The definition of a home varies from person to person. For some, it is simply their current place of residence. But for many, a place must fulfil certain criteria before it could be considered a true “home”.
For some, a home is a place of rest. It is a peaceful place where they can lay their weary heads to rest. A place where the chaos and pains of the world cannot touch you. A place where you can feel safe in your own space.
For others, it is a place of connection. A place they share with the people they love, whether it be a significant other, family or close friends. It is a place where you can connect intimately with someone at the deepest level, as you would only invite someone you wholly trust to your sanctum.
Much like many questions, this is one where there is no one true answer. Everyone would have their own reason as to why their home is a true home. For myself, a home is a home when there is normal, day-to-day domestic things going on, such as someone cooking up a meal or resting to some music.
Whatever your reason may be, the question is worth pondering because once you have figured it out, you will never feel lost in life.
Nature is surprisingly balanced. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction (Newton’s Third Law of Motion). Energy can change forms in an isolated system, but cannot be created or destroyed as the total energy must remain constant (Law of Conservation of Energy). Similarly, matter is balanced by the existence of antimatter.
Antimatter is a substance that is the polar opposite of matter. For example, instead of positively charged protons and negatively charged electrons, anti-protons are negative and anti-electrons (or positrons) are positive. Much like matter, antimatter particles can interact with each other to form more complex particles, such as an anti-atom, meaning that it is conceivable that an entire world could be made out of antimatter.
When antimatter and matter collide with each other, they annihilate. Much like the equation 1 + -1 = 0, the two opposites cancel each other out. Conversely, to create matter out of nothing, you must create an equal amount of antimatter to balance it out. Strangely though, physicists have noted that there is a great imbalance between the two in the observable universe. There seems to be far more matter than antimatter, which does not make sense. The question of why this imbalance exists is one of the biggest unsolved mysteries in physics.
An interesting lesson we can take away from antimatter is the concept that to create something out of nothing, you must balance it out with “anti-something”. If you borrow money from the bank, you may have $1000 now, but you have also created a -$1000 debt. The total balance is still 0.
The same concept can be applied to happiness. If something makes you happy, then the possibility exists that the same thing can cause you an equal amount of grief. Let’s say you find a fulfilling relationship with a significant other who brings you extreme joy. This is balanced by the extreme grief that will be brought to you if the relationship is strained or ends abruptly. Ironically, the pursuit of happiness creates more room for potential misery, as grief comes from the loss of something we care about.
So what does this imply? Does it mean that we should avoid falling in love or caring about anything, because it will only hurt us in the end? Should we even bother trying to live a happy life if it is cancelled out by all the sadness that it can bring along the way? Of course, these are silly thoughts. How dull life would be if we did not have any ups or downs.
Instead, the lesson here is that we should be mindful that happiness is not free. Grief is the price we pay so that we can experience the wonderful moments of joy, love and connection that life can give us only if we reach out. If you avoided connecting with someone or taking a leap of faith due to fear of failure or loss, then your life would be empty. This philosophy allows us to be grateful for the joyful moments, while helping us endure grief as we know that is the price we must pay for true happiness.
You can’t let fear steal your funk. To quote Alfred Lord Tennyson:
“‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”
We are critical by nature. This is especially true when it comes to relationships, because we’d like someone as perfect as possible to accompany us on the journey of life. A large part of dating is meeting people, getting to know them better at a deeper level and trying to judge how compatible they are with us.
During this process, we might come across something that we consider a dealbreaker – that is, something that we find annoying, repulsive or unacceptable enough that we no longer desire that person. This may range from serious behaviours such as alcoholism or unfaithfulness, to benign but annoying behaviours such as chewing with an open mouth or being messy.
But with so many potential dealbreakers, how do we know which are legitimate and which are frivolous? Are we being too picky, meaning we will be forever alone, or are we trapping ourselves in a miserable, incompatible relationship, because we are not brave enough to leave the relationship?
An American columnist named Dan Savage answers this question with the concept of paying the “price of admission”. His process is extremely simple: if you cannot count the number of dealbreakers for you on one hand, then the problem lies with you. Choosing the right partner is a very important decision and you are encouraged to have a reasonable idea of what you want and what you don’t. But if your list of what you cannot live with is long and full of superficial things, then you will never find a happy relationship.
