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.

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.

The Art of Effective Parenting

The citizens of the next generations will be molded by three factors: parenting, education and media. When these three fail to develop the values and character of children and youth, then we cannot expect our world to improve in terms of peace and harmony.

Parenting potentially is the most powerful influence in the life of an individual. When it fails, however, then the other two will become the dominant influences in their growing up process, whether for good or for ill.

How can parents be effective in molding children to become well-adjusted, responsible, ethical and happy?

1. Express your love to your children. This is the most powerful factor in influencing our children. Please note that it is not just to love your children but to let the children feel your love. Learn about the five languages of love: words of affirmation, quality time, acts of service, touching, and gift-giving. Among these, quality time is the most important. Spend time together where you both enjoy, whether it is a chat, doing homework, shopping, or other activities. Love needs to be expressed otherwise it cannot be felt by the other person. Whenever you encounter your children, try to be positive most of the time. Do not criticize, scold or reprimand more than five percent of the time. If you are positive and criticize rarely, then your reprimand will be more effective.

2. Be firm and consistent in your house rules. Love should be accompanied by firmness. If there is no firmness, a loving parent will spoil the child. Be prepared to say “no” when a request or a behavior is unwholesome. They will not be resentful if they feel your love. But if they don’t feel your love, they will resent your “no” and begin to be rebellious.

3. Do not do what you do not like to see in your children. Children and youth copy the elders. When parents shout, curse, smoke, drink or are violent, they tend to do the same things, unless they receive contrary examples from other elders. When parents are fearful, insecure or vindictive, the children tend to adopt these same qualities.

4. Never lie to your children. Whenever children discover that their parents lie to them, the parent’s credibility goes down. Then their authority diminishes. This is true even of “white lies.” This is the reason why I do not encourage parents to tell children about Santa Claus as if they are real, with reindeers and gifts. Children will eventually discover the truth about this and the disappointment and doubt may sink deep into their subconscious. Children tend to obey parents whom they trust.

5. Be your child’s first teacher. The future intelligence and competency of your children depend upon their growth process before they go to school. Even while the mother is pregnant, it is very helpful that the parents talk to the baby in the womb and read to him or her. Children who were given such stimuli have been known to be precocious. After they are born, talk to them often. It does not matter if they do not understand yet what you say. What is happening is that you are stimulating the brain of the child and the neural network of the brain becomes more and more complex. This is the basis of intelligence. Answer their questions by being knowledgeable yourself.

6. Do not be too busy that you don’t have time for your children. This is a tragedy of modern life. Money will bring security but not love and happiness. And it is love and happiness that is more important in our lives. Be willing to give up financial advantages or higher pay if it will mean that you will have a happier family.

A happy and loving family is one of the greatest sources of happiness. It can be cultivated through understanding the art and science of marriage and parenting, and taking the effort to prepare oneself to become a worthy and happy father or mother.

The Five Languages of Love

Henry works very hard for his family because he loves them. He works up to late at night in the office and does overtime during Sundays and holidays. When someone tells his son how much Henry loves the family, the son says that “My father loves his office more than us. He is always there and he has no time for us.” When Henry hears this comment, he feels very hurt because he has been doing all this hard work because he cares for the family. But the son did not feel the love.

What went wrong? Why did his son misunderstand him?

Henry did not realize that his way of expressing his love for the family is something that may not be understood by his son because they speak different languages of love.

An American psychologist, Dr. Gary Chapman, in his more than 20 years of counseling families, found that people express and understand love in five different ways. He calls these the “five languages of love.” If a father shows his love by working hard, his children may not feel that love because they speak a different language of love. Many of us have read of cases when teenagers tell their parents: “I don’t need your money! I need your presence!”

Here, according to Dr. Chapman, are the five languages of love:

1. Words of affirmation – these are words that affirm the worth and importance of another person. It may be “I love you,” “Thank you,” “I am so glad that you are here,” “You are so skillful, how did you do that?” “I like your t-shirt,” etc.

2. Quality time – this is one on one conversation or interaction with the person in a way that is meaningful or enjoyable for them. It is to give someone your undivided caring attention.

3. Touching – If you tell babies that you love them, it does not mean anything to them. But if you cuddle and hug them, they will feel it. Many adults feel the same way. When they are hugged, or you hold their hands or put your arms on their shoulders, then they feel that you care for them.

