By Assunta Ng
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Most Asian parents assume if they have given their kids a strong education, they have done enough. And if the parents have imparted kids with wisdom to be ethical and kind, they did their job. Not quite!
I didn’t teach my children how to get rich. I was unable to help them attend Harvard. I didn’t coach them to be athletes, and I envy the parents that do. I regret that I didn’t guide them much in their career choice.
However, I pride myself in raising them to be positive and happy — something most Asian parents tend to overlook.
My upbringing has given me insights on how to raise my kids. Growing up, I rarely felt joy. Instead, I felt shame, inferior, hurt, and sadness.
Looking back, I realized my mother often had depression, resentment, rage, and agitation due to her divorce with my biological father and broken promises from my stepfather. She left home many summers to be with my stepfather, who was working abroad. Every summer, I stayed with my grandmother and step brother as he was too little to travel with mom. No doubt, my mom’s feelings had impacted me — I felt down, helpless, and alone.
I instill in my sons to see light rather than darkness. Also, I remind them constantly that they are blessed with unlimited gifts in life, which others might not find. Never take your favorable conditions for granted, as they could easily be situated on the opposite side.
I would ask them when they face major decisions at critical junctures of their lives, “Are you happy?” And then I ask, “Why?” To my amazement, my oldest son once responded, “I have good parents and I am surrounded by good friends.” It’s wonderful to feel that you need not be the only one to shoulder any misfortunes and woes. You have a support system no matter what happens — someone will be there for you in bad and good times.
As I age, I am determined to feel tranquil and appreciative, even when disasters hit. Over the decades, I have had my share of experiencing crisis, running a media company. How I confront challenges is a measure of my capability to advance accomplishment and problem-solving skills. To maintain my sanity, and feel motivated and joy in the worst circumstances, I have armed myself with a new philosophy — don’t take things so seriously, let it go and be happy.
1. Don’t be a perfectionist
My biological father taught me, “If you want to relax and feel joy, lower your expectations. This is contrary to many achievers’ behavior for setting high goals, to some extent, unobtainable and unrealistic. Studies have found perfectionists committing suicide just because they think they are not good enough. So I set zero goals for my job and look for no returns. Instead, I list goals for fun. But I will work very hard to get the job done. When you let go of being perfect, you relieve yourself of unnecessary stress, and will be delighted when serendipity happens. I am always in awe when the unexpected brings beautiful results.
2. Health is happiness
Can you be happy if you are in constant pain? Can you feel at peace if you suffer from mental illness, suspecting that people around you want to do you harm? Will you be content confined to a bed 24/7 due to physical injuries? If you are inflicted with a life-threatening disease, can you sleep serenely at night? Sure, there are occasions when I want to indulge myself in multiple ventures that are unthinkable and wild. Is it worth risking my health? No, no, no.
3. A good night’s sleep
If you are experiencing chronic insomnia, you can’t be happy, according to many studies. Consistent insomnia can cause depression and health issues. Invest in a good bed, a nice bedroom environment, and sleep hygiene. Practicing to sleep well every night can raise your immunity, memory, mood, and appearance. Tell yourself: Affairs over which you have no control, will not be meandering your way even though you lie awake.
The word is not confined only to work-life balance, but our life choices, too. For instance, I have heard parents favoring one kid over the other, causing husband-wife feuds and sibling rivalry — just because one son or daughter is smarter, more successful, more attractive…Imbalance can rouse unhappiness to all parties concerned, including yourself.
5. Big money make you happy?
Some people think that if they win the lottery, their problems will be solved and they will be happy. That’s a myth. According to Business Insider, many lottery winners end up blowing all their money.
6. Sharing food
Sharing lunch or dinner with friends and loved ones is fun. So I donated a lunch with former governor and U.S. ambassador Gary Locke for CISC, a nonprofit agency for its auction. I hosted the lunch at Palisades. It was a sunny Friday and Locke shared his experiences. The company was pleasant and conversation lively. Everyone had a great time.
7. Chocolate adventures
You can create your own adventures, such as shopping, making things, or volunteering. For me, it’s chocolate. A few days ago, I went to See’s Candies, across from Westlake Mall. There were no customers in the store. When I walked in, the salesperson said, “I’ve been waiting for you.”
Before I opened my mouth, she said, “How about a sample?” See’s Candies always gives you a piece, not just a bite of the chocolate.
“Which dark chocolates have less sugar?” I asked. “Those with nuts,” she replied. So I bought several pieces of dark chocolate with raisins, walnuts, peanuts, almonds, and some nuts combined. The total was $3.60. I gave $5 to the woman.
“Keep the change,” I said.
“You don’t have to,” she protested. “I get paid lots of money to do this…So give the money elsewhere. Be a hero to someone.”
What extraordinary words from an ordinary woman’s mouth! I was both inspired and dumbfounded. Most people would accept my money and say, “Thank you.” (Two years ago, I gave a tip to her co-worker because she was able to find me a red See’s box during Lunar New Year. She didn’t say no.) Outside Westlake Mall, a street singer and one-man band posted a sign, “Vet fundraising for child support.” I threw the money in his pocket, while enjoying my piece of dark chocolate. What a lovely day!
8. Happy foods
Besides chocolate, there are many foods which can elevate your mood, such as milk, corn, pistachio nuts, fish (especially salmons), vitamin B12, B6, quinoa, yogurt, bok choy, mushrooms, beans, eggs, and desserts. I am not advocating that you eat more sweets. However, once in a while, when you are upset or mad, desserts can give you a lift. What about alcohol? At parties, alcohol is often present. Yet, few worry about the toxic effects on our brain. Just a small amount of ethanol can disrupt our brain cells, our memory, and our thinking. Alcohol can numb your feelings initially, but it cannot make you feel good afterwards.
9. Nature, new experiences, and exercise
A recent New York Times health column said people who work out once a week,tend to be more cheerful than those who never exercise. Other research draw the same conclusion.
Recently, I discovered and developed my new formula of happiness. In my last trip to Hong Kong for my mom’s funeral, I stayed close to Victoria Park. The park’s nice jogging trail took my breath away. It’s the first time I ever jogged in Victoria, even though I was a Hong Kong resident for over a decade long ago. I was ecstatic!
Creating a new experience by combining exercise with nature is energizing. No wonder my friend said his fun goal is to visit all 59 national parks in America. Another friend’s passion is to travel all over Washington state to play in public golf courses. Learning or doing something new every day is refreshing. A meaningful purpose is the reason you look forward to your day. If you can’t think of doing something new, what about learning to sing a new song, reading a new book or poem. If you play the piano, find a new piece to enjoy.
My best friend always reminds me, “Count your blessings.” She has a schizophrenic son. Without going into detail, it’s draining for parents to have kids with mental illness. Instead of complaining that life is unfair, she does not think of herself as a victim. Her compassion for mentally-ill kids grows. Her attitude is, she is just doing volunteer work to make a difference — through taking care of her son. She also volunteers in her son’s group home to make sure the children have a safe and warm environment. Attitude is the key. I choose to be happy.
Someone said, “Be happy and a reason will come along.“
Assunta can be reached at email@example.com.