weight, tastes or color. Instead we should really try to get to know the person and see how s/he behaves with others. Humanity, is at the end of the day, our biggest asset.

Filtering is necessary for survival; however, undue biases and taboos create so many negative experiences in our lives.

There is no practical way to insulate my children from all their biases or choices – I know the world is not perfect – nor that they won’t experience by themselves. All I know, on this mild evening, is that my responsibility is to keep questioning my own beliefs and helping my children see the world from a different point of view – where love is possible in forms, shapes and colors – with tattoos, or not.

The Value of a ME-Cation: March 30 2014


I just booked a one-week trip to Napa Valley.

Just the thought of getting away, on my own, to a place that’s beautiful and filled with possibilities – makes me happy!

I have written about my Me-cations before; I try to go away, for a few days, to explore, connect with myself, and more importantly to really NOT do anything significant. It’s almost a meditative time off. There is something about being alone for a few days – thinking, reflecting, contemplating and adjusting to our journeys.

Most of the vacations I have taken in my life, with parents, friends or immediate family – were a set of compromises. They were also happy – to observe the happiness in someone else’s eyes! I remember driving my mother to visit her Alma Mater in Stillwater, OK  ! I remember every hot and sweaty vacation in Orlando to see Mickey or Minny with my two princesses. Memorable family trips – but to please someone else!

The key characteristic of a ME-cation, is that you get to plan (or not plan) the whole thing. You don’t have to carry anyone’s luggage or eat at restaurants you don’t like, or go to see museums or art galleries if you choose to do so. For those few days and hours, you get to do things that make YOU  happy – just YOU!


My first such Me-cation was at Provincetown in Cape Cod.  I stayed in a lovely bed and breakfast, a bit away from the busy town; every morning, I woke early for a run in the misty roads of this charming New England resort town, with white picket fences and a beautiful shoreline. After a hot shower, I enjoyed a hot, home-made, breakfast– a hot cup of English Breakfast – and read the New York Times, cover-to-cover. I only talked to people, when I felt liked it.

Later in the morning, I rented a bike and explored the streets and surrounds of this charming town; I stopped and took pictures of interesting points; I rode up to see one of Provincetown’s seven beautiful lighthouses – sat there and just listened to the waves – in abandon.

Later in the afternoon, after a light, goat cheese salad and a glass of white wine, I read one of my favorite hardcover books…. and fall asleep to take a two-hour uninterrupted nap.

The most important thing about this journey is that, most of the time, I am alone; but none of the time am I lonely.

I was alone in Provincetown – but never lonely; I was with myself. And around me were lots of people who I have never met (and unlikely to meet again). What gave me peace, was to know that no one here had an agenda – or expected anything, in particular, from me.

There is something very cathartic of freeing oneself from all the expectations that we often have created for ourselves. As we grow in life, our families, children, and even (some of ) our friends, start expecting us to do certain things – or behave in certain ways.

When you go away on a ME-cation, you leave those expectations behind and decide to really explore within yourself – to test and see, if you really like who you have become.

Over the last three years, I have zip-lined in the rainforests of Costa Rica, experienced the markets of Cartagena and walked the white sandy beaches of different shores, searching for lighthouses.  Sometimes, with a non-demanding friend – and sometimes, just by myself.

I recommend this concept of Me-cation to all of my busy friends and family, whom I observe getting close to exhaustion. But, I don’t think we need to get to that point, of a burn-out, to go on one of these. Instead, I recommend, once a year, to put aside a few days – just for yourself – to get away from all your chores and expectations; and do something that you really want to do.

You deserve it.

Some of us get into this mode of feeling guilty for taking this time off – for ourselves; sometimes it’s the environment that we live in that creates that un-natural pressure or guilt.

People who truly love you, will understand and encourage, your need to re-connect with yourself. In fact, every time I went on a me-cation, my focus and care for my two beautiful princesses only grew deeper. Nowadays, my eighteen-year old asks me when I am going away for a few days again!

I feel privileged to be able, to make this time for myself and the ability to get away… for a few days….to almost become a child….but without the worries of the everyday world. All that’s needed to make this happen, is planning.

