The Pont des Arts bridge in Paris is famous for being the site of “love locks”. Since 2008, tourists in love have been attaching padlocks inscribed with their names on the railings of the bridge. Millions of such locks have since been placed on the bridge, promising eternal love between the couple. Within 6 years, the total weight of the locks was already starting to cause structural damage to the bridge, with sections collapsing into the Seine River. In 2015, the locks were removed to conserve the historical site, but love locks continue to plague various historical sites and tall places around the globe.
People love to leave a mark. Whether it be a “Steve was here” on a wall or an “Alice + Bob” surrounded by a heart on a tree, graffiti has existed since ancient Greece. But why? What is the psychology behind couples wanting to immortalise their love in a lock, or people carving their names into wood or stone?
Perhaps it is because we know how fragile everything in life is. Life is full of uncertainties. We may die at any given moment. What we think of as true, eternal love may shatter as a result of our impulses or fade away with time. Even our identities and sense of self are unstable, for we do not really know who we are.
This uncertainty scares us. We feel insecure that the things we love and make us happy can disappear. So to soothe ourselves, we obsess over the idea of permanence. Because our love, our lives and our identities are intangible, we write our names into something that is tangible and (perceived to be) permanent.
But nothing is permanent. Bridges fall and walls crumble. A metal lock will do nothing to eternalise your love other than making you feel slightly secure for a moment. Instead, we should embrace the concept of impermanence.
By accepting that nothing is permanent, we can be more grateful for the transient moments of happiness and beauty in life, enjoying the present rather than trying to preserve the future.
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 identityand 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.
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.
In 1989, an array of US Navy hydrophones (underwater microphones) in the North Pacific Ocean discovered a peculiar sound. It sounded very similar to a typical whale song, but there was a crucial difference. Most whales sing at about 10-40Hz, which is a very low frequency sound. However, this specific whale song played at 52Hz – significantly higher than other whale songs.
Bill Watkins was a scientist who became fascinated by this sound. He detected the same sound year after year for over a decade and recognised that it was coming from the same whale. It followed seasonal migration patterns and the song had definite, common features of whale songs. But this song was higher pitch than every other whale he compared it to.
This whale has since been called the “52-hertz whale”, also known as “the world’s loneliest whale”. There have been no other recordings of whale songs like it. There are many theories about what kind of whale it might be, with the leading theory being that it is a hybrid of a blue whale and a fin whale. Because hybrid animals (crossbreeds) have different body morphologies to the parent species, theoretically it could produce a unique sound.
Whales sing to communicate with each other. In the vast ocean, sight becomes easily obscured, but the low-pitched vocalisations of whales can carry on for hundreds of miles. This raises the question of whether the 52-hertz whale’s calls are heard by other whales, given that it is talking in a different frequency range. If they can’t, there is a chance that this whale is calling out into the void, only to be ignored by every other whale. It might have been swimming alone for decades, in search of a partner who can communicate with it.
In some ways, we are all somewhat like the 52-hertz whale. Because we are all unique individuals, even when we talk in the same language, we often misinterpret each other or fail to make a connectionbecause we cannot understand their way of thinking. This is why when you meet someone who thinks on a similar frequency to you, it is a connection worth holding on to. There is no greater thrill than meeting another soul who you can say one thing to and they will understand ten things.
These are the kinds of relationships you should treasure, because for all you know, you may end up like the 52-hertz whale – drifting along the deep blue ocean, desperately calling out in hopes of hearing any kind of reply.
Many people dream of finding “The One” – the perfect romantic companion who is destined to be with you. It is a dominant trope in stories, both old and new. Plato’s The Symposium contains a story about how Zeus split human beings in two to weaken them, so we are always searching for our other half. An old Chinese tale tells the story of the “red string“ – an invisible connection between two people created when they are born, that will eventually bring the two together in the name of true love. There are countless examples of books, movies and TV shows that reinforce the notion that we will all eventually end up with just the right person.
What makes The One so special? Typically, instead of a list of ideal features such as a certain personality or look, most people describe The One as someone who they can connect with, be understood by and feel completed by; someone who they can’t imagine not being with. People who believe in the idea of The One may picture a relationship where things are easy, because the other person will just “get” them and there will be no trouble in paradise. In short, The One represents a perfect relationship with the perfect person, tailored just for you.
