“Don’t live someone else’s dreams”


This sounds perfectly reasonable but yet we often live someone else’s dreams without realizing it because we never question ourselves deeply enough.  How often is it that even the most intelligent of persons would say they did this or that because their parents wanted them to.  Or that, everyone thinks that he/she is good at doing this so that is what he/she landed up doing.  It is sad but true.

If we are not living the lives of others, we are imposing others to live the lives we would have like to live.  When I hear parents say, “I didn’t have the opportunity to learn to play the piano when I was a child.  Now that I have the means, I am sending my son to piano lessons.” , I feel sorry for the child.   No consideration is given to whether her son is interested in playing the piano.  So now the son is stressed out having to go for the lessons weekly and need to be reminded frequently to practise the pieces.  It is no wonder children today is feeling the pressure.  The parents’ defense is always “I’m doing that for their own good.”. Continue reading

The Joy of Appreciation


Do you notice that when you give out gifts you receive more?  Not necessarily in terms of receiving more gifts in return but the warm tingling sensation of happiness that wraps around your heart when the receivers of the gifts beam their several-thousand-watt smile at you.  You know that your gifts are appreciated and they are happy.

That is the joy of giving which is one of the reasons I enjoy Christmas.  That is the time when I would be busy thinking of the things to buy or make to give to family, relatives and friends.  What joy!  And I am thankful that I have all these to give.

It is sad that most people now think Christmas as being too commercialized but does it really matter?  What matters is how you perceive it and what you are going to make out of it no matter what others say or do. If you put enough effort to it, you will know to find the right gift for each person and you receive twice as much in happiness for the effort.

Sure there will always be people who exchange gifts (1) because it is expected of them, (2) all in the name of fun and so, as long as the gifts are purchased and given, who cares if the recipient likes it or not.  Still as a recipient of the gifts, even they are not quite what you like, appreciate the thought that the giver has you in mind and has spent money on you.

Showing genuine appreciation is an art.  The better you are able to appreciate the better it is for you.  Remember we should improve our happiness set point and feeling and showing appreciate is one of the means to improve it.  When you consciously appreciate the efforts of another, you are forming positive emotions which automatically makes you feel better of yourself and the giver.  Try it and consciously notice how you feel, both as a giver and receiver of gifts.  The gifts may not be in a form of presents but they could be a smile, a service, close trusting friendships and so forth.

Now then why should we wait for occasions – Valentines Day, Birthdays, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Teacher’s Day, Children’s Day, etc. – to feel appreciation?  Sometimes I think these days are specially created to remind people to be appreciative because leaving it up to us, we are very likely not do it.  Sad, huh?

Happiness and positive emotions can be generated at any occasion of your choice.  Make it an everyday occurrence.  Observe the number of times you actually show appreciation for the service and help extended to you in a day. When you start doing this you may realise there are very few if at all because we have taken a lot of things for granted.  It would be hard to rack up anything until you are in the swing of things.  Practice makes perfect – so start now to note down the opportunities that you have showed or missed showing any appreciation a day.  Overtime, with constant practice and conscious self-observation, the appreciation list will grow.

Once the practice is internalized and naturally becomes part of you, you will find that there are just too many to list them all.  Continue nonetheless as the more you do, the happier you feel.  People around will also appreciate you more because your happiness attracts them.  It comes in a full circle.  What you do influence others.  Won’t you want others to be just as happy as you?

The Pursuit of Happiness (I)


Who could honestly say they are not pursing happiness?  I think none would.  Everything we do relates to creating happiness; from shopping for the best of everything to ingesting the best foods.  However all of those actions can only appease but a moment and soon be replaced by another craving for a better watch, pants, ring, mobile phone, movie, etc.  There is no end to the things we want in hope to quench the thirst for happiness only that we do not realize that happiness is really what we are after and not the things we own.

Happiness depends, as Nature shows, less on exterior things than most suppose – William Cowper.

A research on happiness demonstrates that the statement above is true.  Until I read the book “Happy for No Reason” (in which the author reported statistics to support this point) and did a little digging on my own, I have not given much thought to this.  Perhaps I have taken for granted what truly being happy means.

I reproduce here the statistics as reported in “Happy for No Reason”:

  • Americans’ personal income has increased more than two and a half times over the past fifty years but their happiness level has remained the same.
  • Nearly 40 percent of the people on the Forbes list of wealthiest Americans are less happy than the average American.
  • Once personal wealth exceeds $12,000 a year, more money produces virtually no increase in happiness.

