The Art of Contentment

Whenever happiness is defined, it usually includes the feeling of being contented. A discontented person is not happy about his lot. Thus a secret of happiness is to learn how to have contentment in life.

But does it mean that, in order to be happy, we should no longer have any ambition, any goals, or any desire for improvement since we are already contented? Doesn’t contentment lead to stagnation?

This point is usually where people misunderstand the meaning of contentment.

Truly contented persons are not those who are no longer seeking improvement. They do. But they calmly accept the circumstances of the present moment because it is the reality of the present moment. The complaint or dissatisfaction that one should have a car now when one cannot afford it yet is not only unrealistic but also foolish. It is to demand for something which is not possible at this moment. If I do this all the time, I will never be a happy person ever, no matter how rich I become or how high a position I attain.

Let’s take another circumstance. Suppose I have no fingers on my right hand since birth. I see that everyone I know has fingers. I am dissatisfied with my situation, even though I know that I can never have fingers in my life. This discontentment is pointless, and only contributes to unhappiness. The moment I can accept my situation then the discontentment ceases. It will no longer be a cause of unhappiness.

Contentment therefore is being able to accept calmly or cheerfully whatever circumstances we find ourselves in at any moment. My hands get dirtied now, then all right, they are dirty. I will wash it off within ten minutes. But while it is dirty, I can accept and live with it. I get sick and am bedridden for two weeks. All right, I am bedridden for two weeks. I accept it and make use of the recuperation time to read books or do something I like. If there is pain, then I accept the pain as it is. After two weeks I go back to work. I am queueing up in a long line and it will take one hour before it comes to my turn. All right, I have to stand and line up for the next one hour. I will be calm and cheerful for the next one hour. My legs are tired; all right, I accept that my legs are tired. What I am queueing up for is worth the temporary tiredness.

Discontentment is non-acceptance of the reality of the present moment. It is to want that this moment should be other than what it is.

Discontentment is also caused by comparison with other people. My neighbor has a car, I should also have a car. This reflects reliance on external social factors for our happiness. Perhaps I really don’t need a car, but I feel inferior if my neighbor has a car and I don’t. It is a reflection of our low self-esteem. The significance of our life is being measured by comparison or competition with others, which is a sure-fire formula for unhappiness. There will always be people who are better situated than us, as there will always be people who are less fortunate than us.

The psychologist Abraham Maslow described self-actualized people, or individuals who are nearer the apex of human maturity, as those whose feeling of self-worth are not dependent on culture or the environment. They are autonomous and depend for their growth on their inner potentials rather than the expectations of other people or society.

This is the reason why children should not be brought up in an atmosphere of competition or ranking or even comparison. Encouraging contests or comparison at home or in schools unconsciously creates a frame of mind that the worth of a person depends upon how one compares with others. It creates insecurity as well as discontentment. Happiness becomes elusive.

Six Ingredients of a Happier Life

Happiness is what all people yearn for. Yet why is it that it seems very elusive? If it is so important, why is it not being taught in schools? We spend twelve or more years learning mathematics, why not a single semester on how to become a happier person? Are there time-tested ingredients that will make our lives happier?

Fortunately, there are guidelines which have been known since time immemorial by wise sages. In addition, modern psychology has found out a number of ingredients that accompany a happy life.

First, what is happiness?

It is not pleasure or excitement, for these are fleeting things that are due to a surge of sensory stimulation.

It is not also being wealthy, because rich people have committed suicide. One German industrialist, one of the richest persons in the world, committed suicide due to losses from some unwise investments but which still left him with about US$10 billion in assets. A 70-year study of Americans has shown that with the soaring of financial income of Americans, the level of happiness has not increased.

Neither is it fame. Marilyn Monroe killed herself at the height of her fame. She was just 36 years old. Other famous people who ended their lives are Robin Williams, Ernest Hemingway, Korean President Roh Moo-Hyun, and Vincent Van Gogh.

