Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Veil of Happiness

The secret to happiness
Sights & Sounds
Xandria Ooi

It cannot be derived from pleasures alone.

MY brother-in-law, Yu Jin, once remarked to me: “Your face changes when you eat ice-cream. It literally lights up.” One of my favourite things in the world is ice-cream, and I’ve always said that ice-cream makes me extremely happy. Yet, when I think about it, I wonder if consuming ice-cream makes me happy, or if it simply gives me pleasure. There is an important distinction between the two, however similar they may be.

Experiencing pleasure is one of the most exhilarating feelings in the world. Our hearts may beat a little faster; our energy levels surge and we may even smile or laugh a little more than usual. The problem with feelings of pleasure is that it is so closely linked to our emotions that it cannot possibly last. Phrases like “moments of pleasure” or “a rush of pleasure” are often used for a reason — pleasure graces us with its presence but it also leaves without saying goodbye.

The question to ask is, when the euphoria is gone, do you feel happy, or empty? I now acknowledge that having ice-cream does not give me happiness, it simply gives me pleasure. Simply as it may seem, that is an important realisation. I would feel very good as I consume a pint of ice-cream, but after the pint is gone, I would feel guilty. What’s worse, I would feel fat. Is that happiness? Of course not. This does not mean that I would write-off eating ice-cream. Nothing is wrong with experiencing pleasure, but indulging too much would mean that the moment’s pleasure could turn into long-term unhappiness.

This applies across the board to so many things in our lives. If we are always dependent on external factors to give us joy, it only makes sense that we would be unhappy, sad or depress if we are without them. Sometimes, the pleasure we experience brings no regret or sadness, but it does create a void that needs to be constantly filled.

For example, when we purchase an expensive or coveted item, we would feel on top of the world as we leave the store and take it home. After a few weeks, this highly-prized item would no longer be perceived as special. If it was a vase, you would have gotten used to seeing it sitting in your dining room. If it was a car, you’d have gotten used to driving it. One of my friends has a beautiful black Herm├Ęs Birkin bag, and she said something that made me think. After I buy something, it’d just become one of my many things. I’d leave my bag on the floor, or chuck it somewhere in the house. It’s expensive, but it becomes normal after I’ve had it for a while.”

That applies to people as well. If you’re marrying someone just because they’re physically beautiful, you’ll soon fail to see the beauty that had once captivated you so. Attaining material things or having sex with different people give us great pleasure, but it leads us down a path of always seeking the next rush of pleasure. Feeling desirable leads to a false sense of self-worth, which is why it convinces those with insecurities that flattery, praises and sexual conquests can compensate for feelings of inadequacy.

The problem is that pleasure is so temporary that the feeling of increased self-worth fades as quickly as it began, after which we are back at square one. We don’t often stop and think about what our ultimate goal in life is — we think long and hard about our dreams and ambitions, or where we’d like to travel to, what we’d like to eat and how much money we’d like to make; but what does having all that lead us? We hope that it will lead us to happiness. Let’s think about this for a moment. Sometimes, in the pursuit of happiness, we get derailed and forget that we are pursuing happiness, and not simply pleasure. When we confirm a holiday, we are happy. When we at the airport, we are very happy. When we find out that the flight has been delayed, we are extremely unhappy. When we arrive in Paris, we are happy. When our hotel room has no towels, we are unhappy. Did our holiday make us happy, or unhappy?

What I find most difficult in life is to be constantly happy. Happiness is a state of mind that is at peace and free from anger or desires; yet as human beings, we are so reliant on situations, circumstances and people to be happy. In his book, Message from the Masters, Brian Weiss M.D. said, “Happiness comes from within. It is not dependent on external things or on other people. You become vulnerable and can be easily hurt when your feelings of security and happiness depend on the behavior and actions of other people. Never give your power to anyone else.”

So much of our worry, stress, fear and heartaches are because we allow people to affect how we feel. If you have a boss and he was nasty to you, you’d feel anger and depressed. If you have a boyfriend who broke up with you, you’d feel worthless and dispensable. Ending a relationship with someone because they “don’t make us happy” sounds absurd when you think about it. We are not responsible for the happiness of another, and even if we were, we do not have the power to ensure another human being’s happiness. What we able to do in a relationship is to fully utilise the tools that lead to happiness – pleasure, appreciation, understanding and love. In doing that, a couple is able to find happiness together. Pleasure is only one of the many subsets of happiness, and happiness cannot be derived from pleasures alone.

