Posted in Life & Happiness

The Reason You Are Unhappy

I don’t want to be the reason you’re unhappy. That would just make me unhappy and I really don’t want to be the reason I’m unhappy.

~ Phoebe Buffay, Friends

This appears to be such a simple, whimsical line from a sitcom, but Pheobe’s words carry a surprisingly deep truth.

Too often in life, we are our own reason for being unhappy. As much as we like to blame bad luck, systemic failures, other people’s incompetences and the environment we were raised in, if we examine the root cause of our misery closer, we discover some uncomfortable truths.

For example, a common source of unhappiness is loneliness, particularly the lack of a romantic relationship. There are many reasons people will give as to why they are (involuntarily) single, from self-deprecating comments such as “I’m not pretty enough”, to lamenting their bad luck for not meeting the one yet, to toxic blames such as “girls only go after bad boys, not nice guys like me”.

But are those really the true reasons to your loneliness? Or is it because we haven’t learned to love ourselves yet, hold onto negative beliefs such as a romantic partner being the solution to our deep-seated problems, or feel entitled to love? Perhaps it is because we are too stubborn or scared to take action, putting our hearts on the line by asking our crush out, being vulnerable or even taking the simplest step such as accepting a set-up or trying internet dating.

We often talk about how we can be our own best friend or our worst enemy. Because of our insecurities and anxieties, we often let fear steal our funk, creating barriers to living a happy, full life.

So what is the solution to this curse?

The answer is simple: follow Phoebe’s advice and do not let yourself be the reason that you’re unhappy. If you feel unhappy, take a moment to think about why that is and don’t be afraid to consider that your actions and thoughts might be the cause.

But this is not to say that you should blame and criticise yourself.

Instead, treat yourself with compassion, kindness and love, giving yourself a chance to be happy. Be the manager and mentor to yourself that you’ve always wanted: someone who will let you be the best version of you, clearing roadblocks to your success and happiness. When you discover something that makes you happy, take action to pursue it further, cultivate it and fight to protect it. Seek out new possibilities and exciting opportunities.

Be the reason that you are happy.

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Posted in Life & Happiness

Friendship

We have very little choice about who we have as family. But friends are a different story: we choose who we want to spend time with and call our friends. The beauty of friendship is that it is an active choice. By calling someone our friend, we are telling them that we appreciate their presence in our lives, that we enjoy spending time with them, that we care about their well-being and wish them good fortunes in the future.

That said – as emphasised above – friendship is a choice. We can’t choose our family, but we can choose our friends. If a friendship becomes toxic, burdensome and a major source of stress more than what you gain from it, you have the power to leave the friendship (or vice versa).

We know from psychological studies that one of the most common starts to friendship is the propinquity effect, where we are more likely to like and befriend people who we are regularly exposed to and in close proximity to. This explains why when we are young, our friend group seems to be based around people from school, university and work.

But as we grow older, we learn that proximity and history alone is not enough to maintain friendship. In adulthood, we constantly face pressures such as work demands, romantic relationships and various life stressors. We have so little free time to invest in those around us, so why would we want to use up time to maintain relationships that do not add anything to our lives, let alone those who take from us or bring us down?

Like with any other kind of relationship, friendships should be evaluated and re-evaluated over time. Life is too short to spend time on those who do not earn or deserve our trust, loyalty and love. Life is also too short to take for granted the amazing people around us and to not celebrate the beautiful relationships that build us up and support us in times of need.

When we find that a friendship is becoming toxic, leaving us with a bitter taste in our mouth at the end of each encounter and making us wonder if they add anything to our lives, then we should seriously consider addressing it with communication or distancing our hearts from them.

Similarly, when we find friends who share our values, with whom we can share emotional insights and vulnerable insecurities with just as easily as sharing silly and fun times, or ask for help when we need it and from whom we can learn from and give back to in a meaningful way, then we must acknowledge how rare and precious those connections are.

These are the connections we should be investing our precious little personal time towards, because they are the friendships that amount to something greater, where the sum is greater than the parts, where 1 + 1 = 3.

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Posted in Life & Happiness

Approval Voting

Let’s say you have to organise a group dinner. With so many preferences, dietary restrictions and non-specifically fussy eaters, what is the best method to decide where to eat without starving to death while deciding?

