12 of my favourite Life Lessons we can all live by

Recently a friend forwarded me a list of catchy liners that are meant to be good lessons for life.  While some are comical and others dismal, I found in the list some simple truths that are worth being reminded off for our benefits.

You don’t have to wait till midlife and learned these life lessons through own experiences. The advantage of youth is that you have the time to apply these lessons early to reap the maximum benefits in your happiness and well-being.

Taking cue from others’ list of life lessons out there, I have modified and compiled my own favourite list of 12 life lessons I want to live by. I hope you will find them relevant and benefit from them too.

1 – Take care of your body

You might live a long life, or you might live a short one. Nobody knows. Either way, you’re going to wish you took better care of yourself in your youth. So eat and exercise like you’re a diabetic heart patient with a stroke – so that you never actually become one.

2 – Treasure your family

The most important person in your life is the person who agreed to share their life with you. Treat them well for they are a part of you. And children grow up way too fast. Make the most of the time you have with them. What matters most are the people in our lives.

3 – Build real friendships

A true friend will come running if you call them at 2am; everyone else is just an acquaintance. Don’t let your friendships fade away. Friendships need time and attention. Nurture them well and they will pay you off well.

4 – Work your vocation

Conventional wisdom says that you should get a job doing what you love! But that isn’t the best advice. The right job is the job you love some days, can tolerate most days, and still pays the bills. Almost nobody has a job they love every day. So give your best work while you can.

5 – Work in moderation

Nobody ever dies wishing they had worked more. Work hard, but don’t prioritise work over family, friends, or even yourself. You can never finish your work and work will always be there.

6 – Worry changes nothing

Most of the things we worry never happen. No matter how much we worry, it won’t change anything. Even if what we worry happens, they are rarely as bad as we fear they will be. Worry is useless unless it leads us to a solution. So learn to manage your worries.

7 – Seek experiences over things

Stuff is just stuff and things gather dusts.  Don’t hold onto material objects. The less stuff you have, the freer you are. Purchase mindfully. Hold onto time and experiences instead.

8 – See the world

Travel expands you. Go places. Do things. Be enlightened. It will make you more interesting and insightful. It is a pursuit well worth saving for. Pack a bag and go wherever you can afford to go. Don’t just buy stuff. Go discover our beautiful world.

9 – Keep on learning

There is so much to learn and so much to explore. Take time to learn every single day. Challenge yourself to acquire a new skill, read something different, or take a class. Learning keeps our minds engaged and sharp, even into old age.

10 – Take courage and overcome

You have more strength and resilience than you think you have. Whatever circumstances you are at or trial you are facing, it won’t last forever. You can handle it. The pain is temporary. Time heals. Things change. It will pass. You will get through it and survive.

11 – Appreciate small things

Be present in the moment and appreciate the small things. Little things matter. Don’t just look at the big wins or great accomplishments of others. Instead work to achieve and accumulate the little things that bring life’s joy and meaning.  Think of the special time with your kids, the smile on your spouse’s face or the important tasks you managed to complete.

12 – Live your life

We have limited time on earth. Don’t wake up one day in your old age and realise you haven’t done the things you dreamed about. Life is short so enjoy it. Don’t make things more serious than they have to be. Create more fun in your life. Make every day count.

When Life Throws You a Curveball, have a Cup of Coffee

I can still remember that fateful day. It was early in the morning and I had just arrived at the office. Grabbed my cup of coffee and fired up the laptop when my hand phone rang. It was my wife, and she was crying.

“The biopsy result is out, I have stage 2 cancer”, my wife told me in between sobs.

Everything stopped for a moment. I was out of words. I was shocked. The moment I tried to say something assuring, she broke down even more. After listening to her for a minute or so, I eventually mustered a feeble “we will pull this through together darling.”

After hanging up, I sat at my work desk, stunt. Yes, cancer is not uncommon. We have all heard of a family or friend who has or has someone that is affected by cancer. But like everyone else, I thought that cancer only happens to others. I have never thought it would happen to me. Why my family? Why my wife?

