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Sunday, September 3, 2017

3:58 AM

What kind of happiness do you chase

by , in
Illustrated by Robert Labayen

The pursuit of happiness will send us to many different directions. I will go to a Broadway theater while you may run to a rock concert. The extrovert wants to be surrounded with friends when the introvert chooses to be alone. To a competitive Westerner, happiness means attaining higher goals. To a Tibetan monk, nirvana is reached by losing the ego.

I have a friend who is so obsessed with his garden that he can’t leave for work for as long as one leaf is out of place! I find it excessive but I remind myself that no one can judge the preferences of other people. To each his own.

I have realized that people often cannot understand (or cannot stand) one another because we are all unique in our passions.

Happiness wasn’t for all

Happiness was not always accessible. According to history professor Darrin M. McMahon in Happiness: A History, people in the time of the ancient Greek philosophers believed that happiness was only for the gods. Mere mortals had to live with (or die with) incurable diseases, political suppression, wars and poverty.

McMahon also said that the European Middle Ages are called the Dark Age because of the misery that the people had to endure. They were hungry, oppressed, and lacking the opportunities for economic emancipation. At that time, too, the Black Death epidemic killed up to 200 million. One-third of Europe perished!

Given such historical background, we should celebrate each day now that we have antibiotics, affordable education, the Bill of Rights, internet and freshly-brewed coffee in every street corner. The citizen of today has more freedom to follow their dream and has more opportunities to earn money and buy things. So we ask, can freedom and money really buy happiness ?

Money and happiness

In the book Happiness: Lessons from a New Science, economist Richard Layard noted that on the average, people in richer nations are happier than those in developing countries. He also pointed out the rise in happiness of people in countries that have recently experienced economic growth. Examples are South Korea, Brazil, India and Mexico.

It’s not about being materialistic. It’s about the fact that money can help ease our worries about our family’s health, education and safety. But money does not guarantee limitless joy. Layard wrote that beyond a salary of 20,000 US dollars*, the increase in income will no longer be a guarantee of commensurate increase in happiness. (*Book was published in 2006 )

For example, according to Layard, people can be unhappy no matter how much they earn if they compare themselves with their neighbor. Earning less than another person may mean that you’re not doing good enough in the rat race.

We also know so many celebrities who seemed unhappy in spite of all their money, fame, power and abundant sex. Many of them died from alcohol, drugs and suicide.

The United States may be a rich country but “Americans account for the two-thirds of the global market for antidepressants,  which happen also to be the most commonly prescribed drugs in the United States.” This was mentioned by Barbara Ehrenreich in the book Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America.

Many psychologists agree that it’s so hard to find lasting happiness when car models become obsolete in a maximum of four years.

In the book The Art of Happiness co-written with psychiatrist Dr. Howard C. Cutler, the Dalai Lama said that we also magnify our suffering by holding on to possessions, people and memories. He lamented that we like mentally replaying events that hurt us. To ease the pain, he suggested that we accept the fact that change is a constant in our lives.

How about romantic love ?

We can’t blame people who live and die for love. It feels exceptionally good.

When we hug our partner, the brain releases the hormone oxytocin which gives a high that lasts long time. Love is one of man’s greatest rewards. In fact, many scientists have seen clinical proof that infatuation is so powerful and so addictive that some symptoms are similar to signs of mental illness.

But if romantic love were on a coin, on its flipside will be pain. The one we love the most hurts us the most. Dr. Paul Dolan is a professor of behavioral science who published the article Will Love Make You Happy in the Psychology Today website. He wrote “The evidence is pretty clear that although love can make you feel great, it also brings quite a bit of misery, too –and not just when you break up. Being in love is associated with symptoms of depression and anxiety, too.”

Finding our purpose

A sense of fulfilment is another thing that can overwhelm us with a good feeling.

Harvard psychology professor Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar wrote in the book Happier that happiness is the combination of pleasure and meaning.

Pleasure comes from the emotions we feel when do the things we like. But emotions may not be enough to keep us happy forever. As we have seen earlier, those who experience empty pleasure may soon find their fame and fortune a liability.

 So, we need meaning. It is what we create when we find our life’s purpose. It is about devoting our talents to serving other people. Perhaps to make them live better or to make the world a better place. The world is not necessarily the whole planet. Your world may be your family, neighborhood, workplace, community.

When I was younger, I lived for recognition. I wanted to win more awards than my peers in order to earn more respect and a fatter salary. But my ego was insatiable. A year without a trophy sent my self-esteem kissing the ground.

Today, I feel fulfilled when the songs I write seem to lift the spirits of millions of people. I don’t win awards for them but their positive impact on people is my reward. And they don’t even know my name.

Meaning makes us excited to wake up in the morning and to live for much longer. As the Dalai Lama advised, love, patience, compassion, and generosity will give us less pain and more happiness.