The classic method relies on old-fashioned democracy, where people vote on their most desired place. However, the smaller the group size, the less reliable this method becomes as the results become more split. Furthermore, this method can make the minority unhappy as the majority choice may not even be the minority’s second or third choice. Lastly, it runs the risk of the wolf and sheep” problem, where two wolves vote to eat the sheep and the sheep has no say because it is the minority.

A much better method is the approval voting system. Here, all you have to ask is for everyone to vote on every place that they are okay with going to. For example, let us say that 6 people have to vote between three potential options: burgers, dumplings and fried chicken.

In the old system, it could have been that 2 people voted on each option, making the vote useless. Or, 3 people may have voted dumplings when the other 3 hate it (but voted 2 burgers, 1 chicken), meaning half the group is unhappy with the final result.

With the new system, 3 people are okay with burgers, 3 people are okay with dumplings and 5 people are okay with fried chicken. Fried chicken wins the vote and a much greater majority of the participants are okay with the result, because the vote reflects some of their preference, even if it wasn’t what they most wanted.

The approval voting system also has the strength of accounting for people who are indecisive and vote on everything, or nothing. Voting on all the options essentially cancels out the ratio, so it counts as a null vote. This means that people have less power to swing the votes one way or another.

All in all, it is a simple but powerful tool to help decision-making in a group setting, which can be painfully frustrating when you are just trying to have fun together and relax.



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Posted in Life & Happiness

Shared Silence

When we are with someone, our instinct is to engage in conversation. We feel an urge to interact as we feel that is the social norm. For some reason, it feels wrong or rude to do something individual in the company of others, such as reading a book, indulging a personal hobby, or even being alone with your thoughts.

That is not to say that social interactions are bad. Some of the happiest moments in life come from a sense of connection through deep conversation and sharing a passion. However, we feel obligated to always do something together. To avoid awkward silences, we fill the gap with meaningless small talk, or force a shared activity such as watching TV. This can be quite burdening for both parties, especially for introverted people who expend energy when socialising, needing some time alone intermittently to “recharge”.

This is why a marker of a healthy relationship (romantic or platonic) is whether you can comfortably share a silence with someone. Whether it be walking side-by-side without talking, or reading in the same room, there is an ineffable feeling of comfort and safety in sharing a space with someone without being forced to interact.

It is a sign that you trust and know each other to the point that silence does not represent awkwardness or dislike. You have a mutual understanding that even though there is no verbal communication, the other person still cares about you while respecting your need to be an individual.

Ironically, silence and the lack of interaction can allow for a deeper connection. Sharing a silence speaks louder than words to say that you like each other enough that you are okay to let your guard down and be yourself. It means that both of you are content just to feel each other’s presence in the same space.

Most of all, it is a mutual agreement that it is okay not to follow social norms as long as it makes you happy and it doesn’t harm anyone. In an ever-increasingly interconnected world, it is okay to be an individual, even in the presence of company.

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

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Posted in Life & Happiness

Best Friend

Whether we’d admit it or not, we all have someone in our lives that we consider a best friend. A best friend is someone who you enjoy spending time with, trust with your deepest secrets and talk openly and honestly with when something is troubling you.

For some, this may be a childhood friend with whom they had endured the hardships of life together. For others, it may be their parents, sibling or significant other. In some cases, a person who was a stranger to you less than a year ago may quickly develop in to your most valuable friend. Many of us will even have multiple “best friends” who we can call upon in times of need, or if we just need to rant over a drink.

These friendships do not happen without effort. Sure, it requires basic chemistry and connection. But to build a great friendship, it requires both parties to invest time, care and empathy. Loyalty is built on acts of kindness. You need to actively listen to delve deeper into the emotions and thoughts that drive your friend’s worries. We improve each other over time by calling out bad behaviours, while offering endless support and love when the other person feels worthless or unattractive. We take for granted the sheer amount of emotional energy invested in cultivating a true friendship.

When we forget this fact, we become terrible friends. We can be selfish, becoming angry with our friend that they aren’t giving us the support that we need. If this ever happens, consider the fact that your friend is also human and that they might be in exactly the same position as you. To parody John F. Kennedy:

“Ask not what your friend can do for you – ask what you can do for your friend”.

There is also one other friendship we must discuss – the friendship between you and yourself. This sounds strange, but you should be your own best friend. You are the person that has truly lived your life with you. You know of all the dramas, thoughts and feelings you have experienced. Yet when we are in a time of need, we neglect to support ourselves as a friend. Instead of support and love, we criticise ourselves, neglect ourselves and drive ourselves to stress and fatigue.

