Reflections from The Happiness Festival 2017

Sometimes happiness really is a matter of choice

By Zhen Yin

October 6 2018

I'd never think an event like this will make an impact on me.

If you are wondering why so, I will credit this to the cynical attitude that I've grown and cultivated over the years due to the endless amount of 'motivation' and 'goal-setting' talks that came as and when they liked during school assemblies in my adolescent years. It's irksome to see the speakers of these talks fitting the definition of 'success' or being happy into the confines of models or simple line diagrams, and that success or said positivity will be guaranteed if you follow the steps in its entirety.

More often than not, these motivational speakers assume that all will be well so long as people follow their tweaked version of Maslow's 'Hierachy of Needs' step by step.

I will quote what Donnie Darko once said, "Things aren't that simple."

But 'The Happiness Festival' made its first mark of difference when they did this: instead of giving a straight-lined answer to happiness in life right out the bat, it poses the question of what makes a good life and how do we live it? And so it kickstarts an entire day filled with actually productive talks, positive workshops and a night of peculiar but unique activities that honestly promises that even if we do not have an answer to the question posed earlier, we'd have an inkling on where to start to find it.

I certainly did.

These are some of the main reflections that I have gotten from the event:

"The way to happiness is to eat more 'cakes'."

Call me naive but when I heard this from Ms Roslina's talk I really assumed that she meant literal cakes. Ms Roslina Chai is the co-founder of Gnowbe, speaker and life coach for many others. Imagine my slight disappointment when I realised it was really just an acronym that we could all learn to adopt in our daily lives to be happier. The 'cakes' that she was referring to were actually - Curiosity, Authenticity, Kindness, Enable and Service. My main takeaway from this talk was being forthright and having complete acceptance towards your feelings in different stages of your life might be the way to go when you are trying to find the answer to who you really are.

So this is where 'Authenticity' and 'Kindness' comes into play, because basically it's better to be real and forgive yourself for having certain emotions even though you might get harsh judgment from others (yourself included) for having them. You have to be kind towards yourself for feeling whatever you are feeling in the first place. 

Your spirit is also not defined by your name, race or gender et cetera. You may think these physical qualities are an integral part to who you are at the core, but really it’s not. If you strip all these external attributes away, what remains will be the hidden but essential components of your soul. And really knowing this will give you the guidance to find out who you truly are in the first place.

"Silence is needed to hear yourself."

The credits go to Ms Anthea Ong's talk when she discusses silence and her intimate relationship with it that enabled her to survive the rocky challenges in life and become who she is today. Ms Anthea is the founder of the Hush Tea Bar and describes herself as a 'champion for self care and silence'. I don't deny that I was always one of those stubborn skeptics that agreed for the sake of agreeing whenever someone (friend or internet writer alike) mentions the multitude of benefits that they've gained from meditation. "Life-changing," they emphasised on several occasions. "You should try it," they'd quip enthusiastically as I nod but in my head, I will opt for a tear-inducing Korean drama marathon anytime instead just to purge (or numb) out the toxic emotions that encircles my head.

But I think the real truth lies in the fact that I'd rather undergo torture with a full-on 'Transformers' movie marathon that goes on repeat for the next 127 hours then to have a candid conversation with myself on why I feel the way I feel and do the things I do. I can't fathom the amount of times I'd gladly take a trip in a time travel machine just to sock my past self in the face for whatever nonsensical actions that she (or in this case, I) did in the past.

Granted some of you that are reading this will probably think that I'm exaggerating, but honestly, taking Ms Anthea's words into account (combined with Ms Roslina's emphasis of being honest with ourselves) helped me resolve some of the internal anguish that I've had in me. It had taken a real toll on my emotional health and the real-life relationships that I've had with the people who really care about me, and having clarity was something that I needed to think about what I can do to undo the damage. Silence gave me the moment of deliberation that I needed to be honest and rectify the mistakes that I've made so far before things got worse.

It's the equivalent of admitting you are the villain in the story when you've spent the entire time painting yourself as the victim. That spontaneous bout of clarity really kickstarted my path that I likened (or at least I hope) to be as good as Zuko's redemption arc in 'Avatar: The Last Airbender'. I'm still trying and so far, it's been working out.

"Sometimes judgement is the one that prevents you from real connection."

And no, I don't mean the judgement that you impose on others. I mean the ones that you impose on yourself in the first place. Whether if it's attending a party or just striking small talk with a lovely barista at a great coffee place; we or at least I, often worry about how are we going to be perceived by the other party in the first place. So many times I've had shifty eye contact or avoided candid talk in general because I was just so preoccupied with how I'm going to come across (physically and mentally) in the eyes of the other party. 

When really, all these attention could've been much more well-spent instead if I focused more on listening and reacting to what the other person has got to say in a conversation. The truth is, people (or at least decent people) are not going to harp on the fact that you have acne or that the foundation that you are wearing is looking way too 'cakey' and that the shade doesn't match your neck. Sure maybe they'd step in and mention that you've got red lipstick or broccoli stuck on your teeth but they are not doing that with the intention to humiliate you - they are just thinking 'If I have lipstick/vegetables stuck on my teeth, I'd want people to let me know too'.

And I understand many of us out there, including me, are uptight on the basis that we are not interesting enough or we are not knowledgeable enough to hold an engaging conversation. But one thing that I've learned so far is the definition of an 'engaging conversation' varies from person to person. Just because the person that you are talking to is a supposed brain whiz of an engineer doesn't mean that this person is not equally interested if you talk about the comic universe or whether the newest 'Justice League' movie lived up to both of your expectations.

So the next time when you find yourself having second thoughts of starting a conversation with a stranger at any event, or you are starting to get balled up in a corner thinking that you're not being a good conversation partner just remember this: focus on doing the best that you can to be a listener and/or talker (either works). And really nothing else matters more than that.

These are my personal reflections that I got from The Happiness Festival 2017 when I attended the event that went on for a full solid 10 hours that's filled with engaging talks, workshops and an eye-opening mystery activity at the end that revealed itself to get attendees to mingle and talk with other attendees that they do not know and have never met before.

The one con was that you'd have to revolve yourself around the same physical venue for a solid 10 hours run, although mentally you aren't bound anywhere. It's up to you to decide if you want to explore outside of your bubble and continue the interaction with others to gain insight on what exactly will make you (or others) feel content. I chose to interact, and by the end of the night, I've not only made new friends, but I've also gained a multitude of valuable takeaways that I can safely say will serve to make me a better person in the near future.

Which is why after this experience, I'd like to say:

Sometimes happiness really is a matter of choice. But at the end of the day, it is a choice that can only be made by you, and you only.

Chris Chew 6 years ago
Great article, Zhen Yin. Enjoyed reading it!