If you were to ask your friend or office colleague, “What would give you peace of mind?” – he or she might say a million dollars, or a luxury yacht, or a fiery red Ferrari, or an Armani wardrobe, or even a cruise around the world!  This begs the question, “Will these luxuries and indulgences really help you achieve the ultimate desired outcome?”  I’m thinking that if contentment can be attained by something as simple as travelling to exotic places, or owning lots of stuff, then life would not be as complicated it seems to be.

Humankind, in general, comprises an unsatisfied lot, always craving for more and more.  I’m hazarding a guess that much of this greed is as a result of the causal affluence that has been levied upon us as we continue to mature as a nation.  Don’t forget, Singapore grew from a mere fishing village to a mega global hub in less than half a century! 

Peace of mind has been defined as “an undisturbed state; absence of mental conflict; serenity”.  If this be so, wouldn’t you think that it’s going to be hard to achieve this state by just obtaining more possessions or traversing the world!  Getting more stuff usually leads to wanting to get even more stuff.  It is only a temporary solution.  I saw a cartoon once which depicted four characters – a very old, and a very young couple.  The old lady had a speech bubble which read, “If only I had her figure”, referring to the sexy young thing. The nubile hottie had a speech bubble herself which read, “If only I had her diamonds!” referring to the old hag. When looking at the old man, the young chap had this thought, “If only I had his money”.  The old retiree looking across at the young stud thought “If only I had his wife!” Life is such isn’t it? The grass always seems to look greener on the other side.

Someone once said that peace of mind starts with being grateful for what we have right now!  Many a time, thankfulness begets more blessings upon one’s life.  When we are thankful for what we have – namely our friends and our possessions – we attract more and more good people and good things!   People who always complain about what they don’t have often tend to stagnate, and at times even regress. It’s a law of life that dishes up for you more of what you like to dwell upon.  Complainers often attract more things to complain about!  So if you’re the sort that is always envious about what others have, and constantly whingeing about what you don’t have, consider taking a different tack and start being thankful and happy for what you do have, for I believe that if you apply this principle, then more will come your way!

There is an Indian proverb that reads, “I had no shoes and complained until I met a man who had no feet.”  Everything needs to be looked at in the right perspective.  Anthony J D’Angelo once said, “If you have the time to whine and complain about something, then you have the time to do something about it.” I wish you peace of mind and a thankful heart!

The Paradox of Life!

How many times have you heard the phrase “the good old days” referred to when you’re having conversations with family or friends, especially those who are living the second half century of their lives?  They always seem to be reminiscing that it’s not the same these days anymore, and start vividly recollecting the times when life was a lot less complex and simple pleasures freely abound.

For me, these “way-back-when” instances pop up often enough on Saturdays.  This is when I take time to wake up when it’s still dark to drive all the way to the golf club to play a round of golf with my dad, my two uncles, and his affable group of “retiree” friends.  In conversations over breakfast, other than intelligently discussing the putts they missed, the government, American politics, the stock market, and how many additional strokes they should be according each other the next time they meet, many a time these morning chats get placed on a time warp back to when music was played on vinyl records, when one cent could buy you a steaming hot bowl of noodles, and when communication was very personal and predominantly done face to face.

On one hand, the 21st century we now live in exudes the progress and technological advancements which we can be so proud of.  On the other, this “new” world suffers the ailments of an affluent society – undue stress, failed marriages, unhealthy diets, impersonal attitudes.

George Carlin, an American stand-up comedian, actor & author, refers to all this as “the paradox of our time in history”.  As you know, a paradox is a statement or proposition that seems self-contradictory or absurd but in reality expresses a possible truth.

He goes on to describe that “we have taller buildings but shorter tempers, wider freeways, but narrower viewpoints.  We spend more, but have less, we buy more, but enjoy less.  We have bigger houses and smaller families, more conveniences, but less time.  We have more degrees but less sense, more knowledge, but less judgment, more experts, yet more problems, more medicine, but less wellness.”

When I first read this, I sat down, pondered a long while, and thought to myself how profound George Carlin was.  Where juxtaposing the present with the past is not new nor rocket science, he certainly has a knack of presenting issues in such a well-weaved manner so as to induce in me a wake-up call.

George describes how we have multiplied our possessions but reduced our values, how we love too seldom but hate too often, how we write more but learn less, how we’ve been all the way to the moon and back but have trouble crossing the street to meet a new neighbour. 

But what really dug deep into me was when he wrote these poignant words – “We’ve learned how to make a living, but not a life. We’ve added years to life, not life to years.”

For me, “adding life to years” starts with regularly engaging the people whom I love so dearly.  There’s nothing more precious than spending time with loved ones, telling them how much you value and care for them; and making the effort to share with each, a word of encouragement or a warm embrace.    

As you will realize, death is no respecter of age, state of mind, or quality of health.  Don’t procrastinate – share your thoughts and feelings with the people closest to you.  If you are the sort that thinks that there is no rush and that you can do it sometime down the road, let me encourage you to think again.  For today is as good an opportunity as any to show forth your innermost sentiments.  As Nike rightfully puts it, “Just do it”!

What is your value?

I have been recently told of how people suffer depression because they feel so lousy about themselves, some to the extent of contemplating drastic measures including suicide.  This has triggered me to share my thoughts on the topic of self-esteem.

