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.
People have been giving gifts to each other since the dawn of time. It is a way we show that we care about someone by giving them something that we think they might like. There are many kinds of gifts, from sharing a snack, a flower from the side of the road, hard cash, a book, an expensive piece of jewellery or a heartfelt letter.
Even though we give and receive so many gifts – such as for birthdays, holidays and anniversaries – choosing the right gift is a difficult job. To give a good gift, you need to know the person’s needs and interests, have decent tastes and be original to some degree. Otherwise, you make the mistake of giving them something that they already have, will never use or find absolutely boring.
So what makes for a good gift? Some people may take the consumerist approach of giving an expensive gift, because it shows the other person how much they are worth to them. To practical people, the best gift may be something that the person needs at that moment, such as a new pencil case or furniture. Some may even say that they would rather give cash so the person can buy what they want instead of you having to guess it.
The problem with the above approaches is that they miss the point of gift-giving. The best gift is a gift that we got for someone because we sincerely wanted to – because we felt that this gift might bring a smile to the person receiving it. Gifts do not hold absolute value; they are not something you should treat like transactions, nor must they fulfil a certain purpose. They hold relative value, in that the value of the gift lies in how the person receiving it feels when they open it up.
For example, cash is useful, but it says nothing about how well you know someone. An expensive necklace is pretty, but anyone with enough money can buy it. If the person is financially stable, they can buy things that they need themselves. A small gift that makes the person feel special and loved is far more valuable than any jewellery.
Here are some alternative types of gifts if you cannot think of a decent gift.
The first are experiences. Money cannot buy happiness, but they can buy experiences that leave everlasting memories, such as a fancy dinner or skydiving.
The second are things that they would be hesitant or not consider buying for themselves, even if they would enjoy them. This may be an experience like above, such as a degustation, or an investment in to their hobby such as a better instrument or accessory.
Lastly, consider giving the gift of time. These are gifts that may not have much financial value, but they hold sentimental value and that require the investment of your own time. Examples include: a scrapbook of your special memories with that person, dedication of practising a performance for the person, or a mix of songs you think the person would enjoy. Because in our busy lives, the scarcest, most valuable resource is our time. By spending our precious free time to create something that celebrates our connection with the recipient of the gift, we can truly show how much we care about that person. It also ticks the box of being original and useful, because each connection is unique and they can be looked back on for nostalgia.
A gift is only as good as how the person feels when they receive it. Instead of showing how much you care through materialism, try showing how well you know them as a person and how much you value the connection that you share. A thoughtless gift is no better than not giving a gift at all.
The end of the year is as good a time as any to reflect on the days that have been and who you are now. Time to reflect is hard to come by, as life keeps us busy and on our feet constantly. But that is not enough of an excuse. We are defined by our experiences and connections, meaning that we are constantly changing to some degree. If we do not reflect, we cannot learn from our mistakes, or know what direction we are heading in because we lose sight of what we need or what is truly important to us.
Reflections can take many forms and everyone will have their own preferred style. But if you are not used to it, try the following method. If you cannot recall the last time you truly reflected on yourself, then you should definitely give reflection a try before greeting the new year.
First, consider the past.
What were the highlights of the year? When were the moments you struggled through? What relationships were made, changed or broken? This is an important step as we take inventory of all of the experiences, emotions, connections, hardships and things we learned – that is, the ingredients that you are made of. Only then can we process how these things affected us.
A loss or an ordeal may traumatise us, but they make us more resilient as we remember that despite the grief and stress, we survived. Wonderful memories remind us of the things we should be grateful for. Moments that we are proud of remind us how much we have grown. If we do not reflect on the past, you might as well have wasted the year, because it would not have added to your life in any way.
Second, consider the present.
How are you feeling right now? Are you miserable and confused, unsure of who you are and where to go from here? Or are you content and happy with how things are going? How is your relationship with your loved ones and, most importantly, with yourself? What concerns hang around in the back of your mind? What kind of person are you right now, and is it the kind of person you wanted to become? What is most important to you at the moment?