But how realistic is the possibility of finding The One? If we look at it from a purely statistical point of view, the chances are infinitesimal. Not only does your match have to be born of your preferred gender, but they must live in the same space and time as you at some point in your life. Even if you happen to find this one person, you have to accommodate for whether you will even notice, let alone be attracted to, them since the qualities you are looking for may vary depending on what stage of life you are at. (Read this wonderful What If? article: https://what-if.xkcd.com/9/)
Of course, the whole point of The One is that despite all of these odds, the two of you are supposed to be brought together by some external force – fate, destiny, the gods, or whatever supernatural power you believe in. Then, it is said that the moment you set eyes on each other, you will feel an instant connection and true love will be born. Some people even believe that “if it is meant to be, it will happen without fail”. Because of this, some people test their relationship by stressing it, or will be more open to letting people go because they believe that if they are truly The One, then surely they will meet again and everything will be alright. This is explored in a short story by Haruki Murakami named On Seeing The 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning.
(Bacchus and Ariadne by Titian)
However, as beautiful as the idea of finding The One is, it can be a dangerous – even toxic – idea.
The most obvious problem is that dreaming of The One sets unrealistic expectations. Even when they are with an amazing, supportive, kind partner, some people will consider them only 80% or 90% perfect. Because of the nature of human greed, we always want something better or greater than what we possess. This makes us less grateful for what we currently have and we fail to appreciate how lucky we are to be with our partner. We may even decide to end a relationship in search of greener pastures, only to regret it and remember that person as “the one that got away”.
On the other hand, people are so afraid that they might not realise that someone is The One that they make the classic error of the sunk cost fallacy. They think that they invested so much time in this relationship that if they leave now, they will forever lose the chance to live happily ever after. This often leads to unhappy marriages and even divorce, causing people to miss out on opportunities of finding someone that they will truly be happy with.
Similarly, because we feel the pressure of time passing by while others seemingly find their soulmates and happy endings, we end up feeling desperate. This desperation may push us into forcing relationships with people who do not share our values, treat us unkindly or generally incompatible with us. Some people will fake an encounter with a supposed soulmate, marry them and hide their problems and resentment, while struggling to put on a happy face for the rest of the world.
Another problem with believing in The One is the concept of fate. It is comforting to think that things are predetermined, but this also makes us lazy. What is the point of looking for the right person or fighting to make a relationship work when fate will just throw you The One at some point in your life? If you believe in fate, it makes you complacent and take less action. Instead of taking the leap of faith, communicating and trying to improve yourself, you think instead “it shouldn’t be this hard if they were The One” and give up. Believing that there is someone out there set aside for you is entitlement. Much like anything in the world, luck and probability will only take you so far. Good things will only come to you if you take action and make an effort.
The inherent flaw in the concept of The One is that it is a black-and-white, binary question: “is this person perfect”? The quest for perfection is as futile as a dog chasing its own tail. When the standard you are comparing everything or everyone is perfection, you are sure to be disappointed.
Furthermore, how can we demand a perfect person when we are not perfect ourselves? As we mature, our preferences and needs change with us. Is it not arrogant to think that we know ourselves so well that we can pick out someone that we think will be perfect for the rest of our lives at first glance?
The perfect partner is not someone that will understand our every action, thoughts and words, and cater to our every need. The perfect partner is someone who possesses qualities we value, have imperfections that we can accept and will communicate openly so that we can work things out with them. No human being is perfect, so every relationship needs to be fine-tuned, negotiated and improved on, which involves each person undergoing change, compromise and sacrifices.
This philosophy sets a much more realistic expectation on our partners and ourselves. We don’t have to be perfect or find someone who is perfect: we just have to find someone who is willing to work with us to become perfect for each other eventually. Someone who makes us happy, while helping us grow to be someone that can make them happy.
There is no one true “The One”. The One that matters is the one who – out of all the imperfect people out there – you chose because you find them awesome and want to try work with to build a happy relationship together, and they feel the same way about you.
The One is someone you made a conscious choice to round them up to The One.
A maze is a puzzle with a simple rule – travel from start to finish. The tricky part is that the path from start to finish is not straightforward, but full of twists and turns. It is usually packed in a compact rectangle or circle, with numerous forks and branches. Because of its simplicity, it has been a popular puzzle for millennia.
Like any puzzle, there are tricks to solving mazes. The most basic, but highly effective rule, is the right-hand rule. This is a form of wall following rule, where you run the maze while tracing the wall your right hand is touching. Keep following a wall with your right hand and you will eventually reach the end.
The rule works for most simple mazes that are simply-connected, where each wall is connected to the outermost wall. But in some cases, the maze is not simply-connected and you will end up in a loop. In this case, you will eventually end back at the beginning, so you will have to try follow a different wall (i.e. use your left hand instead and see how you go).