Fast-forward three months and to cut the story short, my wife underwent surgery to remove the cancerous lump, followed by reconstruction on the affected area. The healing process was slow and painful. When her body was strong enough, doctor prescribed chemotherapy plus radiotherapy. She is now onto her third of total required six doses but more to come in the form of radiotherapy.

Life has thrown us a curveball. We were all well. Now we struggle to live back our normal lives. I was in and out of the hospital and my career is taking a beating.  Our two boys are still young and require attention and care. They will be entering elementary school next year. I have to shoulder extra responsibilities at home while managing work in the office. With my wife focusing on recovery, it can be tough and tiring at times.

As the head of the family I may put up a brave front. But I have my moments of pain. I have been impatient with my sons and I feel horrible every time I lose my temper on them. It is never their fault and they are just being active and playful children. At times I am less kind to my wife. I get upset when she complains and when she makes a fuss. She struggles with the side effects of chemo and we all feel the brunt of it.

The road to recovery is certainly not easy. I struggle. I fail, over and over again.

One day when I was feeling low I chanced on this story about a carrot, egg and coffee bean. I thought it was an interesting perspective and hence I am sharing it with you here.

If you are also currently going through a rough patch, I hope this story can encourage you to be of courage and stay strong. There is always something to be learned from adversities. Don’t let it kill you and you will always emerge stronger.

The story goes like this:

A young woman went to her mother and told her about her life and how things were so hard for her. She did not know how she was going to make it and wanted to give up. She was tired of fighting and struggling. It seemed as one problem was solved a new one arose.

Her mother took her to the kitchen. She filled three pots with water. In the first, she placed carrots, in the second she placed eggs, and the last she placed ground coffee beans.

She let them sit and boil without saying a word. In about twenty minute she turned off the burners. She fished the carrots out and placed them in a bowl. She pulled the eggs out and placed them in a bowl. Then she ladled the coffee into a bowl. Turning to her daughter, she asked, “Tell me what you see?”

“Carrots, eggs, and coffee,” she replied.

She brought her closer and asked her to feel the carrots. She did and noted that they were soft. She then asked her to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, she observed the hard-boiled egg. Finally, she asked her to sip the coffee. The daughter smiled, as she tasted its rich aroma.

The daughter then asked, “What’s the point, mother?”

Her mother explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity… boiling water – but each reacted differently.

The carrot went in strong, hard, and unrelenting. However, after being subjected to the boiling water, it softened and became weak.

The egg had been fragile. Its thin outer shell had protected its liquid interior. But, after being through the boiling water, its inside became hardened.

The ground coffee beans were unique, however. After they were in the boiling water they had changed the water.

“Which are you?” she asked the daughter. “When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond? Are you a carrot, an egg, or a coffee bean?”

Are you the carrot that seems strong, but with pain and adversity, you wilt and become soft and lose your strength?

Are you the egg that starts with a malleable heart, but changes with the heat? Did you have a fluid spirit, but after a trial, become hardened and stiff? Does your shell look the same, but on the inside you are bitter with a hardened heart?

Or are you going to be like the coffee bean?

The bean actually changes the hot water, the very circumstance that brings the pain. When the water gets hot, it releases the fragrance and flavor. If you are like a coffee bean, when things are at their worst, you get better and change the situation around me.

Interesting perspective on the coffee bean indeed!

How do you handle adversity?

When the hours are the darkest and trials are their greatest do you elevate to another level? I believe all of us can learn to behave like a coffee bean.

So the next time life throws you a curveball, remember this story and have a cup of nicely brewed hot coffee!

 

Why Relationships Matter More than you Think

The relationships we foster in life, whether intentionally or unintentionally, matter more that we think. The people that we connect with will affect our destiny – positively or negatively. Who we run with will determine how we run, the direction we run, how fast we run and how far we run. The people we associate with actually plays a major role in our lives.

