0278 – The role of TED talks in shaping our future

If you haven’t heard of TED before, where have you been?!

March 29th 2012 marked the 3rd time the TEDxUofM conference was held. Again, I was inspired by the stories that the speakers have to share. From sustainability to education to films to meditation, these talks were delivered by incredible people with passion, dedication and strength of character. It always makes me evaluate what I’ve done in my life and where I’d like to see my self in the future. In a way it kinda humbles me when I hear about the things that these people have done – I just wish I’m that awesome. With that said, TED speakers have my fullest respect and praise, for being able to get to that stage requires unparalleled commitment and perseverance.

What one can do with the TED talk is a somewhat different story. TED’s mission is simple: spreading ideas. This basic concept has become a whole lot more than that to me. To me it signifies the limitless possibilities that each individual have access to. It signifies the range of people, both like-minded and differing in opinions, that is working towards positive change for our society. It showcases the movements that prove that individuals can in fact make a difference, even when faced with the most daunting of circumstances.

I dream of being on the TED stage one day. I dream of having an idea that is worth spreading. I dream of the day where I can realize that the work that I have done on this planet means something to someone. I have hope that this day will come. And I hope the same for you.

In closing, I’d like to leave you with a talk that I just watched by Leymah Gbowee. Leymah received the 2011 Nobel Peace Price for her work on empowering women in Liberia to end the civil war and dictatorship in her country. Enjoy!


0276 – Should we really care?

I’ve been actively thinking about sustainability for at least 2 years now, and the challenges that we are facing do not seem much easier. I’m currently writing a paper on sustainability right now and came across this quote:

“The guiding principle of environmentalism is self-sacrifice: the sacrifice of longer lives, healthier lives, more prosperous lives, more enjoyable lives, i.e., the sacrifice of human lives. But an individual is not born in servitude. He has a moral right to live his own life for his own sake. He has no duty to sacrifice it to the needs of others and certainly not to the “needs” of the non-human.” –Michael S. Berliner, Ph.D., Ayn Rand Institute

The notion of “sacrifice” for the environment seems to be a common one. But is it really? How is being environmentally friendly a sacrifice of healthy lives? Enjoyable lives? We all know that materialism does not lead to lasting happiness. And we know that we cannot live without the resources that nature provides.

Individuals have a moral right to live his own life for his own sake – so why take away the rights of our future generations.

Individuals are not born in servitude – so why subject ourselves to the availability of resources?

We shouldn’t care about the needs of non-human? So should all non-humans care about our needs? Why is this always works one way but not the other?

So I struggle with this a lot. Should I care? Should I try to make people care? I also run into this problem:

“Why should I care about future generations? What have they ever done for me?
— Groucho Marx

You know..I really can just not care and no one will probably notice. But there is this tingling calling within me that tells me that I’m doing the right thing. Many people may disagree–as evidenced by the quotes above–with my belief, but I personally cannot neglect my impact on this planet.

Sure, it does take some effort to live sustainably. Sure, we won’t really get anything in return (apart from avoiding the damage that we may face towards the end of our lifetime). Sure, this is damn hard to do consistently.

So should we really care?

The answer–I hope–is yes. The reasons are manifold – some based on reason, some based on our intrinsic nature. I cannot find you one, because it all is based on your place on this planet, which is yours to realize.

“We have met the enemy and he is us.”
— Walt Kelly

0274 – University Towns Score High in Well-Being

Gallup just released this a week ago. University Towns Score High in Well-Being:

Good to see good ol’ Ann Arbor high up on that list. In addition, Ann Arbor tops the list for life evaluation:

Residents of Ann Arbor rate their current lives and their lives in five years the best on a ladder scale with steps numbered from 0 to 10 based on the Cantril Self-Anchoring Striving Scale, giving the city the highest Life Evaluation Index score in the nation. Honolulu again led the nation with the best Emotional Health Index score, while Fort Collins, Colo., displaced a fellow Colorado city, Boulder, with the highest Physical Health Index score in the nation. Prescott, Ariz., had the highest Work Environment Index score, and residents living in Barnstable Town, Mass., had the highest Healthy Behaviors Index score. Appleton, Wis., which did not have a sufficient number of respondents to be reported in previous years, led the nation in residents with the best access to basic necessities.

