Posted in Life & Happiness

Photography

When the camera was first invented, it revolutionised the practise of capturing the moment. In the past, people would have to write or draw descriptively to portray something that happened. Nowadays, we can capture the essence of a moment with the click of a button.

But of course, photos are not a perfect representation of reality. What you see on a photo depends on numerous settings (such as the exposure, aperture, shutter speed), the photographer’s artistic direction (composition, lighting) and also the use of technology for post-processing. By tweaking these elements, a photographer can exert some creative license over how the photo represents its subject.

For instance, a photographer may decide to crop a photo to make a scene look more chaotic by removing negative space. They may choose to reduce the exposure to make the atmosphere seem more moody and grim. The shutter speed may be slowed to better represent movement and the passage of time. In short, a photo can easily be “manipulated” to distort the reality it is attempting to capture.

However, another interpretation would be that photos show the reality that the photographer really experienced. Reality is not purely objective because we all experience the world differently. Our perception of reality is affected by our emotions, our other senses and our past experiences, such as nostalgia and trauma.

The person with whom we are in love with appear brighter and more radiant than in reality, because our emotions affect our senses. Food may appear more colourful and richer when they smell amazing. Pain and suffering can make it feel as if the colours in the world are more washed out.

To better represent how we felt at that moment, we could increase the exposure to give the subject a “glow”, we can adjust the contrast to make the food look more appetising and we can reduce the saturation to make a picture seem more faded and sombre.

Photography is more than just a recording, but a way to capture intangible moments that we see with our minds and our hearts.

So look back on photos that you have taken and photos that have been taken of you: what emotional filter has been applied to those photos?

Posted in Life & Happiness

No Regrets

You will never regret being kind.
You will never regret having hope.
You will never regret prioritising happiness.
You will never regret being yourself.
You will never regret taking chances.

People think regret is born out of bad choices, but more often than not, regret is the result of not making a choice. Taking a chance may come with consequences, but that is a risk we have to take. Because if you’re too afraid of consequences or being hurt and refuse to take action on the important things, life will pass you by in the blink of an eye and you might miss it. On your deathbed, it won’t be the decisions you made that you regret, but the bites you didn’t take.

Happiness is an active process, not something that will come to you passively. So choose to be kind and choose to be hopeful. Choose to laugh and choose to love. Choose to be the person you want to be, living the life you want to live.

Posted in Life & Happiness

Identity Crisis

A common set of questions we get asked are: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”, “What do you do?” and “Can you tell me more about yourself?”. These questions are essentially asking how we identify ourselves and what kind of identity do we want in the future.

If you were asked “who are you?”, how would you reply? Many people would identify with their occupation, such as a doctor, musician, software developer or actor. Some people define themselves by their relationship, such as a mother of two. Another common source of identity is your accomplishments and success, such as celebrities, a popular author or world-class athlete.

But what happens when our identity is shaken? For example, what if you identify as an author who published an immensely popular, critically-acclaimed book, but you can’t write a book good enough to follow it up? What if you are the best swordsman in the realm and you lose your hand? What if you identify as a mother, but your children are now grown up and have left you in an empty nest?

The problem with hinging our identity on one thing is that it makes us vulnerable to having an identity crisis when that thing will inevitably change.

Life has a tendency to be unpredictable and can easily throw the rug from under our feet at any minute. If this happens and all of our proverbial eggs are in one basket, it leads to a devastating blow to our sense of self-worth. Focussing our identity around one factor of our life would be as silly as investing all of our money in a single stock.

To solve this issue, we should treat our identity like any other investment: diversify your identity.

You are not “just a(n)” anything, because you are so much more complicated and multi-faceted than that. You can be a lawyer who also makes pottery and is a loving wife. You can be a mother who is also an amateur pianist that cooks well and is passionate about photography. You can be a successful internet celebrity who also happens to be an avid member of a board game community and loves playing tennis with his flatmates in the weekends.

The trick here is to find different sources for your identity. Identify yourself not only with your job and success, but also with your relationships and passions. Be mindful that most things in life are transient, whether by choice or not. That way, when we are forced to give up a part of who we are, our identity will still hold its shape so that it can heal with time, to form an even more complex and interesting identity.

(Image source: https://thegorgonist.tumblr.com/image/169169068294)
Posted in Life & Happiness

Sausage Stew

This is a recipe for a simple, but hearty and delicious sausage stew. Because of its short ingredient list and the fact that you can store most of the ingredients for a long time (canned or frozen), it makes for an ideal back-up meal option. Furthermore, the amount of each ingredient can be varied quite a bit and substituted depending on your preference. It is also quick to make.

All in all, it is an ideal recipe if you are learning how to cook.

