Be Happy!

November 04, 2015
From left: Ah Tshen, Poh Kheng, Gogu and me. Photo by the talented Jeannette Lai.

One evening I was playing badminton with Poh Kheng. We're in a team and as usual, casually chatting while seriously playing the game. At one point, Poh Kheng laughed so loudly about something simple and silly - that was her usual, unreserved, delightful laugh. Suddenly an idea came into my mind: I want to write about happiness. I thought about having a short conversation with her, then Ah Tshen and Gogu came into the picture. That's how the magic happened.

These three people are some of the happiest ones I've seen. Ah Tshen is gladly pursuing a career that he loves, Gogu laughs adorably and has the whitest teeth, Poh Kheng can probably start a class on laughter yoga therapy. I met Ah Tshen and Gogu once, and the three of them had never met one another before. A situation like this can be uneasy and unnerving, but the conversation went smooth like butter and even three hours was not enough!

Ah Tshen, T: Vertebrate paleontologist. One of the few scientists (I met) that have the real passion for science and research. I talked to him and wrote about it here in this post. He's 36 years old but looks ten years younger. His secret to staying young? Exercise and enjoy what he does!
Gogu, G: Architecture student, 22 years old. I met him in a talk about traveling, where he shared about his trip to Guangzhou. He's not the ordinary young guy you'd expect, he's full of wisdom, experience, vision, and also laughter! 
Poh Kheng, P: My current colleague, between 25-30 years old - shh. Biologist, done her PhD. One of the few human beings I know who laugh really really loud. The normal range of laughter is 60-65 dB, hers might be 80 dB. PS, that's a compliment!

Ah Tshen, T

T, Tshen: Go for a run, check email, read articles, check Facebook, chit-chat with friends. When I'm going to a field trip: wake up early, meet up with friends, make sure of the objectives and check on the necessities.
G, Gogu: For the past three years, I stayed in the architecture studio where I attended classes (and slept) in the mornings and worked on my projects at nights.  Now that I'm focused more on my freelance work, the routine has changed: wake up, breakfast, go to my office, work on designs and projects, after work go to the gym, swim, dinner, talk to family. A healthier routine. 
P, Poh Kheng: Wake up, beat the traffic, go to the laboratory, work on projects, lunch with friends, continue with projects, beat the traffic, watch tv at home and sleep. On weekends, I'll exercise when the haze is less severe. 

Note: Gogu is yet to graduate his Architecture degree, but he has already ventured into business - a startup project with his fellow classmates. They work on furniture designs, art pieces, collaborate with galleries, agencies, involve in community projects and NGO. One of their creations is PaperPiece. I was awed and I asked myself, "What am I doing with my life?" Anyway, interesting as his life sounds, we'll skip it for now. Let's move on with our Happiness conversation.

Gogu, G

P: Happy! I feel good talking with friends. Outings make me happy too. I also feel good getting close to nature.
G: Chatting makes me happy too. As for my days, I feel happy. We are our own bosses now, our work environment is not so serious. We make jokes and have lively, fun conversations. I enjoy being alone too. After some time with friends, I like to sit alone and sketch, that makes me feel good.
T: I would say... Clock work, pretty much the same routine daily. If I have a fieldwork, my days will be freestyle, no fixed rhythm, no fixed routine, just go with the wind.

Poh Kheng, P

P: The big challenge would be to make decisions. I am currently at a junction of my life where I have to make a decision about my career. There're so much to consider - my family, their expectations... I don't know what is waiting ahead for me. It's unclear. This feeling is frustrating. To manage expectations or to live for yourself...  to make a decision is the hardest.
T: I have expectations from my family too, but I'm lucky to be able to share the responsibilities with my elder sibling. I have more freedom to do what I want. Now that I am past 30s, almost approaching my 40s, the hardest thing is to "Jump out of comfort zone". I'm thinking of expanding my research, upscaling it and searching for new ideas. It's not so much about setting immediate objectives now, such as publishing a certain number of research articles or finishing projects, which I'm confident that they're manageable and doable. What I've been thinking are the long-term objectives - value of my work, my contribution, my role in education, responsibility as a researcher, raising social awareness... The real purpose of my life. All funding for our research projects come from the taxpayers, so the end products should be promoted and go back to the community.
G: For me... the biggest challenge is to wake up early. (Everyone laughed.) For the past years as an architecture student, I had late nights and barely even slept. It seems that I have used up all my unhealthy quota. Now I'm working on a short firm about healthy lifestyle, so I'm slowly changing my daily routine. Another thing is my freelance job. Currently this company requires stability, but my plan is to travel as much as possible. I'm still finding a balance.  Speaking of challenges, when I was traveling in Bandung, there was one point that I thought about life and death too deeply... I even had a panic attack. And then I went on to a soul-searching journey. I learned to embrace that it is part of my life – the emotion doesn’t have to be labeled as happy or sad. Just accept it.

