What I Learnt in the Noughties (Final)

When the decade started, the one and only relationship I ever had ended. A year later, my dad died.

I survived.

And learnt plenty in this decade.

I am writing some of the things I have learnt but please do not consider any of these as advice.

I write, as always, for myself.

How I Live

1. “The meaning of life” is mumbo jumbo and a silly quest. Simply find pleasure in the things you do – this is all the meaning you need.

2. In a world of endless distractions and desires, “No” should be the default answer to most requests. Then make every “Yes” count.

3. Laugh often. Laugh at yourself and don’t be afraid to laugh at others (without being mean).

4. Have realistic expectations of yourself. You are not as good as you think you are and you are not as bad as what others think of you; no one is perfect, everyone is weak in their own way. Be skeptical of praise and be comfortable with criticism. Think mental health.

5. We make a lot of stupid decisions in our quest for more certainty. We believe in con men, we accept compromised answers and we push aside common sense in order not to be on shaky ground. We will always be on shaky ground. Life is uncertainty.

Stumbling on Happiness

1. Application – Manufacture happiness daily (there’s no need to pursue) and realize that many things in life are way overrated.

2. Our ability to imagine and predict the future is powerful but flawed: positive events don’t give us as much joy as we anticipate, negative events don’t affect us as much or for as long as we think.

3. There is a baseline of happiness that we return to in a relatively short time after an event of huge emotional significance, no matter how good or bad.

4. We deceive ourselves very often since we have a psychological immune system which defends the mind against unhappiness by “cooking the facts” (e.g. we gather information and facts that support what we have already concluded).

5. Happiness that we manufacture ourselves (synthesized happiness) is just as good as happiness that comes naturally (good things happening to you).  But because society cannot progress economically if people are content, it tells you that you cannot be happy unless you consume, invent, make a name for yourselves, achieve your goals, etc.

6. The best way to predict happiness is to ask people who’ve been in situations that you are imagining to be in – people aren’t that different psychologically. Example, if I had to guess whether I will be lonely when I grow old, I would ask about the experiences of old people who live alone (I would ask introverts who like ideas, reading and watching films).

Haruki Murakami

1. Accept the fact that the best thing that ever happened to you already has and you will never be that happy again (Norwegian Wood: “I’m finished as a human being”).

2. The past is magnificent. It’s possible to live in the past while not being destroyed in the process.

3. Accept the fact that there are no answers for everything. Life is a mystery.

4. Kafka on the Shore: “Putting it into words will destroy any meaning.”

5. Kafka on the Shore “Better not to try to explain it, even to yourself.”

6. Norwegian Wood: “What makes us most normal… is knowing we’re not normal.”

7. Blind Willow: “He found it natural to be by himself: it was a kind of premise for living.”

8. Haruki Murakami: “We are all human beings, individuals, fragile eggs. We have no hope against the wall: it’s too high, too dark, too cold. To fight the wall, we must join our souls together for warmth, strength. We must not let the system control us – create who we are. It is we who created the system.”

9. Find pleasure in simple, ordinary, everyday things.

10. Acceptance and restraint are immensely beautiful.


1. “It was nature’s intention that there should be no need of great equipment for a good life: every individual can make himself happy.”

2. “… prosperity does not elevate the sage and adversity does not depress him. For he has always made the effort to rely as much as possible on himself and to derive all delight from himself.”

3. “Is it not madness and the worst form of derangement to want so much though you can hold so little?”

4. “The best compromise between love and good sense is both to feel longing and to conquer it.”

5. “Let us learn to increase our self-restraint, to curb luxury, to moderate ambition, to soften anger, to regard poverty without prejudice, to practice frugality, even if many are ashamed of it, to apply to nature’s needs the remedies that are cheaply available, to curb as if in fetters unbridled hopes and a mind obsessed with the future, and to aim to acquire our riches from ourselves rather than from Fortune.”

6. “We should also withdraw a lot into ourselves; for associating with people unlike ourselves upsets a calm disposition, stirs up passions again, and aggravates any mental weakness which has not been completely cured.”

Zorba the Greek

1. “…this world is a mystery and man is just a great brute.”