Ingredients (serves 3-4):
6 fresh sausages (ideally chorizo or pork & fennel, but any uncooked fresh ones will do)
400g canned chickpeas
400g canned crushed tomatoes
3-4 Mushrooms (button or Swiss)
0.5-1 bag of spinach
Italian spices (suggest any mix of smoked paprika, oregano, rosemary, thyme)
Grated cheese (optional)

  1. Peel the sausages and dice or tear the meat into very small pieces
  2. Heat pan (preferably a deep one like a wok or broad pot) to medium-high and start cooking the sausages
  3. Break up the sausage meat as it cooks with a spatula or wooden spoon
  4. When the sausages are browning, add thickly sliced mushrooms and cook for 2 minutes
  5. Add smoked paprika and spinach, then toss for just under a minute to let the spinach wilt slightly
  6. Add canned chickpeas, tomatoes and rest of the spices
  7. Mix everything together and cook until liquids start to bubble
  8. Turn heat down to low and simmer the stew, add in rest of spices, season with salt and pepper
  9. Mix in handful of grated cheese and let it melt in as the stew simmers
  10. Serve

Other than the sausages, chickpeas and tomatoes, almost every other ingredient is optional. You can take the cheese, mushrooms and spinach out, and add other vegetables you would like, such as onions or capsicums. If the stew is too meaty, you can reduce the number of sausages to 3-4 instead.

You can even take the chickpeas out and instead crack two or three eggs into the stew when it is simmering, then bake for 7-10 minutes in the oven to make baked eggs.

Posted in Life & Happiness

Encouragement

Perhaps the encouragement you need to hear is not:

“You can do it!”

but:

“You’ve done the best you can”.

Sometimes it’s okay not to hang in there, or to keep trying, or to give more of yourself.

You are not a roly-poly toy; you are a person. You are allowed to rest and recharge for a while, so that you have the energy to get up again when you are ready. There is no point burning out by running on fumes.
It’s okay to suffer, to be tired and to feel down.

It’s okay to be human.

Posted in Life & Happiness

Your Now Is Not Your Forever

One of the keys to happiness is living in the present: being mindful of what is happening now, instead of worrying about the future or regretting the past. That said, the present is not always happy. Sometimes, the now is excruciatingly painful, whether it be physically or emotionally. Ironically in those situations, it feels impossible to escape the present and it feels like the suffering will be endless.

But to quote author John Green from his novel Turtles All The Way Down:

“Your now is not your forever.”

No matter how bleak the outcome may look, there will almost always be a glimmer of hope. Wounds heal with time, we can adapt to harsh environments and we can grow strong to overcome our challenges. Things can change for the better if given the chance and with effort, no matter how impossible it may seem at the time.

So the next time you feel helplessly stuck in the now, remind yourself that this too shall pass. It will not solve your immediate problems, but it may give you a touch of strength to help endure the hard times, even if it is one day at a time.

Posted in Life & Happiness

Bespoke

When you buy clothes, do you buy clothes that fit you, or do you make your body fit the clothes? Of course, you find clothing that fits you well, or better yet, get it fitted to your size.
This seems like such a basic principle when it comes to clothing, yet we seem to do the opposite when it comes to life.

How often do we try to fit ourselves into a life of the wrong size? We are constantly under pressure from our friends, family and society that we should be living life a certain way. We feel like we need to buy a house, get married, have children, find a stable, well-paying, respectable job…

We keep comparing ourselves to the lives of others and feel anxious that we are a step behind. Instead of searching for the kind of life that we want to live and things that make us happy, we have a tendency to force ourselves to fit an image of what other see as the ideal life.

But you’d never purposely buy clothes that are too tight or loose on you, or have a completely clashing colour scheme with your skin tone. So why would you try to do the same for something as important as your life? Instead of trying to force yourself into wearing a life that is the wrong fit for you, think deeply about what you want and tailor your dreams and future to fit you.

Don’t let reality, society and the people around you dictate your style. As long as you won’t have regrets on your deathbed about the choices you made, or hurt others or yourself, live life the way you want. Because you’re the only person that knows what you really want out of life.

Posted in Life & Happiness

I Don’t Know

How a person responds to a question that they don’t know the answer to tells you quite a bit about what kind of person they are. Some people try desperately to hide their lack of knowledge by rambling or even making up facts. Sometimes, people will become very defensive and heatedly argue a point even if they are not sure it is the right answer or not, attacking the person asking the question (ad hominem argument).

The model answer would be to admit that you don’t know the answer. A marker of a well-adjusted person is their ability to admit that they are imperfect, as well as an openness to continue learning to keep filling their gaps of knowledge.

The world is an extremely vast place and our sphere of knowledge is rapidly expanding in the age of information. It is impossible to know everything in the world and it is arrogant to assume that you can.

Furthermore, knowledge changes with time. Facts and paradigms once deemed to be concrete have faltered with new evidence. New concepts such as the theory of evolution and the Big Bang were shunned initially, but are now basic knowledge that best explain what we observe. Without an openness to learn and change our minds, we would become stagnant and boring.

