You will never regret being kind. You will never regret having hope. You will never regret prioritising happiness. You will never regret being yourself. You will never regret taking chances.
People think regret is born out of bad choices, but more often than not, regret is the result of not making a choice. Taking a chance may come with consequences, but that is a risk we have to take. Because if you’re too afraid of consequences or being hurt and refuse to take action on the important things, life will pass you by in the blink of an eye and you might miss it. On your deathbed, it won’t be the decisions you made that you regret, but the bites you didn’t take.
Happiness is an active process, not something that will come to you passively. So choose to be kind and choose to be hopeful. Choose to laugh and choose to love. Choose to be the person you want to be, living the life you want to live.
We hate to be wrong. When our beliefs and ideas and knowledge are challenged, we have a strong tendency to become aggressively defensive, going as far as attacking the other person personally. It is extremely difficult trying to change someone’s opinion, because of this strong bias towards our own thoughts. This is confirmation bias.
The problem with confirmation bias is that it creates a vicious cycle, causing us to become more and more rigid in our thinking. Not only do we refuse to change our position when challenged by someone else, we actively seek out proof that we are right.
When we read or hear news or a fact, our brain has a tendency to automatically colour it according to our own beliefs. If it aligns with our beliefs, then we take it as concrete proof that we are right. If it goes against our views, we work hard to prove that there are flaws in the article, such as claiming that the writer is biased, or blatantly ignoring it, while demanding better evidence.
Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt eloquently describes this phenomenon into two questions.
When we like the proposition or fact, we ask: “Can I believe this?”. If there is even a single plausible reason, we give ourselves permission to believe it, as it reinforces our views.
However, when we don’t like it, we ask: “Must I believe this?”. Even a single, minor flaw is enough for us to discredit the new information.
This gross bias results in the difficulty of our brain to consider alternative points of view. Furthermore, we now live in the Information Era where abundant information is freely available, meaning that we can easily search up numerous other opinions that align with ours, even if the majority consensus is against us. We choose only to discuss the idea deeply with people who think like us, while fighting tooth and nail against others.
How do we overcome this incredible barrier? Like most cognitive biases, we cannot simply switch it off.
Then, we can catch ourselves asking “can I” versus “must I”. If we catch ourselves saying “must I believe it?”, then we should become critical of our own thinking and ask ourselves how we would respond if we instead asked the question “can I believe it?”.
At the same time, try to notice when other people are showing confirmation bias. Then, realise that is exactly how ignorant and obtuse you sound when voicing your own confirmation bias.
Finally, remember that it is okay to be wrong. If we never made any mistakes, then we would never grow. How boring would that world be?
Communication is easy on paper. We say what we think or feel, the other person hears it, and understands it. But in practice, so much can go wrong. Failure to communicate has been the cause of so much grief for people throughout history, even resulting in wars and disasters. Most importantly, poor communication is one of the greatest barriers to building a deep connection with another person.
The problem lies in the fact that despite being social animals, we are quite bad at being social. We care too much about how others may judge us, so we avoid being direct and literal when we communicate our thoughts and feelings. Instead, we choose to encrypt our messages and hope (or worse, expect) that the other person will understand the hidden meaning behind our words.
For example, instead of telling our partner that we are angry at them over something they did, we act passive-aggressively or pick a fight over an unrelated manner. Instead of speaking up about something that is unfair or unjust, we choose to stay silent and accept it to avoid conflict. We will flirt and tease with someone without telling them just how much we adore them. Instead of just saying what is on our mind, we try to package what we want to say in a cryptic form through vague, suggestive messages. Sometimes, we act out like a little boy pulling at the ponytail of a girl he likes on the playground, by sulking or being cruel to our loved ones.
Because we all tend to hide our feelings behind our words and actions, we become conditioned to try and analyse and decode messages to interpret the true meaning of what other people say. But because we are not mind readers, this often leads to misunderstandings. Instead of trying to talk openly with the person, we assume that we have unraveled their true intentions and act on it, which often leads to even more misunderstandings. In time, the relationship breaks down.
This is the reason why practising good communication is such a crucial relationship advice. Why waste our time and energy crafting delicate riddles and trying to be codebreakers, when it will only result in misunderstandings? It would be far more efficient to fight through our awkwardness and insecurities to talk about what is really on your minds.
That said, this is not a simple task and takes a lot of courage and trust. That is why the other takeaway point is how lucky it is to find someone who truly “gets you” – someone who has the patience to listen to you talk in a roundabout way, and spend the effort to try to understand what you really mean. If you find someone who knows you well enough that they can decipher your messages and actually listen to what you are really trying to say, then that is something to be grateful for.
Because the greatest gift we can receive from another person is for them to truly understand us.
Dr Tony Fernando, psychiatrist and researcher at the University of Auckland, talks about three factors that appear to be key to living a happy, content life. They are gratitude, mindfulness and compassion.
Gratitude can be summarised by a quote by Rabbi Hyman Schachtel:
“Happiness is not having what you want, but wanting what you have”.
We live in a society that drives us to want more – to become wealthier, more respected and more successful. Our never-ending desires are a great source of unhappiness. Gratitude is the attempt to fight this natural greed. This makes it difficult for us to become grateful: how can we be grateful when we feel miserable?
The key to gratitude is changing your perspective. A large part of our misery come from looking at the big picture. Houses are too expensive. My friends are all getting married but I am still single. I find my job dissatisfying. We sometimes lack the ability to see the forest for the trees; our idea of happiness are grand moments of success or excitement. Instead, perhaps we should be looking at the simple pleasures of life. Think of the little moments that made you smile today: meeting a friend for brunch, seeing a child play with a puppy, drinking a delicious milkshake, basking under the warm sunlight.
