The Easy Steps to being Happy
Most listicles teach us how to be happy, what we can and should do in order to stop feeling miserable with our lives. But is this truly possible?
We’re often told to ‘take things in our stride’, but just how big and wide should that stride be? Who should it include, is there a tangible limit to that space in our minds and hearts that would effectively cordon off all the bad things we don’t want happening to us in our lives? Is it really black and white, can it be?
Happiness is to me how black is to the color spectrum. It isn’t a color, but a lack of. It isn’t an exact, quantifiable instance, but the appreciation and contentment at the lack of specific sorrows, the understanding that things could turn out worse, and yet don’t.
Without disappointments and setbacks, how do we realize the idea of contentment? Without overcrowded bus and train rides, how do we come to treasure commuting during off-peak hours? Without the unfortunate flooding incident in 2010, we tend to forget we never ever have to experience a single bump from an earthquake, that we are a lot luckier than our neighbours in the region.
If I could apply one thing from years of sociological training - thanks, NTU - it is that you are never the sole cause and function of your happiness. From the moment you decide to finally quit snoozing your phone alarm, to the dreadful morning SBS/SMRT commute, to getting through a long day at work or school, to wrapping up your day and going back home, a multitude of factors can make or foil your mojo.
Also, emotions ripple. When someone’s unhappy, they are never truly alone in your misery. Here’s a list of things you need to start doing in order to be happy. No harm trying, right?
1. Make the choice to be happy
As much as possible, make this choice alone. If you factor in someone else in the things that make you happy, you’re engineering your own happiness in relation, and possibly in subordination, to somebody else’s happiness. Make their dreams come true, but make sure you fulfill yours too.
Don’t be a slave to somebody’s opinions, but keep in mind that there are cultural diversities and the accompanying values and obligations different people owe to their society. You think familial-arranged marriages are sad and primitive? Some people will tell you it’s the best thing to have ever happened to them. This is not an advertorial for our very own national matchmaking agency, the Social Development Network, although it wouldn't be too crazy if you checked it out as well, right?
2. Keep calm in the crowded MRT and… stay that way
I might be the biggest people-pleaser around, but that doesn’t make me the least confrontational. The easiest way to go about this is by making some ground rules for when you deal with people and matters, no matter how basic and how brief. Find your zen spot on the MRT and do not budge. Do not yield to feisty aunties' shoves when they rush for the train doors and stay strong!
“Kill your haters with kindness” is one good way to live. I don’t mean you should offer them poisoned brownies and knuckle duster back rubs, but just know that making peace with your enemies and yourself is one of the most impossible and hardest thing to do. And then if you can do that, go get yourself some real brownies girl!
3. Be a 0, be a 10, be whatever
Watch UK reality show Supersize vs Superskinny, and you might be led to assume that there are only either fat or skinny people in the world. That is not true.
If I read one more ‘you’re beautiful just the way you are’ comment’ I will throw you a bone off my har cheong gai. Said har cheong gai is an indulgence, much like how I view my earl grey bubble tea, and my Plain Vanilla cupcakes.
The times I allow myself to truly enjoy them are few and far between. The media and people who are constantly berating you for watching your calories are the same demons reminding you that there is no business left in this world for someone who eats her pizzas and enjoys it.
Just look at the outpour of disavowed viewers when Lena Dunham got too naked for their comfort on hit show ‘Girls’. People and their sense of self righteousness only stand for a specific type of beauty, they get squeamish when they see a size 8 - and I feel sick that I have to reduce brilliant Lena to a clothing size - girl parading her body on TV, much like how you might get when you’re assisting a colonoscopy or lipoplasty procedure.
The sooner you understand that this body-shaming culture is both ridiculous and hypocritical, and you can never please yourself either way, the better and healthier you’re going to be.
4. No more of that Debbie Downer business
In a nutshell, nobody likes a debbie downer. This is more for the people who find themselves stuck with friends who are perpetually whining and unhappy about something. It pains me a little to say this, because I’ve never been able to do this wholeheartedly, and sometimes I wish I’d take my own advice.
You might want to stop being around with the people who serve you no value, people who only anchor you down and take more from you than they give. A little drastic perhaps and I’m certainly not trying to downplay cases of serious and life-threatening depression.
But when the person is constantly complaining about his or her life and none of your sincere advice seems to stick, maybe its time you acknowledge that you’re not the mentor the person is looking for.
It could be that you’re just as bad with dishing out advice as I am, or that you’re not the most tactful person around, but I’ve had enough friendship woes to know that if your friend disregards your advice repeatedly, you’d best beat it. Doing so might actually mean more good than harm for your friendship. Trust that your friend will survive whatever he or she is going through, respect your differences and if you still want to, let them know that you’re still around the instant they need you again.
5. Also, no Judgey Judy
But actually, a bad dress sense definitely offends the majority’s sentiment. I joke. This is probably best exemplified by the recent scandal where a Miss Universe Singapore 2013 finalist uploaded a picture she took of an unassuming man who wore a ‘t-shirt with holes’.
I cannot imagine the amount of backlash this girl must have gotten in the wake of her insensitive and incriminating Facebook post.