One of the insights of modern psychology is that happiness is not an event or episode. It is state of well-being that lingers in spite of the ups and downs of life. In other words, a person continues to feel good about life, that is, generally happy,  even when there are adversities that happen. If we look at the people around us, and reflect on our own lives and experiences, this is our common understanding of happiness. No person is free from adversities, setbacks, accidents, illness or losses. And yet some people are able to maintain a positive, optimistic and cheerful attitude, while others are grouchy and dissatisfied much of the time even when things seem to be going well.

Thus, we can define happiness in this way: “It is a sustained state of well-being, contentment and meaningfulness, accompanied by positive feelings.”

With the above introduction, let us look into six important ingredients in making our lives a happier one. All of them are within our control.

1. Remove Causes of Unhappiness. There are psychological factors that make a person almost incapable of long-term happiness. These are fear (including worry and anxiety), depressiveness, resentment, anger, guilt, hurt and even aversion.

A person with fear, for example, can hardly be happy. The state of fear is one of constriction and defensiveness that is definitely unpleasant, whereas happiness is one of naturalness, spontaneity, expansiveness and positiveness. Its roots are the thousand and one unpleasant and fearful experiences since childhood that have not been resolved and released. They impinge upon the present moment in a semi-conscious way that prevents us from being our natural self and being cheerful. These unresolved unpleasant experiences become subconscious “push buttons” that are easily triggered by memory or association. Roger may have suffered from the cruelty and bullying on his parents, and today he has fear of authority that affects his mood while at work or in social situations.

So long as these push buttons are lodged in the subconscious, it is very difficult for a person to become happy, natural, spontaneous or expansive. It is like a constant inner dark cloud that prevents the mind and feelings to be cheerful and sunny.

These push buttons can be removed through what is called self-awareness processing and which allows the bottled-up energy to be safely released permanently.

2. Develop Habits of Positiveness.  Positiveness refers to psychological states such as cheerfulness, enthusiasm, optimism, appreciation or gratitude.

Positiveness is a habit. Some people are genetically endowed with such a predisposition, others are not. For those who are not, they can develop positive habits and overcome one’s innate moroseness.

When a person consciously tries to be positive, something changes in the way one looks at life and the world. The world has not changed, but one’s state of happiness has. Try regularly expressing appreciation towards other people, feeling grateful for what we have and for what others have given us, smiling frequently, being optimistic about almost anything — then the habit of positiveness sets in. And life changes.

3. Nurture Positive Relationships. To most people, the greatest source of unhappiness is people. Jean Paul Sartre wrote: “I know what hell is. Hell is other people.”

The good news is that people are also the sources of their greatest happiness: friendship, a loving marital relationship, children, a happy work environment, and helping other people.

Positive relationship is something that is built, nurtured and watered on a regular basis through kindness, cheerfulness, humor and helpfulness. Other people may be nasty, critical, pessimistic or aloof. But that really is their problem, not ours. We can still feel friendly and positive towards them.

4. Help Others Selflessly. This is an inestimable ingredient of happiness — helping others without thinking of anything in return. It need not be in terms of money but anything that uplifts other people and make them feel happier.

Dr. Albert Schweitzer, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, wrote: “I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.”

Dr. Martin Seligman once gave two weekend assignments to his psychology students. First is to engage in something that they think they will enjoy — watching a movie, hanging out with friends, going to the beach, etc. The second is to do something to help someone — even complete strangers. The following week, the students were asked which of the two activities gave them greater happiness. The students were unanimous: helping others gave a greater feeling of happiness.

5. Be Ethical. When we deliberately harm others — cheating, hurting, or depriving them of something — there are two consequences. Internally, we don’t feel good. We know that we have done something wrong, and we cannot have true inward peace and happiness. Externally, we have just set up a chain of karma that will return to us in a painful way — bringing more unhappiness. It can be immediate — like being punched back; or it may take years before we receive what we deserve, such as negative public opinion or going to jail; or it may come in another lifetime — being born to cruel parents or being born with severe disabilities.

