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.

Posted in Life & Happiness

Rule Of Life

“Hello babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. On the outside, babies, you’ve got a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies: Goddamn it, you’ve got to be kind.
~ Kurt Vonnegut

Life is difficult and it can feel as if we have been thrown in the deep end sometimes. No one tells you word for word the correct way to interact with another human being, or how to balance your work and personal life, or what the meaning of life is. Because of this, social interactions are rife with awkwardness, misunderstandings and getting hurt.

But perhaps if we all followed Vonnegut’s rule, life would be just a little bit easier to navigate through.

Posted in Life & Happiness


When we are little, we are showered with compliments. We marvel over and celebrate a child’s first steps, or when they score a goal, or when they gift us a squiggly drawing. At school, we receive stickers saying “Great job!” when we do our homework. At home, we receive words of encouragement, support and love from our family.

Why do we compliment children over even the smallest achievements? Compliments are one of the simplest, cheapest ways to positively reinforce good behaviour. When we hear a compliment, we feel that we have done something well. We feel a sense of pride and accomplishment, building up our self-confidence. Best of all, we feel good when we are complimented, because we feel accepted and noticed by someone else.

But as we grow older, we receive less and less compliments. Instead, we are constantly under the microscope, being critiqued on every aspect of what makes us us. Our work, partners, friends and family continue to push us to be even more “perfect”. Performance reviews tell us we are not efficient enough, our magazines and advertisements tell us we are not beautiful enough, our loved ones tell us we are not successful enough… No wonder we all have such fragile egos.

A good example of how little we are complimented is how we generally react when someone gives us a genuine compliment. Some people feel wary that the other person is using it as a opener because they want something from us. Many people react by rejecting the compliment, either in an attempt to be modest, or because they genuinely don’t believe that they are worthy of the compliment. Instead of thanking the other person and moving on with your day with a skip in our step, we put up our guard and beat ourselves down even more.

In a brutal world such as this, a compliment can go a long way to make someone’s day. A compliment can range in depth, from our friends pointing out a personality trait of ours that they respect and appreciate, to a stranger noticing and commenting on your choice of outfit. A kind word can be a candle in the way down darkness of stress, hardships and criticism that we face on a daily basis, making us feel valued.

Perhaps life would be just a little bit easier if we each complimented someone once a day. If you consider how many compliments you give to a pet dog in one petting session, a compliment a day to one person seems like nothing. By giving more compliments, the more you will notice that others will compliment you back, as they feel it is safe to do so. This is particularly true in toxic, masculine cultures where complimenting is seen as a sign of being soft, weak or deceptive.

So, where do we start? Just think of what kind of compliment would make your day better if you heard it.

Start simple with a small thing that you notice the other person has made an effort on, whether it is their hair, clothing or an accessory. We feel more appreciated when someone notices something we have done and can change, rather than something we are born with, like our physical appearance.

Then, you will start noticing and appreciating more positive things the person does, such as how they work, their small but significant achievements, products of their creativity and their demeanours.

Lastly, if it is someone we are close to and know well, it might be worth pointing out every now and then something we like about that person on a fundamental level. This includes their values, dreams, passions, convictions and character. Perhaps we respect their strong resolve and positive approach to life. Perhaps we appreciate the kindness they show to others. Perhaps we just love them for being themselves.

Think of the last time you were moved by someone’s compliment to you. Pay that kindness forward by making someone else’s day with a compliment of your own. You will feel happier just seeing another person smile when they hear your kind words.

Posted in Life & Happiness

Dull Knife

Which is more dangerous in the kitchen: a sharpened knife or a dull knife? Common sense would dictate that the sharpened knife is obviously more dangerous as it can cut you more easily. But as every chef will tell you, a dull knife is much more dangerous.

This is because a sharp knife will cut through your ingredients with ease and as long as you handle it with care and pay attention, the risk of cutting yourself is very low.
A dull knife on the other hand, will often slip and slide over the ingredient because it can’t cut straight through. This makes it more likely that it will slip off the food and slice your fingers instead.

Think of your relationships as a knife. Like with anything, we become used to and comfortable with our partners and friends over time. We sometimes unintentionally become lazy and careless around them, forgetting basic etiquette and the effort we put in at the start to cultivate that relationship. Much like a dull knife, we can easily make a mistake and deeply hurt the other person in this state. It might be because you accidentally said something hurtful or lost interest in their passions. In general, it is easier to become less attentive and thoughtful of the other person because you have been “dulled”.

No master chef would keep their knives unsharpened, for how could they prepare a delicious meal if they did not care? We expect our relationships to be immortal in the face of time thanks to the power of love, but the heart and soul will wear out like anything else without proper care and maintenance.

So how do we know how often to “sharpen” our relationships? It’s simple: stay mindful that your relationship is something that needs constant care.

