20 Chinese quotes that pack 4,000 years of wisdom

Year of the Monkey

  1. A bit of fragrance clings to the hand that gives flowers.
  2. Better to be a diamond with flaws than a pebble without imperfections.
  3. Be not afraid to move slowly; be afraid only of standing still.
  4. A gem will not be perfect without carving and polishing, nor a man perfected without trials.
  5. Deep doubts, deep wisdom; small doubts, little wisdom.
  6. When you drink water, remember the spring.
  7. If heaven made him, earth can find some use for him.
  8. Dig the well before you are thirsty.
  9. If you don’t want anyone to know, don’t do it.
  10. Teachers open the door; you enter by yourself.
  11. A bird does not sing because it has an answer; it sings because it has a song.
  12. A book holds a house of gold.
  13. A filthy mouth will not utter decent language.
  14. A thousand cups of wine do not suffice when true friends meet, but half a sentence is too much when there is no meeting of the minds.
  15. Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.
  16. Do good, reap good; do evil, reap evil.
  17. A book is like a garden carried in the pocket.
  18. One generation plants trees, the next enjoys the cool shade.
  19. Studying is like rowing a boat upstream; if you don’t move forward, you move backward.
  20. Be patient in one moment of anger, to save yourself hundred days of sorrow.

The image is of one of the best Chinese New Year cards I received this year, from none other than the most creative Stepworks team; click to see the beautiful animated version.

Wishing you a happy Year of the Monkey!

Bonus time


“Bonus time” is an interesting concept that keeps me happy when I am supposed to be angry, frustrated or disappointed.

If my flight is delayed by an hour, I consider it the ‘bonus time’ I’ve been granted. Full 60 minutes of no plans, no commitments, no schedules! I can do whatever I like – read, work, think, relax, eat, take photos, call family, or just sit and do nothing for a change. Of course, I have the alternative to get angry at the airline; demand explanations; get upset about the delay; think of the rest of the things that would all be delayed by an hour… but none of that is going to help. Next time you have a delay or a wait, try to think of it as a gift of ‘bonus time’ e.g.

  • You have an appointment with a dentist, or with anyone else, but are asked to wait for half an hour when you arrive.
  • It takes you longer than planned on the road, due to traffic.
  • You queue up somewhere and it seems to take forever.

In each of these situations, you have a choice to get upset or consider the waiting time as ‘bonus time’ in which you can do something positive, productive and unplanned – like making that call to someone special or catching up on the news or thinking some good thoughts or just conscious breathing. Will you try?

[Photo taken during a road trip in Yogyakarta last week]

3 rules for guilt-free shopping, and an uncluttered life

In an earlier post, less stuff = more happiness, I shared how and why I started simplifying my life, five years ago, by reducing my possessions. Once I had done that, the challenge was to keep it that way and ensure that the old habits don’t creep back in.

My short shopping spree today made me realize how religiously I follow certain rules that have allowed me to keep my possessions to the minimum and continue to have a clutter-free life. These rules can be summarized as three simple strategies that anyone can follow. Simple, but not easy…

  1. Shop Mindfully:
    • Only buy what you need – really need. If it’s a temporary need, see if can be borrowed or rented.
    • Go with a shopping list and stay focused. Don’t be distracted by displays or special offers.
    • Don’t buy anything ‘just in case’ you might need it. Trust that you’ll find it ‘just in time’.
    • Always buy quality. It lasts longer, so costs less in the long run.
    • Don’t compromise on the style, size or color, otherwise you may be discarding it too soon. Continue reading

8 Happiness Facts

I just read these interesting facts on Action for Happiness site:

