Monday, November 30, 2015

Musings On The Road

I travel on a road,
To a place I have to go,
If I want to be there,
I don't even know.

Lack of space,
Sweaty race,
Fear and anger,
Set the pace.

Enjoy the journey,
Is what they all say,
And I am yet to see
Many a cheerful face.

The one whizzing faster,
The one weaving through,
Do they have it figured
Or do they even wonder?

At the destination,
There's no pot of gold,
If I travel again the same road,
Will a different story unfold?

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Walk of Couples

Near my workplace is a park with lot greenery, a playground and a walking track. On some evenings I go there for a leisurely walk, while allowing my mind to drift and gain some new perspectives on some issues. The park bustles with activity with men and women indulging in some form of exercise, children playing and with people just chatting.

There are three different categories of couples who visit the park. The ones in their early twenties, who sit on the benches, talking to each other, lost in each other's eyes, oblivious to the world; the ones in their late twenties to forties, who come to the park together for their exercise but walk separately at varying speeds; and then the elderly who walk very slowly together with occasional bursts of conversations.

I think, this pattern is also indicative of how we act in the journey of life. Young couples start of with love as the foundation of their aspirations and actions. They dream their dreams together. At some stage, they migrate their efforts to proving and establishing themselves, and their partner becomes someone in the periphery of the overall priorities. In the never ending chase for fame and proving their worth, times passes, children grow up, friends drift apart and younger folks outpace them at work. Now they realize that their partner is the one who is still willing to walk with them at their now diminished pace. They turn their attention to their partners perhaps out of necessity or perhaps to discover the love which to begin with had given them wings.

Why doesn't it become obvious early on that a journey with love even if traveled at a slower pace will provide more growth and happiness than a solo race to a mirage?

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Most Generous Country

According to the World Giving Index (WGI), published by the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF), based on trends seen in 2014, the most generous country in the world is Myanmar.

The WGI measures three different kinds of giving undertaken by people in the past month: 1. Donation of money, 2. Volunteering and 3. Helping a stranger. For this year 145 countries were surveyed.

Ninety two percent of Myanmar's population donated money and 50% volunteered their time. It is possible that the country's generosity may reflect its culture of Theravada Buddhism.

The other countries forming the list of  top 10 in the WGI are United States, New Zealand, Canada, Australia, United Kingdom, Netherlands, Sri Lanka, Ireland and Malaysia.

One very interesting finding is that only 5 G20 countries are present in this year's Top 20, indicating that economic prosperity does not automatically lead to increase in generosity.

In this survey, India ranks 106th, last among the South Asian countries. However due to the large population, India has the greatest number of givers. In 2014, more than 183 million gave money and more than 334 million helped a stranger.

Correlation between Generosity and Happiness

I thought it would be a good idea to compare the rankings of the most generous countries with their happiness rankings to determine if there is an apparent correlation between generosity and happiness.

According to the World Happiness Report 2015, the following is the happiness ranking of the top 10 generous nations: Myanmar (129), US (15), New Zealand (9), Canada (5), Australia (10), UK (21), Netherlands (7), Sri Lanka (132), Ireland (18) and Malaysia (61). India, even with a significant number of helpful people, still ranks 117 in the happiness report.

Although a number of factors determine the happiness levels of a nation, it seems obvious that people in happy nations give more, while it is debatable if generous nations are happier.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Toll of Working Long Hours

People who work 55 hours or more per week have a 33% higher risk of stroke and a 13% higher risk of coronary heart disease, compared to those who work for 35 to 40 hours per week. These are the results of a study published in the medical journal ‘The Lancet’, by Mika Kivimäki and colleagues.

In this study, the authors combined results from different independent studies (meta-analysis) and analyzed data for 603 838 men and women who were free from coronary heart disease at baseline; and 528 908 men and women who were free from stroke at baseline. The mean follow-up for coronary heart disease 8.5 years and for stroke the mean follow-up was 7.2 years.The association between long working hours and the risk of stroke and coronary heart disease remained even after adjusting for factors like age, sex, and health behaviours.