6. Have a Wholesome Philosophy of Life. This covers insights that one learns from experience or from wiser people. Below are examples:

•   Do not compare yourself with others, but attain excellence by doing your best. Comparison is a major source of dissatisfaction and unhappiness — trying to keep up with our neighbors or colleagues. There will always be people whose life situations are better or worse than us. Neither be discontented nor proud in connection with what other people have or don’t have. We set our own inner benchmarks and pursue what is meaningful to us, not what is meaningful to other people.

•   Do not double your loss. Suppose I lost a leg due to an accident. I may feel bitter and constantly blame people or circumstances for the tragedy, resulting in long term unhappiness. What I don’t realize is that I have just doubled my loss — I have lost a leg, and I have lost my happiness. Why don’t I just stop at one loss, and retain my capacity for being cheerful and happy?

•   See the larger picture of life. Life is not just about jobs or income or social status. It is about growth of the soul towards perfection from life to life. This is a basic insight that has been known in the spiritual traditions of both east and west, whether Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Islamic (Sufi) and other mystical movements. The psychologist Abraham Maslow describes such a growth direction as self-actualization and self-transcendence.

•   We create our destiny. Many people are passive victims of circumstances. Wiser people are aware that it is within our power to (a) change our attitudes towards our circumstances, and (b) we can alter our future circumstances by sowing the right seeds of karma at every moment.

The Two Parts of the Self

One of the most important facets of self-understanding and self-mastery is the realization that our different levels of consciousness can be divided into two groupings: (1) the lower self, consisting of our physical body (part of which is the etheric double with its prana or life energy), the emotional body, and the lower mind. This is call the personality. (2) the higher or inner self, consisting of our abstract mind, our transcendent consciousness, and the universal consciousness. This is also called the individuality

These two groups are often represented by two triangles, an upper upright triangle for the higher self, and an inverted triangle for the lower self.

The lower self or personality is a product of conditioning and influences. It produces the different habits and reaction patterns. It tends to resist things that go against the habit. For example, if I don’t do physical exercise, my body will resist efforts to start doing exercise. If I have the habit of smoking, the body will resist efforts to stop smoking. If I’m used to lying or exaggerating, I will have difficulties trying to be honest.

Unfortunately, not all of the habits of the lower personality are wholesome or helpful. Some of them in fact are destructive. Some go contrary to one’s highest ideals or aspirations.

The higher individuality or higher triangle, on the other hand, is impersonal. It sees things more objectively and not on the basis of likes or dislikes. It sees that smoking is harmful or should be stopped even if the body has acquired the habit. It sees something as right or wrong, regardless of whether an action will gain or lose advantages.

Throughout our life, we face these conflicts between the higher individuality and the lower personality. This is what St. Paul was speaking about when he stated: “For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” (Rom 7:15) Helena Blavatsky similarly exhorts that it is one’s duty “to control and conquer, through the Higher, the lower self.” (Key to Theosophy)

The more mature a person is, the more the individuality prevails in action or decisions. Such actions tend to be wiser and conducive to internal harmony. On the other hand, people who allow the lower habits to prevail become prisoners of the past and are unable to rise above their conditionings.

What can we do to start letting the Higher Self become the dominant factor in one’s life?

Start with small things that are doable. Suppose you are not inclined to do 30 minutes jogging due to laziness. Then just make a small effort to do 2 minutes. But once you decide to do 2 minutes, then do so even if the body resists. Just do it. When you triumph for the first time, something is beginning to happen unconsciously. The inner will is beginning to assert itself, and the lower self is beginning to give way. Do it again another time, perhaps for 3 minutes or 5 minutes. Just do it because you say so. When you have repeated these doable decisions, you may notice that there will come a point when you will be able to assert over your laziness and do the 30-minute jogging.

This kind of self-training may make a major difference in your life. After your inner will has become strong enough, you can undertake major decisions or new behaviors that can change the direction of your life, such as writing 30 minutes every day, or reading 30 minutes every day, or playing the piano 30 minutes daily. When the higher will is strong, then one can reach one’s highest potential.

What’s the Most Important Thing in Life?

If you only have a month to live, how would you spend that one month?

