Posted in History & Literature

The Egg

Short story written by Andy Weir

You were on your way home when you died.
It was a car accident. Nothing particularly remarkable, but fatal nonetheless. You left behind a wife and two children. It was a painless death. The EMTs tried their best to save you, but to no avail. Your body was so utterly shattered you were better off, trust me.

And that’s when you met me.

“What… what happened?” You asked. “Where am I?”
“You died,” I said, matter-of-factly. No point in mincing words.
“There was a… a truck and it was skidding…”
“Yup,” I said.
“I… I died?”
“Yup. But don’t feel bad about it. Everyone dies,” I said.

You looked around. There was nothingness. Just you and me. “What is this place?” You asked. “Is this the afterlife?”
“More or less,” I said.
“Are you god?” You asked.
“Yup,” I replied. “I’m God.”
“My kids… my wife,” you said.
“What about them?”
“Will they be all right?”
“That’s what I like to see,” I said. “You just died and your main concern is for your family. That’s good stuff right there.”

You looked at me with fascination. To you, I didn’t look like God. I just looked like some man. Or possibly a woman. Some vague authority figure, maybe. More of a grammar school teacher than the almighty.
“Don’t worry,” I said. “They’ll be fine. Your kids will remember you as perfect in every way. They didn’t have time to grow contempt for you. Your wife will cry on the outside, but will be secretly relieved. To be fair, your marriage was falling apart. If it’s any consolation, she’ll feel very guilty for feeling relieved.”

“Oh,” you said. “So what happens now? Do I go to heaven or hell or something?”
“Neither,” I said. “You’ll be reincarnated.”
“Ah,” you said. “So the Hindus were right,”
“All religions are right in their own way,” I said. “Walk with me.”

You followed along as we strode through the void. “Where are we going?”
“Nowhere in particular,” I said. “It’s just nice to walk while we talk.”
“So what’s the point, then?” You asked. “When I get reborn, I’ll just be a blank slate, right? A baby. So all my experiences and everything I did in this life won’t matter.”
“Not so!” I said. “You have within you all the knowledge and experiences of all your past lives. You just don’t remember them right now.”

I stopped walking and took you by the shoulders. “Your soul is more magnificent, beautiful, and gigantic than you can possibly imagine. A human mind can only contain a tiny fraction of what you are. It’s like sticking your finger in a glass of water to see if it’s hot or cold. You put a tiny part of yourself into the vessel, and when you bring it back out, you’ve gained all the experiences it had.
“You’ve been in a human for the last 48 years, so you haven’t stretched out yet and felt the rest of your immense consciousness. If we hung out here for long enough, you’d start remembering everything. But there’s no point to doing that between each life.”

“How many times have I been reincarnated, then?”
“Oh lots. Lots and lots. And in to lots of different lives.” I said. “This time around, you’ll be a Chinese peasant girl in 540 AD.”
“Wait, what?” You stammered. “You’re sending me back in time?”
“Well, I guess technically. Time, as you know it, only exists in your universe. Things are different where I come from.”
“Where you come from?” You said.
“Oh sure,” I explained “I come from somewhere. Somewhere else. And there are others like me. I know you’ll want to know what it’s like there, but honestly you wouldn’t understand.”

“Oh,” you said, a little let down. “But wait. If I get reincarnated to other places in time, I could have interacted with myself at some point.”
“Sure. Happens all the time. And with both lives only aware of their own lifespan you don’t even know it’s happening.”
“So what’s the point of it all?”

“Seriously?” I asked. “Seriously? You’re asking me for the meaning of life? Isn’t that a little stereotypical?”
“Well it’s a reasonable question,” you persisted.
I looked you in the eye. “The meaning of life, the reason I made this whole universe, is for you to mature.”
“You mean mankind? You want us to mature?”
“No, just you. I made this whole universe for you. With each new life you grow and mature and become a larger and greater intellect.”
“Just me? What about everyone else?”
“There is no one else,” I said. “In this universe, there’s just you and me.”

You stared blankly at me. “But all the people on earth…”
“All you. Different incarnations of you.”
“Wait. I’m everyone!?”
“Now you’re getting it,” I said, with a congratulatory slap on the back.
“I’m every human being who ever lived?”
“Or who will ever live, yes.”
“I’m Abraham Lincoln?”
“And you’re John Wilkes Booth, too,” I added.
“I’m Hitler?” You said, appalled.
“And you’re the millions he killed.”
“I’m Jesus?”
“And you’re everyone who followed him.”

