By Assunta Ng
Northwest Asian Weekly
It may sound strange, but I had a revelation when I was in Hawaii last week — it was about how to practice experiencing happiness.
“Sure, Assunta,” you say. “You are in Hawaii. That’s why you have time to ponder about happiness!
Seriously, we can acquire happiness and satisfaction in our own simple ways. Gurus and authors have depicted their approaches in aptly titled books, such as “The Happiness Project,” “The Happiness Advantage,” and “The Happiness Code.”
For me, it’s merely about the happiness practice.
Every few years, I write about happiness, as readers have told me it is an important topic.
They’ve given me a wide range of feedback.
I used to scream every time I prepared for a trip because it was stressful — the amount of work before and after my vacation has been grueling. Exhausted and cranky, I typically lost my desire to vacation before it began.
Hawaii this time, however, was different. It wasn’t just being in the Aloha state that made me feel relaxed and blissful.
Actually, I was in a pleasant mood days before I even reached the island. My shoulders were light, my head was clear, and my feet were already dancing. Was it because my workload was easier before the trip?
Nope. I did three times more work, compared to previous trips. Instead of moaning and groaning, I smiled through it all.
I discovered that the anticipation of joy melted my worries away — I was looking forward to my trip. I wasn’t concerned about catching up on work. The blue ocean and green palms in Hawaii preoccupied my thoughts.
The imagery served as a powerful motivator for my productivity. No matter how busy I was, I never felt overwhelmed.
It is important for our physical and mental health to have things to look forward to, not just for every month, but for every week and ideally every day. Even looking forward to something small can revive your spirit.
At the end of some days, my treat is to watch a pre-taped television program as I walk on my treadmill. That’s nothing major — a simple routine. Psychologists have found that our brain needs small rewards from time to time to feel refreshed.
Giving yourself small rewards frequently will help you to achieve long-term goals. Those small incentives can re-program your brain from being mostly grouchy to being mostly content.
Duplicate Joy processes
This week, I created my joyful experience by looking forward to a particular dinner. My friend Vivian Lee, a pioneer in nursing and the healthcare field, will be honored by the Washington State Nurses Association at Salty’s on Alki Beach.
Booker T. Washington said, “If you want to lift yourself up, you lift someone else up.” I’m using the occasion to create a fabulous experience for myself!
How can I make it a spectacular day for Vivian? Shall I bring her flowers? What gifts should I bring? How should I design a congratulations card? What words should I write on the card?
What photos should I take during the event? What dress should I wear for the occasion?
All these happy thoughts have energized me since the day I received the invitation.
You can turn many occasions into delightful experiences, and afterward, valuable memories.
Enthusiasm in life
Vivian is a beautiful person. Her volunteer work has opened endless possibilities for youth and other people through the University of Washington Multicultural Alumni Partnership.
But the one quality of Vivian’s that has that impressed me the most is her enthusiasm in life.
Her contagious enthusiasm is the reason she can rally other people to get things done.
Vivian’s zest for life is remarkable—making every opportunity a fun experience for herself and her friends.
Although Vivian has been honored many times, especially in the last few years, she gets fired up every time she receives recognition.
Enthusiasm is far more impactful than optimism and positive thinking. Vivian’s enthusiasm is the driving force that moves obstacles away and brings people together constructively for good causes. Her enthusiasm is what I like to emulate — she enjoys everything she does and makes a difference in the world.
When I told her that she’s going to live until 100, rather than responding with, “I don’t know,” or, “No way,” she said, “I shall strive for that.” That’s her attitude.
It’s okay to adjust your goals
“If I get this raise/job/promotion/boyfriend, I’ll be happy,” folks say. Or they say, “If I do this, I should get this.”
That type of mentality is silly. Your happiness shouldn’t depend on outcomes. You set yourself up for disappointment. What counts is doing your best — never, never give up.
Changing goals is acceptable. There are things you can take the whole lifetime to achieve.
Don’t get mad at yourself or others. It serves no purpose at all. I must have modified my goals a million times in my personal journey. At one point, I wanted the Asian Weekly to grow to 24 pages. Of course, my goal wasn’t even close. It’s been at 16 pages for years. I don’t consider this a failure. What I now try to accomplish is to work hard on the quality of content, rather than quantity.
I swore to myself I’d visit the Berlin Wall in 1989, after witnessing its fall on television. Guess when I finally landed in Berlin? Eleven years later.
In retrospect, it was better timing to meet Germans from both East and West and talk to them about their reunification experiences the all sides having the benefit of hindsight.
Besides, we weren’t financially ready to travel extensively in 1990.
Since then, I have traveled to Europe eight times. But our trip to Berlin was one of the highlights of my life.
My 82-year-old friend has been feeling lonely, especially at night, ever since his wife of 40-plus years passed away a few years ago.
“So you and your wife talked a lot?” I asked.
“No, we didn’t talk much [while she was alive],” he replied. In fact, some days, they hardly talked, he admitted. She had been sick for a while so they couldn’t do much together. But since she died, he has been miserable. My sympathies.
My family and I visited his house a few months ago. And I found the answer. The 6,500-sq-ft house is exactly the same as it was when his wife was alive. The reason he isn’t able to move on or move forward is because nothing has been changed since he became a widower.
“Have you been seeing other people?” I asked.
“My friends have introduced me to many [women],” he said. “I am surprised at the number of single women available at my age. None worked.”
He fears some of the women are only interested in his money. One woman he desired wanted him to “chase” her to show his interest. “I haven’t chased anybody for 50 years,” he said.
There’s nothing wrong with chasing women. It shouldn’t require any coaching. A phone call or e-mail to invite someone to a movie, dinner, or coffee is all it takes. Why get stuck on a word? Chase! Just because he hasn’t chased anybody for decades, doesn’t mean he should not start now!
In fact, it may be fun for him to embark on new horizons by dating women. It’s a meaningful way to overcome loneliness and be on the road to happiness, if he is able to find companionship.
A person who refuses to take risks cannot achieve new beginnings.
“Three grand essentials to happiness in this life are something to do, something to love, and something to hope for,” said author Joseph Addison.
Believe in hope
Someone once said a person can live without water and air for a period of time. But without hope, he will die instantly.
Optimism has us believe that everything will turn out just fine. Many times, it doesn’t turn out fine. Without knowing it, we mold ourselves with self-deception.
Hope is the triumph of the human soul after suffering setbacks and tragedies.
Notice the condition we are in when we feel hopelessness. The narrow and negative perspectives you hold will lock your body and mind with misconceptions and distortions.
When we are hopeful, we feel alive (even when we are crying). We open ourselves up and look at things with unlimited and multi-dimensional possibilities. Psychologists said, “Hope can be learned.”
We have to remind ourselves to be hopeful every day. Do you have other tips to achieve more happiness? Please add them to your own list or share them with me. (end)
Assunta Ng can be reached at email@example.com.