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This post is going to be a personal one. When this blog gets a few more readers, and I’ll look back at this post – I think I’ll smile.

I came home to my mother today. Her body have grew frail from the three years of worrying about me. She worries about me all the time, even before I went to university, but the last three years, when I’ve been away, I’m sure that had a toll on her. She had no one around the house to talk to, she had to put up with unpleasant neighbors and work. She had to go through a lot. And very often she wouldn’t share much with me, because she don’t want to make me worried.

Before I learnt what love is by doing, and by having a good character. But if I’d ever learnt love, it’s from my mother. If I’d ever learnt unconditional love, it’s from my mother.

I’ve been trying to get a PhD to further my studies, had interviews at Cambridge, Oxford, Imperial and UCL. I didn’t look anywhere else because I don’t want to feel I’ve moving down in life. I wanted to progress. Lack of preparation, lack of effort, lack of organization meant none of them succeeded. And for the next two months I’d almost given up. I wouldn’t wake up in the morning because I was defeated. I was completely defeated. I have failed the people that had ever believed in me. It is a sickening thing to say, but it’s true. It would have taken me no toil to tried a little harder, to stick to doing what I was supposed to do. But I was foolish and I failed them.

I was so far out there on my own, I just kept stressing and stressing and worrying about the future. I tried to find a job but I don’t know how to do that. I’ve never done it in my life. I’ve always been guided, spoon-fed.

Last week I called my mum, and she said something which I will never forget. She said “Son, I know you’re out there, fighting for something, but just never forget, that back here, back where I am, you have a home. This is your home.”

And so today, I came home mum. I saw her weakened body, and I know she is getting old. I remembered when she was younger, and we went to this hill famous because a lot of monkeys lives there. I think I was holding a bag of corn or something, and the monkeys came towards me and tried to snatch it away. So I got scared and I ran to my mum and climbed on her, and she would hold me safe. All the while, the monkeys were attacking her and scratching her, but she held me tight. This is my mother – strong, loving, and loving. And now I see her, and all I see is all the things she gave up and did for me, and how I have not made good use of it. I have failed my mother.

So today is going to be the day that I make up for it. I asked my mum “Where do you want to live? Ideally.” And she said ‘Hong Kong’. So I said to her, OK, next year, we are moving to Hong Kong. I will finish my studies now, without worrying about PhDs and job, and next summer, I will go to Hong Kong and I am going to find a job. I hope to get an apartment, and I am going to look after my mother, like I should have done many years ago.

A long time ago, I have lost my resolve, and I didn’t lie to myself, I knew I lost it. Today I found it again, in unconditional love of my mother. Today I have my resolve, and life just became a bit more beautiful again.

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Can counting blessings really make you happy?

Generally speaking, gratitude is realized in two steps: the first is the realization that you have received something positive, whether it is a gift, a present, a character trait, an idea etc; and secondly, recognizing that the source of this positive outcome is external from one’s self, for example the source might be God, parents, friends, donors etc. Countless studies have shown that gratitude is an attribute, or emotion, or attitude which is correlated and causes happiness, but none have offered empirical evidence, until the 2003 study by Emmons and McCullough.

The following description of the study is inaccurate, but the results of three separate studies were combined to build an overall picture. For the full description of the study, please click here.

Three groups of undergraduate students and adults with neuromuscular diseases were asked to write down either:

  1. 5 things that they are grateful/thankful for (the gratitude group)

  2. 5 things that annoy/bother you (the hassle group)

  3. 5 events that affected you this week (the control group)

  4. Things that makes you better off or more fortunate than others (the downward social comparison group)

They were then asked a series of questions regarding their mood and perspective on life. The results show that the gratitude group realizes significantly higher levels of gratitude than the control group, while the hassle group realized significant, and proportionally lower levels of gratitude than the control group. The more frequent we perform these evaluations, the bigger the impact it has. The gratitude group also had a more positive outlook on life, reported fewer physical symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, pain, stiff muscles etc; and even resulted in, on average, 1.5 hours more exercise a week than the hassle group. The gratitude was also more inclined to helping others, which can be seen as a consequence of counting blessings. They also feel more connected to others and more integrated in their community. Improved sleep and also the quality of sleep. These effects were obvious to significant-other.

The gratitude level of the downward social comparison was similar to control, and did not give a positive effect; this is probably because pride and schadenfreude (pleasure at the misfortune of others) often manifests itself when comparing yourself to others, rather than gratitude or happiness. So people who feel they are better than others, or persuaded to believe that way, do not receive the benefit of counting blessings. For counting blessings to have a positive effect, one must evaluate oneself using only themselves as the measure, and not others.