You fell silent.
“Every time you victimized someone,” I said, “you were victimizing yourself. Every act of kindness you’ve done, you’ve done to yourself. Every happy and sad moment ever experienced by any human was, or will be, experienced by you.”

You thought for a long time.
“Why?” You asked me. “Why do all this?”
“Because someday, you will become like me. Because that’s what you are. You’re one of my kind. You’re my child.”
“Whoa,” you said, incredulous. “You mean I’m a god?”
“No. Not yet. You’re a fetus. You’re still growing. Once you’ve lived every human life throughout all time, you will have grown enough to be born.”

“So the whole universe,” you said, “it’s just…”
“An egg.” I answered. “Now it’s time for you to move on to your next life.”

And I sent you on your way.

Posted in Life & Happiness

New Experiences

A theory on how the brain processes and remembers time is that it counts time by the number of experiences. For example, if you attend a party and meet many new people and have an exciting, fun time, then your brain will remember that day as feeling longer and with much more detail. In contrast, a normal, boring work day may not even register as a memory, because there is nothing new to remember.

This sounds obvious, but the theory has relevant implications.
Look back on your past week and try to remember what you did. Do you remember the weather three days ago, what you talked about with your friend over coffee five days ago, or what song was playing while you were doing paperwork?

It is not uncommon for our brain to go into autopilot and forget menial, daily routines. In other words, the more standardised and automated your daily life is, your brain will remember those times as “less time”. Ergo, the life you look back on is shorter than what it could have been if you stop having new experiences. Is that not such a waste?

Compare this to when you travel or start a new relationship. You are exposed to so many new stimuli and experiences that your brain light ups and frantically records every detail (the heightened emotions play a role also). This is why we can remember the scent of our partner, the conversations we had with a stranger we met in a French bookshop, and what movie was playing in the background when you had your first kiss. These are moments that you can remember in better detail than you can remember entire years.

The bottom line is that a boring life a short life. A way to make the most of the short time we have in life would be to continue having new experiences as we grow old. Travel the world, meet new people, try things you normally wouldn’t, fall in love and push your horizons.

Otherwise, you may end up on your deathbed looking back on your life, regretting that your highlight reel is much shorter than you expected.

(Image source: Puuung http://www.grafolio.com/puuung1)
Posted in Life & Happiness

Work-Life Balance

An important part of most of our lives as an adult is work.
We need money to pay for food and housing, but also to fulfil our wants and realising our dreams, such as indulging in gourmet foods and beautiful clothes, going on trips, funding a hobby or buying a nice house.
Careers can be an important source of personal pride and sense of purpose, challenging us and stimulating our growth.
Workplaces are also a valuable source of social interaction, as we meet people we might not have met in other settings.

But as important as work is, it is perhaps overemphasised in our society.
Money is great, but above a certain line, there is a diminishing return on how much happiness it brings, because it promotes greed rather than contentness.
Our pride in our job may lead to us making it too large a part of our identity, resulting in a crisis when we feel we are not good at our jobs or cannot keep working anymore.
Our colleagues and superiors may be the greatest source of stress and annoyance, leading to burnout at work.

Overall, work can be a source of great stress and misery in our lives.

Most importantly, life is a zero-sum game. If we devote time to work, it takes away time from other aspects of our life. We often overlook the “little things“, such as spending time with our loved ones, enjoying hobbies and interests, and taking care of our health.

But things such as relationships and health are what we do need to devote time to, as they can be irreparably damaged without proper care and maintenance.

So if you don’t have time for these “little things”, ask yourself what you are making time for. Is what you get out of your job really worth it all? Is it worth the stress and sacrificing the “little things” for?

Sometimes, it is necessary to work hard and make sacrifices to earn enough for survival or to achieve a certain goals. But more often than not, we are failing to be content and losing what we already have in the pursuit of something bigger (and out of reach).

To prevent work from taking over your life, we must balance it by making time for various outlets.