If you’re intrigued, Gallup also has a neat tool that you can use to compare well-being across different regions.

Now, this is an interesting stat. Ann Arborites in general have indeed been giving off happy vibes. Incidentally, it’s also the greatest city for singles! So we must be doing something right here. Although I hope I won’t have to be in Ann Arbor for this reason. Please, God, send me someone soon.

Anyway, I wish I can delve deeper into this stuff, but unfortunately Gallup doesn’t release complete results of its surveys. From initial look, it seems like we do have the conditions of a great city – somewhat sheltered economy, vibrant job market, healthy options (e.g. local or organic food, public transportation, biking, etc).  That’s where I’m going to plug the Happiness Initiative again. It is aimed to gather comprehensive information of how you feel about your life and the typical conditions that affect happiness. I’m really excited to see what we can find out! Help this boy out and take the survey!

0273 – Redefining Achievement

What does achievement mean to you? Money? Great job?

This came out of my mouth today:

“GPA becomes a number. Resume becomes a piece of paper. Experience becomes your life.”

I was… pleasantly surprised. It just sounds 100% like me. It came during a time when I was speaking too fast for my brain to plan what I say next (I tend to do that a lot – it’s a very hazardous habit. Use at your discretion), so what came out of my mouth was just unplanned.

The crazy thing is that this quote really sums up my exact thoughts on what education is all about. It’s really not about numbers, grades or how packed your resume looks. It should be about the journey – how much you learn, how excited you are. Achievement shouldn’t be tied to numbers or pieces of paper, let alone numbers that don’t really matter. By the way, if you haven’t seen Ken Robinson’s TED talk, it’s phenomenal. He claims that our school system kills creativity and steers students towards conformity.

“But GPA does matter”, you might say. “I wanna get into grad school.” Well, fair enough. That is true to a certain extent, but only because the system is broken. One of my favorite cartoons is this one above that describe what we call “rat racers,” those that are on an endless pursuit of achievement as traditionally defined. You work harder and harder to try to achieve a certain goal, but once you’re there or almost there, the goals are now set even higher. The fact that the system is this way does not mean that you blindly follow it. If you’re unhappy, why keep running?

This used to be my problem (still is actually, but less so now). You know… I always wanted to win all those achievement awards, honors, accolades and all the other flowery stuff you can say about people.

But… what is achievement without happiness? Or perhaps a better question – should you call anything achievement, if it comes at the cost of your well-being?

I’m not happy with the way it all works. Are you?

Let’s #redefine achievement.

0272 – The Magic Moment of Commitment

“At the moment of commitment, the universe conspires to assist you.” –Goethe

I heard this quote a few days ago from Tom Root, an entrepreneur, a partner of Zingerman’s Mail Order and founder of Maker Works. Talk about awesome people saying awesome things in Ann Arbor.

So how does–or how can–the universe conspire to assist someone like you or me?

My mentor once told me that he sometimes say things to have it heard by the life force and imprinted on the grand tablet of the universe. There really is something special about the moment when you say “Hell yes, I’m going to do this.” I can still recall the moment when I decided that I’ve had enough with conforming with expectations and wanted to pursue my own passions and values. It was as if some mysterious life force injected some magical boost in me that invigorated me and got me believing in my future. I committed myself to staying true to my passions and values and serving the greater good. Granted, I did not have an easy path from that moment to now, but every moment in life is an opportunity to learn, especially those that hurt you the most.

You really just have to make the first move.

