Thursday, February 22, 2007

Relationship X Expectation = Happiness

The ultimate pursuit is that of happiness.

Don't let the religious change your mind about that: I do agree that there is none nobler a purpose than the pursuit of God and the expansion of his flock. But good missionaries are generally also happy missionaries, and ultimately, they pursue God's plan because they are happy to do so. Therefore, and again I say it, the ultimate pursuit is that of happiness. (Caveat: ultimate human pursuit of a non-spiritual nature)


Of all the things that can make a person unhappy, I think the one that occurs the most often is that feeling of 'Being Left Out'. It's what I call the Sour Grapes Syndrome (SGS), though it doesn't always have to refer to contempt towards things we cannot get. And to explain it, I need to go into the concept of sociability and groups.

We human beings are sociable creatures and we seek other like minded individuals to form groups - it is a way for us to satisfy one of the following needs / urges: the need to validate one's existence on this planet; the urge to build bonds with another, find a soulmate, seek a friend or partner; the need to find others like ourselves; the urge to do things together with others of the same persuasion; and so on.

When we form groups (typically consisting of two or more people) bonds are built between individuals. In a 2 person group, there is only one bond; with 3 people there are 3 bonds; with 4 people there are 6 bonds; and the permutations increase exponentially the more people there are in a group.

We, therefore, find ourselves in a complex tangle of relationships when group sizes balloon. Some bonds will be stronger than others, and therefore, some of us will feel closer to one person over another.

So now, imagine that you belong in a group of 20 or so people. There are some 4 or 5 people who are pretty tight and you think that you are in that small circle of 4-5 people. You expect that, whenever these 4-5 people plan any activities, you will be invited along (because you feel... 'tight' with them). Unfortunately, your expectations do not quite meet up to their expectations of you: one or two of them don't feel that 'tight' with you.

Suppose then that those one or two (let's call them Amy and Amanda) decide to organise a small get-together over dinner. Amy calls Amanda, and they decide to invite the others within their perceived tight group. Both Amy and Amanda feel that you aren't quite as 'tight' with them and thereby omit you from their invitations (which they send via SMS, email, whatever). And woe betide calamitous Jane (Ed note: shites, where did that phrase come from?) YOU happen to learn of the non-invite.

What do you feel? You feel left out. Jealous. You feel like all you've ever put into those bonds you've built were meaningless. You feel upset that Amy and Amanda never felt 'tight' enough with you.

Sour Grapes Syndrome. Half of those times when we feel unhappy, I think we can attribute it to that feeling of being left out, the feeling that we were meant for good things but were deprived of them because someone else felt we were not worthy.


I am sure you've liked someone before.

Let's suppose you are a guy.

And you like this girl called Amelie.

You get close to Amelie, as others who are attracted attempt the same thing too.

Amelie isn't seeing anyone in particular, and you fancy your chances as being better than most.

One day, Amelie suggests that you both catch a particular movie that you both are interested in.

You agree. You are on Cloud #9 because the girl of your dreams has asked you out on a date. You're ecstatic and looking forward to the opportunity to clutch her hand / lend her your jacket to keep her warm / offer your shoulder to cry on during the weepy scenes / have your arm gripped tightly as she scream her lungs out when terror strikes.

So you show up at the appointed time, at the appointed place. Happy and looking forward to quality time with your object of affection.

Except that it isn't just with her. It is with her and her whole posse of other hanger-ons / best buds / bitchy girlfriends / brother / sister / dog.

Suffice to say, it is not a date. It is more akin to an outing.

You aren't happy. Why?

Because you expected a date with the girl you like. Not a freaking group outing with her other best friend or sister or third cousin. It is worser still when it is a competitor or another more interesting guy.


Expectations we built have a direct effect on our own happiness. When we get what we expect to get, when things go the way we want them to, we tend to be happier individuals.

Relationships too have a way of making us happy or unhappy. Relationships are also a function of the groups we form for ourselves - and what we feel about the relationships in our lives (the expectations) tend to colour how happy we are about those relationships.

Be realistic in how you feel about the people in your life. I think happiness comes from knowing that nobody out there is responsible for making you happy - only you yourself are capable of that.

You are capable of that because only YOU are able to manage your own expectations.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Golf Ga-Ga

1. Golf is a game about achieving perfection. I think this is the reason why top level executives (and many others who strive to be one of them, those wannabes) are so attracted to the beautiful game: because it is a game that requires perfection in order to succeed.

2. There are so many levels to how golf tests the perfectionist, chief among which is 'The Swing'. The way one swings a golf club determines the ball's trajectory. In the case of a beginner at the driving range (yours truly being one), about 1 out of 5 times, the ball flies in a somewhat agreeable arc. The rest of the time, one of the following happens: the ball limps and rolls away awkwardly; the ball whacks into the lane divider violently and announces your terrible golf skills for all to hear; the ball flies too far left or too far right of where you intend it to go; or you miss entirely and subsequently pretend that you were just doing a dry run of a swing.

