Smile; you’re in India!

“…We see no value in quantifying the amount of money the women earn. Money comes and goes, but friendships and meaningful relationships filled with love and care can last a lifetime.” – Manav Sadhna worker at the Womens’ center in an Ahmadabad slum. A couple of weeks ago, as I was once again complaining to my extended family about the hardships of Upper Year at Andover, one of my little eight-year old cousins asked me why me why my classmates and I would willingly place ourselves in an environment that would make us feel sad so frequently. The first response I gave to my cousin was that our motivation was the conviction that the sacrifice we were making now, would ultimately offer a greater reward, and ensure we would be successful in the future.

Half way across the planet and several weeks later, I ask myself, what I meant by the word “success.” Success in its most basic definition, at least to me, would appear to be a universally sought after goal. I believe that success in life directly correlates with our happiness. But the actual process of achieving success, and what we ultimately define to be the proof of success changes from person to person, and heavily depends on the way that we explain the word.  As such, within the prep school world of PA, there’s a frequent tendency to equate success with tangible accomplishments, such as titles, awards, and monetary gain. But (to continue my trend of using cliché metaphors and sayings) does money actually buy happiness? From what I have seen at Andover, many people seem to think so, and look at smaller tasks, such as going to clubs or doing homework, simply as a means to an end, rather than a process that could be exciting. By looking at assignments as forced activities, many ultimately fail to appreciate the value in the little things that they are doing. By focusing so greatly on the end goal, such as graduation from PA, or college admission, many students (again, speaking only in the way that it seems to me) become disconnected from the people around them and consequently fail to live in the moment. I know this was sometimes the case for my approach to PA, and retrospectively, I often regret the disengagement.

However, through interactions with local NGOs and individuals, I feel as though I have been introduced to a new approach to success. In accordance with Gandhi’s philosophy, the emphasis is placed on savoring numerous small successes on the road to the greater goal, which collectively bring happiness along the way, even if the actual goal is never reached. With this purpose in mind, we could change our entire approach towards day-to-day activities, especially within our own educations at Phillips. In line with this new approach, we become much more inclined to perform random acts of kindness towards one another, because we are able to perceive the feelings and emotions of people around us with increased sensitivity. Taking this approach in India has allowed me to become more self-aware and take pleasure out of performing well on small things. This is an approach that could be immensely valuable back home. Rather than being grateful for good performance at the end of the term, I will try to be grateful for small things in my quotidian, such as good grades on minor assignments, interactions with friends, etc. Maybe I will start a “Happy-Jar” a piggy bank of sorts filled with notes that list things that I’m grateful for.

If we were to take the competitiveness, or simply the mentality of “a means to an end” out of the equation at a place like PA, we have the ability to radically change the environment that we live in. Our Niswarth group is the living and breathing example of a group that has changed the way they think, by becoming more open minded and going through new experiences and seen success. I see it in everyone’s interactions. Random acts of kindness are present everywhere, and that from the morning until late at night. From Chia’s willingness to share her granola with the group at 5:30 in the morning on the bus, to helping each other with new foods, (exchanging certain parts with one another to avoid waste) to everyone’s willingness to share laptop chargers, or even lend laptops to other people, kindness is everywhere. Allow me to conclude with the following; so far at Niswarth, I have felt nothing but happiness for my fellow travellers, and I couldn’t be any more grateful. It might be nothing but wild speculation, but it seems to me, that if we can find a way to shield the model from the difficulties that exporting it to the US would bring with itself, or even find a way to educate more people about alternative approaches to success, this approach to our interactions could become a much better option at PA than the status quo, and generally lead to a happier and healthier community.