This is a misleading title, and I apologise to any M&M’s fan out there. I’m pretty sure, in fact, that M&M’s are a sure way to happiness (I’m Swiss, after all, we are taught from childhood that chocolate brings happiness), but that’s not what I want to talk about here.
I’m rambling on, instead about a conversation that took place yesterday in the guesthouse I’m staying out, a conversation I’ve heard many times already. It comes, I think, with travelling to places like India, Nepal and others, where you’ll meet different kind of tourists, and the unavoidable exchange of world views that comes with.
Yesterday, there was a girl named M, who had come here to trek and “you know, find the true meaning of all things”, and a guy named M. (but a different one), who had come for the same wedding as I had, was in India for the first time, and is a future surgeon (shame on me to imply there is a certain type of person that wants to be a surgeon, but I gather you’ll decifer from this that it’s not my life choice:-). You’ll find different people having this same conversation, because, “in interest of balance” the opinions tend to go to both extremes as the night goes late, so it always end up in the same polarization . Because people coming here have either decided that the West does everything wrong. M. (the girl in this scenario, it’s not gender based I swear), was saying that we don’t know how to be happy, with the many things we’ve gathered, and that our education is deeply flawed because it teaches us only facts, and not – for example – buddhism wisdom, how to meditate, how to be happy. The other M. was trying to politely say that he thinks it is bullshit, in other words, that India has everything to learn from our school system, that this search of happiness is a lot of mambo jambo and that you should just work, have fun afterwards and get on with it.
This sounds like a caricature but it’s not far from their exact words. I like those moments, as an observer, but in the end I’m always asked what I think and always fail to satisfy both parties. Mostly because I’m never that certain of anything in life, and even less certain when it comes to hapiness. And both these people have made a definitive choice, which is what India seems to force on them, strangely: either you reject it all or embrace it. I have a great respect for people coming here in search of answers, I do, I admire people that can just come to an ashram and find inner peace, but I frown when they tell me that in India, everyone has time, people are not stressed out like us, and that’s the reason why there is so much mental illness in the “western world”. For one thing, it’s absolutely not true, and also, it is not a great compliment to a country that they claim they love so much to reduce it to a spiritual haven. Simplifications are never flattering.
I’m sure I don’t know more than either of those. I do think one should go in search of something more, that one should ask ourselves, perhaps constantly, “Is my answer – as an individual, as a culture – the best possible one?” (A very Leibnizy turn of phrase), and study other cultures, other answers to put ourselves to the test. But I am a person of doubts, I will probably never be satisfied with an answer that requires a leap of faith, an overlooking of facts, which means I’m doomed to stay on the “well, I don’t know”side.
I’ve seen the peaceful beauty of India as well as its slums, I’ve worked in hospitals where doctors have to see about 3 times as many patients as we usually do, I’m not sure they have more time, frankly. I’m not sure I’m qualified to say who is happier. So I will forever refuse to take part in those discussions. Happiness is such a fleeting, personal thing, and I’ll probably always remain critical of anyone who tells me they know how to live a happy life, or that there is only one way to do so. But after all, maybe that’s what travel really offers, if you allow it, if you don’t take refuge behind certainties: to pull you out of your ordinary, preconceived answers, and to leave you with more questions. That’s okay with me, I’ve lived with doubts for quite a while and they’re nice companions, on the way.