I look forward to my Napa vacation with a few friends next; I want to go see the balloon fiesta in Albuquerque and maybe make it to Santa Fe again, this fall. So many places to see, so many opportunities to re-connect and re-charge.

Almost as soon as I come back from one me-cation, I start thinking about the next one;  living life, one vacation to the next. That’s what life’s all about….. :)

Thirty Years to Lose A Homeland : September 2015

The Crooked Roadsign of Gulshan

The Crooked Roadsign of Gulshan

I walk the side streets of a prestigious Dhaka neighborhood; large quixotic holes, stoundingly high speed-bumps and crooked road-signs litter most streets. Everything seems crumbling, misapplied, and fractured – as if someone just haphazardly shoved a bunch of dirty clothes in their closet.

There is garbage and the smell of feces everywhere. People navigate this squalor and walk-around to get to their destination, as if nothing bothers them; this filth and stench, is a normal part of their lives. Drop an hour of monsoon rains, and these same streets become a combined sewer cesspool.

The roads here are so congested that it takes over two hours to go eight miles during regular business hours. Dinner parties start around 10 pm just to accommodate the traffic fiasco.

This is the same city I was born in. From the look and feel of it, it’s hard to understand why and how one would deliberately choose to live in a city like this.

I meet several groups of friends and family during my short stays; everyone acknowledges the development in the country during the last 3 decades; however, I don’t hear a single one taking a “stay-cation” in Dhaka. They can’t wait to escape to Bangkok, Singapore, Colombo or some Exotic European city for “a breather”, as they put it. Hope for improving Dhaka, as a livable city, seems to have completely gone out of the window.

Paradoxically, property values have climbed so high that sometimes a small apartment here costs more than that of Chicago, or even some areas of New York City.

I realize, I am frustrated, upset and anxious.

The last 9 months, I have been traveling back and forth to Dhaka to visit my convalescing mother from a debilitating illness. From the moment, I land at the cramped and moldy 80s style airport with a really long name, I am not myself.

I try to cheer-up her caregivers, work with the team of people, who help orchestrate the necessary infrastructure to provide care and comfort to my ailing mom.

And then, I swiftly run back to my home in the United States.

Because, I just cannot breathe here.

As if, just like my ailing mom, I am slowly, but painfully losing my city of birth.

Nothing appears the same here as I knew it. My close friends have all migrated to Europe, Australia or North America. There a couple who chose to stay, express their remorse and regret staying back.They are now in a hurry to make accommodations for their children somewhere.

The house where my parents lived has been replaced by a 11 story unremarkable, concrete monolith.

I don’t recognize my home, I don’t recognize these people, nor it’s filth, squalor or just abstract randomness.

Definition of home always includes a safe place, a warm place, filled with peace and love.

I feel no peace in this city.

Once my Mom passes, the biggest portion of that love that I have felt here, will also disappear. I can feel it’s imminence creep on my back, like one of those spiders.

It has taken me thirty years to lose my homeland.

Or maybe, just maybe, my homeland has lost me.

Searching for Contentment: Letting Happiness Find Me: July 2015

A particular Bangla word has recently been prominent in my thinking: Shontosh (contentement), or Shontushti (the act of reaching contentment) or even Shontushto (the person who is content).

Daiyaan's Source of Happiness: Walk by the Beach on a Sunny Day!

Sources of Contentment: My daughter walks by the ocean, on a sunny day!


Over the years, I have written many times about happiness and trying to capture the essence and origins of this term in blog essays: Terms of My Happiness (2012), Happiness By Choice (2011), When Happiness Just Shows Up Without Notice (2013), The Discontinuous Patchwork of Happiness (2011), and even my most recent blog The Eternal Wish: Making Happiness Last a Little Longer.

The science (and art) of the search for happiness has been a recent fad and has been a rich research topic in academia and the media for the last decade. There are boutique Oprahs everywhere, doling out commandments on happiness!

My recent search has been more around that leveled field, which may not be “perfection” but a calm, steady “satisfied” place. Where I am neither elated, nor sad.

When I hear the word: happiness, I connect it with a euphoric episode – that great few minutes or hours, I feel ecstatic.  While I tried to plan for it, program it and even pray for it, under the most stringent regime, some days, that eupohoria, never materializes.

