Month: September 2012

Do I really need this? Do you really need that?

In the earlier chapters of my life, I seldom asked “Do I really need this?” It was because money was so scarce that my family bought only the needed items, no extras. For example, I buy one pair of shoes big enough so that it would last the whole school year, even though my feet grows 2 sizes during the year. We bought food and ration out exact measurements so we stretch the budget. A gift of a simple t-shirt becomes an object of awe due to its rarity.

I am presenting these spending habits not to be judgmental but to present something which I hope would get you thinking about buying tendencies and make decisions on your next purchase based on your own research and critical thinking and not due to the relentless bombardment of print, TV and electronic media advertising (not to mention the social pressures of tradition).

We will cover only a few this time around.

Cars – Do we really need to get a car with overwhelming electronic gadgetry? For example, handheld navigation devices are much cheaper than built in devices and you can take it hiking or offroad (depending on the model). The DVD player, navigation, satellite radio, bluetooth connection, etc. all add to distracting us from the activity that we should be doing in the first place: driving! That’s why it’s been proven that these distractions in general causes more traffic accidents than ever. California now is pioneering driverless cars. Do we really want to rely on electronics for our own safety? What if there’s a computer malfunction?

Smart Phones: those devices can be good for organizing (as long as they don’t crash or run out of power), plays good video games (do we really need entertainment all the time?), and enable us to communicate with friends at an instant (at the expense of ignoring those sitting around us in the dining table). What’s worse, is when the new model comes out, people even camp out just to be the first one to purchase (at a very high price), only to repeat it 12 months later when the new model comes out. Things are purposely made to be obsolete in a shorter time span now in order to promote consumerism.

Engagement Rings: I would probably get a lot of grief over this from the ladies, but a lot of cheering from the guys! Diamond is actually a very common gem  available in our planet earth. There’s a few groups that cornered the diamond market, controls its supply and introduction to the market so that it would be scarce. Less supply = more demand = higher prices. There’s a lot of people who gets killed in the diamond trade, hence the term “blood diamond” which means that stone you may be buying was at the expense of somebody else’s life. But since ads shows a gorgeous looking lady in a formal attire being given a ring by a very handsome man in a suit, inside a $500 a plate restaurant, we fantasize that we can be looking exactly like them or that we are entitled to that kind of lifestyle too. Then the jewelers give you a formula to adhere to when buying engagement rings: two months salary worth of wedding ring, just to make sure that you spend more – if your income is higher! For your relationship, if a ring is important, maybe you can substitute a plain thin metal ring. But a ring no matter how huge, how clear the diamond, how precise the cut – is no substitute to the daily commitment to making the relationship work. Relationships must be strengthened daily by conscious action, not by what Tiffany’s told you on their catalog.

Sports equipments – there are bicycles out there that are about as expensive as brand new 2012 Honda Civic. Riders want to copy professional bike racers but they only copy the equipment, not the hardships that they have to go through to be a bike racer. There are Golf drivers that are $2,500 each. Golfers think that it will add 30 yards to their swing without additional practice. Then they turn around and cheat at their scores anyway.  There are basketball shoes from $150 to $300. Most buyers are kids of average income families, who doesn’t have much “disposable” income. There’s even fights erupting when buying those basketball shoes, causing injuries and havoc from Washington state to Georgia. It’s OK if the people buying them can actually afford them, but “afford” really means you can pay for it in cash and you don’t owe anybody anything.

Sports tickets – watching sports in TV takes out a lot of our productive time. When you buy a sports arena or stadium ticket, it’s normally over $100 for the ticket alone (for a seat where you need a telescope to enjoy the game), then there’s food for maybe $50 for each person and beer for $10 per plastic cup. Then you have to buy a jersey, a t-shirt, or a patch to remember the game for another $50 or so, maybe more. At the end of the game, your team loses, you are out $350. and you feel miserable. Then the team owner with a net worth in the hundreds of millions has the audacity to ask your city to tax you so they can build a stadium for the sports team they own. The city then finds out years later that due to their lack of business savvy, they have to pay millions of dollars a year to the team owner because the stadium is not getting filled (and the city guaranteed that it will be full all the time). It’s a lose-lose situation for the city and the taxpayer.