Happiness is within our own control, and we can determine whether to allow the simple pleasures in life to lead us to happiness. Think about it. If we are always dependent upon the big pleasures in life to make us happy — when we are given a pay rise or promotion, when we are given a big diamond ring or when we strike the lottery – then we can only ever be happy a few times in our lives. Simple pleasures are usually just the sun, a roof over our head, a friendly smile or a loving family, but it is hard for us to appreciate the value of simple pleasures until we lose them all; such is human nature. Yet, not all of us are of this mindset. There are people who have found the secret to their own happiness. How else can someone who is ill, be happy? How can someone who is handicapped and can’t move at all, be happy? How can someone who seems to have very little be happy, yet someone who has it all – health, family, love and support – be unhappy? What I do know is that our toolbox of happiness consists of kindness, compassion, appreciation and love, and these are tools that are free and available to anyone who wants them. 

Ego, pride and selfishness simply do not exist in the toolbox of happiness. Such a shame if we would think otherwise.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Veni Vidi Vici

Steve Jobs died a few days ago and he's famous for living a life in the moment. I love this one story where he went on a first date with his wife.

For all of his single-minded dedication to the company he built from the ground up, Jobs actually skipped a meeting to take Laurene on their first date: "I was in the parking lot with the key in the car, and I thought to myself, 'If this is my last night on earth, would I rather spend it at a business meeting or with this woman?' I ran across the parking lot, asked her if she'd have dinner with me. She said yes, we walked into town and we've been together ever since." - Yahoo News

That to me is a perfect example of how I want to do things in life. But let's face it, we are not Steve Jobs or Bill Gates or J.K Rowling, who can wake up in the morning and decide they want to go to Honolulu just to get an inspiration. I might not be able to treat every single day like that. To think about what I would rather be doing at the very moment and just do it - to simply walk away and leave the 9 to 5 job and do all other things that I love instead but I want to try every once in a while.

For instance, let's give that idea a chance in a year. See how many times you can do things differently, to follow your heart and be spontaneous in a year. That is quite reasonable to me, yes?

I used to have 10 or 20 things for my yearly resolution back then but since about two years ago I have made a habit to only do two things every year. To go some place I have never been before and to do something I have never done before. Easy peasy. 

You are probably thinking now of places you have always wanted to visit. Now, to start small and keep the momentum going, you don't have to think of places too far away and one that can burn a hole in your pocket. Some place local will do for a start. I'm sure there are many other area in this country you have never been before.

I went to Kelantan early this year for the first time. I decided to attend my best friend's wedding and have a look at how this part of Malaysia is like. It was a pleasant trip. If I didn't personally go there, I would never have known just how unique that place is. For example, do you know that all the shops in Kelantan have a signage written in Arabic alphabet? Even the Chinese coffee shop. And the Chinese there speak fluent Kelantanese dialect. You might have heard about it but to listen to it in person is just interesting.

Now how about that doing something you have never done before. It is as fun as going to a new place for the first time. Like when I first decided to join my friends to go fishing.  And bought my first fishing rod. And catch my first fish. It was all very exciting and now I know how it is like to feel that first tug at your bait and get a first glimpse of the mysterious fish who play tug of war with you. It was not that boring as I thought it would. Sometimes the waiting part can be a bit exasperating but at the end of it all, it really feels good to count how many fish you have been able to catch. This can also be another way for you to be creative at spending your time with your friends. This is something different from what I normally do every day or every other weekend.

We have about two and a half month left before the year end.So let's make the rest of the days before that to be meaningful and something that you can think back and say 'I did it!'. Start with just two easy mission which is to go to a place you have never been before, any place at all...new coffee shop, new hiking area...etc...and to do something you have never done before. To sign up for monthly charity donation for the Kidney Institution or to join a dancing class or vocal class..anything...

Have fun and most of all...remember that you are doing this for yourself. Veni Vidi Vici (teda kaitan juga..saja..haha)