By Assunta Ng
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
“What makes you happy?” someone asked me recently. I couldn’t respond to such a profound question without doing some self-reflection.
Honestly, I don’t claim to be 100 percent happy, even though life is good and meaningful. I have a purpose. But dwelling on making myself happy has never been my habit. I strive for feeling my best every day—being energetic, yet calm—free of fear, worry, anxiety, and depression—being able to manage stress—and appreciating what I have, not focusing on what I don’t have. It’s a prerequisite for happiness.
Author Sheryl Sandberg said happiness is made up of numerous small moments of joy. The more you experience joyous emotions, the happier you are. In my experience, it takes effort and desire to build a happy life. Half of the battle is won if you are determined to be happy. I say this because I have witnessed people who have flushed happiness away, and not aware of it.
You can create your own misery by behaving recklessly and giving up easily in your daily life. English poet William Ernest Henley wrote in his Invictus poem, “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.” Yes, you can lift yourself up by creating positive experiences so you can feel positive emotions. There is joy in much of the things you do if you pay attention. You just have to discover those magical moments. Let me share some of mine.
Finding hope in darkness
The joy of hope revitalizes our mental and physical being. When bad news hit an extended family member having an incurable, but not terminal illness, my first reaction was, no need to cry. Grief and sadness never run me over. It’s hope that drives me to think what’s the best thing family members can cope with, and how I can help to make a difference. Never let disasters ruin you. There is always a silver lining, you just have to dig deeper.
Before you get out of bed, smile and say a little prayer of gratitude in the morning. Say, “Thank you, God, I am alive.” “What a beautiful day!” ‘It’s going to be a great day,” even with some hiccups. “Thank you mom and dad for giving me life.” “Thank you, for a great night’s sleep,” knowing many suffer from insomnia. “Thank you, I woke up” because some people don’t get to.
“Thank you for my job” because many are unemployed. “Thank you for having the courage to face obstacles.” Studies have found that gratitude and fear cannot coexist. If you are grateful, it eliminates fear. Feeling blessed every morning shapes a healthy mindset towards life. If you are an atheist, you can skip the word God.
Count your blessings
Country singer Dolly Parton said, “Don’t count your money, count your blessings.” How often do we take things for granted? How often do we give thanks to what we’ve got?
The late author Maya Angelou’s memoir, “Mom and Me and Mom,” consists of a gratitude exercise. Take out a piece of paper and write down the basic blessings you have, but you have been ignoring.
Overwhelmed by the anxiety of raising her Black son in a white society, Angelou was going crazy, and she thought about killing herself. To get help, Angelou ended up going to her voice teacher and mentor Frederick Wilkerson. He told her to write and think of the millions of people all over the world who cannot hear a voice, or a symphony, or their own babies crying.
He told her to write, “I can hear—Thank God. I can see…I can read….” Then, think of the millions who couldn’t see or read. “I have a son…mother…brother… I can dance…sing…cook…read…write.”
By the end of the exercise, Angelou “began to feel silly” and “that she was alive and healthy. What on earth did I have to complain about?”
The joy of love
I don’t need to say much about love. Love gives joy, and hate doesn’t. Want enchantment? Love more. It doesn’t have to be romantic love. It can be love for kids. It’s a joy to feed kids and buying gifts for them.
The joy of uplifting others
When you serve others, you experience joy, and you bring joy to others. The power of what you do and can do makes a difference in your perspective, which enhances your spirit.
When you lift up the weak and the disadvantaged, you lift up yourself. It’s also the joy of giving and sharing.
The joy of surprise
Most people have no clue how we develop content for the Northwest Asian Weekly.
From ground zero, the whole process is one big miracle woven with many tiny miracles.
Like last week, Labor Day weekend was traditionally slow in news and advertisements. It’s hard for the Northwest Asian Weekly to fill the pages and we anticipated a dull front page and insufficient content. It was only on Tuesday morning when things started to unfold. Important events occurred with an Asian and there was a local angle, such as the first Costco opening in China. As you know, Costco is based in Kirkland and it was a Seattle architecture firm that designed the warehouse. We scooped the mainstream media. I couldn’t believe our fortune.
To my delight, our front page was incredibly strong with exciting stories, including basketball star Jeremy Lin leaving the NBA to play for China, and
Tsue Chong, a century-old noodle and fortune cookie company, sold to another family. Inside, the content was equally interesting with stories that I had never heard before. The layout was beautiful.