Just this weekend, I was invited to the wine social – to be with friends – at a lovely wine bar – sipping good vino – how can one not be happy in such a setting! From the moment, I stepped into this charming wine bar, I just felt meh; no euphoria, not even contentment. Something was not right!

I was not unhappy (watch double negative) but wasn’t enjoying the late afternoon wine social. Still can’t figure out why I didn’t enjoy my typical happiness setting.

We left the wine bar, went to a restaurant for a simple meal of appetizers and had wonderful conversation and the whole tempo of the evening changed.

I realized, even in the perfect setting, doing what I love to do, may not always produce happiness. Happiness really shows up wherever, whenever.

I am starting to believe happiness finds us, versus us trying to look for it.

Searching, expecting or strategizing for happiness, here or there, and orchestrating our lives around that goal is somewhat meaningless

Contentment, on the other hand, can be sought.

I went to see my ailing mother in Bangladesh recently. This amazing person has been a single parent to me over three decades. She inspired, cajoled, set boundaries and loved me, all in one lifetime. Watching her fade away, slowly, is never easy. However, seeing that she is being taken care of by loving family in her own home, in a pristine-clean environment and watching her being surrounded by constant care and affection, brought me to a leveled “contentment” with the situation.

My Vibrant Mother: In her high days of building institutions

My Vibrant Mother: In her high days of building institutions

I went to Dhaka anxious and worried; came back knowing that she is in peace and in good hands of her caring sisters.

During our interactions, I sang to her, brushed her hair and read her stories. We cried and laughed with the same sentences; this cannot be happiness; watching your strong parent fade away, is not a happy moment. However, I know I am content with where she is and understand and respect this relative peace.

Mummy Well Jan 2014

After this experience, I am convinced that I have been searching for an illusion of happiness: which cannot be found by searching– it finds us,  through the energy of the Universe.

Contentment, on the other hand, is something you can search for.

I don’t believe it’s a cop-out from excellence or continuous improvement; I think one can continue to search for excellence without sacrificing contentment. On the other hand, one doesn’t have to be content with starvation, deprivation, torture, or any other form of abuse. In those negative scenarios, we must fight back.

My current thought is more centered on practicing contentment, whenever we are at “ground zero” or in equilibrium, personal or professional.

On a late Summer afternoon in Dallas, when the temperature is still in it’s 80s, I am content with a walk in the park, enjoying the greenery and taking in all of what nature offers today. Yes, it’s not a perfect 75 degree day, a few bugs are flying around, and there is a bit of traffic noise.

Still I feel a peace around me.

At this moment, this is where I am supposed to be.

My most content moment is when I am with both of my princesses: hanging out somewhere!

My most content moment is when I am with both of my princesses: hanging out somewhere!

Surrender: Now, Here

jumping out of an airplaneRaised with western ideology, the concept of surrender is typically associated with defeat, giving up. In work or private life, the art of surrender, can have a different affect; a much deeper, reflective and calming outcome.

I am in a critical meeting with a group of people at work; there is round-robin criticism, about the things we coulda…shoulda…woulda….done.  Why customer pricing wasn’t adjusted, why raw materials were not purchased from different vendors – the list continues.

At some point, you have two options:

  • Raise your hand and say, STOP. Enough bullying. I did the best I could
  • Surrender…accept that, yes, we could have done more, but this is where we are nowI have practiced both; depending on the circumstances, both techniques work with different degrees of complexity.

In my previous blog, The Twisted World of Bullying, I have spoken about how to deal with a bully – how to deal with individuals that like to harass; in their mind, you are someone they can control. Today, I want to get your thoughts going on the act of sweet surrender.

First, realize, that we control very little. Everything and everybody changes, all the time. Dealing with this change takes dexterity and the ability of being in constant motion. Imagine biking… or swimming in a calm sea.

A few years ago, my life was going through an unprecedented amount of turmoil – the more I was trying to control the outcome, the more it was rupturing. Everyone goes through moments like these. As if, you are driving a car on ice, and the car just keeps spinning. At that moment, the rate of motion is very difficult to calculate. All you feel, is this spinning – almost in slow motion.