4. Acts of Service – this is to do something for them, such as helping them in finish something. To them, “action speaks louder than words.”

5. Gift-giving – Some people appreciate receiving gifts from others as a sign of caring. Some children may come home from school with a small gift to a mother. It can even be a flower. Their love language may be gift-giving and receiving. It is not they are greedy or selfish. It is just that this is how they understand how people care.

In the example given at the beginning of this article, Henry’s language of love was acts of service, while his son’s love language was quality time. Thus Henry’s way of expressing love is not appreciated by the son.

Dr. Chapman says that some people may express love in two languages but may not appreciate the other languages. Some people will go out of their way to look for a nice gift to a special person, but that person may just put it aside and not feel the love that is expressed in that gift. It is thus helpful for a person to understand the languages of love of other members of his family, so that he can better express love in their languages. Dr. Chapman designed a survey with 50 questions which can reveal which are the primary love languages of an individual. This questionnaire can be downloaded from the internet.

It is best that parents should be able to express their love to the members of the family in more languages than what they are used to. Then their relationships will become deeper and happier.

Effects of Words and Thoughts

A Japanese scientist, Dr. Masao Emoto, found that words and thoughts can affect the molecular structure of water. His findings led to other experiments on organic matters which have important implications in the way we should live our lives.

Dr. Emoto put water in test tubes and put different labels on them, such as “I love you,” or “I’ll kill you.” Then he froze the water in minus 25 degrees centigrade freezers. The results were startling. The test tubes with positive labels such as “I love you” formed into ice crystals which had hexagonal shapes like beautiful snow flakes. On the other hand, the test tubes with negative words looked like mud. This experiment was repeated thousands of times with similar results.

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Many people then experimented not with water but with living things, such as fruits or cooked rice. I did it myself. I put two bunches of cooked rice into two clean and dry bottles and sealed them tight. On the first one I put the label “Beautiful” while on the other one I wrote “Ugly.” I kept it on our bedroom shelf and I forgot about it for an entire week. Then I when I was looking for a book, I accidentally saw the bottles. I took them down, and saw that in the “Beautiful” bottle, the rice was still the same white clump of rice, but in the “Ugly” bottle, the rice was already half black with mold. After another week, the rice in “Ugly” bottle was almost all black, but the one in the “Beautiful” bottle was still entirely white although it had become pasty. I kept these bottles for a year, and the rice in the “Beautiful” bottle remained white, while the one in the “Ugly” became entirely black.

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I asked students in our school, Golden Link College, to do the same experiment, and they got the same results.

Many years ago, I showed the photo of these bottles during a lecture in Davao, and a young man from Leyte saw it and repeated the experiment but with a twist. He put the label called “Gwapo” or handsome/beautiful, but he sent negative, angry and violent thoughts to it. The other bottle he labeled “Pangit” or ugly, but sent loving, kind and peaceful thoughts. What was the result?

After six months, he happened to be the speaker in a conference in Leyte where I attended. He spoke about his experiment and brought the bottles. The rice in the bottle with “ugly” label was still white. But the one with “beautiful” label was entirely black.

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What does this tell us?

Words and thoughts have powerful effects not only on water but on organic matter, such as rice and fruits. It means that when we constantly think positive thoughts within ourselves, we are affecting not just our feelings but our entire body and our health. A baby’s body is 78% water, while adults have 60%. When we are angry or hateful we are harming ourselves and perhaps people around us.

An American woman was breastfeeding her baby at home when her husband came and talked with her. After a while they started to argue. They became angry and started to shout at each other. They quarreled intensely and the husband walked out and banged the door. The wife felt very furious and bitter. All the while, she was breastfeeding her baby. That evening, the baby turned blue and died.

The mother, while in a state of intense anger, probably produced toxins within her body that went into the milk that the baby was drinking. The baby could not take it.

So we ask ourselves: In our home, do we give negative labels to our children, like “you are lazy,” “irresponsible,” “liar,” etc.? We should realize that those negative words are affecting our children more than we realize. On the other hand, whenever we constantly use positive words towards them, then something is happening to them that nurtures wholesome growth and health.

Whenever we get angry, then, let us remember the experiments of Dr. Emoto. Let us change the way we treat ourselves and people around us. Make the world a better place by thinking and saying positive and affirming words.