  1. Our happiness is not set in stone: Although our genes influence about 50% of the variation in our personal happiness, our circumstances (like income and environment) affect only about 10%. As much as 40% is accounted for by our daily activities and the conscious choices we make. So the good news is that our actions really can make a difference.
  2. Optimism helps us achieve our goals: Research shows that people who are optimistic tend to be happier, healthier and cope better in tough times.
  3. Positive emotions make us more resilient: Our emotions affect our long-term well-being. Research shows that experiencing positive emotions in a 3-to-1 ratio with negative ones leads to a tipping point beyond which we naturally become more resilient to adversity and better able to achieve things.
  4. Happiness is contagious: Our happiness influences the people we know and the people they know. Research shows that the happiness of a close contact increases the chance of being happy by 15%. The happiness of a 2nd-degree contact (e.g. friend’s spouse) increases it by 10% and the happiness of a 3rd-degree contact (e.g. friend of a friend of a friend) by 6%. [Related post]
  5. Together we’re stronger: Having a network of social connections or high levels of social support has been shown to increase our immunity to infection, lower our risk of heart disease and reduce mental decline as we get older. Not having close personal ties has been shown to pose significant risks for our health.
  6. Happier people live longer: Happiness doesn’t just feel good. A review of hundreds of studies has found compelling evidence that happier people have better overall health and live longer than their less happy peers. Anxiety, depression, pessimism and a lack of enjoyment of daily activities have all been found to be associated with higher rates of disease and shorter life spans. [Related TED video]
  7. Happiness is a skill you can learn: Western neuroscience has now confirmed what Eastern wisdom has known for a long time: happiness is a skill we can learn. Research shows that happiness, compassion and kindness are the products of skills that can be learned and enhanced through training, thanks to the neuro plasticity of our brains.
  8. Happiness leads to success: Most people think that if they become successful, then they’ll be happy. But recent discoveries in psychology and neuroscience show that this formula is backward: Happiness fuels success, not the other way around. When we’re positive, our brains are more motivated, engaged, creative, energetic, resilient, and productive.

I was a bit surprised to read about genes contributing up to 50% of our happiness, and have started reading some more about it, but the rest of the facts seem to support most of my views and other posts about happiness. What’s your take on the above?

What does your profession demand?

I met a fat doctor. Though I don’t like to judge people by their appearances, I wouldn’t quite trust him with my own health and well-being. What will be your first impression when you see…

  • A dentist with bad teeth?
  • A tailor in shabby clothes?
  • A teacher who doesn’t like kids?
  • A beautician who is less than beautiful?
  • A manager who is not organized?
  • An educationist who doesn’t like to read?
  • A banker or financial expert with no money?
  • A motivational trainer who gets depressed easily?
  • A salesperson who doesn’t use her own products, or worse still, uses competitive products?

These are examples of people who are in the wrong jobs/business; who don’t believe in what they do; who don’t practice what they preach. Every profession comes with certain demands and responsibilities, fulfilling which results in success and happiness. And so does every relationship. As a spouse, we must find the time for our partner. As parents, we have to be the role models. As friends we have to be there. And what about our responsibilities towards the community, towards our fellow human beings and towards the world we live in?

“It’s easy to dodge our responsibilities, but we cannot dodge the consequences of dodging our responsibilities.”

Diana Nyad: precious life, extreme dreams, accepting defeat…

In the 1970s, Diana Nyad set long-distance swim records that are still unbroken. Thirty years later, at 60, she attempted her longest swim yet, from Cuba to Florida. She talks about how to prepare mentally to achieve an extreme dream, and asks: What will YOU do with your wild, precious life? Extremely inspiring!

10 Inspiring Quotes by Super Achievers

“I struggled just getting the ball up to the rim level. I couldn’t do it at first.” (Kareem Abdul Jabbar – basketball champion)

“What could be worse than getting to the end of your life and realizing you hadn’t lived it.” (Edward Albee – 3 Pulitzer Prizes for Drama)

“If you don’t fall down, you are not trying hard enough.” (Tenley Albright – Olympic Gold Medal Figure Skater and Surgeon)

“I believe that each of us comes from the Creator trailing wisps of glory.” (Maya Angelou – Poet and Historian)

“I knew that if I failed I wouldn’t regret that, but I knew the one thing I would regret is not trying.” (Jeff Bezos – Founder of Amazon.com)

“I do not know the word ‘quit’. Either I never did, or I have abolished it.” (Susan Butcher – Champion dog-sled racer)

“There is no such thing as an average human being. If you have a normal brain, you are superior.” (Benjamin Carson – Pediatric Neurosurgeon)

“I have always felt that I did well as a student because I lacked confidence.” (Denton Cooley – pioneer of heart transplants)

“The Godfather was a very under-appreciated movie when we were making it. I almost got fired.” (Francis Ford Coppola – filmmaker, producer and screenwriter)

“My parents telling me to stop doing it is probably what caused the company to be created.” (Michael Dell – Founder of Dell)

Selected from Academy of Achievement – one of my favorite inspiration sites.