One of the most famous mazes in history is the Cretan labyrinth, featured in Greek mythology (likely based on the actual palace of Knossos). The Cretan labyrinth was a cryptic maze within the palace the housed the fearsome minotaur, to whom human sacrifices were sent to be devoured. The minotaur is slain by the hero Theseus, who navigates the labyrinth and safely escapes by using a ball of thread given to him by the princess, Ariadne, as a trace.
Mazes were especially popular amongst nobles in Europe, with many castles featuring hedge mazes as part of their magnificent gardens. It is likely that these mazes were popular not because they offer an intellectual challenge, but because it is an ideal date location.
Walking a maze gives you a sense of intimacy, because the paths are narrow and you can only perceive a small space of 10-20 square metres, due to its many-walled nature. You walk side-by-side with each other, while your footsteps echo on the hedges. You have nothing else to distract you other than plain walls and the sky, so you can focus on each other. But most importantly, it provides privacy, by transporting you to a secret, little world of your own.
In 1997, psychologist Arthur Aron and his team published a paper explaining how to accelerate the development of intimacy between two people. The team came up with a list of 36 questions divided in to three sets – each set with more probing questions than the last – and made a pair of strangers answer each question in order. In later versions of the study, participants were also told to lock eyes for four minutes after finishing the questions, to create even more intimacy.
The team found that this method significantly increased the closeness felt between two people compared to standard small talk. More interestingly, even if people had different personalities (e.g. introvert and extrovert), or one person thought the other did not share any commonalities with them, the method worked.
It does not take a scientist to figure out why this method is so effective in fostering closeness. We feel close and connected to people who we feel we can open ourselves up to. When we love someone, we reveal our physical weak spots, such as showing our neckline or exposing our torso as we greet them with a hug. We also open up our psychological weak spots: our vulnerabilities, our insecurities and our neuroses.
When the other person reciprocates by showing us their own inner selves (instead of bolting out the door), we feel safe as we trust them not to hurt us. We allow them to see who we really are behind the mask and shield, welcoming the connection between our souls.
The foundation of a strong relationship is open communication, honesty, mutual trust and understanding. The questionnaire is simply a rough beginner’s guide to exploring each other’s identity, so that we can learn more about ourselves and each other. It means that if we want to connect with someone, we must talk to them openly, rather than trying to investigate their lives via social media, assuming their thoughts and intentions, or playing games.
The questions are as follows. Try completing it with someone you wish to get to know better, ideally in a comfortable, peaceful space.
1. Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?
2. Would you like to be famous? In what way?
3. Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say? Why?
4. What would constitute a “perfect” day for you?
5. When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?
6. If you were able to live to the age of 90 and retain either the mind or body of a 30-year-old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you want?
7. Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?
8. Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common.
9. For what in your life do you feel most grateful?
10. If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?
11. Take four minutes and tell your partner your life story in as much detail as possible.
12. If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?
13. If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future or anything else, what would you want to know?
14. Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?
15. What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?
16. What do you value most in a friendship?
17. What is your most treasured memory?
18. What is your most terrible memory?
19. If you knew that in one year you would die suddenly, would you change anything about the way you are now living? Why?
20. What does friendship mean to you?
21. What roles do love and affection play in your life?
22. Alternate sharing something you consider a positive characteristic of your partner. Share a total of five items.
23. How close and warm is your family? Do you feel your childhood was happier than most other people’s?
24. How do you feel about your relationship with your mother?
25. Make three true “we” statements each. For instance, “We are both in this room feeling…”
26. Complete this sentence: “I wish I had someone with whom I could share…”
27. If you were going to become a close friend with your partner, please share what would be important for him or her to know.
28. Tell your partner what you like about them; be very honest this time, saying things that you might not say to someone you’ve just met.
29. Share with your partner an embarrassing moment in your life.
30. When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself?
31. Tell your partner something that you like about them already.
32. What, if anything, is too serious to be joked about?
33. If you were to die this evening with no opportunity to communicate with anyone, what would you most regret not having told someone? Why haven’t you told them yet?
34. Your house, containing everything you own, catches fire. After saving your loved ones and pets, you have time to safely make a final dash to save any one item. What would it be? Why?
35. Of all the people in your family, whose death would you find most disturbing? Why?
36. Share a personal problem and ask your partner’s advice on how he or she might handle it. Also, ask your partner to reflect back to you how you seem to be feeling about the problem you have chosen.
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 chemistryand 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.