People are far from perfect, but we try to hide that fact. On a first date, we try to present an idealised version of ourselves to impress each other. We dream of finding “The One” – someone who is perfect for us. We set unrealistic expectations in our head and use it as an excuse, lamenting that we cannot find the right person while turning away potential partners because of trivial reasons. These delusions distract us from the harsh truth that no two people are perfect or fully compatible for each other from the get-go.
So if your partner has a characteristic that you dislike and it is not one of your core, serious dealbreakers, then ask yourself the question: is it worth it? Does this outweigh all of the good qualities they possess? If you believe it is, then you may leave the relationship, but you must accept that this was your choice and not your partner’s fault. If it isn’t that big of a deal, then this is a price of admission to this relationship. This is the price you must pay for the privilege of the joy, the laughter, the connection and the love your partner could provide you through the relationship.
When you see it this way, it becomes easier to accept their bad qualities. We can be angry and frustrated and annoyed, or we can choose to accept our partners for who they are – flawed, but wonderful people who are worth the trouble. Of course, you can communicate with your partner to see if you can compromise on some grounds, but this should not be an ultimatum and you cannot expect your partner to forcibly change who they are.
Lastly, remember that just as you find some qualities to be suboptimal, your partner will also feel the same way about certain parts of you. So hopefully, both parties can understand that every relationship has a price of admission that must be paid. Then, they can work on smoothing out the rough edges through communication and compromise to produce a strong, healthy long-term relationship.
The secret to a fulfilling relationship is not expecting to find The One, but instead striving to become The One for each other by rounding up.
What is the meaning of life? This has been one of the greatest philosophical questions of all time, pondered by almost every human being at some stage in their life. In the early days, the meaning of life was simple: survive. We had to use all of our resources to feed and warm ourselves, while defending ourselves from the various creative ways nature can kill us. But as civilisation developed and we had more luxury of food, time and thought, we began to wonder more and more: why are we here?
When we are babies, the world revolves around us. Parents exist to feed us, what we see are the extension of our minds and what we cannot see does not exist. This belief carries on to adulthood somewhat. We see this in old beliefs that the universe revolves around the Earth, and religions telling us that everything on Earth was created for mankind. The concepts of destiny and divine will provided us with purpose in this world. We felt important and valuable because we felt that we were part of something greater and our lives mattered.
But as science developed, we came to learn that the universe does not exist for us. Things don’t happen because they are scripted as an intricate chain reaction as part of a grand story; they just happen thanks to random chance. Biology teaches us that life is a product of a series of accidents and mistakes, to create better adapted beings. Statistics teaches us that we are not special; just a point on a bell curve. Psychology teaches us how flawed we are in interpreting cause and effect, thanks to our brain’s tendency of seeking patterns resulting in cognitive biases.
In short, there is a real possibility that there is no meaning of life. We are simply happy accidents amidst the course of the universe’s timeline.
Yet we cling to the idea that we need to find our purpose. We cannot bear the thought that we have no celestial guidance as we navigate through life, or that our choices and actions play no role in how the world spins on. We fear that without purpose, we are worthless. The thought that life is meaningless invokes existential dread and we wonder what’s the point of doing anything in life.
However, consider the opposite. If we are not bound by fate or some calling, then our lives are truly ours. We are not chess pieces following every instruction of an unseen player. Instead, we have the freedom to make our own choices and write the story of our lives however we want. This is no doubt scary, because we have little guidance along this journey. Nevertheless, it is our story, our choices, our life.
Instead of lamenting that we serve no purpose, we can create our own purpose. We won the lottery and got to experience consciousness. How will you use that gift? Will you waste it away by doing nothing, or will you make the most of it by enjoying it? If we don’t have some mission to accomplish, then we can use our time to enjoy our passions (given that it does not harm anyone) and challenge ourselves to be better people.
The pursuit of happiness, to be the best version of yourself, to help others lead a happier life… However you want to make use of your life, as long as you are content with it and accept that it is your choice, that is the true meaning of life. Hopefully, it is something positive and constructive, rather than something harmful or something that you would regret in your final moments.
You are not worthless because you have no purpose. You are priceless because there are no expectations or plans or predestined path for you. Life is like a blank canvas with little restriction on what you can do with it. You might as well get the most value from it by painting the best damn picture you can – something for you to smile upon and be proud of, while inspiring others to paint their own beautiful pictures.
