- Gender and Relationships
How To Be Happy : Message From A Father To A Son
Happiness is a state of mind
Someone sent me this message which pricks my conscience. The contents are nothing new to me, but they are timely reminders and encouragements to me to continue making ardent effort to improve on my life to be happy. Despite having past 60, I am still learning to be a better person, a happier person, every day.
Everyone looks for happiness, but most people look at the wrong place. How to be happy? Happiness is a state of mind. If you think happiness can be found “over there”, then you are looking at the wrong place. For happiness is “here” not “there”, here inside us, inside our mind. If we expect some external conditions to make us happy, then we will be forever unhappy, because we have no complete control over them, and even if these conditions favor us, they will one day disappear, or we would even be bored with them and start to seek new conditions to make us happy.
Of course it is easy to be happy if we always have the things or conditions we want. But life is not like that. Here, I wish to share my life’s experience and realization with those who care to read. And I dedicate this article to my son, Kenneth. It is my wish that he can benefit from all the mistakes and foolishness that I have lived through life; for you see, even mistakes and foolishness can be lessons to a happy life.
Uncle Charlie and his timely message
Uncle Charles is my very old friend, not that he looks old, but we have been friends for a very long time, 45 years to be exact. And he sent this timely message to me. To my son, Kenneth, I shall relate this message with my own life’s experience. I hope you will not have to go through all those unwise thoughts and actions that I had with my life. The quotations given have not been verified but I think their messages are more important than their sources. I have edited the message into 10 thought-provoking ideas that will make us happy, or at least less unhappy.
1. Can I be always right?
For many years I never thought of this question because I thought I was always right. We may have many reasons to want to be right at all times and with every subject. Some may be right reasons, but some may be for the wrong reasons, and worse still we may be wrong on the subject.
I remembered one incident when I insisted that the moon was completely full and round. I got very upset when I was told it was not perfectly round, and went on to make the person miserable, and spoilt the lovely evening. How stupid and foolish could I be?
Because of our big ego, we always want to be right. Sometimes we need to give way even if we are really right. Just like when one is driving, one avoids accident by giving way to reckless driver. It is not worth holding our stand and as a result hurting others and oneself.
“Would I rather be right, or would I rather be kind?” (Wayne Dyer, American footballer)
2. Just listen to me and do as I say!
Sounds too familiar? As parents, we easily fall into the trap of wanting to control our children. This is especially true with Asian parents. Traditional Chinese culture is based on Confucius ethics, especially on the subject of filial piety. Children are expected to obey their parents. Talking back at parents or not listening to them is considered rude and unfilial. During those ancient times this was a very sound family value which protected and preserved the family units. Times have changed. Values and circumstances also have changed. So our mindset must also change too. As a father I have also fallen into this trap of “wanting to control” my children. I too have learnt my lesson. Grown-up children have minds of their own. I have done my best giving them advice, and the rest is up to them, which is beyond my control.
Parents may have this tendency to want to control everything. What about the individuals in relations with others, with situations and events? The desire to control is still inherent. Give space for others to breathe freely, and the tense situations will disperse by itself in due course.
“The world is won by those who let it go. The world is beyond winning." (Lao Tze)
3. Don’t always blame others.
Uncle Charles is quite an artist. Years ago, he sketched a portrait of me. I insisted that he should inscribe these words “Victim of society” on my portrait. I blamed society for everything that made me unhappy. Having done that, I was still unhappy.
Don’t blame others for our unhappiness. Actually because we start blaming others, we become unhappy. No one owes us a living. Stop blaming and start living. Then you will be happy.
4. Give up complaining.
Blaming and complaining are evil twins. They are the real causes of our unhappiness, not the situations or those people. It is the complaining and blaming that heat up our ego and make us boil inside. We have self-inflicted the misery into our system. I need to repeat this, the world does not owe us a living, nor anyone else.
It has become my bad habit to get irritated with seemingly trivial things; then appear the evil twins, twisting my mind into blaming and complaining. So now I have to constantly remind myself that I become unhappy not because of situations or events, but because of my complaining and blaming.
