So many things that we learn in life, we learn from our parents. My dad, probably more than anyone, taught me how to be happy.
Dad grew up during wartime Vietnam. He lived through violence, oppression, and unspeakable hardships that would have made weaker men give up and die.
But he didn’t.
He persevered, escaped from the oppressive rule of communism and built a new life with my mom and I, from nothing, in America (you can read their story in my post: Life with Cancer, Entry#12: Sacrifice).
From him, I learned not to take anything for granted… not the food we have to eat… the clothes we have to wear… the kindness afforded to us from our family, friends, and even strangers.
Most importantly, I learned the power of perspective: that many of our “problems” are self induced illusions that prevent us from being happy.
Having terminal stage cancer has been the ultimate test, in my own life, on finding happiness, and keeping it alive.
I have found that happiness isn’t something that falls from the sky and hits you in the head. It is a conscious decision to see light when the world is dark. It is constantly reminding yourself that it is ultimately you who determines whether you are happy or not.
Happiness isn’t a gift to unwrap and enjoy, but rather a skill to practice over and over again until you can do it with your eyes closed.
While it is difficult to talk about happiness in general because different things make different people happy, there certainly seems to be a common thread in what prevents people from finding happiness.
With that, I present to you my personal list of the 5 top things that will prevent you from being happy, and how to overcome them:
Low Self Esteem
There is a reason that the beauty and weight loss industries bring in billions of dollars in profit per year: people have self esteem issues.
Feelings of inadequacy in our personal appearance have gotten completely out of control in the modern era. You can blame it on the media, you can blame it on corporate advertising, you can blame it on schoolyard bullies… because it’s always easier to blame it on something else.
How about this to chew on: blame it on how we raise our children, as parents, to perceive themselves and their self worth. We cannot control what our children will be exposed to once they leave the safety of the front door, but if we instill a high sense of self worth and pride in who they are and their value as a human being, then it doesn’t really matter what they face. They’ll be ready for anything.
My parents made certain that I knew where I came from, the sacrifices it took for me to be here, and that I was proud in simply being: me.
Growing up, I was the only Asian kid in my class for many years. I was also the shortest kid, with the weirdest haircut (my mom cut it for me, bless her heart), and the things that came out of my lunchbox would make the other children run in fear every time I cracked open the bag. I was the butt of most jokes in my early years of school.
Did I care? Nope. My parents forgot to tell me that I was supposed to.
Instead of worrying about how fat you are, worry about how honest you are. Instead of worrying about how smart you are, worry about how kind you are. Instead of worrying about what people think about you, worry about how you are treating them.
Until you are happy with yourself… without your makeup, without the beach body, without the bells and whistles… you will always struggle to be happy. The choice is yours.
Not Living in the Present
We all live in the present, literally… but not necessarily mentally, and that’s a problem.
You may find that much of your time is spent dreaming about the future… “oh, if only I could become successful, I would have [this… or that], and I will be happy.”
Or you find that your head is always stuck in the past… “oh, I was so much prettier in my youth, and times were so much better… if only I could go back, I will be happy.”
Don’t get me wrong, it’s perfectly normal to plan for your own future, and reminisce about the past. It is when these thoughts take over your consciousness and become an obsession that it poses a threat to your happiness.
For example, if you find that you partake in social events with friends and family, but have a feeling that you’re not really there… because you’re thinking too much about a future business endeavor… or because you’re daydreaming about the past… then you have a problem.
Enjoy the beauty of the world before you, right now, today. Immerse yourself in the love of your family and friends without distraction. Worry about work at work, and reminisce about days gone by before you go to bed.
Some people say that one of the greatest joys in life is when you give someone a present, but I disagree to a certain extent.
For me, one of the greatest joys in life is being present, when someone is there.
Obsession with Material Things
This may be one of the most difficult things to recognize as a problem, much less conquer.
I have found that people, in general, have a highly distorted sense of NEED vs. WANT.
Yet, if you are struggling to find happiness, then this concept may be worth revisiting. Are you feeling unhappy because you do not possess some thing?
If the answer is “yes” then you should ask yourself whether this thing that you are lacking falls in the NEED bucket, or the WANT bucket.
The requirements of the NEED bucket is simple: If it is an item required for your physical survival (such as food, water, and basic shelter) then it is a need. If it is an item that is required to ensure that you continue to have food, water, and basic shelter, then it is a need.
Everything else, no matter how much to think you need it, falls in the WANT bucket. It’s that simple.
The problem we run into is that everything that we want ends up in the NEED bucket… which is impractical, impossible, and we suffer for it.
The first step is to retrain our minds to properly identify a need from a want. The second step is to retrain our minds to accept the idea that the things in the WANT bucket are nice to have, but we don’t really need them to be happy.
This takes time, practice, and lots of cookies. We all need cookies. Just ask my wife.
Envy is referred to as “The Green Eyed Monster” and justly so.
Countless broken relationships, heartache, and misery have stemmed from this basic human emotion. It is a dangerous emotion, and one that we must all learn to recognize and keep in check if we are to have any hope of being happy.
Combined with the other basic human tendency towards competition, envy can outright ruin your life.
If you see someone with a fancier car, bigger house, nicer clothes, or whatever the case may be… just be happy for them. If buying these things for yourself causes absolutely no financial pain, then absolutely, get something similar for yourself too.
The problem comes when we see someone (especially someone we know personally) with something that we want but don’t have… that we can’t afford… yet we still go out and buy one just to show that “I’m just as good as you”… or worse, we harbor ill feelings towards that person for “showing off”… or we feel down on ourselves for not being as successful. None of which, can lead to anything good.
Live within your own means, and be happy with what you have. If life brings you more success, then enjoy the finer things that the modern world has to offer… if not, then basic necessities and love is really all you need to be happy.
Not all of us will be blessed with financial success in our lifetimes, but it doesn’t mean that we can’t be happy without it.
If you find that your friends start looking down on you for not being able to “keep up” then it is the biggest blessing in the world… because now you see their true colors, and that they were never worthy of your friendship to begin with.
Worrying Over Things You Cannot Control
The last one is actually pretty easy once you train your mind to do it.
If something happens that causes you grief, then ask yourself, “Is this something I can affect by doing something?”
If the answer is “yes” then, by gosh, what are you waiting for? Go do it!
Yet, if the answer is “no” then what will worrying and grieving do except bring you more worry and grief?
I have stage 4 liver cancer. I’m most likely going to die within the next year to a few years at best. I certainly hope that I don’t, but that is my reality. From here, I can choose to focus my day on “when am I going to die?”… “why me?”… or an infinite number of other useless thoughts that I can come up with to torture myself in my remaining days.
Instead, I’d much rather focus on my family, my friends, and spreading the word regarding how I got my very preventable cancer (for details, see my blog post regarding this topic here: Life with Cancer, Entry#07: Hope) — so that others may not have to go through what I am going through now. To me, it is much better time spent, and brings me much more joy.
If a man facing certain death can find happiness, what’s your excuse?
That’s it! I’m sure life will come up with many other ways to bring us misery, but we can be just as creative in finding ways to stay happy… if we choose.
Just as my parents have passed on their wisdom to my generation, I hope that I may be able to do the same in the little time that I have left, for my own daughter. Cheers!
Please help me in my quest to raise public awareness on how cancer originating from Hepatitis B (the cancer that I have) can be easily prevented. One simple test can save someone their life. Learn more by visiting my Donation Page.