The present is a fleeting moment between the infinite past and future, but it is just as important, because we live in it. This is who you are. Too often, we are so preoccupied by our past mistakes or grand dreams of the future that we lose track of who we are right now. Make sure you have a good understanding of the present you, so that you have a solid anchor for your future self.
Lastly, consider the future. You don’t have to have the rest of your life planned out, but it is always good to have some idea of the general direction you want to head towards in the coming year. What are the things you want to leave in the past? What are the things you want to carry forward, or improve upon? What are some things you are looking forward to? What changes should you be making for your happiness? What kind of person do you want to grow up to become?
The future is wild and unpredictable. We cannot possibly know what surprises await us there: happiness, sadness, madness, death. So there is no point being anxious or afraid of the future. All we can do is be prepared by having the skills and resilience to survive through whatever the future may throw at us. Hopefully, it will be an enjoyable ride.
If this is too difficult to do just in your head, try writing a letter to two people: you from the start of this year, and you from the end of next year.
To your past self, tell them the stories from this year, the person you have become and how they will be alright.
To your future self, tell them to leave your bad habits and worries behind, while moving forward with the good connections and positive habits you have cultivated. Writing things down is a good way to process these complex reflections.
At the end of the day, it does not matter how you go about it, as long as you have given some thought about your life. Life is not a movie that we watch from a couch with a bowl of popcorn. It is your personal adventure full of decisions, actions and consequences. We cannot let it pass by like a TV show. Instead, we need to be conscious of the role we play in our own lives and actively try to make the most of it.
The next time you have a holiday, try travelling alone somewhere new. It may sound lonely, but travelling on your own can have several benefits that you may never have considered.
Firstly, you can be selfish for once and plan the trip to wholly fit your needs. If you want to spend a whole day in a museum or focus on the best eateries of the city, you can do that without worrying about your travelling companions’ preferences. Some of the worst moments while travelling are conflicts within the travel group due to different travel styles. Travelling alone eliminates that issue as you are only in the company of yourself.
Secondly, you will meet new people much more frequently and readily. You may have to ask a stranger for a photo using broken Japanese. You may go out drinking with a group of Australians on a night out in Edinburgh. You may strike up a conversation with a Dutch girl next to a piano within an antique bookshop in Paris. When travelling alone, you have to rely more on the kindness of strangers and it is easier for others to approach you when you aren’t surrounded by a group.
Lastly, remember that travelling frees you up from commitments and your “real” life. Instead of worrying about bills, assignments and the future, you can focus on the present. This lets you make better use of your time, such as noticing little details like how blue the sky is or taking photos of happy people on the streets. Most importantly, when you’re alone, you can become lost in your thoughts and gain more insight into your inner psyche. This is when you can learn more about what you enjoy, what you want out of life and being mindful of how you are really doing in life.
But of course, travelling with others has its own appeal. The happiness you gain from sharing wonderful experiences such as beautiful sunsets and delicious local foods, paired with deepening the connection and bond you have with your friend or partner becomes the best part of travelling.
“If you want to find out who you truly love, travel far away on your own. The person you wish was beside you at that moment is the one you truly love.”
~ from Calmi Cuori Appassionati
Mary is a brilliant scientist who specialises in colour. She knows everything about colour – the spectrum, wavelengths, properties of light, the mechanism of how human vision works… She knows exactly how a certain wavelength of light will excite the retina and what kind of electrical impulse it will send in the brain. However, Mary has never seen colour. She has lived all of her life in a black and white room and can only observe the world through a black and white TV screen. The question is: if Mary was to leave the room and see the colourful world for what it is, would she learn something new?
Considering that Mary already knows everything theoretical about colour, would her seeing colour change anything? Or is the experience of seeing a colour something that you cannot learn without actually experiencing it?