There are countless other things that may fall under the banner of the title of this post. The important thing is whenever we are purchasing something over a certain amount, we should always ask ourselves, do we really need this? Most of the purchases above are desires, not needs. There’s only basic materials necessities: food, clothing and shelter (and maybe transportation in our modern age, if public transportation is not reliable).

There was a man who said something like this (I am sorry but I cannot find the exact quote now and I even googled it but I can’t find it):

A man’s wealth is not based on the the abundance of the things he possesses but on the things that he can do without. 

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Garbage in Garbage out

I was hoping to find a better title than this, but it would lose its impact on what I am trying to convey. So we can call it “Good enter, Good exit” or “Nice things in, Nice things out”, which sounds positive but we feel no impact.

In my previous post, I discussed some time wasters. TV is the primary source of these, but it’s not the only one. Then I discussed about thinking  about positive things and avoiding negative inputs from your environment. Now I want to discuss FOOD, MUSIC and COMPANY.

First is food. It is a known fact that food that tastes great or rich is normally not very healthy (think jumbo hotdog with onion and relish and a Pepsi). Even steak and lamb chops are not the healthiest food around but they are one of the tastiest. Most of the cheapest food (hamburgers, hotdogs and soda come to mind) are delayed time release poisons.

One of the longest living group of people in the world is found near Los Angeles, which I would guess is as polluted as any city. The Seventh Day Adventists living in Loma Linda have a very healthy diet (mostly vegan or vegetarian), has a strong community support, lives relatively less stressful than other people due to time alloted to rest. They are also mild-mannered and unhurried. Their genetics don’t even come to play. People of all races, both men and women, short and tall enjoy a good long life.

So the moral is: What you feed your body will definitely affect its functions. The healthier food means a more satisfying existence and long life. Vegetables, fruits, herbs, beans and nuts are not very exciting. However, if you change your diet to this type of food drastically, all it takes is only three weeks. That is from personal experience. It is not easy but after a month or so you will begin to dislike rich tasting food. However, you have to consult with a nutritionist (who requests blood test and even DNA testing sometimes) to make sure your transition to this diet does not result in malnutrition. Even if you only adapt 50% of the changes (meaning eat more fruits and vegetables, or maybe eliminate dairy products, or cut drinking Coke or Pepsi by half, you will notice an improvement in your body. You will lose weight, have more energy, sleep well and feel better overall.

The second thing I want to bring out is MUSIC. Every type of music affects our moods differently. It could be good or it could be bad if overdone.

To prove my point, let’s say you are a night shift security guard. If you listen to a little fast tempo music, you will feel energized. If you listen to soft or classical music, you may start to doze off. If you listen to pop music, you might start dancing in the hallway for the benefit of the security cameras

The best way to maintain a healthy and happy lifestyle is to have moods that does not go to extreme up and downs in emotion. If you listen to rock n roll for hours, I would guess that you would not have a restful sleep or a sense of well being, and your incapable of thinking clearly. That’s why soft music is piped in elevators and in spas – to help you relax and rest.

And finally, COMPANY. The friends you keep will definitely influence you. I used to hang out with friends that drink beer. I was still young back then and I didn’t have permission from my parents to drink so I drank 7up instead (Remember my dad was a strict disciplinarian). But then, years later I started drinking beer too even though to this day, I still don’t think it tastes good. Same with smoking. I worked with three salesmen who smoked. Years later, I was also smoking (I quit cold turkey 6 years later – but I think the damage is done in my body).  On the other end, I started hanging out with business people who educated me, along with my wife, on true capitalism, personal finance and good morals. We prospered by learning how to invest properly and share with others.

Whichever type of friends you keep will make you mirror image of them in a few years. Of course, this is a generalization. But I want to bring it up as a food for thought. If you are unhappy, or feeling used? or abused? Maybe it’s the company you keep. It could be your boyfriend or girlfriend. Maybe it’s your close circle of friend. Evaluate and make changes to make your life better.

I work in the accounting department in our office and we get blamed for producing bad reports. My boss told the accuser that our reports are only as good as the data that was given to us. They give us delayed reports, wrong dollar amounts, bad coding or they don’t even tell us that they have a budget or a new project. Yet the accuser wants us to produce good reports. “Garbage in, garbage out” retorted the Head of the Accounting department.

I couldn’t agree more!