Fredrickson have tried to explain this phenomenon of how counting blessing leads to improved life quality; she says that the positive emotions arisen from counting blessings, build a personal, psychological, social and spiritual resource – a sort of resolve which can be utilized in the time of need, to provide social support, to provide motivation etc. (Fredrickson, 1998)

However, the study also warns that gratitude can also have a negative influence, depending on the individual. Some people would feel loved and appreciated when they received from another, and are thankful for it. However, to be grateful means to allow oneself to be placed in the position of a recipient—to feel indebted and aware of one’s dependence on others. Many feel that being indebted to someone is an unpleasant feeling because they feel like they are expected to repay the kindness back. (Greenberg & Westcott, 1983; Indebtedness as a mediator of reactions to aid) If not well-received, the recipient might actually produce strong feelings of hatred against their benefactors. (Elster, 1999)

So what does this study tell us? That we should count our blessings regularly, especially when we feel we’ve adapted to past satisfaction and is now not very appreciative of the things you should be appreciative about. To simply be alive is a miracle which we so often overlook. Counting blessings not only makes us feel better about now and the future, it might even be healthier for us, and it’ll make people close to us happier too! So count your blessings and be gracious to others!

But when you receive gifts, receive it with gratitude. Gifts are free, gifts are given because the giver wants you to have it, or even feel grateful to you for something you’ve done! It is a gift and not an obligation! The process of giving with generosity and receiving with gratitude is what strengthen bonds and friendships!

So start today and count your blessings (instead of sheeps)!

Uniqueness of Humans by Robert Sapolsky

Robert Sapolsky is a professor of Neurology at Stanford University. In a Class Day Lecture given in 2009, he outlines the things which makes us different from other higher animals. And in most cases – the cases for empathy, culture, aggression, politics etc – were all found to be in other primates, albeit in a less complex form.

However, to Professor Sapolsky, there is one aspect of human life that is very much removed from the other primates; what is said in the next three minutes is going to completely change my life, and is one of the most beautiful, inspiring, encouraging sentence my ears have ever received.

What makes us unique is the fact that we have the capability to gain the will and strength to do the things which are evidently impossible.  Also, he argues that the more impossible something seems, the more the moral imperative there is to do it. As educated people who have wised up, a clear conclusion is reached – at the end of the day, it is really  for one person to make a difference – but the more clearly absolutely utterly irrevocably unchangably clear it is, that it is impossible for you to make a difference and make the world better, the more you must.

There is nobody out there who is in a better position, to consistently sustain the contradiction through your entire life, and use it as a moral imperative. So do it, good luck and have good life in the process.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hrCVu25wQ5s

And this property to uphold irrational impossible believes along with rational, contradicting ones. It’s called faith – the only thing which separates us from other animals – faith.

If you were an ape, then no, this and that might not be impossible, but you are human, and you have the power to defy your own beliefs to do the things you cannot do. So the next time you think something is too hard to do, just remember – you are human, you can do it.

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Heart of a Child

Today I went ice-skating with the daughters of my mum’s friend. They were pre-school/primary school age.

I remembered the times when I was learning to skate during secondary school, it took me a whole lesson just to move very slowly. So I expected today to be nothing more than a failure. We booked our tickets for the 1600 session, and it was 1530; we got our skates on, and were ready for action! The youngest one (Sofia) was tired from walking, so I held her up to allow her to see the Zamboni (the ice resurfacer) work her magic. The attendants was also showing off their tricks, pretending to fall over and slide across the rink.

Sofia was excited and demanded frequently ‘I want to play NOW!’, to which I can only reply that there  are so many minutes left…there are so many minutes left. And the time finally came, we slowly crawled into the queue and saw the ice. I lifted her up and onto the ice, and before I even got on, she was already pulling me on to the ice! She has never skated on ice her entire life and yet she is pulling me on. Unbelievable.

It was not long before she fell over, but I was there to make sure her little fingers didn’t get ran over. Don’t want to imagine that. Every time I kneel down to ask if she’s OK, she would always smile, brush off the snow from her knees, and demanded that I hold her hand again.

There were these horrid things called ‘penguins’, short little statues that kids hold on to to ‘help them with balance’. In my opinion, they do nothing but to slow you down. But nonetheless, Sofia wanted one. Unfortunately for her, they’re £5 each and have been sold out a long time ago. She never let it go though, every 10 minute or so she would demand a ‘penguin’. Until finally, she saw an adult holding a penguin but not using it. She literally pulled me (remember that this is the first time she ice-skated) towards that penguin and implied that I should ask the adult for her. So I asked whether Sofia can play with the penguin for a minute, and the person kindly agreed. And so Sofia pushed the penguin around, and her face lit up until I couldn’t find her eyes, and then she let it go. I was surprised, she waited for a whole 40 minutes for a penguin, and when she got hold of it, knowing she can only have it for a short moment, gave it out voluntarily without complaining.