I am remembered of the story of a corporate CEO and his wife, travelling by car and they stopped for refuelling and to get something to drink. While the husband went inside to get a cold drink, the wife was actively engaged in conversation with the pump attendant. When the husband got back into the car and drove away, he asked his wife what was all the talking about. The wife said she had dated this guy in high school. Hearing this the husband boasted that ‘I am sure you’re glad you marry a CEO instead of a service station attendant.’ But the wife said to him, ‘No, I was thinking that if I had marry him instead of you, he would have be the CEO and you would be a service station attendant!’

The people we choose to relate to determine who we becomes in life. Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm – Proverbs 13:20. Never underestimate the power of relationships.

According to a Harvard Medical School article, your relationships are more important to your long term physical health than the food you eat or the sleep you get. The article highlighted a study, which examined data from more than 309,000 people, found that the lack of strong relationships increased the risk of premature death from all causes by 50%. Apparently this can add to the mortality risk roughly comparable to smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day, and greater than obesity and physical inactivity.

Harvard Health Publishing:  The health benefits of strong relationships.

Now we must remember that we are not where we are today because of ourselves. There is no such thing as a self-made man. Everyone has got help, be it families, friends or acquaintances. We have benefited from the relationships we foster and grow along the way. No man is an island.

The challenge is then how we manage the relationships around us. How do we ensure we get the best out of relationships? Not every relationship will be good. If we are not careful, bad relationships can eat us away.

Earthquakes, hurricanes and fires get more publicity than any other national disasters. But the fact is termites cause more damage to earth every year than all the natural disasters combined. But termites don’t get publicity because they just take a little bite each time.

Bad relationships do that as well. Just a little bite at a time. Some relationships should be totally avoided or disconnected. They hinder us, suck us dry, pull us back and destroy your life. These are the toxic relationships in your life.

In general, everybody you meet in life will fall into one of these four categories:

1- People who ADD to you. They leave us better than when they met you. They inspire you. They encourage you.

2- People who SUBTRACT from you. They drain you. They sap your energy away and leave you frustrated. They always have a problem.

3- People who MULTIPLY you. They increase you. They help push you up to another level in life. They make you better, play better when you are around them.

4- People who DIVIDE you. They create divisions. Their very nature separates the best of friends. In your life, in your team, work or business, they always create division. They make your life difficult.

Assign these categories to everybody you meet. This alone will tell you immediately how close you are going to let some people come into your life. Of course we should be courteous to everyone but we need to be selective about who you are going to let close to influence you.

Some people we cannot completed avoid. Co-workers, employers, students in your class, teacher or relatives at home. While we cannot totally avoid them, we can control the influence they have in our life. How? By controlling the time we spend with them.

Learn to identify people who adds value to your life. Arrange your life in such a way that you can spend more time with these people. Even a little time spent these people can bring significant positive impact to your life.

So, take stock and have a look at what type people you have been spending your time with. Continue to build good relationships from people who adds and multiplies you. Stay clear of those that subtracts and divides you.

I would like to end by sharing a TED video featuring Robert Waldinger titled – What makes a good life? Lessons from the longest study on happiness. In his talk, Waldinger shares three important lessons learned from a 75-year-old study on adult development, based on unprecedented data on true happiness and satisfaction. Needless to say, his research found that the number one ingredient that keeps us happy and healthy as we go through life (warning, spoiler alert) is meaningful relationships.

Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. There are three big lessons derived from the study.

1- Social relationships are really good for us

Loneliness kills. People who are socially more connected to families, friends, and to the community are happier and live longer than people who are less connected.

2 – The quality of your close relationship matters

It is not just the number of friends we have or whether or not we are in a committed relationship. Living in a good and warm relationship protects us. People who are most satisfied in their relationships turn out to be the healthiest.

3- Good relationships don’t just protect our body, they protect our brains

It turns out being in a securely attached relationships in your old age is protective. Our memory stays sharper and longer. And those people in relationships where they cannot count on the other, they experienced earlier memory decline.

We can continue to desire and go for fame and wealth and high achievement, thinking that these are what we need to get a good life. But studies have shown again and again that people who fared the best are those who have lean into relationships, to families, friends and community.

The good life is built with good relationships. It is a lifelong endeavour and it never ends.

Get the good stuff from Waldinger’s talk here.

