The Happiness Project

New year, new theme.

The other night, as I rolled around in bed lamenting the hopelessness of life, David came to my rescue. He pointed out some rather basic items I have to be grateful for: a functioning body, family who loves me, the opportunity to work in China should I choose to do so after receiving my master’s degree. All excellent points. All basic points, which took me aback and made me wonder why I had overlooked them, even for a moment. David helpfully pointed out that I may be entering another depression, coinciding once again with persistent back pain.

I struggled with depression in the past year. Though calling it depression seems to me an overstatement, I prefer to call it an emotional recession. The exact cause still eludes me. If I had known it, if it could’ve been traced to one specific event or trigger, then I would’ve made the necessary adjustments and changes to turn things around. As it stood, I could only guess at the cause. David and I agreed that it probably had a lot to do with the back pain I was experiencing.

The fall into emotional recession is an easy one. I loosened my grip on life for one moment and watched years of work tumble down around me. The climb back to emotional surplus, on the other hand, is slow and tedious. After months of attempting to “wait it out”, I realized that happiness doesn’t fall from the sky into my lap, I have to work towards it tirelessly, pursue it relentlessly.

Thus, the Happiness Project.

It’s a simple idea. At the beginning of every month, I make a short and concrete list of daily/weekly tasks. I slowly rebuild the positive habits I had that kept me focused: daily stretches to help with my back pain, setting aside time every week to pursue my interests, blogging.

It’s also a lifetime commitment. Perhaps one day happiness will be second nature to me. That seems unlikely. Just as with everything else, our emotional state requires maintenance and upkeep and our relationship with happiness demands more than our complacency.

I’ll be blogging more this year. It’s on my list.

Advertisements

26 and More

Loneliness

All four of my grandparents are still alive. In this respect, I’m very lucky. A keen benefit of living in Shanghai is being able to spend time with them. Loneliness is never as visible as in the facial expressions of the elderly, whether it’s displayed by joy, hope, or disappointment.

During two periods of my life, I was often asked if I were lonely: while I was living alone in Emeryville and while I was backpacking solo in Southeast Asia. Being alone is not the same as feeling lonely. I’ve often felt lonely in the middle of a crowded room and certainly have felt lonely in a relationship.

Loneliness is like the monster under your bed. The more you avoid it, the more afraid you are, the more power it has over you. Until one day, you gather up the courage to look and you find nothing there besides dust. After that, long nights are much easier to endure though you still check to make sure nothing can fit under your bed before buying a bed frame.

Birthdays

I turned 26 on Tuesday. What do you get the woman who has everything? I certainly feel like her.

From my family and friends, I have all the love I can hold and more. I’ve never been fixated on material goods and so never felt a lack of them. And this year, I feel especially rich due to all the experiences I’ve had. Even as my bank account dwindles, my wealth grows.

Now when I look in the mirror, there’s a full-grown woman looking back at me. It startles me sometimes.

And Many More

In observing my grandparents, I’ve unlocked the key to living longer happier.

Use It or Lose It: whether it’s your body or your mind, a lack of use will surely lead to deterioration. The only way to keep your mind sharp is to continuously challenge yourself intellectually. It doesn’t have to be strenuous, anything stimulating will do. The same applies to your body.

Temperament Determines Everything: your health will not depend solely on what you eat and how often you exercise, it’ll largely depend on how you feel. Laugh as often as you can. Never hold onto anger. Try to remember that everything is transient.

And while I’m at it, the Chinese have a saying about money: 生不带来,死不带去 (you don’t bring it with you when you’re born and you can’t take it with you when you die).

Living in China

Just when temperatures in Shanghai dropped to absolutely perfect, I moved to Nanjing. Nanjing is what Shanghai was 20 years ago: a construction site. Alongside development, there’s a lot of history and culture to explore. It’s hard to love another city after living in Shanghai, but I’ll try.

I’m finding it much easier to adjust to living in China this time around. When I arrived in Shanghai last year, I expected to continue living as I had. I didn’t understand why I kept running into walls till I realized instead of fighting against the city, it’d be much easier to bend for it.

I’m also more committed to living here this time. I no longer feel like I have a foot here, a foot in California. It helps to have a concrete plan and an expected return date. For the next nine months, I’m here, my heart is here.

Never Fight With Someone You Love

Recently I got into a fight with someone I love very dearly.

I don’t have the best temper in the world. I know this and I’ve been working on it since college. It’s not an easy task, changing a part of my personality. My temper has improved a great deal since I was 18 but I’m fully aware there still exists the Hyde to my Jekyll.

Usually when I feel the tempest brewing within me, I extract myself from the situation. I mentally press pause and leave the room. I go for a walk to clear my head. By the time I return, the storm has passed. You’d be surprised at how trivial most fights will seem if you only give yourself a ten-minute break from it.

This time, however, I forgot the reason I control my temper. This time, I decided to unleash my rage. This time, I met her hurricane with my own tornado and the resounding collision threatened to destroy our relationship.

As I gazed at the debris around us, I did not feel an inkling of triumph. Both of us were wounded, defeated. I decided then to fully commit to protecting our relationship, to never give another storm a chance to rip us apart. I remembered then why I try so hard to control my temper.

Never fight with someone you love. Nothing good will come of it. No one ever walked away from a fight with someone they cared about feeling like a winner, wanting to high-five themselves. Everyone loses. Stop yourself from saying anything you’ll regret later. The anger will pass, but you’ll never be able to take back those words.

Decide how important the relationship is to you. Regard the person standing in front of you as you feel the upcoming storm, weigh your anger in one hand and your relationship in the other, decide if you’re in it for the long run.

Do It For Love

Because too often we are motivated by fear. The world outside is too vast and unfamiliar; what’s more frightening than the unknown? Fear of failure demobilizes us from pursuing our dreams and desires and only love can push us forward. Love is what fear is not.

Because life kicks our asses on a daily basis. Day after day, we drag ourselves to work, until the monotony of it makes us forget why we do it at all. We no longer remember that we had once loved this field or that our families are depending on us. It is too easy to drown in resentment and love is our only life-line.

Because life is so fragile and all too quickly, gone. One of these days, before we know it, we will have reached old age. We will come to know the frailty of our bodies and it will scare us. We will have to rely on others for the most ordinary tasks and it will make us feel helpless. Love will be our strength and guide; it will be the legacy we leave behind.

Because we all take it for granted. Because so few of us have it written on our daily to-do lists. Because our loved ones will not be around forever.

Because no one has ever proclaimed on his deathbed, “I wish I had loved less.”

Two Wolves

David: my soul is wild
have you ever heard the story of the two wolves in our souls?
me: no
tell me about this story
David:  it’s an old Native American story
so the chief of the village was talking to his son
and he told his son that there are two wolves in his heart and they are in constant battle
one wolf wants to destroy him and the other wolf is protecting him
the son asks which wolf wins
and the father tells him “the one you feed”
me: I love that story
you surprise me with your wisdom sometimes