All day little Sofia was talking to me, I can barely make out one word from a hundred, but being with this little young one refreshed my day. It reminded me no matter what it is, you need to just go for it, without fear of failing or fear of mistakes. Don’t even think about it. Once you have decided to do something, be excited, be determined, be willing.

Don’t be afraid that you are new or inexperienced, just dive right in and do the best you can. Inspire the experienced people, let them see your drive, let them admire your efforts and determination. You might fail a lot, but take heart and continue trying. I can promise you that they will not see your failures, for they will be masked by your attitude, and will respect you that way.

Receive failure with a smile, brush off the pain or hurt, ask for your friends to help you, and have another crack. Do it again until you get it right.

When you have a worthwhile goal, stick to it and never let it go. Don’t let other people’s negativity bring you down. Don’t let your goal out of your sight. But what is more important is that when you reach that goal, don’t be reluctant to let it go in order to do better. So often we find a place we are comfortable with, and just stay there without any progress. Only when we realize that we are falling backwards do we pick ourselves up. So, remember to let go of the goals you have already achieved, no matter how long it took you to get there, you are there already, let it go so you can aim for another goal, a goal that will let you progress to be more successful, happier, richer, and/or a better person.

I have lived by this motto for as long as I can remember: Have the eyes and heart of a child. Don’t fear, just do. I constantly forget and are constantly reminded. When we were younger, we could have been anything – astronaut, scientist, policeman, president, kings and queens. What has changed? Nothing really, we can still be whoever we want to be, just start being a child again! Everyone who says you can’t, including yourself, have given up, so don’t listen to these people.

Finally, what seems impossible for us now is possible for a child. Have the eyes and heart of a child and it can be possible for us too. To end I’d like to quote Einstein

If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.

Don’t stop being nice

We all have one (or a few!) of these people who we cannot avoid that badmouths behind your back, be unfair to you, or even go as far as getting everyone else to dislike you. It leaves you feeling helpless, because you’re a kind and loving person. You don’t expect anything in return when you help others, and do it out of compassion and love, and care for other people; but to be treated even worse than a stranger when you have done nothing wrong, can be very very demoralizing. It can fill you with anger and hatred, and consume you so you won’t even be able to function. I know friends who experienced this, and I myself have experienced this, and it is very easy to be depressed over it. So in this post, I hope that I can help those who has this problem, so they can move away from here, feeling empowered, and carry on being nice.

So here are a few things to ponder on, be honest, no one is going to judge you apart from yourself. And don’t judge yourself!