Finding that Happy at Work

The only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. —Steve Jobs

I bet you have struggled to find job satisfaction one time or another. I know, i have been there, many times. Finding long lasting happiness at work is indeed rare. The scary fact is that most people (80% according to a Deloitte’s Shift Index survey) are dissatisfied with their job.

Yet if we look at how many hours we will work in our lifetime and how many hours we will commute for work, we will realise that it is a lot time to be spending on some thing that we are not happy at.

While some unhappy employees may muster up the courage to change careers, others (in fact, most) will likely suffer with it for the sake of job security. So what has happened to us along our career paths? Why do so many of us struggle in finding happiness at work?

Ask any boys of girls about their ambitions, they will give you a variety of interesting answers. Fireman. Dancer. Football player. Astronaut. Anything is possible. We may discount them for being young and naive and that they don’t know the struggles of life. Can they really be a successful dancer, football player or even an astronaut? Do they even know the risks that come with being a fireman? Cringe as you may, but their answers are actually guided simply by what they thought would make then really happy. There were no limits.

Now take a look at ourselves, the adults. There may be a determined few who have never lost sight of their aspirations to do and be what they wanted to be. But I suspect for the rest of us, we have forgotten our ambitions and and allowed our dreams to be washed down over the years. We begin to settle for jobs and compromise for the wrong reasons. We accepted the notion that it is just not realistic to pursue our passions and still make a decent living. Many of us have started on this path of compromise and it doesn’t look like we will ever going to make it back. This is sad mainly because we are likely to be spending more than a third of our lives working. And this compromise will slowly eat us away.

So what can we do to find happiness in our work?

Frederick Herzberg published a breakthrough article in the Harvard Business Review on the topic of motivation theory, also known as the two-factor theory. He pointed that the common assumption that job satisfaction is one big continuous scale – from very happy at one end to totally miserable on the other extreme, is flawed. Instead, happy and miserable at our jobs are separate and independent measures. That means it is actually possible to love your job and hate it at the same time. Hmmm…

Herzberg’s theory identified two different types of factors when it comes to finding satisfaction or happiness at the work place – Environmental Factors and Motivation Factors.

Environmental Factors

Environmental factors are things like compensation, status, job security and work conditions. It matters that we receive fair compensation based on the market rate, given a certain status or title to operate in your role in a company that is generally thriving. It would even be better if our office setup is conducive and our supervisors do not treat us badly. Bad environmental factors can cause dissatisfaction. We have to actually address and fix the environmental factors in order just not to be dissatisfied or unhappy with our work.

Interestingly according to Herzberg’s research, even if we work hard at improving the environmental factors of our job, we are not going to suddenly love it or be truly happy with it. At best, we just won’t be unhappy or hate it anymore. You see, the opposite of job dissatisfaction is not job satisfaction. It is merely the absence of job dissatisfaction. The absence of job dissatisfaction is not the same thing as job satisfaction or happiness at work. 

It is very important to address the environmental factors, but these alone are not going to get you very far when it comes to finding that happy, that job satisfaction that we seek.

Motivation Factors

How then can we truly be happy and satisfied with our jobs? This is where Herzberg provided insights on another set of factors that are more important in helping us achieve the satisfaction we seek. He calls them “motivators” or motivation factors. The intangibles such as challenging work, recognition, responsibility and personal growth are examples of motivators.

Motivation factors are less about what we see in the outside, but much more about how it impacts us in the inside. Think about being in a job that emphasises on work that is meaningful, that is challenging yet interesting, that provides opportunities to increase our responsibilities and that allows us to grow professionally. These are the factors that will motivate us, to cause us to love what we are doing, to make us truly happy at work.

You can read more abour Herzberg’s research published in an article in the Harvard Business Review here.

It is easy for us to be mistaken that the tangible trappings of career success will always make us happy. Higher salary, more prestigious work title, bigger office or company car. After all isn’t these what our family and friends see as signs that we have “made it”?

However, as soon as we are drawn by these tangible aspect of our jobs, we risk getting enslaved with what pays rather that what makes us happy. We start to chase a job satisfaction or happiness mirage. The next pay rise, promotion, we think, will be the thing that will finally make us happy.