One Saturday, this question suddenly popped into my mind while I was on my way to a christening of a one-year-old boy. Later on I googled this question and found a lot of people tried to answer the question online. The bottom line is that almost all of them said that would spend the last one month with people close to them, especially with their family. None of them said that they will spend more time in their work. One said he would like to travel but with the company of his family and close friends.

On that Saturday, I was attending the christening of my grandson, after which we would go for a family lunch, and thence I had to proceed to moderate a strategic planning meeting of a foundation, and then have visitors at the house. I was also trying to write articles on that day. I had so many appointments and things-to-do, but I realized as I was walking towards the church that when the chips are down, one thing stands out as more important than all the rest: the family and loved ones.

There was an angle to this insight that was striking. I had “known” before about how important people are. I had spoken about it often in my talks. But I never saw it from this angle. Our final choice in devoting the rest of our earthly life to a small group of people speaks volumes about our philosophy of life and the meaning of our lives.

When Steve Jobs decided to seclude himself with his family when he was told he had a very short time to live, the reaction of people I know was one of approval, sympathy and agreement. They would do the same thing if they were in the same situation.

The good news is that giving importance to positive relationships has been empirically found to be the most important ingredient towards the attainment to some of the most important goals in human life: happiness, health and long life.

In 1938, Harvard University launched a ground-breaking research that is still ongoing till today, 80 years later. Called the Harvard Study of Adult Development, they studied 724 people, some of whom were sophomores from Harvard and others from the poorer areas of Boston. The research tracked their health, marriage, career, relationships, income and other personal factors with interviews every other year. Three books have been written on this study by its first Director, Dr. George Vaillant. He made the following conclusion: “Warmth of relationships throughout life has the greatest positive impact on ‘life satisfaction’ . . . Happiness is love. Full stop.”

The current director of the study, Dr. Robert Waldinger, after reviewing the tens of thousands of pages of data, expanded the conclusion: “People who are more socially connected to family, to friends, to community, are happier, they’re physically healthier, and they live longer than people who are less well connected.”

Dr. David Myers, an internationally famous author of textbooks on psychology and the author of the book The Pursuit of Happiness, wrote down what he considered as the “Ten Commandments Of Happiness.” The first one was that materials success does not necessarily make people happy. The second was that close relationships with people around you contributes a lot to happiness.

Next time that we find yourself so busy that you hardly have time for anything else, pause for twenty seconds and ask yourself what are the most important things in life. Then from deep in your heart, act accordingly.

Competence: A Crucial Quality of a Young Adult



People get stressed when they are faced with a problem that is quite beyond their competency to solve, but which they are expected to solve. They know that they have to solve it, but they are unsure on how to go about it. As unsolved problems mount, the greater is the stress and unhappiness of the person.

Stress levels rise proportionately to the magnitude of the gap between expected competence and actual competence. A graduate of a good university is expected to perform well in a job that they applied for, while an employee who did not even finish college will not be expected to meet such standards. Farmers can live a happy life even if they did not go to school. No one expects them to know more than farming. But if even in farming, they don’t seem to do the job well, then they will feel the pressure of their wives and the criticism of their neighbors. Stress and distress begin.

There are two kinds of competency: technical competency and personal competency. It is the second one that is more important.

Technical competency means that an electrical engineer knows the job of an electrical engineer and possesses the requisite knowledge of the profession. An accountant knows how to complete financial statements and do all the ledgers, accrual basis, bank reconciliation and other things an accountant should know. When one is an accountant and has inadequate knowledge and skills about accounting, the person will feel stressed because he or she knows that the expectation is valid, but he or she is unable to deliver that which he implicitly promised to deliver.

Young people therefore must realize at a young age what it means to be professionally competent and to have the initiative to attain this regardless of the educational standard of the school they find themselves in. With Youtube, Khan Academy, Wikipedia, and a host of free resources in the internet, anyone can learn practically anything on a sufficiently high level.