An effective way to balance the stress and burnout from work is by having a creative outlet. Having a hobby such as playing an instrument, writing (e.g. creative writing, journaling, blogging), drawing or some other activity that challenges you to grow outside of work helps you to feel engaged and active. Life is so much more interesting with a passion, especially when work fails to provide it.

Improving physical health through exercise gives you more energy so you can do more with your free time than just lie down and watch TV after work.
Meditation gives us tools to be resilient against various forms of stress by teaching us to let go of things we cannot change and to be mindful of the good things in life.

The last important outlet is connection. Friends and family provide love, support and compassion when we are going through tough times. Even being able to co-miserate about a mild annoyance over a coffee with a colleague can make work more bearable. Sharing a laughter and enjoying moments of simple pleasure together with a loved one helps remind us of how important happiness and contentness is in life.

Achieving a healthy work-life balance is too deep of a topic to cover in one article, especially because it varies from person to person.
Nonetheless, it is worth asking yourself whether you are truly happy with the balance between work and your personal life, and how you may live a happier life by restoring said balance.

(Image source: Puuung http://www.grafolio.com/puuung1)
Posted in Psychology & Medicine

Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Needs

Abraham Maslow was a Jewish psychologist who tried to answer a question that plagues every person at some stage: what is the meaning of life? To answer this question, he published a paper called A Theory of Human Motivation, where he introduced the now well-known Hierarchy of Needs. The basic premise to Maslow’s theory is as follows.

We have different needs in life. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs categorises these needs, then places them in a pyramid-shaped model in order of priority. Maslow believed that some needs are more fundamental than others. For example, you can’t worry about being single if you are starving to death. Therefore, to be motivated to work on one category, you must first satiate your need for the category below that. Maslow organised the categories in the following order.

Starting from the bottom of the pyramid, we have physiological needs. This is self-explanatory, as you need to be biologically alive to even worry about the other needs. This includes food, water, warmth and rest.

The next level addresses safety. If you do not feel safe, then you would be too preoccupied by the sense of danger to consider higher needs. Therefore, you need physical shelter, resources and a general sense of security, whether it be personal safety, financial, health or emotional security.

Safety and physiological needs are considered “basic needs“. The next two are considered “psychological or spiritual needs“.

Social belonging refers to the human need for connection. Loneliness and disconnect can be crippling to the point that you cannot enjoy the other aspects of your life, even if you have your basic needs met. This includes romantic and intimate relationships, family and friends, and communities.

Once we fulfil our need for external connections, we can start looking within ourselves, addressing our need for self-esteem and self-respect. We cannot lead fulfilling lives if we doubt and are unkind to ourselves.

Lastly, we have the apex of the pyramid that Maslow thought all people should ultimately aspire to: self-actualisation. Essentially, this means being the best version of yourself that you can be, unlocking your full potential and making the most out of your life.

The interesting part to this last step is that you define what the best version of yourself is. Perhaps you wish to be a great parent or a teacher. Perhaps you want to be a high-achieving professional or to create something others can enjoy. Perhaps you wish to be content and happy.

The Hierarchy of Needs suggests that to even think about achieving self-actualisation, we must fulfil the more basic needs first. This means that in some cases, what gets in the way of our self-actualisation may not be us, but our environment. For example, child abuse and domestic violence greatly affect a person’s sense of safety and causes significant trauma. Being socially isolated or having low self-esteem are all barriers to letting you be you. So how do we escape this trap?

First, evaluate whether you truly don’t have the basic needs. We often misjudge what we actually need in life, choosing to focus on things that won’t bring us joy, such as gaining more material wealth than needed, or social attention. On retrospect, we may find that we already have everything we need to ascend to the next level.

Second, if something is in your control, take action to remove the obstacle. This might involve changing your perspective, modifying how you do things or communicating with another person why things are not working. If you are in a toxic relationship or a job that you loathe, you may have to leave them to let yourself progress. We have much greater power over our lives than we think, but our fears, doubts and social pressures convince us otherwise.

Third, remember that Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is not the one-truth. There have been countless studies showing that Maslow’s suggested order of priorities do not apply in the real world, with many people opting to prioritise higher needs above basic needs, such as willingly staying hungry in order to pursue creative outlets, or giving up a secure, stable life in the pursuit of love. It may be difficult, but we can sometimes transcend the challenges of our environment through determination.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs has been controversial in the field of psychology ever since its publication, but it is a good reminder that to achieve a happy, fulfilling life, we need to take stock of what we truly need in life and balance them with each other.

