The quest for a meaningful life

If someone were to look at my reading list, they’d think I might be bordering on depression. 😛 There’s a fair number of books there around finding happiness. I think that list speaks more to my realisation about the importance of self-reflection rather than my actual state of mind!

“Happiness” is a funny word. While it sounds like I’m just chasing after getting that “happy happy joy joy” feeling all the time, I realised that it wasn’t only that. I was looking for contentment about my circumstances despite whatever hardships the Universe threw my way and a sense of meaning around my life. Reading all those books made it clear that while the term “happiness” may have been the bait to hook people in, the concept of happiness centred around living a better life.

I haven’t been reading much the past two months because I’ve been consuming other things, which I’m going to share with y’all here, just in case one of my lovely friends reading this finds it helpful. 🙂

The Science of Happiness
This is a free online course from the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley. It’s quite intense. There is a fair amount of readings and videos involved. What I like about it is that, as a logical person, a lot of the concepts were backed up by research.

Smiling Mind
This is a free meditation app. I loved Headspace, but wanted to cut down on my ongoing expenses. I’m still getting used to the app, but it seems like a good alternative!

Oliver Burkeman is busy
OK, so technically this isn’t about happiness per se, but one of the things I’ve discovered is how becoming more focused and intentional with my actions has a positive impact on my mental health.

I was wondering a couple of weekends ago if I was spending too much time just thinking about things. Then I listened to the last episode where Burkeman talks about reflection is an antidote to busy-ness. HA! So seems like I’m on the right track, after all.

I think it’s been working! So, the past week, no less then four people have commented on how much happier I seem. “Not that you were super sad or anything,” A said. “But you seem much happier now!”

People have tried to pinpoint it on one of a couple of good things that have happened lately, but I think it’s the sum of everything. I have to admit that the good things definitely did have a positive impact on my general mood, but I like to think I can cope better with things now! While there’s still plenty of room for improvement, I’ve discarded some of the time-wasters eating up my energy (like mindless Internet surfing) and learned to savour more the experiences that I do have.

When I started blogging early this year, I spoke mainly about how I wanted to declutter my possessions and simplify. While my focus had been on my tangible things, it turned out to be much more than that — I ended up clearing my life of all things that were unnecessary so I could focus on the essential — my relationships, my health, my interests.

I wrote a few months ago that my life felt uneventful. I think the latter part of the year ended up pretty interesting! That being said, I’ve had enough of this excitement for now and can’t wait for a fresh new year in 2017!

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When I fell in love with Sydney

I signed up for Yelp the same reason as a lot of people sign up for a review site — to complain. I was running an errand on a lunch break, which took me to a new part of town. I decided to eat at a cafe I’d never seen before. What promised to be a breezy lunch out turned to be an annoying episode — after I was informed they couldn’t make my dish, I chose something else. When the food finally arrived after a long wait, I found a shard of plastic in it. The waitress was apologetic. But I was annoyed and hungry, and I left.

So I ranted on Yelp.

I wrote a few more reviews… after which I got a message from “Ben” asking me if I wanted to be Yelp Elite. I didn’t know what to make of it, so I ignored it. He had to send me another message assuring me it was legit.

Haha.

And thus started my love affair with Yelp. Being a Sydney newbie, I was on a naturally exploratory mode. There were so many new things to see and do! There were restaurants and parks and street festivals. There were hidden gems and famous spots that deserved their hype. And as I continued to explore Sydney, I found myself writing more and more, to give newbies like me a better idea of what to see and do.

So when we got an e-mail a few weeks ago saying that Yelp was closing all its community programs outside North America, I was stunned.

I would jokingly tell people that Yelp sponsored a big chunk of my social life. (Living in an expensive city, that was a big thing!) Besides all the free dinners and events, there were giveaways for movies, festivals and various random things.

But more than the freebies… I realise that one thing Yelp gave me was that it helped me fall in love with Sydney. I honestly don’t think I would’ve explored as much, or tried as many new things, than if I didn’t have a community behind me, giving me avenues to try new things and ideas on where to go next.

I could bring guests to some events… and not knowing many people back then, I had to swallow my shyness and ask people I had just met to go with me. All of them are currently still in my life — so it worked! Haha. I also met a lot of awesome people through the community. To be honest, none of the Elites I met transcended to “true” friendship — we don’t hang out outside of events — but that is all right. I am grateful for the opportunity to have shared meals with like-minded people who I otherwise would never have crossed paths with.

Honestly, losing the Yelp Elite community feels like the end of an era. The experience was instrumental in me getting to know Sydney and falling in love with it… but as I look at how I was then, a clueless, shy-er person who had no idea how to get around this city, and to how I am now… it’s funny. My friends who visit are always impressed as to how I know the ins and outs and hidden gems of Sydney, and I am proud of how comfortable I’ve become here. This is my city, now.

I will be fine. 🙂

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First world problems

One of my colleagues in my new-ish job (3 months now!) is a filmmaker. She released an indie film shortly before I started. Our entire team has been super excited every time she gets accepted into a film festival!

I sadly couldn’t attend a screening last month, so I got the link from her to watch it online. I finally had some downtime today to watch it. I loved it so much that I’m sharing it with y’all! It’s a short film — it’s less than 5 minutes — so I hope you can set aside some time for it. 🙂

Man… first world problems.