But it is the second competency that is truly important — personal competency. This covers a host of qualities that are truly valuable in a person: self-confidence, self-esteem, initiative, curiosity, willingness to learn, stick-to-it-iveness, resourcefulness, perseverance, result-orientedness, emotional intelligence, leadership, unselfishness, trustworthiness, volunteerism and similar qualities. If it is overlaid with cheerfulness, optimism, and compassion, then you have someone who is destined for success in any field that they get into. A person who has these qualities can learn almost any skill or technical competency.

Personal competency is a quality that is nurtured from early childhood. When children are not put down (“idiot,” “dumb,” “useless”), frequently criticized or humiliated, then they do not develop low self-esteem, a factor that drags personal competency down to a very low level even if they are actually intelligent. On the other hand, when they feel accepted as they are, receive sincere praises when deserving, and feel that they are loved, then they are developing a personality foundation that will be solid and stable, and which can sustain them even during times of trial, adversity and setback. They will grow up not fearing failure or making mistakes. They are willing to take measured risks. They are ready to apologize when it is due. The world to them will not be a hellish or oppressive place, and life will be a positive adventure and a happy experience.

It is unfortunate that many schools do not teach this second kind of competency as systematically as they teach mathematics and grammar. Unfortunate too is the fact that many parents are the primary demolisher of such personal competency.

These then are what parents and schools should look at: the development of technical competency and personal competency, and to remember that the second one is more important than the first.

Never Lie to Children

Children, starting from the moment that they begin to understand words, have no concept about lying or untruthfulness. Whatever is told to them is taken as fact. The parents or elders are the absolute authorities about understanding the world. When this authoritativeness is not destroyed by lying, then parents will have no problem about making their children follow what they are told. But the moment the children discover that their parents lie to them, then this image of credibility is shattered. The parents’ authority is eroded. Every time that the parents say anything to the children, the kids will wonder whether it is true or not. In effect, respect for one’s parents is lost, and the consequences can be tragic, both to the family and to the child. During times that the parents truthfully and wisely tell their child not to do something, the child may no longer believe them and thus may fall into disastrous circumstances.

Some parents think that it is not possible to be always truthful to their children. So in seminars that I conduct, I ask people to give me examples where they find it difficult to be truthful to their children.

For example, when six or seven-year-old kids ask where they came from or how they were born, many parents would give them fantastic but untruthful explanations. One mother told her child, “Anak, hulog ka ng langit” (You fell from heaven or the sky.) How would a child take this? That he or she actually fell from the sky and caught by the mother? Why can’t parents say the simple biological facts about reproduction even if the child does not understand half of it? They find it difficult to explain truthfully because many parents think that it is taboo to talk about these things. But children will not be scandalized by any such truth. They would not think that there is anything wrong with facts. It’s the adults’ minds that have this problem.

How about stories about Santa Claus?

My strong suggestion is that parents should not lie to children about Santa Claus. One teacher told me about her experience. When she was a child, her father told her that if she wrote a letter to Santa Claus before Christmas, Santa would bring what she asked for on Christmas Eve. She believed this unquestioningly. Then one Christmas Eve, she wanted to see Santa Claus so she hid herself in the living room and waited for Santa to bring the gift. Indeed, the gifts arrived, but who brought them? It was her father.

The next day, she deliberately told a big lie to her father expecting that it would be discovered. When the father found about the lie, he scolded her and asked her why she lied to him. Then she looked at his father and said angrily, “Why did you lie to me about Santa Claus?” The reason why she was so angry was because, a few days before, she was told by her classmate that Santa Claus did not exist and that it was her parents who brought the gifts. But since her father told her that Santa Claus really brought the gifts, she quarreled with her classmate and defended her father. It was a costly lie by the father, and the daughter never forgot about it.

How about children who were adopted? Should parents tell them about it?

It is very difficult to hide from a child the fact that he or she was adopted. Many people usually know about it — uncles, aunties, neighbors and family friends — and they cannot be prevented from talking about it. So my view is that the parents should tell the child at some point, but on one condition: that the child should feel that he or she is loved by their adoptive parents before saying it. If the child feels loved, then the child would not mind very much if he or she adopted. If such children don’t feel loved, then telling them will be like a double rejection: that the reason why they are not loved is because they are adopted, and that they were also rejected by their biological parents. In addition, they would feel that they were deceived by their adoptive parents.