When you compare the lifespans of mammals, it is common to see that larger animals live longer than smaller animals. Another observation is that smaller mammals almost always have a much higher basal heart rate. For example, a mouse has a basal heart rate of about 600 beats per minute (bpm), but only lives 3 years on average. An elephant has a basal heart rate of 30bpm, but lives up to 60 years. If you do the maths, it turns out that the total heartbeats per lifespan is surprisingly similar between the two species (0.94 billion beats). It has been noted that amongst mammals, there is a clear inverse correlation between heart rate and lifespan.
This observation led to the popularisation of a factoid that the heart can only beat a limited number of time before it eventually fails.
Unfortunately, there has been very limited evidence to support this theory. It is medically true that a heart under more strain for a long period of time, such as with high blood pressure, has a tendency to develop more diseases such as cardiomyopathy and heart failure. However, there are too many other variables to consider. For example, exercise temporarily raises your heart rate but improves your overall cardiovascular health and lowers your basal heart rate.
It is much more likely that death from aging is related to the basal metabolic rate. Metabolism produces free radicals, which are elements with free electrons that can damage cells. Therefore, the higher the metabolic rate (such as in mice), the faster the damage accumulates and results in death.
That being said, consider the other implication of the so-called heartbeat hypothesis. Our hearts beat faster in response to many stimuli: exercise, excitement, fear, anxiety, fun and love. If the hypothesis is true, that would mean that intense emotions could make our hearts tire out faster and hasten our inevitable demise.
Could falling in love be detrimental to our physical health? Thankfully, this has never been shown to be true, with many studies showing that happily married couples tend to outlive single people.
Even if it were true, would you give up on the idea of love to live a few more years? What kind of life would be worth living without any highs or lows? Perhaps when we fall in love, experience heartache or become overwhelmed with happiness, we are making the voluntary choice of quality, not quantity, of life.
Out of all the traits and skills we value, admire and teach to our children, one of the most neglected seems to be that of emotional intelligence. Most people are not even aware what emotional intelligence really means.
Emotional intelligence can be summarised as the ability to recognise, analyse and control the emotions of yourself and others around you. It begins with recognising the presence of an emotion, either through mindfulnessor empathy. Once the emotion has been identified, analyse that emotion: where it came from, what effect it is having on the current situation and what the subtext may be. Lastly, use this information to prevent yourself from overreacting, or to understand why someone may be reacting so defensively or aggressively and how to defuse the situation.
Harnessing the power of emotions is a very useful skill. We like to think of ourselves as highly advanced, intelligent beings, but we are still ruled by basic instincts and emotions embedded deep in our brains. Emotional intelligence works to give us more control over our behaviour and unlocking the power to live a happier life. More importantly, it lets us improve the lives of those around us as we are less likely to do or say hurtful things, while being a more kind, supportive human being.
Let us take an example. You are frustrated at your partner because she has not texted back for over a day. Using emotional intelligence, you recognise that you are feeling angry, but also disappointment and rejection. Further analysis shows that these stem from a subconscious expectation that if she cared about you, she would have texted you. The real reason that you are angry at your partner stems from your insecurities, possibly even past trust or abandonment issues. You also remember that she has been very stressed with a project recently, so she may not be in the mood to talk. The end result is that instead of sending passive-aggressive signals at your partner and creating a rift in your relationship, you bring some chocolate ice cream to cheer your partner up.
Like any other kind of intelligence, emotional intelligence must be learned through education and practice. We cannot rein in our emotions if we have never thought about how our past affects us or what motivates or scares us. We cannot possibly understand why the other person is reacting a certain way, if we never trained the ability to see things from their perspective. We cannot help others process emotions such as depression and anxiety, if we cannot understand our own emotions.
We can teach ourselves to be more emotionally intelligent. Meditation and self-reflection allows us to catalogue and interpret your range of emotions. Reading books helps us understand that other people may have a different way of seeing the world. Having deep and meaningful conversations with your loved ones lets you clear up misunderstandings and better learn why people react a certain way in given situations.
We can then apply this knowledge to constantly hone our skills. It may sound exhausting, but every time you feel a strong emotion – whether it is negative or positive – try to analyse it with your rational mind. The more you practise, the more you will be in touch with your own emotions.
Emotional intelligence is an invaluable tool on the journey of life. With increasing levels of emotional intelligence, you quickly realise why things are the way they are. We are all scared little children in the playground, pulling someone’s hair because we cannot tell them that we love them, or punching someone in the face because we cannot withstand the inexplicable surges of insecurity and self-doubt.
Now look back on yourself: how have emotions affected your life and your relationships? What fights and sufferings could have been avoided had you stopped to interpret the emotions and simply talked things out?
The emotional side of you is an integral part of your identity. Why make it your worst enemy when it can be your best ally?