Posted in Life & Happiness

Happy Holidays

Every culture has holidays – a day that celebrates an aspect of the people’s history, faith, traditions or just a certain time of the year. Holidays are days set aside for having fun and sharing a good time with your friends, family and community.

The degree of festivity ranges from low-key days such as a city’s anniversary day, to important annual celebrations that have an entire month of build-up such as Christmas, or even absurd ones such as International Talk Like A Pirate Day. But the bottom line is, holidays bring joy and happiness for many people around the world.

Throughout history, holidays have been a great way to boost morale in people. Even though it is just another day of the Earth circling the Sun, specific days excite us and make us giddy, letting us forget the dreariness and pains of life. Take for example the famous Christmas Truce of 1914, where British and German soldiers called a truce on Christmas Day despite World War I raging on, so that they could all celebrate the day by sharing food and gifts, while playing some spirited games of soccer.

The holidays offer a great excuse for us to be happy. There are plenty of reasons in life why we aren’t happy. Work can be stressful and boring. Relationships are full of dramas and misunderstandings. There are days where it just feels like the universe is hating on you. Sometimes, life just sucks.

But holidays bring a perfect remedy for misery: connection. Whatever the holiday may be, there are many other people celebrating the same holiday as you. This means that on that specific day, everyone feels more connected to each other as they celebrate together. From singing carols together, to looking forward to the New Year and sharing our reflections and resolutions, we are bonded as we live in the moment. Through these connections and feeling present, we feel happier.

Perhaps that is the true reason we have holidays. In a world so full of sadness and madness, isn’t it nice to have any excuse to be happy? Even if it’s just for a day, we are reminded that happiness exists, in the form of our memories and nostalgia of the past, our excitement for the future, and in the present moment that we share with each other.

Happy holidays.

Posted in Life & Happiness

Disconnect

One of the greatest types of non-physical pain is the feeling of being disconnected. This may be due to being physically separated from someone, such as when a friend moves overseas or when a loved one passes away, or emotionally distanced, such as when when someone stops talking to you for some reason or a partner acts uninterested in you.

As social animals, we have a strong desire to feel connected to others. In fact, it is one of the greatest sources of happiness for us. Connection gives us a safe space for us to express ourselves and feel accepted for who we are. It gives us room for emotional growth as we not only share our inner thoughts and feelings with another person, but also teaches us empathy as the other person tells us more about themselves. Lastly, it gives us a sense of belonging and feeling wanted and needed. Therefore, becoming disconnected from someone can feel as hurtful as if a part of you has been cut away.

The pain of disconnection can be so powerful that it is a common cause of affairs (particularly emotional affairs) in relationships. As a relationship matures and we grow older, people may prioritise other aspects of their life more, become stressed by work or grapple with their insecurities and anxieties. This may result in people becoming more withdrawn as they sink into themselves, becoming more distanced from their loved ones. If the reason for this is not communicated, the partner may easily think that the cause of disconnection is because they are no longer wanted or loved, and they may look for intimacy and closeness elsewhere.

So how do we remedy the pain of disconnection? The obvious answer is connection.

Firstly, we can restore the connection with the person we have been disconnected from. This may include more frequent calls and video chats with a friend who lives overseas, or communicating honestly with a partner to tell them that we are hurting and to explore why the disconnection happened in the first place. Without communication, we resort to assumptions based on our fears and insecurities, which can cause even more damage.

Secondly, we can seek different kinds of connections (but not having an affair). For example, developing deeper connections with other people such as friends, old and new, or finding people to enjoy a hobby or passion with together. The reason for feeling disconnected may be a temporary stress for the other person not involving you, so giving them space while distracting yourself is not a bad idea.

Lastly, if there is true disconnection because of a falling out where even communication cannot repair it, then we must accept the disconnection as a loss, grieve it, process it and move on. People come and go in life and unfortunately, we must accept that even relationships are impermanent.

The reason why disconnection causes so much suffering is because connection lets us be so much more than just ourselves, creating the magical equation of 1 + 1 = 3.

In other words, the feeling of disconnection teaches us to value and be grateful for the connections that we have in life and to encourage us to make more effort to maintain and foster those connections.