Be attentive to the other person, be generous with your kindness and never take them for granted. The best way to prevent you from being dulled to something is constantly reminding yourself how grateful you are to have that person in your life. That way, your metaphorical knife will stay sharpened and it will be much harder to hurt your loved ones.

(Image source: Puuung

Posted in Life & Happiness

Recipe For Happiness: Compassion

(This is a three part mini-series on happiness. See the full series here:

Human beings are social creatures. It is extremely difficult to be happy when you are isolated and lonely. The most important lesson on happiness is that we are truly happiest when we connect with others.

Connection – physical, emotional or spiritual – is linked to the neurotransmitter oxytocin. It is released in large amounts when we feel loved, such as when a mother sees her newborn, when we hug or even when we feel nostalgia.

Happiness from connection is special in that it is sustainable. Happiness from excitement, such as through money, winning and sex, is mediated by dopamine and wears off very quickly. You need more and more “hits” of dopamine to feel the same again. Oxytocin, on the other hand, allows you to feel happy just from recalling memories of your connections.

So how can we use oxytocin to become happier? As mentioned above, it is released through human connection. The easiest way to do this is spending time with your loved ones – have a conversation, share a laugh, get to know each other on a deeper level.
But there is an even more effective way: compassion.


Because of our social nature, we have an innate desire to help those in need and alleviate suffering. But in modern society, we are so busy and consumed by our own lives that this instinct becomes dulled.
The first step to compassion is empathy. Through empathy, we can recognise and understand another person’s emotion. To do this, you have to practise the ability of seeing things from another person’s point of view. Consider how their values and experiences may influence how they behave and what they are feeling currently.

However, empathy alone does not create happiness. Compassion is when you recognise that someone is suffering and feel the desire to help alleviate it. Even the thought of wanting to help has been shown to induce happiness. When we show kindness and it makes even an iota of difference to the person’s suffering – such as putting a smile on their face – our brain instantly gets drowned in a sea of oxytocin and we genuinely feel good.

But as mentioned above, our sense of compassion has been worn away by the stress of daily life. Here is an exercise that can help train your compassion level.

Firstly, think of someone close to you who is suffering and wish them good fortune. The more often you do this, the easier the thoughts will come to you naturally.

Next, try doing the same to strangers. When you see someone on the streets or sit next to them on a bus, think to yourself: “I wish they would have a good day”. Even if you do not know who they are, you can wish them good fortune. They may not telepathically hear your thoughts, but the important part is training your compassion “muscle”.

The last step is the hardest. Think of your worst enemy, then wish them good fortune too. It is extremely difficult to respond to someone we hate with love. This is called uncomplementary behaviour in psychology and we are hardwired to do the opposite. Yet, when we do show kindness in the face of cruelty and hate, it can turn the situation upside-down and both parties can feel safer and happier.

The more you train your level of compassion, the more you will find that your interactions with others will be changing. You might find yourself smiling to strangers more, treating them with more kindness and feeling that the world is not that horrible a place after all. Most importantly, you might be able to show self-compassion, the most difficult task of all. Don’t be so hard on yourself; forgive your own mistakes and learn to love the awesome person that you are.

Be generous with your kindness. Every person in the world wants to be happy and a simple act of kindness from your end may shine some light on their day, and through empathy, you can feel happier also.

Posted in Psychology & Medicine

Bad Day

Life is hard. We are always fighting against the challenges of life, such as stress from work, financial hardship and relationship problems. People deal with hardships through different means. Some travel to catch some fresh air, while others seek the support of a friend or loved one. Although we ought to be spending our days in the pursuit of happiness, instead we are more often trying desperately to find a way to escape misery.

Amongst all this, we forget a very simple fact. Others around us are going through just as hard a life as we are. A sad truth about the human condition is that in times of stress, we instinctively become self-preserving. At the end of the day, evolution favours those who are able to save their own skin. Because of this, we are always seeking support and kindness to help us escape our misery, while often turning a blind eye to other people’s misery.

When is the last time you asked a friend about what’s really going on in their lives? It is much more common for us to blurt out what’s troubling us than asking others about their own troubles. We could be complaining to our friends about something trivial compared to the strife they are going through, but we would not know because we had not asked.

Even worse, what about strangers on the streets? If someone was rude to us, it would sour our day. But if we were rude to someone because we were genuinely in a rush or having a terrible day, we excuse ourselves and do not think much of it. How do we know that that person isn’t having the worst day of their lives and we just made it worse?

Of course it is impossible to know of all the bad things happening to everyone. We can make an effort to reduce the burden of our friends by being supportive, but it is hard to do that for someone you meet for less than a minute on the streets.

So perhaps the solution is this: be generous with your kindness. You have no idea what situation the other person is in, but it is hard to do wrong when you treat everyone around you with kindness. At worst, you’ve expended a small part of your emotional energy. At best, you’ve become more empathetic and happy, while making someone’s day. Never forget how much difference you can make with simple acts and words of kindness.