This was a thought experiment proposed by Frank Jackson to question the nature of knowledge. Is physical knowledge truly everything, or is there something more than that? In philosophy, there is a concept called qualia, which describes the subjective, qualitative properties of experiences. That is, experience is a unique type of knowledge that cannot be learnt without experiencing it first-hand.
A further expansion of this idea is the refutation of physicalism – the school of thought that argues that everything (including knowledge and the mind) is physical. The logic is that since Mary knew everything “physical” about colour before leaving the room, her learning “something’ (i.e. experience of colour) is a direct argument against all knowledge being physical, as she learnt something “new”.
Another way to look at it is this. Some things in life can only be learnt through experiencing it. It is not enough trying to learn about life and the world purely from stories and books. To truly learn everything, you must get out there and experience it yourself.
We use our senses to interpret the world around us. Thanks to photography, video and sound recording, we are able to preserve what we see and hear in our lives. If you have the good fortune of seeing an incredible view such as a beautiful sunset, you can take a photo, look at it ten years later and remember what it was like watching it with your own eyes. If you miss the sound of your loved one’s voice, you can record the sound and play it again.
However, we are still unable to record senses such as taste, smell and touch. No matter how hard you try, you can never perfectly describe the taste of your mother’s cooking, the soft touch that you felt during your first kiss, or the scent of the person you love to another person using just words. This means that these sensations are only in your memories – and yours alone.
It is a shame that you cannot recall these experiences perfectly, as some of our best memories are associated with them. But perhaps you could think of it from a romantic point of view. You can share a photo or a sound clip with others to share your experience – even make it public so that everyone can know of it. However, with things like taste and smell, only you will know and remember that specific sensation. It is a truly unique experience that belongs only to you (and the few others who were lucky to have tasted your mother’s cooking).
Furthermore, as it is only in your memories, the moment you forget about it, the experience will disappear forever. Maybe that is why people cling to nostalgia of these senses – because it is a fragile yet precious thing that is worth treasuring and holding on to.
They say money cannot buy happiness. But everyone eventually comes to the realisation that in the world we live in, this is a lie. Who hasn’t felt the thrill of retail therapy – feeling joy from purchasing something they have always desired, from expensive clothes to delicious dessert? It is difficult to persuade a starving person that “money cannot buy happiness” when even a small donation could mean that person being happy from a full stomach.
Of course, this is a literal explanation of the saying. The lesson from the saying is more that money is not the only thing that can buy happiness. Some of the greatest joys a human being can experience – such as connection, love and humour – are virtually free.
That being so, having money gives you the luxury of being able to enjoy even the free things more, because there is one resource that money can buy and that is time. If you are spending less time having to earn a living, then you have more free time to enjoy hobbies and social activities that will bring you happiness. Ergo, money does not equal happiness, but it sure helps your happiness to have enough money.
As mentioned above, money can bring direct happiness as well from purchasing things. However, most of the “happiness” we receive from buying things is from dopamine, meaning it is short-lived and not sustainable.
A better use of your money is purchasing experiences. If you spend your money to go travelling or do an activity like skydiving, the happiness you feel will be linked to the memory and you will be able to reminisce about it in the future. And if you cannot afford an expensive adventure, you can still buy a cup of coffee and catch up with a friend.
Why do people enjoy movies? Although people might prefer different genres, everybody enjoys movies in one way or another. Perhaps this is because as human beings, we have an inherent love for stories. From the dawn of time, mankind has told story after story. From children listening to the elder telling a story by the fireplace, to adults telling each other funny or dramatic life stories over a glass of wine, we enjoy telling and listening to stories. This is most likely because through stories, we can relive someone’s experience as if they were our own.
The hallmark of a good story is its ability to plunge the listener into another world – overwhelming their senses and emotions. As far as we know, human beings are the only animals who possess language fluent enough to convey such detail and the imagination and creativity to reconstruct the story in our minds, converting words into a world. Storytelling is a defining characteristic of human nature and movies are a modern medium that helps us paint a more vivid world in our minds through the use of motion pictures.