Point 1) Obviously it is neither morally nor socially acceptable to poke fun of someone’s dress, and she’s made it worse with her use of bad English.
Point 2) Said man has some serious street cred in the neighborhood where he works - she picked the wrong guy to mess with.
Point 3) Like most of the comments made in the aftermath, this section is dedicated to all the keyboard warriors chastising her for her insensitive and shallow comments. Who is she to make fun of this humble, hardworking man whose shirt has holes in it only because he’s struggling hard to make ends meet in his family?
But was she hurling insults at his character? Did she undermine his efforts in supporting his family? This was merely a girl naive enough to forget that her actions generate repercussions, and a person who lacked the common sense to know that singling out another person, taking a photo of him and later posting it on social media with the intention of disseminating said photo, is not just unnecessary, but hurts all parties involved.
I think making fun of someone else made her very happy, but the moral check on her afterwards probably gave her a lot to think about. Bottom line is, it’s one thing to pass judgement, and it’s a whole other issue when it is taken to the next level: cyber bullying. If we would all keep our comments to ourselves, and work at slowly getting rid of them altogether, we might have more time to come up with things that make us happy.
6. Understand that life is more than a 612pixels by 612pixels image on Instagram
If following all those beauty/travel/lifestyle bloggers on Instagram only makes you wish you’d hate your own life less, it might be time to perform a little spring cleaning in your following list. Although, pewdiepie is really kind of fabulous.
It is a sad world we live in now. People brag about what they have, the places they go to and the amazing partners that they have. We’re forced to be happy for them, for there are only Like buttons and none to say “quit showing off that artisanal coffee in filter#X-Pro II , I don’t even like coffee!”, or "I get it, your OOTD shot is to remind us that you've managed to put on some clothes today".
Make your own kodak moments. Happiness that only exists online is fabricated happiness and is as inconsequential as a cyber hater’s jealous comment. You’re better off without all the tedious social engineering that goes into making those moments Instagram-worthy.
Do you really want to be them?
7. Be the anti-millennial
The problem we have is a mismatch between what we want and our preferred means of getting them. We’re a generation sucked into an endless whirl of instant gratification. We hate waiting, and most of the time we’re pretty much annoying and self-entitled, consuming and then over-consuming.
This paradox is most illuminated through our use of new media. Sadly, this is also how my little piece of work is getting to you right now, although I definitely don't disapprove of you procrastinating on work to read this article.
Frustration and angst stem from the inability to do things quick or well enough to get at your desired outcome. This is for the ‘lazy’ ones, and some may think what I’m about to say might scream ‘TYPICAL MILLENNIAL BOGUS!’
But that inability is shaped by various hidden actors and a list of other factors you’re unaware of. I’m a firm believer of managing your expectations and know you only have to avoid short-changing yourself.
8. Murder The One. Metaphorically, of course
Before you continue, may I present my earlier post on how to get over the fact that there is no Mr Right (point number 3).
You’re not going to run into one on your next visit to that hipster cafe that just opened. That dude who smiled at you as you were walking your dog won't get down on one knee and wed you in a sea of fluffy puppies. Besides, logically and statistically speaking, there will never be enough of the good specimens to go around. Ever thought about that? Are we all just going to wind up as a bunch of cannibalistic Charlotte Yorks?
Weed those ideas out, now. I might possibly be one of the worst person to dish out relationship advice, but if I must tell you one thing, it will be this: don’t hang on to idealized projections of somebody. You’re smarter than that. If love isn’t given freely, then that love isn’t yours to keep.
9. Murder The Ex too. Also metaphorically
Post break-up, I tried to recollect the things that once made me feel that he was The One. He isn’t. That is the reason why you look back at your past relationships wistfully and admit that indeed it was a good run but either that path had hit a snag or it was an off-beaten one you should have never taken in the first place.
But you should also never discount any relationship, or any non-relationship, because even the briefest of affairs have the potential to change you, and allow you to better understand who you are as a person.
Advising someone not to dwell on unrequited love, or wallow in lost love, is almost as difficult as telling me, or this munchkin, he can only have nuggets once a week.
So grief, reminisce and sob all you want. Then put away the old polaroids, delete those messages, go to the places you used to go with your ex alone, or with new people. The only way to put these all behind is by making new memories with people who are still in your life. That's the only way to be happy again.
10. Abandon dumb, idealistic notions like ‘with hard work comes success’ or rags to riches dreams. But don’t abandon your job
If you judge a fish by his ability to fly, he will spend his entire life thinking he is stupid.
- Albert Einstein
Meritocracy in our society is a conniving little thing. It combines an individual’s hard work and capabilities and conveniently judges you, if you’re worthy, if you’re a good person.
Success stories infiltrate our social media constantly, and you find yourself miserable because you’re stuck in the ridges of amateurism. You’re neither too good to be boasted of, nor such an unthinkable failure that even Stomp might decide you too irrelevant. Ignoring society's constant judging of your self-worth - a tenuous task, I know - is one way to make your day a little less miserable.
So there you go, 10 things that will help you get over the rut you've found yourself in. Let's all work at being happy Singaporeans so there're no longer a need for reasons why Singaporeans are unhappy with their lives.