PART 1: SENSING HAPPINESS
We’re born, we grow up, we get old, and we ultimately depart from this life. That’s a harsh and inevitable yet natural process. Interestingly, some questions accompany us throughout the course of our lives:
- Are we living, or just existing?
- Are we living for ourselves and being ourselves, or are we just living a dependent life?
- With each moment that passes by, what can we learn from it?
- What is the meaning that this life brings to us?
Big vs. small
On an early Saturday morning in Cu Chi, a Catholic nun opened her gate for me, welcoming me into a house that was home to more than 50 orphans and differently abled children. I stood in front of her and was kind of shocked. Though she was only as tall as my shoulder, I felt like I was the one who was too small, like I was a child myself. How was that possible when she was a skinny, short woman with a soft voice? (Although she did have many, many big and kind smiles.) I quickly found out the answer, and it was an answer rooted in human kindness. It was also a deep lesson for me. The answer was simply “her heart.”
I have a little daughter of my own, and everyone in my house has to run around constantly in order to raise and care for her. Yet this nun was raising more than 50 children coming from difficult circumstances who had no blood relationship with her. In addition, many of them were differently abled. That nun and all of her sister nuns in the house had completely dedicated their hearts and souls, energy and money, sweat and tears, laughter and sorrows into each and every minute to keep the house warm and welcoming for those children.
That nun had such a great big heart and mind! Her giant heart was making me felt tiny as I stood in front of her. We are not big or small because of our physical body. No! We can only be as big as our heart and our kindness.
Facing your fears
I once received a long email from a stranger who shared with me his difficulties, his fears, and a lot of his worries. He wrote the email without even a hope that I would read it, but I did, and I was glad I did. Most of us (including myself) face our fears every day as we live our lives. Below is what I wrote back to him.
Everyone has problems like yours. Everyone has a lot of fears: a fear of not being successful, a fear of looking bad in front of others, a fear of getting sick. Sometimes we just have fears for no known reasons. I think the problem itself is not fear because everyone has fears. (Including me!) Essentially, the question is, how do you deal with your fears?
The simplest answer is to do something to improve the situation instead of procrastinating — that just makes things worse. I used to have a lot more fears and worries than I do now. I used to worry about my health, my finances, my safety, and the safety of my family. I even used to worry about the individual futures of other people! (Which are of course harder to directly impact.) But now I worry less and less.
Whether you worry less or more depends on the thoughts, actions, and statements you keep cultivating in the now. Procrastinating and not doing anything to improve your current situation is like you’re sending your burdens into a saving account. With each passing day, you add more burdens, creating interest that adds to the base of worries that is already there. As a result, you become more exhausted and more insecure, and the burdens keep piling up. That’s a disappointingly infinite loop, right?
I’m guessing you feel much better now that you’ve shared everything with me through your writing. You’re really good at one important thing: you’ve admitted your failures. Knowing and accepting your problems is like you’ve already solved 50% of your problems. Now you know exactly what your real burdens are!
The first step is to take your burdens off your shoulders and directly face them. You should not carry them on your shoulders and at the same time try to run away from them. In an objective reality, there are no labels of “failure” or “success,” because if we never fail, how can we know success? Those are just concepts and labels we stick onto things. They are not overly important.
The more important thing is this: what can you learn from failures or successes? Remember, you don’t need to label them for any reason. This process of learning and observing what is happening to you goes on nonstop throughout your lifetime. Right now, you’re suffering because your mind is drowning in a negative mental state of being burdened, of being tired, of being disappointed. Here’s an idea for how to deal with those thoughts: you can write them down on toilet paper and flush them down the toilet. It is a simple way for your mind to declare “Goodbye!” to those negative feelings. After you’ve done that, then you can start working on bringing yourself out of those burdensome and negative states of mind.
Here’s another thing you can do: buy an item from Nike (a hat, a T-shirt, a pair of shoes). Why? Because Nike has a great slogan that says “JUST DO IT.” You need to learn that slogan by heart. Do something! Do anything that can help you improve your situation instead of procrastinating and nurturing more and more fear.
In reality, people don’t grow through studying and thinking — they mostly grow via what they do each and every day. By directly experiencing things, you can see how your newfound knowledge and understanding can be applied concretely to your life.
For example, most people worry about their first job and about interviewing for that job. They want everything to be perfect! But in order to for something to be perfect, you need to experience the imperfect version of it. There is no other way around the issue. Yes, the ultimate goal is to have a successful job interview and then receive a job offer. But you only need one job — the right one. You don’t need every interview to be successful, because there will be another interview. You can learn a lot from unsuccessful interviews…at least, if you really want to grow as a person.
Here’s another example, this time in the sports world. In a soccer match, Team A may play well in general the whole time…but the result may be decided in the last few minutes, when Team B has settled down and become calm and is putting their best effort into the game. That’s when Team B can turn the situation upside down and achieve victory. If Team B does that, everyone will acknowledge that Team B won the game, and Team B will receive much praise.