If you look at the most famous movies of history, they share two common themes.
Firstly, they portray relatable, but almost fantastic life experiences. Romances that play our heartstrings like a guitar, bittersweet success stories, gripping dramas and silly comedic events that could happen to us… By playing jump ropes with the fine line between fantasy and reality, movies drench us in emotions, which induces powerful hormones such as adrenaline and endorphin to be released, giving us excitement and enjoyment.
Secondly, most successful movies show connection. Whether it be romantic love between two people or camaraderie shared between a platoon of soldiers, we like to see connection happening. Not only this, but a good movie makes us feel connected to the characters in some way, further enhancing the oxytocin-inducing emotion called happiness. Connecting to characters raises an interesting point. Perhaps it is not just the reliving of another person’s experience that we enjoy, but maybe we also feel true compassion for the characters and feel happy that they find connection and happiness at the end of the movie.
A friend once told me to “stop trying to make your life seem like a movie”. There is some truth to that, in that you should not over-idealise your experiences. However, I disagree with his view. I think the real reason people love movies is that it reminds us of our own experiences. Not everyone will admit it, but a successful businesswoman may watch an underdog movie and secretly reminisce her challenging climb to the top, while a middle-aged man may shed a tear at a romance movie because he still remembers the first time he kissed his first love.
Everyone has a story to tell. You would be surprised how many people have had experiences far greater than any movie: the dramas, the laughters, the coincidences and the twists. In fact, everyone’s life is a movie of their own. It just doesn’t always have a clear-cut introduction, middle and conclusion with a perfectly paced timeline. Instead it is tangled in the intricate fabric of life, seemingly crude and unrefined compared to a movie. The raw materials are there, but it is up to you to be the producer, director and screenwriter who edits and refines these experiences into a coherent “movie”.
Search your memories and experiences – you will find that there is a movie among there that is greater than any Oscar-winning movie out there. If you ever feel alone, hopeless or worthless, reach into your past and press the play button to that movie. You will find that your life has actually been quite awesome.
Do you want to gain trust and build intimacy with someone? That is easy – all you have to do is recognise and accept their identity. Every person tries to define who they are by building an identity or their “self”. This identity includes their personality, experiences, philosophies and interests. If you wish to have a deep and meaningful conversation, start off with a light conversation to explore the person’s identity. What kinds of films do they like? What leisure activities do they enjoy in their free time? What occupation are they in? If you slowly learn such superficial information, an outline of their identity begins to take place. Also, observe the person’s attitude as they speak and how they respond to certain topics. You will be able to know or at least guess what their interests are.
As the person slowly becomes fond of you through conversation, simply lead the conversation towards their interests that you found out. The person will talk excitedly about their interests. Now, respond accordingly with a smile and a look of interest (better if you are actually interested). A positive conversation has been established. Steer the conversation so that the other person talks as much as possible about their “self”. The person will think that you share their interests, and nothing is as attractive as common interests.
Shall we go one step deeper? Interests give an outline and begin to add colour to the identity, but to recognise their identity as a whole you must gather more specific data. Once a sense of trust and intimacy begins to develop, the conversation can develop into a more personal one. Talk about the person’s past, their philosophies, their dreams, hopes and aspirations. The more intimate information they share with you, the deeper the intimacy becomes and the more you learn about their identity. The important point here is that you not only learn about their identity, but acknowledge it every step of the way. The greatest gesture you can make to another person is accepting them for who they are. If you talk with someone that understands you and accepts you, you will talk as if time does not matter and share your deepest secrets.
On the other hand, if you wish to attack an enemy psychologically, what could you do? As you might have guessed, you should attack their identity. Pull out all of their weaknesses and faults and attack them, while logically disproving their fundamental beliefs and philosophies. Systematically pull apart their psyche and destroy the pride they have for their identity and even the strongest enemy will fall to their knees.