Posted in Life & Happiness

Crush

At some point in our lives, most of us have experienced a crush: an intense, emotional, almost obsessive attraction towards someone that we barely know. A crush, also known as infatuation, puppy love or limerence, has many distinct characteristics.

Firstly, we become overwhelmed with emotions of romance and adoration, to the point that it can affect our thinking and behaviour. We have daydreams and can’t stop thinking about them (“intrusive thoughts”). We imagine whole lives together with them, and may even be under the illusion that they are “the one”.
Secondly, despite knowing little about them, we idolise them as near-perfect beings. Sometimes, we even fool ourselves thinking that they will solve all of our problems, such as giving us a purpose in life or filling the hole in our hearts.
Lastly, it is unrequited. We keep our crushes secret and adore our crushes from afar. We fear that if we approach them and get to know them better, we will find that they are imperfect, or that they will reject us because they find us repulsive. To avoid pain, we don’t even try, resulting in even longer suffering.

Already we can see how a crush is not the most emotionally healthy phenomenon. Crushes are based on our lack of knowledge of the other person and our brain filling in the gaps with wild fantasies and idolisation. Our ignorance allows us to construct the image that they are perfect in every way. In other words, we are not attracted to the person because of their charming features, but because we lack knowledge of their flaws.

We are not in love with the person, but an idea of that person.

That said, crushes are natural, common and not necessarily all bad. The fact that it is so addictive is a sign of how much pleasure it can bring to someone, while being a testament to how much emotions and fantastical daydreams our brain can conjure. The key is to not let a crush fester and doing something about it. If your feelings are reciprocated, then it can blossom into a beautiful relationship. If they are not, then it is better to deal with it early so you can move on, rather than pining after something that never would have happened.

So how do we “treat” a crush? The answer lies in the fundamental flaw of a crush that it is based on a lack of knowledge about the other person. That is, the cure for a crush is to get to know them better. A relationship cannot grow without conversations. By spending time with our crush, talking with them and exploring all the little things that makes them a unique person, they transition from a mere “idea”, to a fleshed-out person.

An important thing to bear in mind is that your crush is just another human being. Like us, they are also flawed, imperfect, insecure and maybe even broken in some places. Perhaps it will be the strange way that they laugh. Or an annoying habit like chewing with their mouth open. Perhaps their flaws may make you lose interest. Perhaps you will find them even more attractive in light of their imperfections, because now they are more approachable, unique and personable, rather than a perfect god or goddess. To quote Robin Williams from Good Will Hunting:

“You’re not perfect, sport, and let me save you the suspense: this girl you’ve met, she’s not perfect either. But the question is whether or not you’re perfect for each other.”

Much like many other problems in life, a crush can only be solved by taking action and doing something about it. There is no shame in enjoying the flood of emotions for a little while, but if left unresolved, it will become toxic and damaging. You deserve a chance at being loved, and your crush deserves a chance of being judged for who they really are, not by the idealised picture you painted. This will also create a stronger foundation for a relationship, because there will be less unrealistic expectations of each other, resulting in happy surprises and discoveries, rather than disappointments.

Posted in Life & Happiness

Home

What makes your home a home?

The definition of a home varies from person to person. For some, it is simply their current place of residence. But for many, a place must fulfil certain criteria before it could be considered a true “home”.

For some, a home is a place of rest. It is a peaceful place where they can lay their weary heads to rest. A place where the chaos and pains of the world cannot touch you. A place where you can feel safe in your own space.
For others, it is a place of connection. A place they share with the people they love, whether it be a significant other, family or close friends. It is a place where you can connect intimately with someone at the deepest level, as you would only invite someone you wholly trust to your sanctum.

Much like many questions, this is one where there is no one true answer. Everyone would have their own reason as to why their home is a true home. For myself, a home is a home when there is normal, day-to-day domestic things going on, such as someone cooking up a meal or resting to some music.

Whatever your reason may be, the question is worth pondering because once you have figured it out, you will never feel lost in life. 

For home is where your heart is.

Posted in Life & Happiness

Hidden Messages

Communication is easy on paper. We say what we think or feel, the other person hears it, and understands it. But in practice, so much can go wrong. Failure to communicate has been the cause of so much grief for people throughout history, even resulting in wars and disasters. Most importantly, poor communication is one of the greatest barriers to building a deep connection with another person.