5. The evil twins have a cynical sister.
This cynical sister’s name is “criticism”. Complaining and blaming will most likely lead to the act of criticism. These three evil siblings caused me a lot of miseries. Whenever I went on a rampage of blaming, complaining and criticizing, I was the one who suffered without getting anything resolved, but ending up hurting the feelings of others. Now, whenever I could, I refrain from being influenced by these three foolish reactions. If there is genuine cause for complain, I would try to do it with diplomacy and patience. This is most difficult especially when one has been so used to reacting foolishly most of the time. But I believe constant practice will help me improve my behavior. After all, it’s for my own good.
6. The Power of Positive Thinking.
All my life I was living in a world of negativity, until one day I was introduced to the power of positive thinking. Then my mindset changed and I was able to live a happier life. When we allow negative thoughts to control our mind, we can never win, for we will always have thoughts of losing. Before we can start on anything, our mind has already told us to fail. We set limits to our abilities. From now on instead of saying “I can’t”, say “I can”. Then the fear of defeat will dissipate into thin air. You need not have to give weak excuses for things that you can’t do, for now you CAN do. Try this technique and you will find that many things you were afraid to do now come easy!
“The mind is a superb instrument if used rightly. Used wrongly,
however, it becomes very destructive.” (Eckhart Tolle, author on self-development)
7. Be your true self.
A lot of times, we wear invisible masks to hide our true identities. Stop trying to be that special someone who you are not. The mask is a very heavy burden on your face. It prevents you from breathing freely, stifling all your hidden talents, but showing outwardly only your pitiful pretence. Don’t live a life that others expect you to life. Don’t live a life that you know you are not. To be truly happy, you must accept your true worth and improve from there. Throw away your mask and be your true self. Then you will be able to breathe freely and soar to the sky. People can now embrace you for who you really are and are worthy to be embraced.
8. Give up your resistance to change.
During my final years in the banking industry, I was very unhappy because of the constant change in the operating system. The moment I got used to the system, they would implement a new one. This bank I was working for had a special department overseeing systems improvement. I had great suspicion that in order to remain relevant, those people in that department simply had to invent changes.
On a more realistic scenario, in this rapid changing technological age, we will be left behind if we don’t flow with the changes, whether they are really good or not, does not matter. If we want to remain relevant like that systems department, we must flow with the tide. Otherwise you will be using the archaic mobile phone (cell phone) that I am still using. If you are with the changing world of technology, you wouldn’t want to be seen with the museum piece of a mobile phone that I am still using. As for me, I don’t have to upgrade urgently as I am retired and I don’t have to impress anyone to stay ahead. Of course when this museum piece decided to fail me, then I shall upgrade myself with the latest smart phone. This shows my readiness to change.
So what is this idea of advising others not to resist change? It is the real change that I am writing about. For younger people, I think this ability to flow along with change is not a problem. But when one is confident and at ease with one’s work environment, one will most likely resist to change that will disturb one's comfort zone. This is the change I am talking about. If you resist change for the better, you will hit the wall and be stagnant. Change with the tides, and you will ride the waves of joys of improvements and opportunities.
Open up your heart and mind to embrace change. Stop labeling things that you are not familiar with as weird or silly in this rapidly changing world. They may be the very things that will improve your life and give you great opportunities in the future.
(An update for today, 8 October 2017, which incidentally is also my son's 31st birthday. Since writing this article I have already changed 2 smartphones to facilitate internet roaming and the latest mobile applications. We are now in the instant virtual world!)
9. Let not the past hold you back.
I have this “signature” message in all my websites and also in my email addresses:
Learn from yesterday
Live for today
Save for tomorrow
Learn from yesterday. Learn from our past mistakes as well as from our successes. Never allow the past to hold us back. When you are as old as me, looking back and regretting will be a terrible thing because that would be a lot of looking back, a lot of unhappiness. So you youngsters should not have much problem not to look back. Let the past be passed, except for lessons learnt.