To explain the increased risk, the authors suggest behavioural mechanisms like physical inactivity, higher alcohol consumption, ignoring symptoms of cardiovascular disease and repetitive triggering of the stress response.

What factors influence stress related to a job? Here’s a list:

a) Job strain: Work is highly demanding but the employee has no or low control over it.
b) Low social support at work.
c) Effort and reward imbalance: Employee perceives that the income/ status/respect do not match the effort that goes into doing the job.
d) Organizational injustice: Unfair treatment, disregard for viewpoints, lack of information regarding decision making.

A powerful way to minimize work related stress and to in-fact make it pleasurable is to develop a calling orientation with the work. People with a calling orientation perceive their work as intrinsically enjoyable and fulfilling. They do not work for the financial gain or status enhancement but permeate their work with personal and social meaning.

Does your work make you happy? If not, you might be risking more than just your satisfaction.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Tulsi (Holy basil) for Stress

Holy basil (Ocimum sanctum, Family Lamiaceae; also known as Ocimum tenuiflorum) has an important place in the traditional systems of medicine in many Asian, African and South American countries. It is referred to as ‘Tulsi’ in India and its medicinal properties have been mentioned in ancient Indian medical literature namely Charak Samhita and Sushruta Samhita (about 1000 BC). Within Ayurveda, Tulsi has been referred to as “The Incomparable One,” “Mother Medicine of Nature” and “The Queen of Herbs,” and is considered as an “elixir of life” with both medicinal and spiritual properties.  It is considered to be an adaptogen, balancing various bodily processes, and helpful for adapting to stress. It is notable that adaptogenic herbs do not alter mood as such, but help the body function optimally during stress.

Medicines with several beneficial effects can be extracted from the leaves, stems, and seeds of the plant. Holy basil has been reported to have expectorant, antimicrobial, analgesic, anticancer, antiasthmatic, antiemetic, diaphoretic, antidiabetic, antifertility, antioxidant, hepatoprotective, radioprotective, chemoprotective, hypotensive, hypolipidemic, neuroprotective,, immunomodulatory, cognition enhancing, anti-anxiety etc properties.

There are at least two types of holy basil commonly cultivated, the Green type and the Purple type. The green type is more common and is called Sri Tulsi or Rama Tulsi, whereas the purple type is not that common and is called as Krishna Tulsi or Shyam Tulsi.

Traditionally, holy basil is taken in many forms including herbal tea, dried powder, fresh leaf, or mixed with ghee. It is often added to soups because of its peppery taste. You can consider growing your own holy basil plant from seeds or cuttings and making freshly brewed tea every day or even nibbling on a few leaves. Many Ayurvedic practitioners recommend the regular consumption of tulsi tea.

In a small sized clinical study, plant extract of holy basil (500 mg equivalent) given twice daily for 60 days decreased generalized anxiety disorders and related stress and depression. In another study, taking whole plant extract of holy basil, one capsule (400 mg equivalent) after breakfast and two capsules after dinner for 6 weeks decreased symptoms of stress, including forgetfulness, sexual problems, exhaustion, and sleep problems. In one study, extract of holy basil (300 mg equivalent) given once daily for 30 days resulted in enhanced short-term memory and attention.

Insufficient literature exists about the safety of the use of holy basil during pregnancy and breast-feeding. Animal studies suggest that large amounts of holy basil might negatively affect fertility. Holy basil might slow blood clotting, so it is advisable to stop using holy basil at least 2 weeks before a scheduled surgery. Although no evidence exists in published literature, precaution should be exercised while taking holy basil with medications that decrease clotting (e.g. aspirin, clopidogrel, heparin, warfarin, etc).


1. Bhattacharyya D, Sur TK, Jana U, Debnath PK. Controlled programmed trial of Ocimum sanctum leaf on generalized anxiety disorders. Nepal Med Coll J. 2008; 10(3):176-9.