The Battle of Hamburger Hill is a famous battle of the Vietnam War, where the US military engaged in an attack to try take Hill 937, also dubbed Hamburger Hill. It was a highly controversial battle as the hill held little strategic value and was heavily fortified, yet the army was ordered to launch a frontal assault to try to capture it. After ten days of heavy fighting and the death of hundreds of soldiers, the US forces eventually decided to give up on the hill. The military was heavily criticised for the futile operation and news of the battle contributed to the war losing favour from the American citizens.
This battle may be the origin of the phrase: “is this the hill you want to fight and die on?”. The question is often used somewhat jokingly, but it is a surprisingly powerful and useful frame of mind when it comes to life.
We often find ourselves in disagreement with others, whether it be over ideas, plans or opinions. We may disagree with a plan of action from our superiors, or we may have a difference in opinion with our partner over some matter. Our natural instinct is to argue back to try to win the argument, because everyone hates being wrong. The problem is that the other person will be fighting back just as hard, so the argument can end bitterly with negative consequences in the relationship.
So when you find yourself in an argument, ask yourself: “is this the hill I want to fight and die on?”. There are certainly things worth fighting for, such as your values or if you think the consequences of what you are fighting over is significant enough. However, there are so many arguments where the prize is merely your ego and pride. Is it really worth damaging your relationship with the other person just so you can be right?
If you think this isn’t the hill you want to die on, it might not be worth wasting your emotional energy on the matter. Instead, you may want to compromise and make a conscious choice to let the other person win. Letting the small things go in life and choosing your battles will make a great difference to your happiness and connection to other people.
Our brain thrives on stimulation. We constantly look for distractions, pushing ourselves to always be doing something productive or active. With modern technology such as computers and mobile phones, we have even more ways to use our free time to learn, work and communicate with others (not to mention procrastinating).
However, important as it may be to stay productive and to take action, we seem to have forgotten how to do nothing. There is rarely a moment nowadays when we are truly doing nothing. On our commute to work, we catch up on social media or listen to podcasts. In between tasks, we upload photos or send messages to friends to stay connected. When we have finished our work and chores for the day, we will “unwind” with a show or movie. Even on the toilet, we use our phones to constantly engage our mind.
As much as our mind loves to be stimulated, it also needs rest to process the abundance of information it absorbs during the day. Otherwise, stress starts to pile up from the rushed pace of life and it manifests as crankiness and fatigue. We don’t feel truly rested because when we are supposed to rest, we continue to overwork our mind. What we need is to take five, space out and daydream.
Daydreaming is considered by society as a negative thing. When kids daydream in class, they are told off to focus and do their work. When adults daydream in their own time, others criticise them for being “lazy” and “dull”. It is the direct opposite of what society sees as productivity, where something is created through work and action.
But there is much evidence to suggest that daydreaming has real benefits to your physical and mental health. When you are daydreaming, your body lets its guard down, slowing your brainwaves, heart rate and breathing. Your brain uses that time to consolidate learning, solve complex problems and take inventory of your thoughts and feelings.
Because you have detached yourself from surrounding sensory stimuli, the brain has space to explore the inner workings of your mind, such as your creative side, and coming up with original thoughts. This moment of pause lets your body and mind refresh, allowing it to work more efficiently in processing the past, being mindful of the present and planning for the future.
So unless you absolutely have to be somewhere doing something important right now, take five minutes, put your phone or computer away, look out the window and space out for a bit, letting your mind wander to wherever it pleases. Don’t let anything or anyone distract you and don’t care about what others will think of you.
Lay your weary head to rest and refresh yourself. You deserve a break.
How was your day? Did something good happen that made you feel happy? Or were there a series of dramas that left a sour taste in your mouth? On average, the answer to the question is almost always just: “it was fine”.
For most people, the typical day tends to be a working day. We wake up, fix breakfast (hopefully), go to work, do the same work we have done for years, come back home, try to relax as we brace for the next day, then go to sleep. People tend to feel worn out and tired after a hard day of work and are just looking forward to the next weekend or the next vacation.
But this means that we are looking forward to only (at most) 10-20% of our lives. The other 80% of our days, we are surviving instead of living. Isn’t this such a waste? We only have a limited amount of time on this Earth, with even fewer years where we are young and full of vitality. Yet we spend the majority of it looking forward to just a small portion of it.