The problem lies in the fact that despite being social animals, we are quite bad at being social. We care too much about how others may judge us, so we avoid being direct and literal when we communicate our thoughts and feelings. Instead, we choose to encrypt our messages and hope (or worse, expect) that the other person will understand the hidden meaning behind our words.

For example, instead of telling our partner that we are angry at them over something they did, we act passive-aggressively or pick a fight over an unrelated manner. Instead of speaking up about something that is unfair or unjust, we choose to stay silent and accept it to avoid conflict. We will flirt and tease with someone without telling them just how much we adore them. Instead of just saying what is on our mind, we try to package what we want to say in a cryptic form through vague, suggestive messages. Sometimes, we act out like a little boy pulling at the ponytail of a girl he likes on the playground, by sulking or being cruel to our loved ones.

Because we all tend to hide our feelings behind our words and actions, we become conditioned to try and analyse and decode messages to interpret the true meaning of what other people say. But because we are not mind readers, this often leads to misunderstandings. Instead of trying to talk openly with the person, we assume that we have unraveled their true intentions and act on it, which often leads to even more misunderstandings. In time, the relationship breaks down.

This is the reason why practising good communication is such a crucial relationship advice. Why waste our time and energy crafting delicate riddles and trying to be codebreakers, when it will only result in misunderstandings? It would be far more efficient to fight through our awkwardness and insecurities to talk about what is really on your minds.

That said, this is not a simple task and takes a lot of courage and trust. That is why the other takeaway point is how lucky it is to find someone who truly “gets you” – someone who has the patience to listen to you talk in a roundabout way, and spend the effort to try to understand what you really mean. If you find someone who knows you well enough that they can decipher your messages and actually listen to what you are really trying to say, then that is something to be grateful for.

Because the greatest gift we can receive from another person is for them to truly understand us.

Posted in Life & Happiness

Express Yourself

Emotion is a funny thing, in that we all feel emotions, but we each express them in different ways. Some people are great at verbalising how they are feeling about something, while others will be reluctant to share their emotional state with others. There are many factors involved, such as the individual’s upbringing, cultural background, personality type and past experiences.

In general, society seems to encourage people to hide their emotions. People who cry in front of others are seen as weak and fragile. People who smile and laugh a lot are seen as untrustworthy or foolish. Because of these stigmas, people learn to hide their emotions more and more as they grow up. We try our best to appear rational, calm and professional in the eyes of others.

But emotion is not a tame horse that can be controlled so easily. It is like a wild elephant that will behave irrationally and impulsively, and as the rider, we can only try to steer it on the right path. Because the elephant is so much more powerful than the rider, it is foolish to resist against it and try to force it to go a certain way.

This means that when people try to stop their emotions, it finds another way to be expressed. When you suppress your anger and worries, it manifests as cranky behaviour, causing you to lash out at the blameless people around you. When you try to hold back your tears, it will build up and up until it causes subconscious trauma. Worst of all, if you continue to suppress your emotions, your emotional intelligence will dim, and your ability to recognise and interpret your emotions will atrophy away. This will make you even more vulnerable to extreme swings in emotions, giving you even less control.

The solution to all of this is simple – express yourself. It is okay to cry. It is okay to laugh. It is okay to feel. Watch a sappy movie or a hilarious show to explore the breadth of your emotional range. Practise laughing out loud often. Make it a habit to be mindful of how you are feeling currently, and be comfortable in expressing that to another human being.

Emotions are a natural part of our identity and others have no right to strip that away from you to make you a lesser person. Of course, you need to be able to read the room and be able to compose yourself if the situation calls for it, but for the most part, little harm can come from you being able to show others how you are feeling.

More importantly, it is difficult for your loved ones to truly understand who you are if you do not communicate your emotions to them. If you didn’t share that you were stressed at work today, they may think your sullen mood and solemnity were due to their wrongdoing. Emotion drives us in so many different ways, so it is impossible for your partner to understand the intent behind your actions and words if they don’t know how you are feeling. Communication helps clear up the misunderstandings, letting you build a deeper connection.

Embrace the emotional elephant within you and learn to become friends with it. It will make the journey of life much smoother and less rocky.

(Image source: Puuung http://www.grafolio.com/puuung1)