2. Cohen MM. Tulsi - Ocimum sanctum: A herb for all reasons. J Ayurveda Integr Med. 2014;5(4):251-9.

3. Sampath S, Mahapatra SC, Padhi MM, Sharma R, Talwar A. Holy basil (Ocimum sanctum Linn.) leaf extract enhances specific cognitive parameters in healthy adult volunteers: A placebo controlled study. Indian J PhysiolPharmacol 2015; 59(1): 69–77.

4. Ram Chandra Saxena, Rakesh Singh, Parveen Kumar, et al. Efficacy of an Extract of Ocimum tenuiflorum (OciBest) in the Management of General Stress: A Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine.2012, Article ID 894509, 7 pages.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Social Capital - Why Countries Like India Cannot Ignore It

The third edition of the World HappinessReport published on 23rd April, 2015 emphatically mentions that the proper measure of social progress should be happiness.

Many countries have pursued GDP (Gross Domestic Product) as a measure of growth. However, a lopsided pursuit of GDP has led to neglect of social and environmental objectives resulting in a negative impact on well-being. Take for example India which has a GDP of USD 2.308 trillion (Nominal; April 2015) and is ranked 7th in terms of GDP (Nominal). However, India is ranked 117 out of 158 countries in the World Happiness Report. Similarly, in 2014, China had a GDP (Nominal) of approximately USD 10.36 trillion with a GDP rank (Nominal) of 2. However, in happiness measures it is ranked 84th. Apparently even with a high GDP, people in these countries do not perceive a high quality of life.

Despite the general cheer around the economy and the positive notes on the growth potential, what’s the missing happiness ingredient for India? The top five happiest countries Switzerland, Iceland, Denmark, Norway and Canada, besides economic development also have a high social capital. High level of social capital includes generalized trust, good governance, and mutual support by individuals within the society. Countries with low social capital exhibit generalized distrust, pervasive corruption, and lawless behavior.

How do countries like India with an apparent low social capital increase it? The report suggests several pathways including education, moral instruction, professional codes of conduct, public opprobrium towards violators of the public trust, more effective regulation by the state to reduce public sector corruption and dangerous anti-social behavior (e.g. financial fraud, pollution, etc.), public policies to narrow income inequalities and strong social safety nets.

With most people absorbed on increasing their financial capital as the way to happiness, I wonder at what stage people will start focusing on investing in social capital.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

East India Company and the Lesson for Happiness

The East India Company (EIC) was an English trading company, which traded with the Indian subcontinent. In order to carry out commercial activities from certain areas in India, the company arranged for a treaty with the Mughal emperor Jahangir in 1612. This was accomplished in exchange for the promise of gifts and rarities from the European market to the emperor.  Once it got a foothold, the Company did not limit itself to commercial activities but embarked on territorial and military expansion in India. They were aided by the greed of some Indian rulers and the rivalries between them. The Indian rulers slowly started losing their autonomy, and by 1773 the EIC was directly involved in the governance of India. This private company with its own army and judiciary ruled India till 1858. During the Company rule, besides losing autonomy, affluent regions of India became impoverished. One will of course wonder why the Indian rulers allowed themselves to be lured into losing so much in return for something which started as gifts from the European market. Did they not know that it would have been preferable to curb their greed and rivalries?

Do you often buy stuff you don’t actually need? Are your decisions based on advertisements and what is considered the in thing to do? Do you guzzle down sweetened beverages without knowing why? You might know people who undergo surgeries to appear more fulsome. The modern day version of the company has already landed on the shores of the mind. We have been lured us into giving them a foothold in return for the prospective gift of happiness. However, we ought to know that given free control, they will only impoverish our being. If we want to be happy and maintain an affluent mind, we need to protect our territory. The first step is to recognize the traders as traders, understand their motives and not allow our greed and rivalry to hand over the governance of our thoughts to them.