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This presentation contains images that were used under a Creative Commons License. Click here to see the full list of images and attributions: https://app.contentsamurai.com/cc/46573
by Nathan Chua
If you can sense some irony in the title of this piece, that’s because there is. With all the billboards, print or online ads, self-help books and motivational speakers constantly claiming to know the secret to a “happy” life, it is not surprising to see so many who tirelessly pursue, what they know they should not be tirelessly pursuing. It should happen effortlessly and instantaneously! That’s the message we see all over. Want to lose fat? No problem, we can hand it to you just for showing up and getting an hour’s treatment. Alas, we are all subject to the same subliminal messages and are all somehow victims of such a sincere but insidious message. Knock yourself out and be happy, and woe to those who don’t quite cut it.
I saw this unfold in real life when I listened to the story of someone who got a job that anyone would kill for. This client had a job that offered great pay, low stress and lots of free time to spend with his family. The only problem was there was still something missing. He felt depressed and couldn’t figure out why.
As we teased out the problem, we realized there was one element that was missing in his current job. He didn’t do the single thing that made him feel like he was worth something. All the elements of a good job were there for the taking, but the one thing that he felt was the essence of what he loved about the job wasn’t there. The part that he enjoyed doing the most was no longer part of his job description.
This reminds me of a metaphor that I love to use when talking with people who suffer issues of seemingly non-purposeful lives. It’s like a wild animal locked up in a beautiful, shiny golden cage. Yes it might be nice and comfortable in there. Food and water are in abundant supply, and no predators around to hurt you. But somehow, like a wild bird, the bird will escape the cage at the earliest opportunity. Why? It’s because that’s the life that a wild bird wants to live. A life full of peril, but also a life that produces opportunities for it to hunt and fly to survive. It’s what its instincts tell it to do.
A lot of the confusion about happiness stems really from having a correct definition of terms. When we look for happiness, it is usually in the form of an expensive car or a long holiday. Happiness is often confused with meaning. Another excellent example is when we have kids. Kids are great for sure, but what most of us don’t realize, is that raising one is a chore. We don’t recognize them as such, because somehow time stops when we are raising them. Much like when we are doing our favorite hobby, we don’t see time pass us by. We get less conscious of our finite time on earth. It is also similar to having sex. At some point we feel ageless and suspended in time. That momentary feeling of immortality that comes with having no concept of time, and how quickly it can pass, somehow gives us a taste of what it feels like to be immortal. Just think of the last time you were doing a task or in a job that you absolutely abhorred. You felt dead and all you could do was look up the clock.
True living is not just about pursuing happiness, but also about pursuing meaning. It’s really not our search for happiness that makes us tick, but our search for meaning. Woe to those who pursue happiness the way popular culture describes it, and glad is the one who pursues meaning in every step.
by Nathan Chua
This is one of those statements that most of you have probably heard from different symposia or self-help seminars. I will be writing here from my years of dealing with issues between kids and their parents. It is one of those statements that need qualification. In my experience, the ones that do it correctly are those who consciously do it, while those parents or guardians who don’t, would normally have no inkling that they are treating their children as adults, albeit in harmful ways. To put it succinctly, you could be treating your kids as adults correctly, or incorrectly.
Let me start with the negative so we can end this article on a more optimistic tone. As I had mentioned earlier, parents who belong to this category, are usually the ones who are unaware of the long term ill effects of their actions. These are families that dared their kids to grow up quickly, expecting them to show acts that are way beyond their abilities to cope emotionally. This is where the proverbial adult children come from. Here are instances when this happens:
Expecting them to work, or do house chores that have physical demands that are beyond their capacity
Expecting them to take sides or become arbiters on a difficult relationship between parents or siblings
Expecting them to know better than what their age can comprehend
Expecting them to take care of the needs of their younger siblings even as there are parents or other adult guardians around
All these are normally going on without the adults, let alone the innocent children, detecting them. I see the effects of these early demands on children, show up in people who have very high levels of anxiety towards the unfairness of life. As adults, these kids turn out to have inordinate demands for retribution from the relationships they currently have to negotiate. These demands are drawn more from early deficits or injustices experienced during childhood, rather than the current realities they face.
When is it okay to treat a child like an adult?
Knowing how to stop and listen to a child when he or she wants to express something
Knowing when to tell a child to wait for a response
Knowing how to tell a child in an age appropriate manner, about difficult topics like human sexuality or death
Knowing what age appropriate skills a child needs to learn
Responding with wonderment and interest to a child’s observations about the world around
Offering the same respect to a child as one would offer another adult
These acts eventually translate into children who grow up confident of themselves, and who have a realistic appreciation of their abilities. Shame becomes less of an issue, and kids are free to take initiative and experiment; unafraid of being themselves even when they choose to be different from the majority.
They also learn to treat others with respect and empathy, the way they learned it from the adults in their lives. Kids can be skilled copycats.
Finally and most importantly, these kids see in the adults of their lives, how they can do the same for the next generation. This is probably the greatest of all gratification for those of us who are slowly drifting towards the twilight of our lives.