Parents usually find it difficult to tell the truth because they did not learn how to make truthful but assertive communication. Suppose a child is asking money from the mother to buy something unimportant, and the mother does not think that they should buy it. Some parents will just say, “I don’t have money” hoping that it will quickly end the discussion. But when the child discovers that the mother actually has money, then the child will feel deceived. Instead of lying, let the mother discuss about priorities in expenses and why it is not advisable to spend money on things unimportant. When the child has a high level of trust towards the parent, the child will accept it. The child may feel disappointed, but will not be resentful. It is alright for children to be disappointed, but it is dangerous when they begin to resent the parents.

When someone calls by phone looking for a parent, and the parent does not want to talk with that person, the parent may whisper: “Tell her that I am not around.” When children witness this, then they may think that deception is acceptable, and later will do such lying towards their parents and other people. In such cases, trust at home will gradually disintegrate. Instead of lying, tell the child, “I will just call later”; or answer the phone and assertively turn down what is being requested; or if there had been hurt feelings on a previous day, the parent may tell the child, “Please tell her that, sorry, I am not yet ready to talk; perhaps later.”

Never lie to children, under any circumstance. The consequences are not worth the convenience gained from lying. On the other hand, there is so much advantage when children retain high trust on the parents.

One World Government


After the end of World War II, Albert Einstein said: “In my opinion the only salvation for civilization and the human race lies in the creation of a world government, with security of nations founded upon law. As long as sovereign states continue to have separate armaments and armament secrets, new world wars will be inevitable.”

This idea of one world government is not a new one. It has been espoused by many thinkers such as Immanuel Kant, Victor Hugo, Ulysses Grant, H. G. Wells, etc. It is the solution to wars. The world will be governed by basic international laws, but nations do not give up their autonomy. The basic idea is that there will only be one global police force or army under the world government. There will perhaps be a global currency. Nations can continue to function as autonomous states; they can impose their own taxes, set their own internal laws such as on divorce, immigration laws, education, etc., so long as these do not contravene international laws. It is similar to the government of the United States, where the states are free to exercise their own legislative and executive powers as well as have their own judiciary system, but at the same time there are federal legislative bodies, executive officers and the Supreme Court that deal with federal matters.

The United Nations is an early experiment towards a global rule of law. It has its inevitable imperfections because the powers who formed the backbone of the UN were not willing to make the UN a democratic institution. They retained their veto power in the Security Council. It will take generations, or perhaps centuries, before the next step towards a world government will be taken. It took a world war before the UN became a reality. We hope that it will not require another global war before a world government is formed.

US President Harry Truman said: “We must make the United Nations continue to work, and to be a going concern, to see that difficulties between nations may be settled just as we settle difficulties between States here in the United States. When Kansas and Colorado fall out over the waters in the Arkansas River, they don’t go to war over it; they go to the Supreme Court of the United States, and the matter is settled in a just and honorable way. There is not a difficulty in the whole world that cannot be settled in exactly the same way in a world court.”

Some people may think that the idea of a world government is too idealistic but not very practical. But it looks too idealistic for those who desire military control over their subjects, or are insecure with their neighbors. The truth is that this idealistic view is actually the most practical measure to ensure world peace in the long run. There will be no more wars because no nation is allowed to maintain armed forces except for the police. Poverty and hunger can be wiped out by rechanneling the funds formerly used to sustain millions of soldiers doing almost nothing or spent in the development and maintenance of huge stockpile of weaponry from guns to warships to nuclear bombs.

Education must bring about the acceleration of the popularization of this idea of a world brotherhood and sisterhood, one world government, and the widespread recognition of a single human family. When this idea has taken in the psyche of young future leaders, then perhaps we don’t have to wait for a thousand years to achieve lasting peace.