Results count! You only need one great interview. What you need to do is start actually going on job interviews instead of only preparing for them and worrying and becoming paralyzed. The great thing is that once you start doing interviews, you will realize you’ve done many unnecessary or impractical things during your preparations. Therefore, the more you interview, the less fear you’ll feel and the more confident you’ll become. In general, most people only receive one job offer for every ten interviews they do. (Sometimes it’s only one offer for every 15 interviews.) Hence, everyone fails at least once if not a lot more often. That’s completely normal.
The most important thing is to start doing. Do not procrastinate! And you don’t need to label things as being a “success” or a “failure.” Instead, be courageous and simply experience those feelings of success or failure and learn from each one of them. You just need to start!
Another thing you can start doing is let your mind relax each and every day, as guided by the script I’ve posted here.
Once you can really let your mind relax, those brief moments of peace you’ll attain will allow you to cultivate more positive energy and self-confidence. Those peaceful moments — although very brief — can help tell you what you need to do next.
Whose fault is it?
You may have heard a story like this: “A kid was playing in the house. He fell down on the floor, hurt and crying. His father found out that his son had fallen because of a toy car—the kid lost his mindfulness, stumbled over it, and fell. The father ‘hit’ the toy car, saying the car was at fault, in order to not blame the boy, thinking that it may help relieve the little one.”
The story seems simple. However, it would be dangerous to just accept that “accusation.” That’s how cultures become blaming cultures: when people blame others and refuse to take personal responsibility.
We watch TV. We read the news. And most of the time, we overwhelmingly hear and see constant criticism about the weaknesses of government, of health care, of education, of everything. It is easy to point out the mistakes made by people around us. It is easy to criticize without offering any solutions. We criticize others in order to relieve our fears and to temper our anger at the chaos of life.
But does criticizing or blaming solve your problems or our greater society’s problems? Unfortunately, most of the time, it doesn’t. Yet those criticism and blaming can do one thing, and it’s a big one: overwhelm you with insecurity and fear. Worse than that, those feelings are contagious—they start with you, but then spread to others.
I read a great advice somewhere that said, “If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.” Yes, that’s very true.
Maybe you see many things that you think are wrong. If you do, then you need to ask yourself, “What can I do to change the situation?” If you can’t find any solutions, step back and observe more. You may realize that you need to change your thoughts, change the way you see things, change your attitude toward those apparently negative things. That will certainly help you be more active and have more courage going forward instead of criticizing and blaming others and being overwhelmed by worries.
There is an old Chinese saying: “Once faced with difficulties, normal people blame those on others. Good people blame those on themselves. But great people blame no one.” Truly wise people do not care whose fault it is. Instead, they try to investigate difficulties in order to understand what has happened. From there, they can see what they themselves can do to improve the situation.
So, stop! Stop criticizing and blaming. Instead, ask yourself, “What can I contribute?”
Don’t lose faith in this world
In the current age of technology, we’re all overwhelmed by media information from TV shows, newspapers, internet channels, social networks, etc. If you skim through those channels, you’re likely bombarded with countless stories about scandals, problems with government, the erosion of ethics, extreme criminal cases, torrid stories about rich people, child trafficking, domestic abuse, the failures of education, the failures of healthcare, and on and on. All of those stories have one thing in common: they cultivate worries, insecurities, fears, and negative thoughts. Gradually, at some point, it becomes easy to lose faith in yourself and the world.
“But there are too many bad things out there! And they do have a direct impact on our lives!” you might be saying. Yes, I think those are valid concerns. I have no argument there. Yet I suggest this: do not allow those worries to steal your faith in this world. And I’m not talking about religious faith — I mean faith in the great nature of human beings, faith in kindness, faith that things always evolve. In other words, the aspects that make up a positive mindset.
Why do we have to be careful about losing our faith in this world? Because once you lose your faith, you start losing yourself. If you don’t have a positive mindset, it means that negative thoughts are occupying your mind. It means that you will always see the world through the filter of negativity. As a result, then you always have doubts, negative thoughts, worries, and fears, and that in turn is why you are often unable to focus, work effectively, love, or contribute. Losing faith means losing your potential and the goodness inside of yourself.
So don’t let negativity steal your faith! Stop feeding your mind with useless information. Knowing more negative information and news won’t bring you peace and safety in this world. You can leverage the same internet and the same technologies to search for stories about kindness and great people and organizations who are working on many meaningful projects for communities around the world. If you look for those stories, you’ll find that they are also everywhere. They’re just unfortunately not what media usually promotes.
So get out there! Meet and talk to those positive people. If you really want to find them, you will; if you pay attention to find them, you will gradually get to know them.
Go find those great movies and books that tell stories about great people with big hearts! Let your mind be filled with those meaningful stories.
Nurture and build faith in this world by working with positive people and getting to know their great stories. That way, you won’t lose your own self.