3. Golf gear is designed by Darth Vader. Really. Just wearing my golf glove alone makes me feel like a Stormtrooper:

Now, all I need are White / Black golf shoes, and an uber-cool Stormtrooper helmet to complete the look. :)

4. Hitting that perfect swing is an indescribable feeling: the word that comes closest is 'SHIOK' (non-Singaporean readers, click the link, go pick up some Singlish). And when the club connects with the ball in the right way, a satisfying sound is emitted 'PUCK', the ball flies in the right trajectory (a low curve for the 7-iron, a high curl for the pulling wedge, and that far far away feeling with the 5-wood)... in other words, perfection. It is so intoxicatingly sweet to have hit 'the spot' that one feels willing to give up sex forever if he can keep hitting balls that way... forever and ever.

5. And that's where we come to the point where I think golf is... a 'symbol' for sex. In this game, you play with a club (a somewhat phallic thing, don't you think?) and swing it around using both your hands; you hit balls; you 'score' when you get your ball into a hole; some of your clubs are known as woods - no, not Tiger we're talking about here, but those golf clubs you wrap in socks - and the woods are typically 'bulbous' and you have to frequently wrap them in 'protective gear'; the golf course is littered with obstacles like sand traps and water hazards - much like how the pursuit of sex is laden with booby traps of its own; golf courses are designed to be undulating slopes - which mimic the sinuous curves of the alluring female; oh... I can go on and on.

6. Picking up golf has only been possible because I am currently single. Being a singleton has its advantages: I can indulge in more meaningless usage of my time - not that whacking balls at the driving range is meaningless, mind you, but in comparison to quality time with the significant other, whacking golf balls can pale in comparison as a better use of scarce resources (as time goes). Worser still if your significant other cannot appreciate the activity, and worser still if she cannot see why it supercedes time spent cuddling, kissing, and... shit, I'm seriously lacking affection. :(

Saturday, February 17, 2007


The first principle in any relationship, work, or life in general rests on the fact that we are governed by the rule of reciprocity.

When you have an appreciation for that rule, you can generally extrapolate from that and come to a fair understanding of the state of human relationships.

Reciprocity is the principle that when you give, you receive. You do me a favour, and I do one for you in return. It is mostly an unsaid, unmentioned rule - largely because if you've lived by it all your life, you should never have to bring up the fact that you expect anything less than that. Also, decorum dictates that we do not embarrass another by 'asking' to be reciprocated: typically, a hint suffices.

So how does reciprocity work? There are a few ways, the simplest of it is this: you do something for another, you expect something in return, probably of a similar value (monetary or in kind, that is entirely up to you to judge). Suppose that, today, I pay for your meal. Tomorrow, you'll pay for mine, particularly if it comes to something similar in value. I won't bring up the fact that I had paid for your meal, because it is an unwritten rule that you should reciprocate, and of course there is the expectation that you will do 'what is right'.

Reciprocity also works in the 'negative' sense as well. If you kill my brother, I will want to kill you - i.e. revenge, vengeance. Vengeance is but reciprocity, but expressed in a negative manner.

Naturally, most of us understand the power of this social contract; to violate it will cause discomfort and unease, and only people in love or people so religiously compelled won't expect reciprocation from another individual. And why do I say that it is the base rule for most human relationships?

Take any situation where there is a giving or taking involved and explore it for a second: see if you find an exchange between the parties involved. E.g. the buskers on the street singing / dancing for all to see: you see them sing, feel a twinge of appreciation / pity / and thereby feel compelled to do something to make that feeling 'go away'; and thereby, you drop in a few cans in that tin can, hoping to ease the guilt / show your appreciation / .

However, reciprocity works best under the 'Best Left Unsaid' rule: it is most powerful when the expectation is not communicated, but inherently required; it is weakest when violaters of the rule find a way around it.

Reciprocity is not a well-understood principle for those in love, those who are loved, and the many shades of love that colour the space between.


If you understand what I mean by that principle, then you will understand where I'm coming from when I talk about what I want to next...


A while back, when I felt bad about having stopped blogging, I mentioned that I wanted to write a post about succubi. I've changed my mind somewhat about what I wanted to say on that topic.

Largely speaking, I think the idea behind being a succubus is that being one violates the reciprocity principle because there is one party willing to give (the lovesick fool most likely), and one party culpable and capable of leeching (the beneficiary).

The theme is all too familiar to people who have fallen for the likes of, among others, gold diggers, irresistibly beautiful women, the aloof characters, and all manners spanning the various categories.