"I was searching answers from outside. Now I would look inward. To learn about myself, learn about the universe…"

P:  Face it. I'll write down my emotions. I'll count my blessings and look at how blessed I am.
G: I think of options. There’re always options for a situation. I was questioned by a furious lecturer about skipping classes while I was travelling to Vietnam. He got really angry. At that point, I tried to think about the worst case scenario. How bad can it be? Am I going to be physically hurt by this? Am I going to die? No I won't, I can handle this. There're always alternatives. Just relax, the solution will automatically come to you. If the stress level is too high, I will sleep. I'll try to get a bigger perspective of the problem. Eventually everything will be solved. Unwind your mind and you'll be able to see the situation clearer.
T: I'll open up. Listen to recommendations from friends, seniors and colleagues They can offer options and comments. I've learned to build confidence and strength to go through this.

"Mental and emotional well beings are of utmost importance."

T: Focus. Don’t play enemy, don’t play victim. At the point of junctions, just walk. You have legs, just walk. There is no right or wrong in any decision, they are the best ones at that particular moment. 'Wrong' and 'right' are defined afterwards.  What’s wrong is stopping and not doing anything. When problem arises, I can react negatively at it first, but after that I still need to stand up to face the problem. Keep going on. 
P: Seek help from religion.  God helps those who help themselves. Though I’m not a religious person, I believe in its ability in comforting the mind. Open up to friends and family. I find it really helpful to express my thoughts and worries, and listen to their opinions. Don't close the door and shut yourself down!
G: Think of the worst possible outcome that might happen, like when I had to choose between traveling, internship and graduation-on-time. I made a decision, that is to travel, and decided to face the consequence of graduating a year later. Also, it’s okay to seek help. One thing I learn in Architecture is we can share all resources we have to get the work done. The point is to start doing something. 

T: Happiness comes when we are relaxed. It’s not something we can find on the outside. There's no need to search, no need to excavate. If you chase happiness, it wouldn’t come. Just come back to the basic and natural state. Enjoy life.
G: First, accept things as they are. Accept imperfections. There're imperfections in ourselves too. Recognize and accept that. It's okay to say "I don’t know", but don't deviate into laziness. Accept things as they are and ultimately, do something that propagates and brings you to the next point. Feel good, rather than happy. Despite sadness, feel good. Look strong. You can feel happy and peaceful all the time.
P: They can look for the reasons that make them unhappy. Some sources of unhappiness might be from expectations of other people. In the process of pleasing them, you might make yourself unhappy, but it is you yourself that will decide your own happiness. Embrace what’s in front of you. It’s all about perspectives.

T: Know more about the world. Learning makes me happy. Knowing about something I didn't know makes me happy. Life is no second chance, trying to bring more into my coffin.
P: Every little thing that happens every day. I feel happy just by looking at the blue sky today! The haze is gone! Conversation with friends also makes me happy. I seek happiness in every single small thing. 
G: What makes me happy? The feeling of finishing something makes me happy- art, painting, movie. Happiness is a reaction, a choice. You can be happy if you want to be happy. If there’s any motive for us to be in this world – that’s to be happy.


I would really love to turn discussions like this into a video if we have the equipments - so you can hear them talking and feel the vibe yourself. Each one of them is so equally wise that the short time was simply not enough! A million thanks to them for joining my not-so-professional interview. Though meeting for the first time, the three of them chatted comfortably like old friends. Together they wove a friendly, not awkward, atmosphere without which I would not have been able to write this post. Of course not forgetting the contribution of our photographer - Jeannette for taking these amazing portraits.

What makes me happy? A good conversation does! I intended to hold this discussion because I am finding answers too. For me, happiness is having a calm and relaxed mind, which is so open to every circumstance and still able to feel peaceful. What they said have been lingering in my mind for the past couple of days.  Hope you're inspired as much as I did. Have a good week! 

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