2. “Women have a wound which never heals. Every wound heals but that one… that one never heals.”

3. “(spoken by Zorba himself) I don’t believe in anything or anyone; only in Zorba. Not because Zorba is better than the others; not at all, not a little bit! He’s a brute like the rest! But I believe in Zorba because he’s the only being I have in my power, the only one I know. All the rest are ghosts.”

4. “…all the things which rejoice the heart of man: clear laughter, the kind word, tasty dishes.”

5. “How many times must I tell you, woman is an everlasting business.”

6. “Eat, drink, and go to bed, I say. All the rest’s just trouble.”

7. “This is true happiness: to have no ambition and to work like a horse as if you had every ambition. To live far from men, not to need them and yet to love them.”

8. “We should not hurry, we should not be impatient, but we should confidently obey the eternal rhythm.”

9. “I have no confidence in the secret forces which are said to protect men. I believe in the blind forces which hit out right and left, without malice, without purpose, killing whoever happens to be in their way.”

10. “Let the women scream; they’re women and have no brains.” (ok, this is a joke)

11. “The eternal, vain, stupid questions: why? what for? come to poison your heart.”

12. “I felt deep within me that the highest point a man can attain is not Knowledge, or Virtue, or Goodness, or Victory, but something even greater, more heroic and more despairing: Sacred Awe!”

13. “…there are three kinds of men: those who make it their aim, as they say, to live their lives, eat, drink, make love, grow rich, and famous; then come those who make it their aim not to live their own lives but to concern themselves with the lives of all men—they feel that all men are one and they try to enlighten them, to love them as much as they can and do good to them; finally there are those who aim at living the life of the entire universe—everything, men, animals, trees, stars, we are all one, we are all one substance involved in the same terrible struggle. What struggle?… Turning matter into spirit.”

David Foster Wallace

1. “And the world will not discourage you from operating on your default-settings, because the world of men and money and power hums along quite nicely on the fuel of fear and contempt and frustration and craving and the worship of self.”

2. “The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day. That is real freedom. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default-setting, the “rat race” — the constant gnawing sense of having had and lost some infinite thing.”

3. “(Life)… is about simple awareness — awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us”

4. “It is unimaginably hard to do this, to stay conscious and alive, day in and day out.”


1. People aren’t really interested in me. They are busy keeping sane and running their own lives.

2. I’m more interested in myself than other people.

3. People tell you crap daily: lies, rumors, things they don’t actually believe in or never thought through and useless opinions about the lives of others. Be skeptical.

4. A real conversation requires patience and energy. It’s much easier to talk about yourself and your opinions rather than listen and ask questions. Have fewer but better conversations.

5. Giving advice can be dangerous. Your advice might completely ignore the context of the problem and the person’s goals. People might follow your advice not because of sound argument but because they concurred with their own desires.

6. Instead of giving advice, ask questions. Help them clarify their own thought processes and see beyond their blind spots.

7. Don’t tell people what to think. Help them think for themselves.

8. In an argument, don’t say someone is biased because it suggests I’m not. I am certainly biased.

9. Don’t label people (unless it is for laughs). People “don’t have one permanent thing called character”; “each of us is a community of competing selves”. Context matters – one can be a jerk in the office but a true friend to his mates.

10. Don’t speculate on others’ motives. Pay more attention to the consequences of their actions.

11. 1/3 people and 2/3 solitude is my ideal formula for time.

12. Ignore everybody – be your own person and do what you believe in.

13. The Golden Rule (“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”) is very good but flawed. What works for you doesn’t necessarily work for others.

14. When people get really bad, remember G.K Chesterton’s reply. (Philip Yancey: “When The Times asked a number of writers for essays on the topic, ‘What’s Wrong With the World?’ Chesterton sent in the reply shortest and most to the point: Dear Sirs, I am. Sincerely yours, G.K. Chesterton.”)


1. Nothing beats falling in love. The initial moments are ecstatic and magical.

2. Love is a lot of work. It may be the worst boss you ever had. It is also immensely rewarding.

3. It’s so easy to fall in love with love. One should fall in love with a person.

4. She will find out who you are soon enough. There is no point pretending to be better, kinder or richer in the beginning.