You see, beyond a certain point, environmental factors such as compensation, status and job security are actually by-products of being happy with a job, rather than the cause of it. Realising this can free us to focus on things that really matter.

Again, Herzberg’s theory of motivation suggests that we need to look at our careers from a different angle, asking ourselves totally different sets of questions.

  • Is this work meaningful for me?
  • Am I entrusted with increasing important responsibilities?
  • Am I learning new things or skills?
  • Is this job helping me to develop professionally?
  • Will I be recognised for my achievements?

These are the things that will truly motivate us. When we get this right, our focus on the tangible trappings will start to fade in importance. We are then on our way to finding happiness in our work. And when that happens, we will never work a day again in our lives. Yipeee!

5 Ways to a Happier You

I once heard a man conclude his 83th birthday speech saying that “The ultimate aim in life is happiness”. This statement from his speech had me thinking that night. Is happiness really “the” aim in life?

After some thoughts, I realised there might be some truth to his penchant for happiness. Look at it this way. If you were to ask enough times why something is important to you, chances are you will eventually end up with the same answer – so that you will be happy.

Why do I work so hard at my job? So that I can get that promotion. Why…? So that I can feel the sense of accomplishment and make more money. Why…? So that I can be happy.

Why do I get up so early in the morning to exercise? So that I have a healthier body. Why…? So that I am stronger and look fit. Why…? So that I play better sports and feel more confident about myself. Why…? Because it makes me feels good, and… happy.

Happiness may be all that matters in the end. Now, how then do I get this happiness constantly? Too bad that wise man left the stage without elaborating on this.

So I decided to spend some time to think about my happiness and how I can have more of it in my own life. With a little research and evaluation of my past experiences, I was able to quantify them into 5 points.

1 – Get a handle

Your happiness is your responsibility. Period. The first step towards a happier you is to acknowledge that you and you alone are in charge of your happiness. Yes, it all starts and ends with you.

Our tendency is to put the blame on others every time something cause you to be unhappy. “My son spilled his milk again.” “The bad traffic made me late for my appointment.”

Sure, things can happen to you and it may not be your fault. You may not have caused it. But you should not put the blame of your unhappiness on others too. Your happiness from these situations will largely stem from how you think and how you respond.

So how can I take control of my happiness?

Awareness.
Awareness is the state of knowing your own feelings and ability to assess what you are capable of. This involves being able to understand your emotions and what triggers them.

So awareness is a good starting point for you to be happier today. Be aware always that happiness is something you choose for yourself. Every time you start drifting off, become aware of it. Get a grip of the negative feelings and work on being happy.

Two ways you can build and improve your self-awareness:

Review the day – At the end of the day, spend at least 15 minutes with yourself. Keep out distractions. Reflect and write down what happened to you, your feelings, and how you dealt with them. Take note of your emotion experiences. Focus on the positives.

Talk to others – Honest feedback from close family and friends can be invaluable. Write down what they say. Compile their inputs and compare them as you journey along. Again, look for trends. Is there anything you can learn from their perceptions of you?

2 – Count your blessings

Gratitude makes us happier. I won’t go into statistic but the fact that you are reading this in the comfort of your chair shows that you already have much to be grateful for. Be grateful that you are alive, healthy, that you have a family and many friends, that you have employment and comforts in life.

Research shows that gratitude is good for you. It reduces anxiety and depression, helps you become more positive, strengthens your relationships with others, and encourages compassion. It also has been shown to increase your feelings of happiness.

Every time you think that life is tough and there are no reasons to be happy, think of the many individuals that don’t get a chance to make it as far as you did. Poverty, famines, disease and droughts claim thousands of lives each year. Many don’t get proper education opportunities and many others struggle to put food on their tables.

Happy people know that they don’t get to be happy all the time. They can appreciate bright moments, little victories, small miracles and the positive encounters that bring real happiness.

Don’t put your focus on material things either. The path of continuing happiness does not come from the latest iPhone of a fancy car. Things will come and it will get old. The joy never last. Your blessings do not have to be derived from things.