I was in awe during the whole weekend. My staff and those freelance writers amazed me. Thank you. This leads me to the joy of pride.
The joy of pride
The Asian Weekly has limited manpower and resources. But we work really hard on every issue.
We are fortunate to receive news tips from all kinds of people. The people who send us leads believe in us. They know that we don’t let them down. We fight relentlessly for new stories and ideas. From business to politics, arts to food topics, we work hard to generate diverse content.
We love your ideas and your contributions. Like a puzzle, we never know what the issue will look like when we begin on Monday. Even on Tuesday, the puzzle is still missing many pieces.
Our job is to find the best pieces to fill the holes so that it can be transformed into a fantastic issue. And our small team labors intensively every minute till the last second before we send the issue to press on Wednesday afternoon. That’s determination and perseverance. You can imagine how proud and happy we feel when we receive the finished product.
The joy of inspiration
My sources of inspirations are derived from newspapers to television news, music lyrics to movies, websites to magazines, lectures to talking to people. Last Saturday, I watched “Green Book,” DVD movie that I checked out from the library, based on a true story. It won Best Picture at the Oscars this year. I was inspired. In the past, I would skip parts of a movie because it was boring. But I watched all of Green Book.
The movie was about an Italian American bouncer driving a Black musician to perform in the deep South in the 1960s, a painful period in American history of whites discriminating against Blacks. Green Book was published to help Blacks find places where they could stay and eat in the South. The Black world-renowned musician wasn’t allowed to eat where he was performing or to use the regular restrooms. It was hard to watch those blatantly bigoted scenes. However, humanity and friendship between the boss and chauffeur inspired me.
The joy of learning
Since English is my second language, I enjoy learning new English words from reading.
Sometimes, I translate them into Chinese. It’s a lot of fun to be bilingual in writing and not just speaking.
To increase my vocabulary, I write down new words. I study and review them like the students in the Spelling Bee. It’s a wonderful way to improve my memory.
By now, you understand that you can invent your own joy by any means. For instance, through freedom, independence, confidence, play, winning, laughter, hugs, food, cooking, and making things. The list is endless.
On the flip side, you can destroy bliss faster if you do the following:
Feel sorry for yourself
Feeling sorry for yourself is a tough way to live. The easiest way to make yourself feel terrible is to yearn for what you don’t have and what others do. Or gripe about why others are more fortunate than you. You deserve more than your siblings and friends. Those beliefs can prompt depression and sadness. Comparing yourself to others is silly, impractical, and time-wasting.
Live with envy and jealousy
Envy and jealousy are unhealthy emotions. Stop being envious of someone’s abilities or possessions. Instead, focus on how you can achieve those goals yourself. If not, set other goals for yourself, and move on.
Jealousy is destructive. It not only angers you, it saps your energy and diminishes the better part of you. It inhibits you from functioning and thinking clearly and objectively! Beware of your toxic emotions, learn to let go through yoga, exercise, meditation, reading, and talking to loved ones. If you often are jealous of others’ success, try therapy. Therapists don’t judge you. They are great listeners, helping you to develop self-awareness and recover so you can have a happy life, if you let yourself.
Money can’t buy happiness
Studies have found that while multi-millionaire lottery winners are happy initially, the novelty of wealth wears off. What does it tell you? The huge amount of wealth might generate relationship problems as they don’t know who to trust… people want to be with you because you are rich, and not because they like your company. That stinks.
No alcohol or drugs
Alcohol and drugs are harmful physically and mentally. Those things ”hijack your brains,” according to a psychologist. They can generate depression, hallucinations, and other mental illnesses. The damages are extensive and ever-lasting. They might be quick-fixers, but don’t help you in the long run.
Don’t toil over the stock market
It stresses out many investors to monitor the ups and downs of the stock market. In fact, some friends told me they are much happier without looking at them constantly. But if you are a stockbroker, you have no choice. I found out some of my friends who worked in investments retired earlier than in other professions. A theory is, they make enough money. Hopefully. And no more stress.
Although good emotions can make you strong mentally, they don’t instantly translate into happiness. There is a small gap between being happy and feeling positive emotions. But if you embark on positive actions and behavior often, you are on the right track.
Thank you to my fellow Rotarian Ben Linford, who asked the question, “What makes you happy?” which inspired me to write the blog. A great icebreaker when talking to strangers, the happiness theme connects human beings on a deeper level.
Assunta can be reached at email@example.com.