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Ravi Patel On His New 'Pursuit of Happiness' Docuseries

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The pursuit of happiness - it's a fundamental right declared in one of America's founding documents. But actor Ravi Patel wants to know, do Americans really know how to find it? So Patel decided to take his wife, parents and two of his closest friends on a series of adventures as they try to figure out if other countries have some good ideas about parenting, aging, burnout and immigration. And while these are complex topics, it's kind of like a series of buddy movies.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "RAVI PATEL'S PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS")

CHAMPA PATEL: We never thought that we with our son - we'd have this kind of moment. We're so lucky. We're so blessed - so lucky to have...

RAVI PATEL: I never thought I'd end up with the same body as my dad, so...

C PATEL: (Laughter).

R PATEL: But that's - it's an emotional moment for all of us right now. All right, I'm going to get in the water now.

C PATEL: Take a leap.

MARTIN: The series is called "Ravi Patel's Pursuit Of Happiness." And Ravi Patel is with us now.

Ravi, thanks so much for joining us.

R PATEL: Excited to be here. Thanks.

MARTIN: How did you decide what questions you wanted to tackle? I mean, a lot of these are kind of gut-punch issues.

R PATEL: (Laughter).

MARTIN: I mean, the issue of parents retiring or, like, how you raise your kids - and certainly, you know, immigration is one of the hottest hot-button issues there is. How did you decide...

C PATEL: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...What you wanted to focus on?

R PATEL: I basically just prioritized things that I was most urgently dealing with in my life - in fact, in my therapy sessions. The first episode of the show, which is about aging and retirement, in which I take my parents to one of the hottest retirement spots in Mexico for expats - that came about from a real moment in therapy where I told my therapist that I had never been to a funeral before. And now that I'm on the other side of 40, I was realizing that a lot of my friends were losing their parents.

And becoming a father in the last few years has given me this incredible perspective and empathy for how obsessed parents are about their kids. And the way society is set up right now, we aren't as close to our relatives and with our parents in the way that we used to be because we're just not dependent in the way we used to be, and we live further apart. So I wanted to urgently figure out, what are the questions that I'd be sitting here asking in therapy after they've passed that I wish I had asked today?

MARTIN: There are just some really poignant moments with your folks, of course, who are adorable.

R PATEL: (Laughter).

MARTIN: I love it when your mom wanted to learn to make tortillas at the restaurant, and she just kind of, like - you know, they're, like, come on in, you know? And so...

(LAUGHTER)

R PATEL: Yeah, that's mom.

MARTIN: There are all kinds of food safety laws violated there, but we'll...

R PATEL: (Laughter).

MARTIN: We'll just kind of - another...

R PATEL: Mom goes by her own best practices.

MARTIN: I see. Yes, for sure. Another one of my favorite moments was when you and your wife, Mahaley, went to Japan and ended up following a 6-year-old on his first solo grocery run for his family. So...

R PATEL: Wasn't that wild?

MARTIN: It was wild.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "RAVI PATEL'S PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS")

MAHALEY PATEL: Where did he go?

R PATEL: I don't know. I think he...

M PATEL: We lost him.

R PATEL: Did he go downstairs?

M PATEL: Did we lose him? Well, no one will be hiring us to babysit.

R PATEL: (Unintelligible). Well, he's got the wipes.

M PATEL: He's got the wipes.

R PATEL: We're slowing him down.

M PATEL: Well, no, he said had to get something for dinner.

R PATEL: That'd be terrible to lose a kid on television.

MARTIN: I have to say that my heart was in my mouth because just the idea that in most places in the United States, sending a 6-year-old to the grocery store by himself - just a non-starter.

R PATEL: We'd never, never, ever do that. That was so shocking on a number of levels. First of all, it's a practice that, you know, when a kid turns 6, it's kind of the point of inference from the practice in Japan of extreme attachment parenting to extreme detachment. And that moment where they do this thing called the first errand is they send their 6-year-old kid by themself. They walk through the city. They've got a little badge on - around their neck with a credit card and a phone that they can call their parents with.

And they go into the grocery store, they get the groceries and they come back. And we tailed him like stalkers the whole way. And it was crazy that no one seemed to react to him doing this. It said a lot about how safe that place is, too. I just wouldn't feel safe about that here in America.

MARTIN: Well, and, in fact, someone would call social services on you because it would be...

R PATEL: Hundred percent.

MARTIN: ...So unusual. The last two episodes are set in countries that are dealing with some hard topics. In South Korea, you went to talk about burnout, which is wrestling - you know, South Korea wrestling with the effect of work stress on the population. And then, to explore immigration, you ended up in Denmark, which is known for its robust welfare system. But they are also dealing with a spate of anti-immigrant incidents.

Some tough topics - and also emotionally challenging, I think - and I just was wondering, like, what are some of your kind of top-line thoughts about those two?

R PATEL: Well, I've actually thought about those experiences a lot because of the moment that we're in right now as Americans. I think one of the reasons why Denmark is known as one of the happiest places in the world and why in Japan they're able to send their kid to the grocery store is because there is a cultural homogeny in other countries that doesn't exist.

Now, in a lot of ways, it's something to aspire to - to feel that sense of oneness. But it also made me reflect quite a bit on a couple positives about our country. One, the sense of individuality that we have here as Americans is actually really special. And I'm super-grateful for it. But beyond that, I think what we're going through right now as a country is the result of us trying to figure out how to be a family.

Now, that's obviously not how the dialogue is happening right now. But I think in a lot of ways, we're lucky that we even have minority communities with a big enough voice where we can even be in this moment. And I really think that in retrospect, this could very much end up being our Arab Spring. I feel like we're already starting to see that. And we're going to see this incredible groundswell, not just in arts and in culture but from the perspective of social impact. I mean, hopefully, that's the end goal, right?

MARTIN: So obviously, we're talking to you at a time when life is very different. I mean, you obviously filmed this at a time when you could go over - you know, four different countries and spend, you know, a lot of time. And I am just wondering if the kind of wisdom you were seeking on your journeys, even though the circumstances are very different now, did you still feel like you learned something that you can apply now?

R PATEL: I think one of the best lessons of the pandemic for me has been a re-jiggering of purpose and what really matters. I've been saying for years that I need to slow down. I need to get more work-life balance. That's obviously what the episode in Korea is about. But I haven't been able - or, I guess, willing - to figure out how to do it. The pandemic has forced me to do that because now I'm home every day, and I'm trying to figure out a way to work work into that life. And I'm seeing now that there's a way that I can actually do this.

Similarly, that episode about Mexico is about trying to figure out a way of how my parents and I - how we're going to spend the rest of our time together. The pandemic for me has expedited that urgency in realizing, yeah, we want to be closer together.

And look - at the end of this year, my wife and I and our daughter - we're getting in the car, and we're going to drive to the East Coast specifically to live closer to my parents and to simplify, which is something that we explore in the Japan episode. We want to kind of get out of this culture of work and achievement. And I'm hoping that that's good for my daughter.

MARTIN: That was Ravi Patel. His new docu-series "Ravi Patel's Pursuit Of Happiness" is out now on HBO Max.

Ravi, thanks so much for talking with us. And my very best wishes to you and your family.

R PATEL: All right. Back at you - stay safe. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.