I would suppose the statistics here would not have been very different elsewhere.  It is not too difficult to call to mind a wealthy friend or two who are not too happy with their lives no matter how much money they have.  They then go on to an acquisition spree for higher status, education, more and better branded stuff, bigger and flashier cars, more attention, love, respect, etc. but still find happiness elusive.

Interestingly people who suffer from depression are not necessarily those who are destitute but also from the wealthiest.  There are probably more people in the lower rungs of society who are inertly happier than those in the higher social class; at least they have something to aim and hope for.  It is when you have everything and still cannot find happiness, that must be the most painful.

In the research report Happiness is a stochastic phenomenon by  David Lykken and Auke Tellegen  published by American Psychological Society in 1996, it is said that social economic status accounted less than 3% in the variance in general well-being.  (To read the report, go to http://cogprints.org/767/0/167.pdf.)

Our happiness set point may be inherently encoded in our genes.  However, it is possible to reset to a higher level by our experiences and consistent application of positive emotions.

“Dysfunctional behaviour exacerbates depression, whereas the things happy people do enhance their happiness.”

You may also want to watch this video about happiness set point:

Intense happiness is an emotion that fluctuates according to moods and events (winning a contest, getting promoted, etc.) while to be truly happy is the high set level of contentment and peace to which we fall back regardless of our emotions over both good and bad experiences of our lives.

There is no arguing of the fact that we all have moods – the causal effects of events happening around us – but the duration of the positive or negative impact may be prolonged by concentrated and repeated thoughts that determines the level of happiness or unhappiness.  Therefore the ability to self-regulate thoughts would help to improve the happiness set point in the long run.

Since we could reset our happiness set points, there is no excuse to remain unhappy.  All you need is to find the key to unlock the blockage.  Have your found yours?

Five Ways to Become Happier Today


I found the post by the same title on http://www.bigthink.com.  It is an interview with Tal Bel-Shahar, Psychology Lecturer at Harvard University, who is also best known as a Happiness Guru.  Here is an extraction from the interview.

So what are these five ways to become happier today?

Alive and undamaged: Interestingly he said you need to be not a psychopath or dead as only being one of these would mean you cannot experience painful emotions.  If we can experience these painful emotions then can we open ourselves to positive ones.  How true!  You cannot possibly be happy if you are dead or damaged in some way.  So celebrate the fact that you are alive and undamaged.  Be grateful that you have the opportunity to be happy by choosing to be positive.  Since there is a choice, won’t you rather be happy?

Quality social interactions: Spending quality time with family, friends, relatives, loved ones – people who care about us and whom we care about – is important in feeding our happiness.  Quality time also means giving a 100% of your attention and not when we are doing something else at the same time, like being on the phone or text messaging.  I love spending time with family and friends.  While they may give you headaches from time to time, there is still no replacement for having a laugh or two with your loved ones.  I have known of people who have dysfunctional family and remain unhappy throughout their lives.

Regular exercise: Physical exercise is also another way to improve your happiness level.  Research shows that regular exercising several times a week is equivalent to some of the most powerful psychiatric drugs for anti-depression.  Compared to our fore-fathers we are walking less by adopting habits such as using auto-transport even for short distances.  Not only do these habits have negative impacts on our physical but also mental health.  There is such a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction when I take a 5-minute walk to the train station instead of taking a bus ride or complete a 4km walk on a good day.

Expressing your gratitude: Developing the habit of expressing your gratitude daily on things big and small carries a lot of weight in raising your happiness indicator.  He suggests writing at least 5 things you are grateful for before going to bed and not wait till you encounter a crisis to be reminded to appreciate the things you have in your life.  People who do that are happier, more successful and optimistic.  Hmm…I am going to try this one out, starting today.  (If you want to take your gratitude online there is a place to do it – http://www.gratitudelog.com.)

Simplify your life: Simplify by doing only one thing at a time.  Savour every minute of the moment.  Pay attention and appreciate the action, thought, feeling and words of the moment.  Develop quality in everything you do without destroying it with multi-tasking.  To help with concentration, allocate time for e-mail to say 3 hours daily, switch off the mobile phone during time set aside for the family, etc.  No rush, no tension just simply be (happy).

All these five ways appear to be so simple and yet there are many who would find it tough.  They are simple for the mind to appreciate but hard for some to carry them out.  But “Rome is not built in a day” so don’t trip yourself up by trying to do them all at once and expect total transformation overnight.  Instead set small but achievable goals toward these five things-to-do over a period and you will never be the same again.  If you find it hard to do it on your own, get help from people whom you trust or get a coach or mentor.

The mind is its own place, and in itself can make

a heaven of Hell, a hell of Heaven

–  John Milton, English poet