[Photo taken in Hong Kong during MacLehose 6-7 and the ‘Needle Hill’ climb]

Two main reasons we procrastinate…

I had been putting off writing this piece for two days. Procrastination is a very strange phenomenon. We know something must be done now, but we delay it. It can be a phone call to mom, an email to a customer, a report to the boss, getting up on time, making an important decision, ending a bad habit, starting a good one, saying some nice words, apologizing for a mistake, it can be small tasks or big projects… but we often delay it despite expecting to be worse off due to the delay. We know that procrastination can cost us money, health, relationships, productivity or social disapproval for not meeting responsibilities or commitments… but we procrastinate. Procrastination is not always inaction. Very often, we get busy with less important or less urgent tasks to avoid the high-priority actions. Few reasons why we procrastinate, and some ideas on what to do about it:

  1. Lack of passion. Sometimes the important and urgent task is too boring. I can’t get passionate about sorting through the physical mail, paying the bills (though online), filing the receipts and so on. So here’s what I did. Firstly, I scheduled this task for Sunday mornings, so the pile of envelopes doesn’t bother me all week. Secondly, I systematically unsubscribed from many mailing lists. That required some time over the phone and some emails, but it was worthwhile. I also put as many bills as possible on auto-pay. Now I have a much smaller pile to deal with every Sunday morning. The idea is to get rid of, or minimize the unpleasant tasks in your life. Sometimes you can trade boring tasks with colleagues or members of the family. I’ll do your Powerpoint presentation; you do my Excel report. I’ll edit the photos; you do the filing. At home, I take care of all IT stuff; Salma looks after mechanical issues. I am responsible for all issues with schools and education; she looks after all the shopping and food. I do the paper work; she checks credit card statements…and so on.
  2. Lack of skill. Very often, we put things off because we are not good at them, or we just don’t know how to do them. The obvious way to deal with this is to learn. I knew somebody who dreaded the monthly reports because she wasn’t good at Excel. She used to make mistakes and feel stressed. So obviously, she would put it off until the very last minute, which would make it even worse. Until one day, she figured she had to learn it and get good at it. Once the stress of making mistakes and the fear of failure was gone, the task wasn’t as dreadful and the procrastination was also gone. Why do you think most salespeople procrastinate calling up the upset customer, or delay in resolving any conflicts, or put off the diet plan – because they are not good at these things and there’s a fear of failure.

Happy to add a very useful guide on beating procrastination by a fellow blogger. It’s very detailed, comprehensive and full of useful tips.

[A recent photo of sunset through a window – one of those things that can’t wait.]

10 health benefits of fasting

The 2009 article on health benefits of fasting, continues to be one of the most popular posts on this blog with almost 5,000 views. And most of these come through Google search, suggesting there’s a lot of interest in the subject. Here is a slightly edited version:

Fasting is the act of willingly abstaining from some or all food, drink, or both, for a period of time. Almost every expert in medicine, heath and nutrition has written something about the benefits of fasting. Here’s a summary:

  • Fasting promotes detoxification. As the body breaks down its fat reserves, it mobilizes and eliminates stored toxins.
  • Fasting gives the digestive system a much-needed rest. After fasting, both digestion and elimination are invigorated.
  • Fasting promotes the resolution of inflammatory processes, such as in rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Fasting quiets allergic reactions, including asthma and hay fever.
  • Fasting promotes the drying up of abnormal fluid accumulations, such as edema in the ankles and legs, and swelling in the abdomen.
  • Fasting corrects high blood pressure without drugs. Fasting will normalize blood pressure in the vast majority of cases.
  • Fasting makes it easy to overcome bad habits and addictions. Fasting rapidly dissipates the craving for nicotine, alcohol, caffeine and other drugs.
  • Fasting clears the skin and whitens the eyes. It is common to see skin eruptions clear while fasting, and the whites of the eyes never look so bright as they do after fasting.
  • Fasting restores taste appreciation for wholesome natural foods. People say that their taste buds come alive after fasting and that food never tasted so good.
  • Fasting initiates rapid weight loss with little or no hunger. Most people are surprised at how little desire for food they have while fasting.