No one likes to be wrong or perceived as stupid. But if we let our pride get in the way, we could never improve and grow. It is okay not to know the answer, as long as you are open to learn.

Posted in Life & Happiness

Mistake

Generally speaking, we live our lives trying to avoid making a mistake. Perhaps it is because we were brought up to do everything as perfectly as possible. Perhaps it is because we fear the consequences. Perhaps it is because we refuse to accept that we are imperfect beings.

Regardless of the reason, we have a constant nagging voice in the back of our minds asking us: “Are you sure you want to do this? What if it’s all a big mistake?”.

This mentality affects our work, our financial decisions, our sense of adventure and even our relationships. Sometimes, we even go as far as not taking any action in fear of screwing it up. The fear of mistakes makes us take less risks and leaps of faith, hindering our ability to live a full life.

But to quote a great captain, Jean-Luc Picard:

“It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose. That is not a weakness. That is life.”

Life is full of mistakes. No matter how hard we try to minimise risk, life will always find a way to trip you up. Because we are not a time-travelling supercomputer that can see and predict every variable, it is impossible to make no mistakes. Ergo, it is okay to make mistakes, because to err is to human.

In fact, mistakes are not always bad.

A “mistake” such as the singer’s voice cracking on a live performance may make it a more special performance, because it is a sign the singer poured all of their emotion and energy into the song, rather than playing it safe to avoid a mistake.

Columbus discovered the Caribbean because he mistakenly thought that he could reach Asia by sailing due west of Spain.

Everyone has a story of getting lost while travelling and stumbling onto an unforgettable experience that they could not have possibly planned for.

Sometimes, we will look back on our life and realise that what we thought was a mistake back then turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because each and every mistake we made led us to where we are now.

Lastly, we are all the products of billions of years of mistakes. Evolution is fundamentally based on the concept that genetic mistakes during cell division (mutations) allow for diversity of traits. Without mistakes, we wouldn’t even be here.

Of course, some mistakes carry irreversible, dire consequences, such as drinking and driving, or falling asleep while a nuclear reactor fails (Three Mile Island accident). But outside of these, most mistakes in life are something that you can learn something and move on from.

So don’t beat yourself up if you make a mistake.

It’s okay to make mistakes.

We are only human.

Posted in Life & Happiness

Spirals

You see an attractive person.
You think about approaching them to talk with them.
You toy with the idea of asking them out for a coffee.
You worry that they will be offended by your forwardness.
You feel certain that they would never say yes because you are unattractive.
You become sad that you will never find love and will die alone.
As all of these thoughts race through your head, the person walks past you and carries on with their day, oblivious to your internal torment.

This is a classic example of a negative thought spiral. Our brains are experts of association. But unfortunately, they are also experts of worrying. Evolution has trained us to be prepared for all emergencies with a state-of-the-art fight-or-flight system, which unfortunately is more useful for fleeing from lions than the stresses of modern life.

Because of our anxieties and stress, a fleeting, negative intrusive thought can spark a chain of negative thoughts, spiralling infinitely tighter and tighter as we catastrophise and despair.

Fortunately, there are a variety of ways to rescue yourself from a negative thought spiral.

The first is to recognise that you are in a spiral. A person walking down a spiral road may think that they are walking down a straight road, because they cannot see the bigger picture. This is why it is important to be mindful of your mental state. How are you feeling? What is making you feel this way? How are these feelings affecting your thoughts?

Sometimes, the sheer process of recognising a spiral lets you snap out of it. You may notice obvious rational answers to your anxiety. Perhaps your partner is not texting back because they are busy at work, not because they died in a fiery car crash.

Failing this, we can try grounding exercises. This is a classic distraction technique where by focussing and anchoring yourself on the present, you can escape the spiral.
This may range from simple breathing exercises, to more detailed mindfulness exercises such as the five senses meditation.

Lastly, remember to be kind to yourself. Do not let the spiral be cruel to you. When the spiral tells you that you are worthless, correct them by telling yourself that you are worth it. Talk to yourself as you would to someone you love dearly. As important it is to have other people to rely on for compassion and love, it is so difficult to escape these spirals if we do not show ourselves compassion and love.

Contrary to what we have discussed, not all spirals are bad. To quote John Green:

“Spirals grow infinitely small the farther you follow them inward, but they also grow infinitely large the farther you follow them out.”

When you are mindful of your thoughts, you will notice the occasional positive thought spirals. For example, you may have a sudden thought that you might want to travel on your own. You might come up with a gift idea for a friend that you think they might appreciate, despite how cheesy it is. Sometimes, these thoughts become seeds that grow out into more elaborate ideas and plans.

These are the kinds of spirals you should listen to, as it is your subconscious prompting you to take action in your pursuit of happiness. As long as it does not harm you or others, you should follow these spirals outwards, as they may lead you to an infinitely wonderful place.