 

 

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Unsung Heroes

We all love heroes, and heroines! We often associate it with military people or law enforcement officers, and firemen, in some cases. Sometimes we read about people who jump in the surf and rescue someone from drowning, or run inside a burning house to rescue a child. A hero or heroine! we celebrate them. We honor them with certificates, plaques or award ceremonies.

In the busyness of our daily lives, with work, family, hobbies, toys, facebook and twitter – that we focus our attention to – we seldom notice people who are doing things heroic – in a very low profile way..

A general laborer in the Far East was asked to work one weekend to move the furnitures of his employer to a new residence. The elevator wasn’t working so the movers were hauling the furnitures from the seventh floor to the lobby by stairs. Five hours into the move, the employer noticed that the worker was looking very sick. He said he didn’t feel well (going up and down the stairs on a broken leg must be horrific). The other workers said that he was injured at the workplace the day before. Turns out that the bone on his leg was showing through the skin. When asked why he didn’t say anything, he said he wasn’t sure if he will still have his job if he refused to work that weekend. He also could not afford medical care. So, for the going rate of $10/day he worked despite the injury to ensure his family’s immediate needs.

In an asian city, there were two sisters who worked hard as household help, earning low wages ($900 a year. In comparison, U.S. average household income is $50,000/year). They are doing it not only to meet their food and shelter needs, but also so they can raise money to send their brother (who they believe is the smartest in the family) to college. There are a few thousands like them.

Unsung are the countless single mothers or fathers, who work long hours while avoiding life’s distractions and spending to ensure they can save enough funds for their children’s college education.

Caregivers, nurses, and other health care practitioners in developing countries who spend a lot of time, for little pay, to take care of mentally handicapped children, or caring after the elderly and cleaning the bed pan of the sick patient.

There are also the volunteers who go during times of disasters such as the Japan tsunami and Haiti earthquake.

Then, there are the missionaries who picked to go to remote places in the world with hardly any income (as opposed to having TV ministries where they ask for donations and get rich) to give spiritual guidance and medical assistance in needy places. These heroes live in spartan dwellings but bring healing and hope to the neediest people in the world.

Do you see the pattern here? People who dedicate themselves to serve other people are the real heroes. Hardly anyone notices, but they go on – knowing that  in every action they did – they had made other people’s lives better. Some of them may never get recognized for their heroism in this lifetime – and to them that’s just fine. After all, they were selfless in the first place.

Don’t you love this kind of people? You can choose to be one of them in your daily decisions and actions. Then you’ll be my hero, too!  ;)

 

 

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Sobering thought

I’ve often wondered where the term “happy hour” originated. So I looked at wikipedia.com. It says it is “a marketing term for a period of time in which a restaurant or bar offers discounts on alcoholic drinks”. One of its possible origins is from the U.S. Navy. According to the same source, in the 1920s it was a slang used to describe a period where Sailors box or wrestle to relieve stress of the day. It wasn’t about drinking alcohol.

These days, happy hour is a part of our lifestyle in any type of work area, be it a financial district or a factory. It has not been replaced by facebook yet, but only because facebook cannot serve alcoholic drinks.  People justify their presence in happy hour by saying it’s needed to “unwind” or to “relax”. Is it because we ignore the fact that sitting on a bench in a park with or without company can also unwind or relax us? Or walking by the beach can unwind us? No, the main reason is alcohol is being served. The word “happy” was used to denote a feeling of happiness whenever we drink. At some point during the drinking, one feels some kind of euphoria but it doesn’t last long. Instead it is replaced by a sense of being sedated, uninhibited and depressed. Alcohol therefore, can not be regarded in a positive note (unless used as fuel for cooking :))

To keep a positive ambience around this post or blog I would like to present to you what a wonderful world this would be if alcohol disappeared totally starting today (gleaned from numerous sources like MADD and other internet sites):

-10,000 more people will be alive at the end of the year (instead of getting into drunk driver related crashes.

-15,000 more people will not die annually from alcohol related diseases.

-Around 960 people a day or 349,000 people a year would escape injury from alcohol related accidents.

-The U.S. would save $132 billion a year in drunk driving costs.

-Save $110,000,000,000 annually from alcohol consumption in the U.S. alone.

All the above statistics sound too theoretical and seems not of any significance to most people. It is also based on U.S. statistics alone, so worldwide statistics would reflect bigger numbers.