In a country as affluent as Singapore, where the rich are fast getting richer and the poor still find it a struggle to keep pace, this aspect of self-worth or self-esteem features as an important element that needs to be addressed across any individual’s scope of reference. Someone once wrote that self-esteem is about how much you value yourself and how important you think you are. It’s about how you look at yourself and how you feel about the things you have accomplished.

Many people get the wrong impression that self-esteem is all about how great you feel about yourself and visibly demonstrating your confidence and ability, sometimes to the extent of coming across as being boastful. To me, self-esteem is akin to quietly knowing that you are worth a lot, regardless of race, wealth, intelligence, or station in life. It’s all about recognizing that you are blessed, talented, and “priceless”!

This brings to mind MasterCard’s “Priceless” advertising proposition. Jim Farrell, a Professor of History and Director of American Studies at Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, commented that “MasterCard’s “Priceless” ads are obviously designed to respond to the American public’s worry that everything is being commodified, and that we’re becoming too materialistic. So the ads emphasize the things money can’t buy, the intangibles that make the good life really good.” 

You neither need money nor a high position to know that you are worthy of being loved and accepted. Stop for a moment and realize that nobody in this entire world is perfect, and that having a positive self-esteem does not stem from material things but from a perception that is within oneself. I stumbled onto a story recently about a well-known speaker who started off his seminar by holding up a $500 note. In the room of 200, he asked, “Who would like this $500 note?” Hands started going up. He said, “I am going to give this note to one of you but first let me do this.” He proceeded to crumple the note up. He then asked, “Who still wants it?” Still the hands were up in the air. “Well,” he replied, “What if I do this?” And he dropped it on the ground and started to grind it into the floor with his shoe. He picked up the dirty and crumpled note and asked, “Now who still wants it?” Still the hands went into the air.  The valuable lesson this speaker was trying to inculcate upon his audience was to do with “value”. No matter what he did to the money, the people still wanted the note because it did not decrease in value. It was still worth $500.

Friends, I’m sure you realize that life never promises to be a bed of roses. Every single one of us goes through ups and downs, sometimes more downs than ups. Yes, there are occasions we are made to feel like the $500 note – dropped, crumpled, and ground into the dirt to the extent that we feel as though we are worthless. We live through situations that come by us and we make decisions to the best of our ability. But things don’t always end up the way we desire them to be. But regardless of what transpires or what will transpire in the future, you need to remember that you, just like the note, will never lose your value. All of us are special in our own right.

Someone once said, “Never let yesterday’s disappointments overshadow tomorrow’s dreams”. So lift your head up high and recognize that “Value has a value only if its value is valued!”

The Living Starts Right Now!

The previously bandied around post-young adulthood dissonance statement “Life begins at 40” is in today’s context acutely passé. With the growing ageing population prevalent in many countries around the globe, post-World War II baby boomers have taken the creative license to re-tell all and sundry that life actually begins at 60 instead!

Extreme sports such as wakeboarding, downhill skiing, and skateboarding are seeing more and more veteran (in age) exponents. All these somehow make the so-often-written-about ballroom dancing expositions featuring Jannie Tay, Jennie Chua and Elizabeth Sam look old-hat and retro. No matter how young their dancing partners may be!

40s, 50s, 60s? When life really begins may not be as simple as the figures suggest.

I am convinced that the fundamental premise of “living life to the fullest” is to a great extent cerebral. It has to do with a decision in your very own mind to make every living moment count and to live it passionately!

In the keeping-up-with-the-Jones’ (perhaps more appropriately Tans’) amidst the affluent and status-conscious society in which we live in today, doing the proper thing according to the stations of your life seems to be the mandatory standard living procedure. When you’re in your teens, you do this. When you’re married, you should not do that. When you’re only an executive, this is what you’re supposed to do. When you become M.D., you should do only what’s expected of a person of your standing.

When a young man goes out with a much older woman, he must be a “kept” man. When an older married man is seen with an attractive young girl, he must be having an affair with her. When a woman is not married by the time she’s 35, she must be a political power-wielding authoritarian at work. When a man calls up a chatline, he must be a pervert!

It’s a real shame to witness how simplistic and naïve the world has carved itself into. Folks, it’s a “mindset” blackhole we live in right now. Our lives are dictated by the labels we put upon our very selves.

Better late than never, it’s time for us all to throw out the old baggage, take stock and start thinking outside the confines of the box. We desperately need to get “creative”.

And I’m not talking about taking a different route to the office every morning either. Let’s start by taking a closer look at ourselves and making some, be they, “uncomfortable” decisions to deliberately inject new sparks into our living template. Take “routine” out of your vocabulary. Start by doing something totally unrelated to the tasks you perform daily to bring home the bacon.

If you’re a guy, try baking. If you’re a girl, go ride a Harley. If you’re young, learn the Tango. If you’re older, do the hip-hop. If you’re the outdoor type, take up pottery. If you’re an introvert, get up on the bar-top!

Get rid of the age-old adage “why fix it when it ain’t broken”. Try doing things, even if they’ve been done well previously, differently. It’s the only way to open up the potential for bigger and better things to happen.

Let’s not get caught up in thinking that life only begins at a designated time during our chronological age span. Being able to live it to the fullest neither correlates with youth nor experience. It should well be an every-moment thing sprinkled with a generous dose of zest and exuberance. The expanse between “truly living” and “merely existing” is what I would call the great divide. For which you have to decide which side you want to be on.

May I suggest you choose the former, for which I am happy to announce that the “living” starts right now!