This presents a few problems. For one, we set high expectations for our days off, which can result in disappointment if things don’t go as planned. Sometimes, we feel so exhausted from our work days that we waste our precious free time binging TV shows or scrolling through social media. In essence, because we split our lives into “miserable working days” and “hopefully enjoyable resting days”, we become very inefficient when it comes to living happy lives.
One solution is to find a way to make your typical days more enjoyable. You have to try to find a routine that you wouldn’t get tired of. This might mean finding a job that continues to challengeyou in different ways, finding a passionthat keeps you interested and motivated to improve yourself, or finding a life partner who you never get sick of talking to and spending time with. These are all achievable, but nonetheless difficult because of the limitations set by reality. Then again, they are well worth trying for.
The other option is changing the way you reflect on your life. A major barrier to happiness is that our brains always focus on only new or negative things. That is why when we look back on our day, it feels featureless and mundane because it will either be routine, or a bad situation overshadows the whole day. To fight this, we have to consciously remind ourselves of the few good moments.
These are all simple questions that will remind you that a typical day is really not that bad if you change your perspective.
Happiness is not a climax that you reach from stimulating yourself with new experiences and excitement. It is a state of mind, a perspective, a way of life. If you seek sustainable happiness, find a way to make each day – no matter how routine it is – more enjoyable, whether by changing something in your life or changing the way you view your life.
What do you look for in a potential partner? Everyone has their own set of criteria and features that they find attractive. But a common point of the things that people look for in a potential mate is that they subconsciously ask the question: “What can this person do for me?”.
Let’s take some examples.
“Someone with a good, stable job” – Someone that offers me financial stability.
“A tall, dark, handsome guy” or “A beautiful, sexy, blonde girl” – Someone who is aesthetically pleasing for me to look at.
“Someone who can cook well” – Someone who can feed me.
“Someone that makes me laugh” – Someone who will make me happier.
“Someone who makes me feel loved” – Someone who will make me feel special.
As individuals, we are allowed to make some selfish decisions when it comes to important life choices. But a relationship involves two individuals, meaning that both parties should be considered. There is some room for compromise, but the more selfish and individualistic people act, the more resentment that builds up in the relationship.
Furthermore, the question of what your significant other can do for you builds expectations. Human beings never act predictably, so this is sure to lead to disappointment. As you get used to each other’s company and your partner starts doing less “for” you, such as cooking you dinner every day or giving you gifts, you will feel as if they don’t love you anymore. Eventually, you grow apart from each other and the unrealistic expectations threaten the relationship.
Perhaps the more important question to ask is: “What can I do together with this person?”.
For example, what hobbies or passions do you share and can you do it together? Do they spend their days off in a similar way to you? Are your values and beliefs aligned in a way that you could share a life together without too much clashing? How are they different from you, what can you learn from them and how can you help them?
The advantage of this question over the first one is that it respects that a relationship is something shared by two equals. Instead of asking what value your partner will add to your life, it instead asks how you can add to each other’s lives to produce something greater.
If you look at a crustacean, such as a crab or lobster, you will notice that they have a very tough exoskeleton. Unlike us, they have their skeleton on the outside to act as armour to protect their weak, soft insides. This allows for great protection against injuries and when battling.
But if they are contained in a rigid shell, how do these animals grow? The answer is that they moult. As they grow, crustaceans will periodically shed their armour, so that the growing inner tissues can create a larger exoskeleton to hold their body in. This is a critical period as the animal is most vulnerable, as the new exoskeleton is still soft and does not offer much protection.
Even though human bodies contain skeletons on the inside, we could consider our hearts as having an exoskeleton. Like all animals, we want to avoid pain – both physical and emotional. So as we grow up, we put up resilient walls to try to protect our weak psyche and ego, to prevent being hurt by others. But a heart with a rigid, hard shell cannot grow. Only when we lower our guard, climb out of our shells and allow ourselves to be vulnerable can we grow and mature.
Life is full of suffering and hardship. We all have our scars and traumas, but at the end of the day, we survived. If we decide to shut ourselves in to avoid connection and refuse to open up to others, we may protect ourselves from some pain. But these are the moments – when we feel like all is lost, when we feel so weak and helpless, when we are anguishing – that we are growing as a person.
Don’t be afraid of feeling weak and vulnerable – it is a necessary step for your heart to grow.
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.