Category Archives: Family

The World’s Happiest People?

Street vendor, Old Dhaka

I will  leave you for a short break with a collaborate post. A local correspondent for the BBC radio here in Dhaka told me about a recent poll that claims Bangladeshis are the happiest people in the world. How on earth could that be? We have all heard the numbers and become desensitized by now. Most people surviving on a dollar a day. A country plagued by environmental disasters, lack of infrastructure, health and education, the list goes on.

I decided to ask some friends and colleagues, all from Bangladesh, what they thought the reasons were for this self contentment.  As far as I know people here aren’t taking Prozac.  Interesting also that no one mentioned the influence  of religion.

Taking tea

“People here value strong family ties – kids live with their parents until they are married, and are expected to take care of their parents when they get old. You won’t see too many nursing homes here, although the trend is emerging.”

“With life being harder here, there are lower expectations. People ask for less because they know they can’t afford it. I think the relative hardships one faces here, in terms of poverty, natural calamities, etc, has led to a greater appreciation of the smaller joys in life. A while back, we had two flash floods occurring in the same year, one after the other. People living in the slums near Gulshan- an upper class neighborhood- were reduced to squatting in makeshift tarpaulin tents on the pavements near our home. You would expect these people, who had literally lost their homes and much of their belongings, to be miserable. Every evening, on my way back from work, though, I’d be the one grumbling about the rising floodwater’s lapping at the tires of our car, while the squatters took time to live, laugh and enjoy. As the sun went down, the oil lamps came on, and the rickshaw wallahs would line up their vehicles and join their families. Someone would play the flute, children would sing and dance; and everyone would celebrate just being alive. It looked like something out of a Dickens novel. They certainly taught me a thing or two about human resilience.”

– Sabrina Ahmed, Journalist, Writer and University Faculty Member

“I think people in Bangladesh are the happiest because of the family bonding that we share, we take care of one another, it doesn’t matter whether we are 13 or 30 we live together with our family. The girls only leave when they are married. Another thing is, it takes very little to make us happy and our food is the best in the whole world.”

– Limana Solaiman, Student

“I have grown up hearing that Bangladeshi people are very easy to satisfy and that is why many think that they are happy people. The poor are happy if they have a roof over their head and three meals a day. They don’t worry about equity or want to fight for their rights. As long their stomach is full they think that life is good.”

“Also due to strong family ties and bonding people find happiness in other people’s happiness and success. For example, even if a person is not very successful but has a cousin who is a prominent person he will be ecstatic about it tell everyone  that he knows that prominent figure. So as they find achievement in other people’s achievements that may also be a reason that Bangladeshi people are so happy. This is my personal view but I always hear people say that the reason we are happy people is because most of us don’t have unending wants and are easily satisfiable.”

– Tabassum Amina, University Faculty Member, Sociologist

“The main reason is poverty. Because of poverty most of the people’s expectations are low. In Bangladesh poverty is responsible for the lack of education. That is  ultimately why our expectation level is low. In Bangladesh, most of the people’s primary concern is only for food and shelter. When that is taken care they  feel happy. You  should also remember that urban and culture is not so strong in Bangladesh.  Rural life is a significant part of Bangladesh. That is why most of the people are free from alienation and fear of isolation. That is why most of the people can be optimistic and are happy with their life.”

– Shoma Afroja, Journalist and TV Anchor

“I can share one experience of mine. It was about a year ago. On the 19th November 2007…. just two days after the SIDR cyclone hit Bangladesh I went to Char Montaj which was devastated, and was shocked to see such a scare from  a natural disaster. I went there to assist with relief activities with the NGO Action Aid. At ten in the morning I found a girl who was barely 17, but already the mother of three kids. She was playing with her three month old child in an open place…no proper shelter… just under a tree…and her other two kids were playing beside her. When  I asked how she was all she said was that “a number of bad things had happened but we were alive….what else can we do?”

“Maybe it’s the climate in this tropical zone. People in the countryside do not have to struggle that much. They do not have big dreams either. Whatever they receive they take it as a bonus.”

-Sifat Azam, University Faculty Member, Development and Environmental Studies


Howard L. Hiller – RIP Little Brother

Gottingen, Germany 1981

Very sad news from the States. My younger brother passed away two days ago. Deepest condolences to his wife Barbara and their two sons, Ben and Evan.


Howard was my younger brother. We were only 18 months apart and extremely close growing up in Brooklyn as well as later on as young adults. Many of you might not be aware that Howard was a “radical” young man of the late sixties- very politicized and to the far left. He managed to get us both arrested as teenagers for arguing with two police officers about our rights to stand in between two parked cars on public property. He was brilliant and very articulate even back then but the police officer was not impressed by his logic. It was my mothers Chutzpah that eventually bailed us out. How dare you arrest her two boys!!! She let that officer have it. I guess he wasn’t intimidated since the following year (1968) he helped organize the local protest at our high school against the infamous teachers union strike for almost a month. Those were violent times and we faced threats from the community. Again, our mother supported her boys.

Shortly after at the ripe age of 16 Howard came out to visit me in LA in the summer of 1969 – he was still in high School-  and audited Philosophy classes at UCLA. He had managed to look up a renowned logician named Donald Kalish who headed the Philosophy department. Kalish and another very far out European professor took Howie under their wing. His hero at the time was Ludwig Wittgenstein.

Mathematics (after all it served him well) must have seemed more practical to major in at Cornell. He was always trying to explain formulas and proofs to me but lost me after less then a minute.

I recall such happy memories from our time in New York in the late seventies/ early eighties, especially during the summer roaming the city, listening to music and eating great meals at Peter and Barbara’s. Their loft was the unofficial meeting place for us “locals” and friends from Europe and Brazil. Ah youth.

After a stint teaching at Columbia University Howard entered the financial sector giving up his work shirts and boots for a suit. Looking back he was barely 30 years old at the time. It took courage to change careers like that.

As many of you commented Howie was a sweet and gentle person. He was very generous and good natured and I wonder what the impact of this new environment had on him? He worked hard but still managed to write short stories. He still had a creative need.

A few years later after our father passed away we both got married and began raising families. I was on the west coast so visits were far and few between.

Flash- forward to October 2008. I’m shocked by my little brothers passing.  It’s a huge loss for all that knew him. I hope this little story sheds some light about another side of my brother, especially to his sons Ben and Evan. In Howie’s last email to me last month he told me about your studies and music making and was so proud of the both of you