When we personally experience having someone who was injured or died due to the effects of alcohol, then we can relate to the statistics.

On a personal level, I had two relatives that died from drinking too much. One is because that’s basically all his friends did. The other one could not get over the death of his spouse, so he literally drank himself to death. At least these are the only extreme cases among dozens of my relatives. But that was enough for everybody to be heartbroken. At the same time, we learned our lesson and avoided being addicted to alcohol.

So how do we deal with alcohol?

First, we must recognize that it is a drug, that affects the functioning of your brain and your body organs. 99% of the time, it will produce negative results.

Second, we must be aware that daily, we are constantly bombarded by advertising asking us to drink. Even our young children are already targeted by some beer makers to have them drink their brand when they reach legal drinking age.

Third, we should know that alcohol is not a cure for any problems we may have. No matter how much we drink, the problem will remain and will not be resolved until we act on solving it. Action on our part will always be the first part in resolving problems, not just ignoring it.

Fourth, we have to realize that if we ingest alcohol in our body, the bad results may not show up immediately, but when the consequences show up, it may be irreversible or the damage will be a constant source of pain and frustration for the remaining decades of our life.

Fifth, alcohol costs money. Lots of it. Probably thousands of dollars annually even if you drink only a “few beers” or “a couple of glasses of wines for dinner”. Save that money instead so you won’t get stressed about money. If you’re not stressed for money, you won’t have to work more hours. If you don’t work more hours, you get to relax more. The more relaxation you get, the less you need to drink.

Addiction is a choice. But it doesn’t happen overnight. It happens slowly yet before you realize it you already lost control.

Choose to be sober!

 

 

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Slowly but surely

We have reached and went past the jet age, the space age, and now in the “24/7 always-on-the-go” age. We are in a culture where hurry is the normal of the day. People in North America and in other developed countries seem to be always at a turbocharged pace. Everything has to be done right now!

People buy sports cars, fast trucks and SUVs. There is an emphasis on getting to places as fast as possible. Planes and ships are faster now than a few decades ago, cutting a lot of travel time.

Then there is the ever improving technology. Did it make things faster? It did! But it requires more time too. Remember when technology innovators said that technology will get rid of paper? Now we keep paper and electronic files also, doubling the time needed to get things done. Employees who browse the web a lot or check facebook every 15 minutes result in less production. Technology made things more hectic. Now, we call, text, instant message, email each other 24/7. There is now a term called “working vacation” thanks to electronic communication gadgets, headed by the iPhone.

What happened? Cultures all over the world embraced the concept of getting things done at a rapid pace because it produces an immense amount of income. The love of money is causing it all. It downgraded the health and quality of life of workers. There’s more people depressed, stressed and in failing health now more than ever.

How do we deal with these changes?

We should remember that our life is a marathon, not a sprint. There are no shortcuts to getting successful. Most successful people didn’t get to be successful in a very short time. Successful people who you read about started humbly, working odd jobs or starting their businesses in their garages. It took years for them to reach greatness. A lot of hard work, research and study and total dedication to their goal made them successful.

Things take time. Look at the hundred year old churches in Italy or France. I don’t think those buildings will ever be surpassed in beauty in grandeur. But they weren’t built in one year. It took decades to build them. Consider the Olympic medalists – it took them at least 4 years, some 12 years before they got their medals. The things we don’t see are the 6 hours of daily training that they go through in their quest for excellence. Perfection takes time.

Tasks that are done at a slower pace normally results in accuracy. Taking time to finish a task normally produce excellent result and therefore does not need correction, thereby saving time, in the long run.

Stopping to smell the roses does something to our soul. It makes us realize that we are a part of a grand scheme in the universe and there’s beauty to behold in our environment. The resulting relaxation invigorates our being resulting in a more productive state of mind.

Last weekend, I rode my bicycle at an intentionally very slow pace (doctor’s order). It didn’t give me a feeling of being in a Tour de France environment :). However, the ride was still very enjoyable with the added bonus of having energy left after the ride. The ride was exhilarating maybe because the pressure to perform was off.

I think I am going to ride at a slow pace from now on. Mostly anyways.

What about you? How about slowing down a bit and enjoying your life? It doesn’t cost money and you can do it anytime you want. Then next week, slow down some more!

 

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