I spent most of my childhood in a developing country (the Philippines) but I’ve lived in four developed countries so far. I’ve lived in the “first world” for the past 8 years, first in the US and now in Australia. I find myself whingeing about some very petty things… this week, I raised a huge stink because the bank was still sending mail addressed to the previous tenant despite telling me multiple times they wouldn’t, and also because I had ordered hot chocolate that was, for me, closer to chocolate milk and not actual hot chocolate.

I have to remember to remind myself that for all the things I complain about, I am, in reality, very, very lucky. I listen to international news (because Australian news sites, disappointingly, are very Australia-focused and now seem to be publishing a lot of faux outrage articles.) People in war-torn countries. Famine. Natural disasters. How faraway it all seems!

Last year… I was walking from the train station, off to a fancy dinner with a friends. A lady stopped me for directions, which I gladly gave. As soon as she went on her way, I was approached by a homeless man, who asked me for money. I was about to say that I didn’t have any change.

“Please,” he said, tears forming in his eyes. “I haven’t eaten in days… I had to go to the hospital last time because I couldn’t eat… I don’t want to go to the hospital again.”

I started crying, and I pulled out my wallet, and gave him some money. He started crying, and that made me cry harder, so I gave him all the cash I had that night. “Can you spare it?” He asked me. And all I could think of was that, that night, I was so ready to spend all that money and more on a single meal, and here was someone, who was close to the hospital emergency room, asking me if I could spare the money that I had given him.

He gave me a hug, and he started saying that God was looking over him, and that I was an angel, and that God could see the things that I was doing, and that made me cry harder, and we started hugging again. Whether whoever reading this is religious or not, it just amazed me to think that someone who is down on their luck can still praise a higher being for the things that come their way, and be so full of love and tenderness towards their fellow man.

I know I still don’t do enough. But besides going out of my way to proactively help, I hope I can always remember about how lucky I am. I hope I never forget to be grateful everything that I have been given, and to put all my petty concerns into perspective.

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Ode to a bed

When I first arrived in Australia, my brother asked me what kind of bed I wanted.

I had just come fresh from campus living. Having survived the entire time on a single bed, I said I was fine with a single. And, having been jealous of the awesome space-saving loft bed combinations popular in US campuses, I opted for a loft bed. (The grad school me was squeeing inside).

So I got a loft bed, sitting atop a desk and a wardrobe. I had to climb in and out every night, but I was fine with it… I was fine with just a single mattress, see! And sleeping in a non-masters bedroom, I enjoyed having a bit more space to move around.

So I stuck with my single bed.
And I stuck with it when I moved.
And when I moved again.

It finally hit me last year that I really needed to get a proper bed. It was on my to-do list for the longest time, but I kept procrastinating. “I’ll do it after I’ve moved all my stuff from the wardrobe and desk,” I told myself. “And then I’ll have to sell the loft bed… and then that’s the only time I can buy a new bed and mattress.” I groaned inwardly every time I thought about all the things I’d need to do before I could get a new bed.

A few weeks ago, I thought, “screw it.”

I took photos of my bed and uploaded it on Gumtree. There was a lot of stuff in the drawers, but I didn’t care. Less than a week later, still without any inquiries (much less buyers!), I bought a new bed. And a mattress to go with it.

Funnily enough, things happened pretty quickly from there. On Monday, a few days later, someone contacted me about my loft bed. He picked it up that very Thursday. On Friday, the new bed and mattress arrived. Two weekends and numerous visits to IKEA and KMart later, I’m typing this at my new work area in my living room (because I ended up wanting to rearrange my space given that I also gave up a desk and wardrobe that were part of the lofted bed set).

It took me two weeks to do what I had been hemming and hawwing the entire year.

So the moral of this story is?
Sometimes, when you decide to do something, rush headlong into it. Strangely, things might just fall into place.
(Probably not applicable to everything in life! As I said, sometimes.)

Also, goodbye, bed! You’ve served your six years faithfully. I hope you make the little boy who ended up getting it very happy. 😛

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Big data gone wrong

OK, so I know “Big data” has been a big buzzword for a while now. There’s that oft-cited example of how Target identified a teen girl as pregnant even before she told her parents. I’ve got a friend who works in marketing who tells me about how companies currently link together different data sources, and how the pictures they build of us are really quite creepy.

Sadly, I think execution is still a little bit off. I got a whole bunch of vouchers from a local supermarket. Unfortunately, since my parents went on a big shopping spree before they left a few months ago (buying chocolate, biscuits and other gifts) it pushed up my threshold for offers. Since then, it’s asked me to spend at least $90 or $120 which I never do.

I’ve also just finished listening to a Freakonomics podcast called “In Praise of Maintenance“.

Struck home because as someone who used to work in the innovation space where we were always thinking about the latest trends, I think my interests lie more in making sure more mature, existing tech is applied properly. While I have huge respect for people in the innovation industry, I like dealing with problems that can be alleviated by using existing tech. I like keeping things running. 🙂

In the meantime, here’s hoping Coles can fix their algorithms so I can get my discount vouchers…

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