Posted in Life & Happiness

Deserving Love

One of our greatest weaknesses as a human being is that we never seem to be satisfied with “just right”. We always think we have too much or too little of something and this torments us. The same can be said of love. People will often complain that they are not loved enough by their family, friends or significant others. This is natural, for we tend to crave love and attention more than we are willing to give it to others.

The more interesting situation is when people complain of being loved too much. One defence regarding this is that they do not feel that they deserve this love. Some people claim that because of who they are (or more commonly, who they aren’t), they are not worthy to receive the tender loving care offered by another person. Of course sometimes this is said as a plesantry, but in some cases, a person may feel so guilty of this that they will reject the gesture and push the people they love away.

What does it mean to be “deserving” of love? Does this imply that love is some kind of karmic reward that should only be received if we have been kind and generous to others? We are often the harshest judges of our own character and more often than not, we will rate ourselves lower than how others see us. Some people are able to appreciate and be grateful for the kindness of others, while not seeing the effect their own kindness has on others. Because of this mismatch, sometimes we may think that others are being kinder to us than we are to them.

Knowing this, perhaps it would be easier if instead of tormenting ourselves with the question of whether we deserve someone’s love or note, we should let others judge how much love we deserve from them. For they are the ones who feel the kindness in our words and actions, and they are the ones who wish to return that kindness back to us. Instead of feeling guilty of whether you deserve someone’s love or not, feel grateful that you have people in your life that care about you.

And if you cannot shake the feeling that you really are not deserving of that love, there is only one real solution. Be more generous with your kindness and reciprocate that love to others to make up for whatever you are feeling guilty of. Love is an infinite resource and there is plenty to go around for everyone.

Posted in Psychology & Medicine

Tit For Tat

In human society, there are many ways for a person to interact with others when in a group setting. Some may choose to be selfish and only be out for their best interests, while others may choose altruism and cooperate with each other. The mathematical model that tries to predict human behaviour and outcome in these settings is the Prisoner’s Dilemma – the core of game theory. Tit for tat is one strategy that can be employed in such a setting.

The basis of tit for tat is equivalent exchange. A tit for tat player always chooses to cooperate unless provoked. As seen in the Prisoner’s Dilemma, if both players cooperate, both benefit (let us say 3 points each); if one player defects, that person gains more than from cooperation (5 points) while the tit for tat player gains 0 points.
If a tit for tat player is provoked, that player will retaliate. However, the player is also quick to forgive. Ergo, if the other player chose to cooperate, the tit for tat player (following the principle of equivalent exchange), will also cooperate. If the other player defected, the tit for tat player loses the first round and then chooses to defect from then on.
Note that tit for tat strategy only works when there is more than one game so that the player has a chance to retaliate.

Let us use an example to illustrate why tit for tat strategy works. In this scenario, two tit for tat players and two defectors all play six games each, using the above point system (if both defect, they each receive 1 point). The results are as follows:
  • Tit for tat vs defector: Tit for tat loses first round, both defect for next 5 rounds (5 vs 10)
  • Tit for tat vs tit for tat: Both cooperate on every round (18 vs 18)
  • Defector vs defector: Both defect on every round (6 vs 6)

When the points are added up, a tit for tat player gains 28 points (5 + 5 + 18) while a defector only gains 26 points (6 + 10 + 10). This is a surprising turn of events, as the defectors never lost a round and tit for tat players never “won” a round. This goes to show how cooperation leads to better long-term results while selfishness prevails.

There are shortcomings of this strategy. If there is a failure in communication and one tit for tat player mistakes the other’s actions as an “attack”, they will retaliate. The other player then retaliates to this and a vicious cycle is formed. This is the basis of many conflicts ranging from schoolyard fights to wars (although interestingly, tit for tat strategy is also found during wars in the form of “live and let live”). One way to prevent this is tit for tat with forgiveness, where one player randomly cooperates to try break the cycle (a defector would respond negatively while a tit for tat player will accept the cooperation), or the tit for two tats, where the tit for tat player waits a turn before retaliating, giving the opponent a chance to “make up for their mistake”.

Computer simulations have all proven that tit for tat strategy (especially the other two types mentioned just before) are extremely effective in games. In fact, it is considered one of the most optimal strategies in overcoming the Prisoner’s Dilemma.

In human societies, there is usually a mix of “nice people” and “selfish people”. By cooperating and trusting each other, we can produce a much greater gain over time compared to being selfish. And since society still unfortunately has “defectors”, you can retaliate to those who refuse to cooperate by defecting on them also. Ergo, a good approach to life is to initially reach out your hand to whoever you meet and treat them from there on according to how they respond. If they take your hand and want to cooperate, treat them with altruism and help them out. If they swat your hand away and try to use you for their selfish gain, it is fine to shun them and not help them out.

Through cooperation, understanding and connection, we can build a far more productive and efficient society, just like the ants.