Besides the above health benefits, fasting is also an excellent training in self discipline and will power. Successful fasting for a period of time can provide motivation to carry on a healthy diet. Will you try it?

[Millions of Muslims around the world are starting their fasting month, called Ramadhan. We would abstain from all food and drinks from dawn to dusk every day for thirty days! Many break their fast with dates.]

If you could live your life again…

I turned 46 this month. And this birthday, I asked myself a few questions:

  1. If I could start over, what would I do differently?
  2. What would I not change at all?
  3. What have I learnt?
  4. What do I want to be five years from now, and ten, twenty…?

And I share some of the answers to #1, hoping that the exercise would inspire you as much:

  • I would sleep less, and read more.
  • I would eat less, and work out more.
  • I would complain less, and compliment more.
  • I would spend fewer weekends at work, and more at home.
  • I would spend more time alone with the one I love.
  • I would read more with my kids when they were young.
  • I would talk/listen to my parents more often.
  • I would watch less TV and fewer movies.
  • I would spend less on things, and more on experiences.
  • I would save more for travel; I would see more of this world.
  • I would start a foundation to educate the poor, or support such foundations.
  • I would write a diary of things I learnt.
  • I would learn languages, cooking, playing a flute, rock climbing…
  • I would stay in touch with more friends and more family members.
  • I would plan less, act more.
  • I would worry less, breathe more, pray more.
I realized that while I can’t go back in time, I can still make many of these changes today. I can’t change the past but I can change my today, and tomorrow. I have started on the list, and it feels great!
What would you like to do differently with your life?
[Photo of the Hunchbacks taken yesterday during the stage 4 of MacLehose Trail in Hong Kong]

Virtuous until proven otherwise

Richard Stengel writes in Mandela’s Way, the biography of Nelson Mandela:

“Some call it a blind spot, other naivete, but Mandela sees almost everyone as virtuous until proven otherwise. He starts with an assumption that you are dealing with him in good faith. He believes that, just as pretending to be brave can lead to acts of real bravery, seeing the good in other people improves the chances that they will reveal their better selves.”

My humble additions:

  • People are mostly good, honest and helpful – regardless of their origin, religion or race.
  • There’s some good and bad in every person, place and situation. We can choose to focus on the good or the bad.
  • We don’t have to smile only when we are happy. Smiling makes us happy.
  • We don’t have to wait for motivation before we act. Action brings motivation.
  • We don’t have to see evidence/results before we believe. Belief produces results.

What do you think? Please share your thoughts through comments.

[Photo of a friend, tour guide, driver and mentor-for-the-day in Rotorua NZ. More photos here.]

Inspiring Quotes: Life and Living

Someone in my family died a couple of days ago. A wonderful and kind woman who had been fighting a disease for a long time. And there are two other people, very close to me, who are struggling for life – a two and a half year old and a 60 year old.

We have no control over when and how we will die. But we can choose how we live – with gratefulness, happiness, peace, contentment, love, laughter, fulfillment, forgiveness, action… or with complaints, anger, worries, greed, hate, jealousy, procrastination…

“Somebody should tell us, right at the start of our lives, that we are dying. Then we might live life to the limit, every minute of every day. Do it! Whatever you want to do, do it now! There are only so many tomorrow.” (Pope Paul)

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” (Mahatma Gandhi)

“As long as I have a want, I have a reason for living. Satisfaction is death.” (George Bernard Shaw)

“As a well spent day brings happy sleep, so a life well spent brings happy death.” (Leonardo Da Vinci)

“The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.” (Mark Twain)

“Death is not the greatest of loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live.” (Norman Cousins)

“Have courage to live. Anyone can die.” (Robert Cody)

“A man who dares to waste one hour of life has not discovered the value of life.” (Charles Darwin)

“A man whose today is the same as yesterday is as good as dead.” (Imam Ali)

“Life is too short to complain.” (Yours truly)

[Photo of a Muslim graveyard in Sarajevo]

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