As for tomorrow; tomorrow never comes. Tomorrow will be today, come tomorrow. So don’t waste your time on tomorrow. Live for TODAY, for today is the only day that you can act and make it happen. Take a look below at the small poster I bought years ago to remind me of the importance of TODAY. It states :
“Today is the first day of the rest of your Life”
The only thing you can do for tomorrow is to save enough for the rest of your life.
10. Resentment, anger and hatred, the three most dangerous mental poisons.
I wonder whether you realized that we are victims of subtle and unconscious indoctrination since childhood? When I was a young boy, I enjoyed listening to stories about heroes and villains. Inevitably most movies would also be about villains and heroes, even today. I would assume if there were no villains and heroes, there won’t be any more fun watching the movies. It should be harmless if we treat these as just pure entertainment. But it is not to be. From my personal experience, my mindset has been influenced by these stories. The main theme of these stories and movies are mostly about upholding justice and taking revenge. This works well in stories. But in real life, if we allow ourselves to constantly wanting to get angry and seeking revenge on the slightest provocation or injustice, we are heading towards disaster. This happened to me.
There is not a single perfect person in this world. Every person is “imperfect” in some ways. Along the way, some people will offend us, hurt us or disturb us. Do we realize that we too have done exactly such things to others as well? I used to have a lot of resentment, anger and hatred for anything under the sun. But not now. I have realized my grave mistake of harboring resentment and hatred in my mind, and displaying anger in public. These three mental poisons will not only make you the most unpopular person in town, but will also make you very sick in the long run. No one likes a person who is always angry and aggressive. With the constant feeding of these poisonous mental vibrations into one’s body, over time, one’s immune system will become weak and will succumb to sickness. To add to this misery, others will also generate negative and hateful vibrations towards you. Your whole system is being attacked from both within and without.
Rid yourself of resentment, anger, hatred, and thoughts of revenge. These are negative thoughts which will inhibit your ability to progress in life. You don't even have to forgive those who have hurt you. It doesn't matter who is right or wrong. Just let them go. They are like heavy rocks weighing you down. Free your mind of all the resentments, all the anger, and all the hatred. Set them free from the prison of your mind. Let them go and you will experience freedom and lightness in your life and your personality. You will not have enemies anymore, and you will make friends wherever you go. You will be a happy person.
The importance of TODAY
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Life is a journey, not a stagnant existence
I know it is easy to write about it, and even easier to read about what should be done to be happy. In reality it is most difficult because we have been innocent victims of wrong thoughts and behavior for too long a time. You cannot be an instant “born again” happy person overnight. Treat life as a journey, a learning journey, we make improvements as we go along, and eventually we will always be a happier person. Remember, in order to experience real happiness, we must also allow others to be happy too. It must be a “win-win” happy coexistence.
I have come full circle in life, and I have learnt bitter lessons from the stupid and foolish mistakes I made. I still make mistakes, but now whenever I make a mistake, I admit making it and start putting things right again. For just this willingness to learn, you can say I am wiser now to that extent.
Even with this new mindset and approach, mistakes are still there, but I don’t fall prey to them and become unhappy. I can even be happy when I realized my mistake, for then I know I have improved in my life’s undertakings on my willingness to change for the better.
Peace within oneself:
Having reached this advanced stage of my life, there is one more important mission left. The mission to be at peace with oneself. Being at peace with oneself, within oneself, is a further dimension in life, which is higher than being happy. We cannot be always happy irrespective of events. For example, when we lose our loved ones, we simply cannot be happy, otherwise we will be called crazy.
To experience real inner peace within oneself, is the ultimate goal for me. Happiness will be a thankful bonus. Experiencing inner peace within oneself does not depend on external conditions. It is purely one’s own mental attitude to want to be at peace within oneself. This calls for wise reflections into the futility of harboring desires, resentments, hatred and all the other negative mental defilements. Letting go of everything that is futile and harmful. Just be content with life's blessings, and one will experience inner peace and happiness.
When the time comes to say good-bye to this world, the greatest happiness in one’s life is to be able to go in peace. This is why we say, ”rest in peace”. We never say “rest in happiness” or do you?
Look Inside You
Your Circumstances Aren't You
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