A note on our obsession with excitement

When I moved to the U.S. from India, for graduate school, one of the first questions I was asked was — are you excited?

I soon realized that Amercians really like excitement. Everything is exciting to them — a new job, going to a restaurant, Dave Chapelle, being unemployed, losing weight, boba tea, jumping from an airplane, and even doing yoga. In fact, there is something wrong with you, if you aren’t excited! Sometimes, I am embarrassed to tell my colleagues that I did not do anything exciting over the weekend, by design.

Why should I be excited? Is excitement a superior emotion? I usually want the opposite of excitement. I have been taught to shoot for less excitement in life, in general. Excitement, has, in my mind, always been associated with impending danger. Like, “I have had too much excitement for the day, thanks to the crazy auto driver — I thought he was going to kidnap me!”. No, I don’t mean to say that I am from some poor, third world country that’s too dangerous to live in.

I’m just saying that excitement was not the thing that was most sought after, when I was living in India.

Peace — despite the human condition — was.

In fact, Hindu philosophy is full of teachings on how to attain sama bhava, which literally means, an attitude of equanimity.

Being unexcitable is a positive quality in Hinduism and Buddhism. Assuming sama bhava is supposed to ensure inner peace and happiness despite external circumstances.

According to the dictionary, the opposite of excitement is boredom or indifference. I think the absence of excitement is calmness. Being calm helps with creativity, thoughtful and deliberate expression, good decisions and better mental health overall. Excitement, on the other hand, is physiologically similar to anxiety. Apparently, the difference lies in our interpretation of these emotions. Anxiety disorders affect 40 million people in the U.S. every year!

Well, excitement is important for capitalism. Advertisements build excitement, which translates into money spent on stuff. Similarly, concerts, sports, drinks, vacations — everything that costs money is driven by excitement.

Excitement seems like a useful tool for corporates. I haven’t seen the word “excitement” thrown around as much as it is in technology companies in Silicon Valley. Excited employees = people who are working crazy hours purely on an adrenaline rush. Excited employees = engaged and positive employees who don’t ask for more pay or complain about their circumstances. But is excitement good for you, the employee? In small doses, maybe, but in large doses, is similar to anxiety and stress.

The only thing you truly need excitement for, is sex.

For everything else, let’s try sama bhava for a while? Chill out and be happy!

I'm a product manager living in San Francisco with a heart that refuses to leave Chennai! I enjoy writing about product management, technology, and food.

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