I find that women who are incapable of giving are attractive (and that, in part, has been my failing). They demand your time, your energy, and have an inordinate ability to consume more of either. Like the drug addict in The Protege (Ed note: great drama, go see), they'll say anything to get what they can from you (within limits - I exaggerate the extent of their machinations of course).

I don't think it is that such women are incapable of loving others; I just think that they cannot love another more than they love themselves. Like the narcissist who falls in love with his own reflection, their sole purpose in life is self-gratification. The love for themselves compel them to find others who can shower love upon them - it is a means by which they find meaning for their pithy existence. It is the only they have the assurance that they are not loving themselves solely, but that there are others who feel they're worthy of love too.

However, the inability to give to others is what fails for the succubus: she takes and is unable to give in return, in a suitable way or for a suitable amount. The relationship with a succubus is doomed because the giver (lovefool) has expectations, and these expectations being unmet will generate discontent. Ultimately, there comes a point where discontent leads to hate, and leads to ill will.


I have the notion that people can change. I have also a probably naive notion that people can change for love. I don't necessarily mean romantic love though, for love exists in many forms and ways (and Valentine's Day should have brought home that point, both with the singletons and the couplings out there).

I don't think love changes people as much as the giver (lovefool) wants to, and for that, humans are such failures. Perhaps this is also the reason why some find religion to be the perfect escape: when one has received love unconditionally, what else is there to ask for from another uncaring human being?


In retrospect, I have learnt little from loving others, except to know that I have also been one to give too little in return - perhaps what I see in myself has been reflected in what I see in others. In all too real a manner, I have surrounded myself with people that I know are a reflection of my true nature. In so doing, I have never felt more alone.

I have never felt more like an island, adrift.

Monday, February 05, 2007

History Lessons

It is seldom that I blog about movies that I've watched. To escape the mundanity that was existence today, I sneaked off with a good buddy (out on an afternoon birthday treat away from work) to watch a movie about, of all things, dealing with the harsh reality of existence.

Ah, I'm being too harsh a critic. Half Nelson is a nice little film about a history teacher cum basketball coach who's also a drug addict. He teaches history primarily through the use of dialectics, the idea that opposing forces drive change, and history is about change.

The film also tracks his friendship with one of his students, a black girl who is quite self-reliant, and whose friendship with a drug courier shapes the other half of the plot. While the teacher descends into a drug-fueled life plunge just to escape a reality that he cannot change (even while he preaches it), the student finds herself confused into helping her brother's friend run drugs (it didn't help for her to also find out her teacher's a druggie).


Anyhow, that is the plot. Oh, and lead actor Ryan Gosling is nominated for Best Actor for the Academy Awards (who won last year? I don't recall).

For me, what was more interesting was to hear about the notion of dialectics (Check out this very simple to understand website to read about Dialectics - they even make references to the film).

To understand change, Dialectics philosophers preach that there are 3 rules (Ryan Gosling above has just written down the first one for his class):

1. Every object and process is made of opposing forces or opposing sides: a historically relevant example for Singapore would be its independence from Malaysia. On one side, there is Lee Kuan Yew and the PAP, who do not want Singapore separated from Malaysia; on the other, there is Tunku Abdul Rahman and UMNO, who can't wait to get rid of the pain in the neck that is Singapore.

2. Gradual changes lead to turning points, where one opposite overcomes the other: Racial riots were rife in Singapore, fanned in part by accusations of unfair treatment of Malays in Singapore, while Chinese were incensed by the federal government's policy of affirmative action. Singapore was also economically better off - there was concern of a shift in economic power from the main capital of KL to Chinese-dominated Singapore. The turning point came when the Malaysian parliament voted to expel Singapore from Malaysia as a way of ending the racial riots and rid themselves of the problem once and for all.

3. Change moves in spirals, not circles: For Singapore, there was no turning back. The separation from Malaysia resulted in it moving in a direction that was of its own design, free of intervention from meddlesome Malaysia politicians. However, we see that the forces that drive us apart ultimately also bring us closer - but not to the point of re-unification. Through diplomatic efforts, one force (the force of 'unity') bring us closer again through better ties - economically, politically etc.


I like this framework for change: I wished they had taught it in b-school or back in the consulting company I worked at. It would have made it easier to show people how system implementations are meant to change them (for good or for better, change is something to live with).

However, I don't think history's all about change: history is also about circumstances. Because of circumstances beyond our control, we are plunged into particular interesting crossroads in history. Because of circumstances which provides the power for one side to dominate another, that side can push change more effectively.

I think it is important to study change (or history for that matter) for the opposing forces there exist, the particular turning points (which is what leads to history teachers making us memorise meaningless dates), and the irrevocable but subtle movement of change in a spiral manner. It is also important to see why one side came to dominate another. It is also important to understand which circumstances made it possible for a change to occur.

Think about it.