Money and things will not make you happy. They will make you comfortable, but not buy you happiness. Happiness is beyond that. Happiness is a state of mind. It is generated from within. It starts and ends with you.

3 – Find your element

When you were seven and someone asked you what you wanted to be when you grew up, anything seemed possible. Fireman. Doctor. Soldier. Astronaut. Your answers then were guided by what you thought would make you really happy. There were no limits.

But for many of us, as the years go by, we begin to let our dreams be peeled away. We settled and allowed our conditions and surroundings to shape us into what was not meant to be.

Research suggests that when you are living your life and making choices that are in line with your values, you’re likely to feel happier.

So take a little time and reflect on what is most important and meaningful in your life. You can think about times when you felt happiest or most satisfied and what the common factors in those situations may be.

For example you may be unhappy now at the office. This dissatisfaction with your job can be traced back to a mismatch in core values. If your company doesn’t value the same things you do, you will feel unhappy even if you like your work.

4 – Give them away

Start being generous with your time and money: research shows that you will be happier for it.

In their book The Paradox of Generosity, sociologists Christian Smith and Hilary Davidson found that Americans who describe themselves as “very happy” volunteer an average of 5.8 hours per month. Those who are “unhappy”? Just 0.6 hours. A total of 2,000 individuals were surveyed over a five-year period in this study. Researchers interviewed and tracked the spending habits and lifestyles of 40 families from different classes and races in 12 states, even accompanying some to the grocery store.

If giving is good for you, why aren’t more people generous? After all you could be generous in your own way and at your level. I did some hard thinking and realized that I was actually afraid. Afraid?! Yes, afraid that it would be a loss. Afraid that if I gave money away or devoted my time, I would be losing something. So I have not been as generous as I could be because in part I was ignorant, but more so I was feeling fear and insecurity.

Now I understand that generosity will benefit me and not just other people.

We may think that we can only be generous once we have make it or made enough if money. This is a fallacy for that day may never come. It is in our nature that when we have more, we will want more.

Therefore the idea is to start giving your time and money to those in need today. You don’t have to look very far. Start with your immediate circle family and friends, your workplace and surrounding community.

Be kind to your spouse. Spring clean your wardrobe; give away clothes that you have not been wearing. Is there a nephew or niece that I can help their homework with? How about treating your co-workers lunch? Any non-profits in your community that you can volunteer your time or contribute money to? Look around, and you will start finding opportunities for you to get generous.

Start small and you will be happier immediately.

5 – Do something fun

Indulging in what is fun to you will make you happy. What would you do if you have some time off?

Whatever it is, carve out some time for your hobbies. Don’t go for a big hobby project that requires consideration time off and money yet. Go for the easy wins immediately, hobbies that do not have to take away a big chunk of your time. Plan and book it on your calendar so that you can indulge it without guilt.

I enjoy movies but I have always been bombarded with the feeling that watching movies is a waste of time. Often I would watch a movie (because I just enjoy a nice action flick) and feel horrible afterwards because three hours have passed. A good three hours which I could have done something more productive with.

Another important thing is you have to be able to choose the activities that are personally meaningful in order to make a difference in experience level. The ability to choose is very important for happiness. Intentional activities

The next time you are feeling down, try taking a break and have a little walk. Get outside, enjoy some fresh air. Travel to a new place. Visit the museum. Go to a concert. Studies have also shown that the feeling of wonderment and amazement can promote happiness and well-being. Depending on your interest, this overwhelming positively feeling can be derived from going on a beautiful hike, visiting a natural wonder, looking at masterpiece of art, or listening to an incredible piece of music. Once in a while, indulge in activities that will impress and even excite you.

What next?

At the end of the day we all know that it is easier said than done. Although I have been putting the above 5 ideas to work, I am still facing my fair share of unhappiness. Life is still a challenge at times and it will always be filled with ups and downs.

Regardless, it is important to know that your life is sprinkled with ample opportunities for discovering happiness. Look for the little things that will make you happy.

Being happy is a choice. It is just like the decision to pursue the actions, such as the five ideas in this article, that will develop happiness in your life.