  1. Do they have a point? See the situation from their perspective. If you know they dislike you because of the way you behave, for example, do they have a point? If they say you are insensitive, well…are you? If they have a point, before you do anything else, address this issue. If you are being insensitive, make a conscious effort for the next week to think before you speak and act, first thinking about how your words and actions are perceived. You must be honest with yourself, because you are doing this for yourself – the more honest you are with this, the better the person you can be.
  2. As irrational, immature, or down-right stupid you think these people are, be the bigger person and stand in their shoes. Think about why they are doing the things they are doing, and don’t try to defend yourself while you’re doing it – stand completely in their shoes. This way, you might actually realize that they are not against you personally, but they might have their own insecurities and own problems that they don’t know how to deal with apart from venting out on you. For me, I can understand why a certain someone badmouths me, it’s because they want to protect the person he loves. His feelings might be completely skewed, but just by understanding the reason behind his apathy and dislike, not only did I stop hating him, I felt compassion for him. Remember that nobody in this world when given the option to be happy or unhappy, will choose unhappy; and there are nobody in this world that would choose to be nasty when they can be nice. When people wrong you, they have their reasons. You will never know beneath the surface the battles people are going through at that given time. Try to understand them and have compassion for them, it will make you feel a lot better, make you a better person too, and might even turn a real enemy into a real friend.
  3. If you have the courage and the grace, try asking them out for lunch to talk about the issue. Very often, it is a misunderstanding and you’re actually both kind-hearted people.
  4. Being nice is a character – it is your character, it is part of you. This means no matter how others treat you, no matter how you feel, you are still nice to others because being nice is your character. It is a good character and you should not change it. Ever.
  5. Be nice, but not too nice – One should never stop being nice to others given the chance, and sometimes going beyond what is expected will make the other person feel appreciated. But never forget that you need to be nice to yourself too! Do no sacrifice yourself for someone or something easily. There was one time when I helped my friend complete her coursework, and ended up handing in my own coursework late. This was certainly something noble, but also very stupid. I forgot that I do not only work for myself, I work for my friends who believe in me, for my parents who tirelessly brought me up; to sacrifice myself for someone else so easily, is a betrayal of their efforts and trust. They put so much value and worth in me, I shouldn’t have given it away so easily. Sacrificing yourself may seem noble or worthwhile, but what is more worthwhile, but often more difficult, is to respect yourself and be nice to yourself first, so that you can keep yourself in high standing to help more and more people later. To throw yourself in now would simply be taking the easy way out, and giving up on the future.
  6. You have a right to complain and be dissatisfied with the situation, because it really is not your fault. And yes it is not fair. So apart from the cliche response of ‘The world is not fair, get over it!’ (which is true), I want to bring this to another perspective. Just because you have the right to do something, doesn’t mean you need to do something. A right is not here to limit you, but to give you freedom. You have the right to complain, but give up that right because you don’t need it, in order for you to be happy.
  7. You are stronger than other people’s criticisms – whatever you do, think about it first and ask yourself if it is the right thing to do. And then do it and don’t look back. ‘Hater’s gonna hate’, be true to yourself. But be true to yourself.
  8. You do not control the world – If you were, you’ll be God. And I am pretty sure you’re not God, which is actually a good thing. Since you are not in control of the whole world, if other people are acting immorally or unfairly, we are not responsible for them! By all means be nice and gracefully and gently point out their mistakes, but if they do not listen, just remember you are not God, you do not control them nor are you responsible for them. You are responsible for yourself and can control yourself, and so just stop trying to control how other people act, and focus on yourself. To bring in a bit of Bible lingo, not to impose religion on you, but because I think it hits it bang on the nail – Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? (Matt 7:3)
  9. Set the standard – I’ve convinced myself long ago that action speaks louder than words. Instead of telling others how they should live their lives, just live it yourself. They’ll eventually see how well your life is, and will mimic you, and will even listen to you! If someone is treating you unfairly, treat them fairly; if someone is unloving to you, be loving to them. It is simple really. But it is easy to fall into the trap of unwillingness, so just be careful and remember in everything, you are not doing anything for their benefits, only your own.
  10. There are 6 billion people and one of you – If everyone can offend you one way, there are 6 billion ways that you can be offended. That is if you pay so much attention to them. But there is only one you, only you can place your time, your importance to these people. You can choose to not give them any control over you, and you should do that. No one should have control over you.
  11. Let go of expectations – This is a really important one for me personally. Sometimes, I expect the people I love to act more passionately, more sensitively, and I often set them a higher standard than others, because I love and care for them. But when this expectation is causing me to be frustrated, you have to let your expectations down, and let them improve themselves in their own time. In the mean time, just focus on improving yourself.
  12. Hope for the best, expect nothing – Hope things will turn out for the better, do all you can to better yourself and try (but don’t go too much out of your way) to make peace. But if it doesn’t work out, don’t be disappointed, you have done your portion, you can be at peace with yourself.
  13. Believe in yourself – Believe that you are a nice person, and these nasty people will not stay in your life forever, you will find good friends at appreciate you and understand you. Even if you’re 20, 30, 40 and still haven’t found true friends, believe in yourself and live your life right, these people will come along naturally.
  14. Accept – Everyone has flaws, accept them and love them more because of their flaws.
  15. Forgive – Forgive them for their wrongs. Forgiveness means you are letting go of the hurt.
  16. Some practical things – when you see yourself being annoyed, step back (metaphorically or physically) and breathe. Do not act in anger. If you need to, write it out in a letter, and keep writing and writing until your anger is expressed out into words – it has left you and onto the paper. When you realize you are thinking about the problem, quickly put your mind on something else – always have an escape point. Thinking about it will distort your thoughts away from reality, what started out as a small problem will probably spiral into a big problem.

So I hope these points have helped you not let other people bring you down. You have dreams, you have ambitions. Go and chase after them. Run and work hard for your dreams. In 5 years time, these people you think controls you, will be long gone. You would have moved on to a better place, and they’ll be left behind. So don’t worry about them, work hard for your dreams and remove any obstacle that stand in your way!

There are always someone who believes in you, who will listen to you, you just don’t know it. Do it for them. And all in all, believe in yourself – if you don’t, don’t expect others to. Everything, starts, with you. Everything. Go.