When I was a student, carefree and cheerful, I wanted nothing more than to grow up quickly to earn money and do things that adults could do… Now that I am an adult, I realize how naive I was to think so – as those were the best years of my life.
As I talk to my friends, colleagues, batch mates, acquaintances, most of whom are a products of India’s finest educational institutions, including the top business schools; I realize that no matter how well they are all doing – almost everyone seems to confess not feeling “content”. One would think that a degree from India’s top management institute, a job with a fortune 500 company, marriage to your college sweetheart and plans to start a family would lead to happiness or contentment – but it doesn’t seem so, unfortunately! On 2 different chat windows, I have one friend who seems to have a great job and all of the above but is complaining as his job profile doesn’t have any travel while on the other window my other friend who heads the international business division of his company is complaining how he hates waking up in a new hotel room every second day, being away from home 20 days a month and not to mention the toll time zone differences take on health! So, you see one has what the other wants but there is no guarantee that the first guy will be very happy if he gets the second guy’s job and vice versa. So it is with being single and being married – my married friends think I am very lucky to be single and my single friends (very few left anyway) and I feel that suddenly our friends are disappearing as they are getting married and starting families!
So what is it that we need to do to feel happy, content, satisfied? First we need to start with getting our priorities right. Unfortunately nowadays, people don’t spend time introspecting and thinking what they want and let peer pressure decide what will their priorities be. So if everyone in my group/ network/ circle has a big car, suddenly my much loved small car may seem to make me feel out of place. Or if everyone is talking about their holiday abroad, I may feel compelled to do the same, even if it puts a strain on my finances. The pressure to be accepted seems to be really getting to us – everything we do, it’s to get a nod of approval from our so-called “friends”. In the process, we change as people – becoming materialistic and forgetting to enjoy the “simple” things in life. To give you an example, if your office is at Nariman Point, when was the last time you enjoyed the sunset at Marine Drive – chances are quite high you may remember your nights getting drunk or eating food at the most expensive restaurants with peers in the same area but don’t remember when you did something simple as viewing the sunset. The pressure to be seen as a high performer in companies is tremendous – as managers we are only concerned about the numbers – revenue, target, budget; so much so that we have forgotten something basic which is to be “nice”; we have started measuring people in terms of the money he/ she makes – nothing could be more shallow than this. This is also taking a toll on our lifestyles – we are increasingly becoming home to highest number of heart patients and obesity is becoming a national problem. I met a few of my friends recently and could barely recognize them – the kilos they have piled on due to working late hours, no exercise, junk food is not funny. So while I may get that coveted promotion which helps me buy the big car and even that dream house; it’s actually coming at the cost of extra flab on my waistline, no time to enjoy the simple things in life and no time to be nice or even smile at people. And then one day, one would look at oneself in the mirror and think – what the hell am I doing with my life; I have the salary, nice house, chauffeur driven car, holidays abroad – but is that what I wanted out of life – is this the purpose of life and that’s when the crisis hits you.
Some of my Shanghainese friends who were visiting India recently asked me for help and I thought they would be interested in exploring all the history, culture of Delhi/ Agra and planned for them to visit all places of historic importance – turns out they cancelled this plan and instead all they wanted is to shop till they drop dead as they wanted to come back and flaunt what they bought! We are becoming so materialistic that we no longer want to spend money on experiences, but only on things we can wear/ decorate our homes with/ show off to others. In China, its very easy to tell a Shanghainese woman from those from others parts of the country – the Shanghainese woman is very hung up on appearances; to her the most important thing in life seems to have a Louis Vuitton handbag in one hand and a starbucks coffee in the other – even if its means not having money for other basic or more important things in life like higher education, saving for retirement, etc. In fact there is even a term for these women who spend their money on all these things important for their social status and then run out of money last few days of the month – Yue guang zu (月光族) – meaning “spend all your salary” – these women play a big hand in China’s domestic consumption. Madonna’s song “And I am a material girl and you know we are living in a material world” truly sums up their life! Apparently these women think that they will get noticed with the right stuff and right image by a foreigner (no matter how much older he may be to her) and then they wont have to work for rest of their lives (wishful thinking in some cases!). (My next post is on the Chinese women’s craze for white skin). Even in India, for people in their 20s, idea of a well spent weekend is to visit shopping malls, and get drunk.
Both in India and China, the biggest craze seems to be around owning a house – at least that’s an investment unlike a LV bag – but the length to which it drives people crazy is not funny. I know a guy who when sent abroad on assignment skipped dinner every day to save money to go back and make the downpayment for a house. In our parent’s generation, a house was something one bought close to retirement. Today if you are twenty-something and don’t own a house or are not planning to buy one immediately, you are almost a social pariah. I was having lunch with my Chinese friend the other day, who mentioned he is very ambitious and would like to reach senior management level – I suggested that he should look at an MBA from an Ivy League b-school – to which he said that he can’t do so as all almost all his salary goes into EMI for his house. In China and probably more so in cities in India, women refuse to marry a guy who doesn’t own a house!
Given all this its not surprising that people feel lack of contentment – working at jobs trying to outshine the others; a long stressful commute to work; paying home loans, car loans, personal loans, education loans – you name it, they have it; not getting time for themselves or with family; holidays becoming more of a ticking-number-of-places-visited event rather than unwinding. So when the next time you find yourself fuming over that non-deserving-colleague who got promoted instead of you – take a deep breath, relax; go for a jog/ swim; spend time with your loved ones, specially with very young or very old people; learn a new language; read that book you always wanted to; learn how to cook some new dishes; go on a backpacking tour and when you come back you will actually pity the colleague who probably doesn’t even get to see sunshine for most of his/ her day!
And not to forget; even if you win the rat race, you still remain a rat!