Writer-philosopher Alain de Boton described it eloquently. “To increase the pleasure or reduce the pain of our fellow humans.”

“The happiness of man on earth, my children is to be very good…and do all their works with joy and love, because they know that we are in this world for no other end but to serve and love the good God.”
St. Jean-Marie Baptiste

“Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.”
1 John 3:18

Saturday, May 13, 2017

8:50 PM

Why we shouldn't stop dreaming

by , in
Illustrated by Robert Labayen

Walter Elias Disney was fired from a newspaper because the boss didn’t find him creative enough. He put up his own animation studios and he got bankrupt at least 2 times. He was cheated by his business partners and was abandoned by some of his artists. He is said to have been driven by poverty to eat dog food and he almost went to jail,too. Today, we can no longer imagine a world without Disney movies, Disney cartoons and Disney princesses.

Oprah Winfrey was born to an unwed mother. They were so poor she had to wear potato sacks to school. She was molested, too. After she became a small time tv journalist, she was assigned to a poorly performing show. This program later on became the Oprah Winfrey Show and Oprah is now considered as one of the most influential women in America ever.

J.K. Rowling was divorced and left to take care of her daughter. But she was so broke, she depended on government welfare. Twelve publishers rejected her manuscript for Harry Potter. Today, Harry Potter, a world of magic for millions of people, is worth $15 Billion.

Steve Jobs was fired by the company he founded before he bounced back and regained top leadership of Apple.

Thomas Edison famously failed 10,000 times before he was finally able to invent the electric light bulb!

If you think about it, the things we enjoy in life are creations by people who have failed miserably ! Our beautiful world and pleasurable lives are a creation of people who have once been total failures ! Artists and scientists rarely become successful on their first attempt. If they didn’t persevere, we will all be probably dead by now or living dull lives.

In the book The Miracle Morning, bestselling author Hal Elrod mentioned a finding by the Social Security Administration ( United States ) that after working for 40 years, 95% of people are NOT living the life they had wanted for themselves. These are people who probably didn’t get the lucky breaks, were diverted into a different career, or those who gave up trying to make their dreams come true.

Bronnie Ware is a nurse who worked in a ward for the terminally ill. After talking to the dying patients, she learned that their biggest regret is not having lived the life they wanted for themselves.

We don’t need to accept what has happened to the majority as our own fate, too. For as long as we live, we can keep taking a crack at that elusive dream.

We have a duty to never give up. I believe it was God who planted the seed of the dream in our heart. That’s because He wants our talents for a purpose that serves Him. For example, if you’re dreaming of becoming a great musician, that’s because God wants you to use that gift to touch the hearts of millions.

But God doesn’t give us our success just like that. He wants us to work hard for our success because it is in our struggle that we acquire wisdom and shape our values. If our triumph was given to us on a silver platter, we might not be able to handle it well.

I remember back in 2005 when our media company lost the battle for ratings after 17 years of solid leadership. Our Chairman said “I am not in a hurry to be number one again. We have to learn our lessons first before we reclaim success. “

Dreams are killed by the voices of some people around us. They tell us we will never make it. But the deadliest killer is that small voice in our head. It has no respect for our talent.

If God is speaking to you through this article, He is telling you to never give up. The success that God will give you may not be 100% exactly like how you envisioned it but it will be the same in essence, and surely even better in every sense. When you are failing in one thing, it is very likely that God has another plan.

Take the case of Pia Wurtzbach. She did not make it big as an actress. She turned to beauty contests. At first try, she didn’t make it. She tried a second time and still didn’t win the title. On the third, she became Miss Philippines. Possibly because of the experience she has acquired over the years, it was easier for her to become Miss Universe in 2016!

Some of us are dreamers but not doers. So, time management consultant David Allen advised in the book Making It All Work that we should have the creative perspective of a dreamer and the task-focused control of an organized person.

The Bible tells the story of a young man named Joseph. His brothers hated him because he had a dream that he will someday lord it over his brothers. The brothers threw him into a pit to die. But at that time, a caravan passed and the brothers decided to sell him to the caravan leader named Potiphar.

Joseph became a servant of Potiphar. But falsely accused of raping Potiphar’s wife, he was thrown into jail. In prison, he interpreted the dreams of a fellow prisoner. Later on, this prisoner recommended Joseph to interpret the dream of the Pharaoh. The grateful Pharaoh rewarded Joseph with the second highest rank in all of Egypt !

Preacher Joel Osteen said that if you think you have been thrown into a pit to die, a caravan will pass by to pick you up.

When I was in college and getting initiated by a fraternity, the “masters” asked us to recite a poem when we were tempted to give up and walk away. The last two lines of the poem by an anonymous poet are these “So, stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit; It’s when things seem worst that you must not quit.”

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