When I did take that first step, I had no idea where I’d end up. Life really has steered me to paths I’d never imagined I would be on. I remembered the day when I tried to steal a pack of cards from the department store. Fast forward 15 years later–after my commitment, I found a $20 bill in the parking lot and donated it to charity. Not once was I tempted to keep it for myself. I was… shocked. And proud.

Change is possible. You just gotta believe.

0271 – You Vs The World?

Just wanted to share an image I found:

Ironically or not, it has a verydemotivational.com label on it. I actually find this to be quite motivational. Often times, I find myself in a situation when I feel alone: either I have issues with the way we operate (like how GDP doesn’t really make us happy), or when nobody seems to care.

The very least I can do…really is to make the first move. Who cares what’s next as long as I’m sticking to my values and doing what I love.

Happiness is the journey, not the destination.

0270 – Anddddd the Universe turns the page!

As with life that has its chapters and transitions, it is time for this blog to undergo a transformation.

I mainly used this blog as a place where I can introspect out loud. I didn’t care much about the aesthetics of the site, making my blog into a text-heavy, difficult-to-read amalgamation of thoughts.

I am taking a class called the Rhetoric of Blogging right now and it is making me think about what blogging means to me.

The beauty—and challenge—of spiritual growth is that there is no right path. So blogging about spirituality is different than blogging about current events. I believe I offer a unique point of view, and I want to invite others to do the same.

So, the page has turned. It’s a new chapter at A Universe Within.

Audience will be the key. I hope to make this blog a more ready-friendly, succinct and thought-provoking blog. I will continue to blog about spirituality, my life experiences and current issues that spurred my train of thoughts.

Check back soon!

0269 – The Happiness Initiative

Watching TED talks on happiness might be my favorite hobby of all time. My favorite one’s by Shawn Achor titled: The happy secret to better work. It’s really funny and relaxing to watch, so it’s well worth watching.


I started thinking actively about happiness after my freshman year. I came to Michigan carrying the typical gene for “success” – both the talent and diligence to get as high a GPA as possible, build an impressive resume, and find the most prestigious internships possible. A year later, at the very same spot, the dream lost its appeal. Life was interspersed with periods of unease, apprehension and emptiness. A good GPA and an impressive resume did not give me meaning. Life was still incomplete. In fact, it wasn’t just incomplete; it was miserable. I was fed up with the one-dimensional approach of continually working for “a bright future.” I just wasn’t happy.

As a society, we’ve been neglecting the conditions of life that make us happy. Look at our country’s main indicator of progress: the GDP. Robert Kennedy once said, “[GDP] measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.”

The movement to measure things that make life worthwhile started from an idea that spread. It started in a tiny Himalayan country called Bhutan, whose king said that “Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross National Product.” So it began.

Now, the “happiness movement” is growing across the globe. TED videos like the one above help spread the word. But most importantly, people are generally less happy now than they were fifty years ago, and we’re going to do something about it.

Preliminary survey results in Seattle, WA show that persons aged 19-25 are as unhappy as ever. College students are increasingly concerned about our job outlook, financial security, and we never seem to have enough time to do everything we want.

It’s time for change. That’s why I started The Happiness Initiative at the University of Michigan. It is a part of a nationwide initiative to enhance the quality of life and extend the concept of success beyond wealth and academic/career success.

The goal is to create a UM Happiness Report Card, which will summarize our overall results. So WE NEED YOU to be a part of this! Please consider taking the survey. It only takes 12-15 minutes, and at the end, you will get to see your personal results, i.e. how you feel about the different conditions that affect your happiness.

To take the survey, click on the link below.

UM students: http://happycounts.org/survey/GNH/uofm007
UM faculty & staff: http://happycounts.org/survey/GNH/uofm026
Even if you’re not currently a student, faculty or staff at UM, you can also take the survey: http://happycounts.org/survey/GNH/

Thanks a lot for your help! Feel free to leave a comment on the blog or at the Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/events/114283875362428/!