Be generous with your kindness to yourself and don’t forget to treat yourself. If you are having a bad day, take a break so that you can be there for yourself. Watch a movie, go for a walk, introspect and have a deep and meaningful chat with yourself. If you feel like a failure, remind yourself that you are being stupid and remind yourself of how amazing you are.

No matter how many great friends we have, we cannot truly be happy if we treat ourselves like an enemy.

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Posted in Psychology & Medicine

Money And Happiness

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.

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Posted in Psychology & Medicine

Attraction

The saying goes that “opposites attract”, suggesting that people are attracted to those who are different to them, complementing each other like yin and yang. But then, another saying states that “like attracts like”, suggesting that people feel attraction to those that are similar to them, helping them bond over similar interests and hobbies. So which is true?

Biologically speaking, it makes sense for people to look for those who are “different” as it allows for a more varied gene pool. This is highlighted by the famous experiment where women were asked to smell and grade the “attractiveness” of t-shirts worn by different men. It was discovered that the t-shirts each woman chose belonged to a men who were most immunologically different to the woman. Every human being has a unique marker on their cells called the major histocompatibility complex (MHC). The more dissimilar the MHC is, the more likely that the person is not related to you genetically. By choosing a mate with a different MHC, your offspring will have an immune system that has a broader cover against various pathogens. It seems that we have an innate ability to smell this difference. The way we do this best, of course, is through the act of kissing.

Psychologically speaking, we appear to find those who look similar to us attractive. Professor Penton-Voak undertook a study where he showed people a book of photos of the opposite gender and asked them to pick the most attractive one. He found that the participants tended to rate the picture with their own face morphed into the opposite gender as most attractive. Other studies have shown that similar personality, interests and hobbies, attitude and life goals were all strong predictors of attraction between two people. This is most likely because of self-affirmation – the theory that suggests that people like receiving confirmation about every aspect of their life and there is no better confirmation than spending time with someone similar to you and discovering said similarities as you connect.

According to studies on this exact debate, researchers determined that similarity is more important in initial attraction, while being different helped the relationship develop over time. Surveys have shown that people tend to be more satisfied in a relationship when their partner was different to them, especially in terms of how dominant – that is, how much they lead the relationship – they are. When two people are similar in dominance, such as both being dominant leading to frequent conflict, while both being submissive will lead to frustration as neither takes initiative.

Another interesting point is that when the couple is complementary, they tend to change each other for the better, such as an active person helping their shy partner improve their social skills while she teaches her partner the importance of keeping his head on when under stress. Through this process, long-term couples tend to become similar over time. Not only that, but because people tend to mimic people close to them, their speech, behaviour, idiosyncrasies and even facial expressions become similar.

However, there is a law of attraction that surpasses both similarity and complementarity. The mere-exposure effect is a psychological phenomenon where the more we are exposed to something, the more we like it. This is further expanded by the propinquity effect that states that the more we see and interact with someone, the more likely we are to befriend or date them. Simply put, just spending more time with or even living in close proximity to someone is a high predictor of them becoming your friend or romantic partner.

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Posted in Simple Pleasures of Life

Simple Pleasures of Life #20

Sharing a brainwave with a friend.

It’s always awesome when you find out you and a friend is thinking the exact same thing at a moment! Whether it be something random like what to have for lunch or something more complicated like plan of attack for exams. Still yet to reach the awesome level of telepathic communication as seen on HIMYM though haha.

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Posted in Simple Pleasures of Life

Simple Pleasures of Life #21

Love.

I don’t know if that counts as “simple”. But despite all the work and emotional energy that goes into a loving relationship – be it family, friend or lover – love is essentially a simple pleasure. Even when you’re having the most difficult day, a fleeting image of that person’s smile or a memory you shared will instantly restore your energy and put a smile on your face.

For example, I get flashbacks to my childhood and the days I spent with my parents and that makes me happy. Or I’ll think of some crazy adventures that I’ve been on with close friends. Or various other memories with people I cared about that makes me laugh to myself.

As four wise men once sang, all you need is love.

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Posted in Life & Happiness

Good

Good food.

Good wine.

Good coffee.

Good dessert.

Good song.

Good show.

Good laugh.

Good company.

The simpler your demands, the easier life can fulfil them and give you happiness.

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