5.  I saw In the Mood For Love and realized you don’t always have to be with someone you love. And if you don’t have to be with someone you love, you don’t have to find someone to love if you have already loved. (Celine Dion: “Love can touch us one time and last for a lifetime.”)

6. I read High Fidelity and learnt that making a compilation tape for your ex is a great way to heal. And that it’s ok to be in relationship and not get married. And she doesn’t complete you. You complete you – if being complete is even possible in the first place.

7. Sexual desire is real. But it’s evil to get into a relationship to merely satisfy lust. Wanking is a logical and pleasurable alternative.

8. One can be happy without being in love.


1. A funeral isn’t for the dead, it’s for the living. If I were to die before my mom, she should make the arrangements as she sees fit – Buddhist, Christian, non-religious, whatever. If I were to die after her, cremate immediately and bin the ashes. Dead is dead.

2. Funeral arrangements keep you busy and sane.

3. My dad died poor and unnoted. But my mother loved and respected him with all her heart – and that is better than riches and fame.


1. I am a Christian but the church isn’t for me.

2. Christians are just as bad as non-Christians; no more, no less. The terribly distasteful thing about us is when we are petty, quarrelsome and self-righteous, we claim to act and speak God’s will. “In His Service” may be the scariest words in a Christian correspondence.

3. Megachurches multiply morons.

4. Many Christians know understand why they need to attend a church and why they must give to a church, i.e. teachings that propagate a church, better than important Christian doctrines such as grace and salvation.

5. I don’t know a single Christian who claims to quote the bible out of context. And despite quoting in context, we have many competing conclusions.

6. I know many mature Christians who know the Bible very well. I can’t recall any of them being a good listener. I would like to say to them: Be still, and know that I’m a human being.

7. If I were crazy enough to join a church again, I would ask for 20 mins to speak privately with the senior pastor. I would ask him, “Why should I be led by you?” If he quotes the Bible and talks about authority and submission, I would run. If he laughs heartily and asks to find out more about you, then there is hope. You want a person who listens.

8. If I were crazy enough to join a church again, I would look for a church with human qualities, and not “spiritual” ones: quarrelsome rather than queer (who doesn’t quarrel?), effortful rather than effortless (does not apply to salvation) and messy rather than meticulous.

10. Philip Yancey is an extraordinary Christian writer. He keeps it real.

11. This excerpt from Brennan Manning is the best prayer I know: “Several years before his death, a remarkable rabbi, Abraham Joshua Heschel, suffered a near fatal heart attack. His closest male friend was at his bedside. Heschel was so weak he was only able to whisper, “Sam, I feel only gratitude for my life, for every moment I have lived I am ready to go. I have seen so many miracles during my lifetime.” The old rabbi was exhausted by his effort to speak. After a long pause, he said, “Sam, never once in my life did I ask God for success or wisdom or power or fame. I asked for wonder and he gave it to me.”

12. This quotation by Rabbi Bunam is the best summary of the Christian life I know : “A man should carry two stones in his pocket. On one should be inscribed, ‘I am but dust and ashes.’ On the other, ‘For my sake was the world created.’ And he should use each stone as he needs it.”

Leaders (I use this term very loosely)

1. Begin by assuming that for a leader, his agenda (money, fame, ego, etc) is much more important than your welfare.

2. A leader’s mistake is often more significant than a leader’s contribution.

3. Leadership books and courses tell leaders what to do but not enough of what not to do. Many leaders have a bias for action while many followers have a bias for stupidity.

4. Don’t confuse people in power (managers, clerics, politicians, etc) with leaders; there are too many of the former and too little of the latter.

5. An example of a leader – JAL’s CEO Haruka Nishimatsu: lead by example, pays himself $90,000 less than his pilots after paycuts, eats at the staff cafeteria, accessible to all his staff.

6. A leader’s promise of progress is visible (more, better, faster) while the price of progress is often invisible or not clearly seen in the short-term. Always seek out the invisible.

7. Don’t outsource your thinking to leaders.

8. Avoid following anyone and hence avoid leaders.


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