To become more grateful, one could try writing a gratitude diary. Every day, write down three (or even just one if it is too hard) things you were grateful that day. This trains you into actively thinking about simple pleasures. It may take a few weeks, but you will notice yourself becoming more aware of the little moments of happiness that fill your day that you took for granted. Eventually, you will reach a point where you are passively grateful throughout every day without having to think about it all times.
Recording a gratitude diary is one of the quickest and simplest ways to increase your happiness, with most people seeing noticeable positive effects within 1-2 months. The best part is that you leave a permanent record that you can look back on to realise how happy your life actually is when you see the forest for the trees.
It sounds like a simple question, yet so many people have to stop and think deeply when they are asked it. Some will bring up a magical story from their last overseas travel, some will talk about a beautiful date they went on with their partner. A common trend seems to be that people need to dig deep into their memories to think of a truly “happy time”.
But why is it so hard to remember when you were last happy? Why don’t people say “I was happy ten minutes ago when I had that delicious burger” or “I am happy right now talking to you”?
Our days are full of little moments that shine a little light on our days, yet many of us do not think much of it. We search far and wide in our pursuit of happiness – the perfect trip, the perfect experience, the perfect partner – yet we fail to acknowledge the importance of the simple pleasures of life.
Now think back on the past 24 hours. Were there truly no happy moments, or did you just not notice them? Recognising the small things that make you smile is the first step to achieving happiness.
A nearly universal belief most people seem to share is that we all like to think that we are the “good guy” in the story of our lives. We like to think that we are doing our best in life to be a positive influence in the world. No one likes to think that they are a villain; all our actions – even the questionable, harmful ones – are justifiable by our intent. Even Hitler thought that his massacre of the Jewish people and other horrible deeds were simply a means to an end to provide an environment where his own people could flourish.
But there comes a point in our lives where we are faced by a situation that challenges this belief. More often than not, it is when someone close to us, such as a friend or partner who we trust in to know us well, criticises us. Not superficial things such as critiquing your fashion sense or correcting your grammar, but digging deep and shining a bright spotlight on a flaw in your person, pointing out how much you have hurt them because of what you said or how you acted.
Such an event typically shocks us to the core. Because of the invisible social contract, we rarely point out people’s character flaws out of politeness and to avoid hurting them. This means we do not always know our own deepest flaws. However, sometimes enough is enough and people will explode in a fit of rage to let you know that you have hurt them through your behaviour. You have not been the good guy. You have been a villain.
Our response to this type of situation defines who we really are. An appropriate response is to listen to this criticism, have a period of introspection to understand your flaw and make an effort to try and correct this and improve yourself. This is a display of maturity. But if you become defensive, reject all criticism and continue to act in a way that hurts those around you, then how could you call yourself a hero?
Remember that life is not a story revolving only around you. You are simply one of many characters, like other people, in the grand, unifying story we call life. Whether you develop your character to be a mature hero willing to accept and improve on their flaws, or an immature villain deluded that they are always good, is up to you.
Imagine if you will, that you could drop whatever is happening in your life and have a six-month break. No matter what you are doing – studying, working, preparing to get married – you are allowed to forget about your life and have six months off. During this time, you may go wherever you want and do whatever one thing you have always dreamed of doing as a profession.
Whether you want to be a walking tour guide in Europe, a scuba diver in the Caribbean islands or a professional gambler in Las Vegas, you can be it. Furthermore, there are no consequences of your break (i.e. you will return back to your normal life afterwards as if it did not happen) and you do not have to worry about skill levels (i.e. you will be at the perfect skill level for your job before you start).
Now that we have set up the perfect “break”, what will you choose to do with it? This question may seem simple, but it helps you search deep inside you for what you truly want in life. Too often in life, we have to set aside our dreams and aspirations just to survive reality. In such a world, telling people to “do what you love” or “chase your dreams” can sometimes seem ignorant as many people do not have the luxury of doing so.
That being said, there is no harm in dreaming – in imagining a world where things could be different and you could do what you really wanted to do. Even if you couldn’t take six months off to chase your dreams, perhaps there are other ways to live a little happier. If your fantasy was to be a barista in Italy, learn to make coffee using a filter. If you dream of being a rap star, spend five minutes of every day writing down some sweet rhymes on a notebook.
Dreams will make your life happier one way or another. All you have to do is give your dream a chance. So what is your dream break?
Re-reading comics you loved as a child, loving and appreciating them even more now.
So I recently acquired The Complete Calvin and Hobbes set!!! It’s made of three beautiful hardcover books that contain ALL the Calvin and Hobbes strips that have been drawn~ 😀 Extremely ecstatic at the moment because Calvin and Hobbes is one of my favourite comics ever (seconded only by Peanuts) hehe. It has content ranging from hilariously innocent to deeply philosophical and thought-provoking. There’s so much stuff that I wouldn’t have gotten or appreciated as a kid, but make for very good life advice now that I’m more grown up. Here’s an example:
(click for bigger image)
I’m gonna marathon the whole thing from start to finish, hopefully not taking up too much study time haha. But a few pages in between study sessions won’t be harmful 🙂
Every night, just before I fall asleep, I make a small wish that I will have sweet dreams tonight. But I cannot help but wonder if I will wake up with a smile because it was pleasant, or if I will wake up with a sense of emptiness and sadness because it was a bittersweet dream that will never come true. In the end, I guess it does not matter, as those dreams will fade away, like tears in rain.