The best thing to do, when you know you have started to slide on ice, is to let go – is to surrender to the reality that you cannot control this anymore; you have to believe, gravity and friction will do their job and the car WILL inevitably come to a stop.

When you can look beyond the current moment and think of that future point – where the car will have stopped – and everything important is still ok – you will have surrendered.

This difficult act of just letting go – where all your training, resistance, and willpower has absolutely no impact – is something to be aware.

As an adult, you have likely experienced this emotion at some point in your life. It may have been during the illness or death of a loved one; or during the betrayal of a friendship or relationship; or even a natural or man-made calamity; e.g. an earthquake, mudslide, or even a terrorist attack.

As I get older, I am learning to accept that very little is within my span of control, which helps me to surrender completely. In recent turmoil or conflicts, I keep asking myself, have I done my best to resolve this issue; if the answer is positive, I realize that the Universe is telling me that it’s time to surrender.

Surrender is acceptance; acceptance of a reality that change is all-encompassing.

In a spiritual sense, it’s surrendering to God or Nature. You know everything will be ok; it will work out. At some point, you just have to let it go. Let the chips fall where they may. You will make the best of the hand that is being dealt to you.

Different Flavors, Different Stripes: December 2014

With My two unique daughters Oct 2014

With My two unique daughters Oct 2014

Vanilla, Chocolate, Maple, Blueberry – No Strawberry.

I get clear instructions from a nine-year old, for the types of yogurt to buy at Whole Foods, as I drop her off at school in the morning. She is very specific, very clear about what she wants and cares for. She texts me these flavors so that, by mistake, I don’t bring one that she will be responsible for eating.

I faintly remember being a nine-year-old, many years ago; also, I have raised another child, but don’t remember this level of clarity of desires in either case.

Some parents may find this level of specificity as being “picky” and listening to all this as “accommodation”. I consider it as discerning – she just knows what she likes and goes for it, unabashed.

My other child, is conservative about food choices and pretty much stuck to the same menu year after year; as a child, she had a creamy Korma style rice-chicken combination every night – didn’t like much variation. I remember, when Daiyaan was about 9, walking 5 blocks in Prague, to find her a McDonald’s because she didn’t want to try Czech food. So we got her a hamburger before going to a nice gourmet restaurant for a wonderful Czech meal.

Nine-year old Shania, on the other hand, knows the difference between Nigiri and other Sushi – enjoys the layered texture of Lamb – and smiles bright when scallops are sautéed and served with a light drizzle of an unusual chutney. Shania is very specific about her choice of steak and how it needs to be cooked. She even comes up with unique recipes when we do get the opportunity to cook.

I have always wondered why and how, siblings from the same set of parents, are so different.

I remember that my sister and I have always been quite different in some ways and then we have a lot in common in tastes, and habits and idiosyncrasies; maybe I can’t see the contrast that well.

However, watching Daiyaan and Shania’s differences in mannerisms, attitudes and tastes makes this the most intriguing and amazing study in my life.

They each have to be dealt with differently and, of course, their needs have to be met with different sources of inspirations. One of them has to be cajoled to do her homework or finish her papers on-time; the other one,  makes sure she finishes her projects 2 days early and looks for extra-credit opportunities.

I often find parents complaining about these individual habits or natural tendencies. I find them amusing and worthy of learning from.

Sometimes I wonder, if these two girls would be only a couple of years apart (versus 10 years in reality) would I be able to see their differences this clearly; would I have been able to understand their individual needs and be able to meet some of them with such freedom.

Being a Dad teaches me a lot about being a leader. At work, I find different team members with different styles and world-values; the ability to find common goals through those values, and raising the collective aspirations, is the essence of leadership.

As my plane gets ready to land, Shania asks me if we can go for Steel City Pops for Popsicles tonight… a very specific request, for a very unique, locally made, frozen dessert. She then outlines for me, our activities for the day and how this particular frozen dessert hunt can be accommodated in our action-packed Saturday.

The schedule even has a nap for me in the afternoon.

Sometimes, I wonder who the parent is, in this relationship.