The Secret to “Lightheartedness”

Ever since I started deliberately engaging in positive self-talks and visualization, my negative emotion and energy emitted therein have been significantly reduced. I experience the feeling of being “light” inside (I finally understand the meaning of the word, “lightheartedness”).

How can I be sure of this? Provided my current life experiences and professional work load, i.e. lecturing at two universities, thesis advising for students in both universities, planning and strategizing for the upcoming responsibility as one of the leaders of three international schools, being separated from a son whom I miss so much, providing for the welfare of parents in Malaysia, and many more… I realize that I am still able to “empty” my mind of all these and just think of nothing (something required for meditation, isn’t it?) – I could never do this. In fact in the past, no matter where I was and what I was doing, I was constantly thinking about something or the other, and most of my thoughts were coated with hues of negativity, probably because of the overwhelming feeling that accompany the very thought of having to do so much!

I have learned to let go of everything I can’t handle and let them be. Instead, I focus on the images and messages of what I want to see, hear, and experience happen. I totally despise negativity, and shun them completely. I refocus at the first sign of negative thoughts and remind myself that they are not worth investing on. I quickly replace them with something good, hopeful, happy, and meaningful for myself and everyone around me. I do this because I don’t want to emit negative energy force. I have also seen the effects emitting positive energy force and how this energy force transforms the emotional and mental state of the people I work with. I go in to meet with them expecting positive results and that’s what I get.

A new realization dawned on me – I am not alone. Whether I am surrounded by people or not, I am not alone. I am constantly surrounded by a variety of forces – forces that are waiting my summoning to make all my wishes come true – all I need to do is to wish for the right thing at the right time, for the right purpose.

Life is meant to be lived happily. But how do I experience happiness? By letting go and letting it be… by trusting in the power of my mind to handle and deal with the challenges of life, as it moves along the glimpses of enlightenment and wisdom inherent in all of universe.

i WAS my worst enemy… NOT ANYMORE!

When I speak to students on motivational seminars in an attempt to inspire them to be successful students, I often start by asking them, “Who or what is your worst enemy?” Students would give a range of serious to funny answer to this question – but most often, majority of the students in the audience shout out the answer, “Myself!”

I affirm their answers by saying, “Yes! If there is anyone to blame for your success or failure, it is YOU.”

I have been my own worst enemy for most part of my life (it is like an up-and-down line graph – with the down states pre-dominating the data) for a long time. This has changed. I am listening to the audio book, THE SECRET and for the first time in my life, I see the opposite happening – more of the up states pre-dominating my days. I am more deliberate in what I say to myself; my internal dialogues have always been more pessimistic than it is optimistic. But now, I only feed my mind with optimistic internal dialogues. There is this feeling of liberation and satisfaction that I gain by simply being in-charge of my own emotions and thoughts, compared to before, when I tried to experience liberation and satisfaction by doing everything for the outward display alone. Now, I do what I really want to and need.

This comes to me as a surprise because I always thought that my achievements could bring forth happiness – but as it is the experience of Tal Ben Shahar ( and the host of others, achievements are not the determinant of happiness. I completed my PhD very young, when I was only 26, wrote and published four books in two years, spoke and trained teachers, students, and parents, traveled around, became the one of the youngest research and statistical advisors for the graduate school of psychology in the biggest international university in Thailand, sat in various committees – all these did not give me happiness – I was still engaging in negative internal dialogues. Funny isn’t it?

I did this because while everyone else around me believed in my abilities and intelligence, I did not. I still carried with me the self-image I had formed about myself when I was a child – mostly through limiting self-talks. People saw me in action and they said, “Wow Roy, you have it all – you are so good in what you do!” – While listening to them, I tell myself – “No ways! Are you joking? I don’t know how I could speak/write/teach/etc. that well or do what I did… but I am not good enough!”

It is not until I learned to appreciate who I am and what I bring into this world – accept what I can and cannot give to myself and others around me – that I found the path to living a fulfilling life.

I have grown and matured a lot lately. Partly because of the many humbling experiences life took me through. They were not ‘train smashes’ but they were painful – but more importantly, they were lessons-of-life-and-wisdom-in-disguise; tailor-made especially for me to grow up and become who I am supposed to be.

I believe more strongly than ever that when we look at people, we must remember one thing – this is one thing that doesn’t change:

I must not see what someone has accomplished or is experiencing now (what the person has been and is). While these are important to a certain extent to understand the person, what’s more important is the potential that lies within the person (what the person might become).

This same principle explains why I was trusted with important tasks in my profession – because the leaders who hired me saw the potential and believed in the ‘me’ that I was becoming! That takes a lot of faith doesn’t it? Yes it does. But why is it possible for these leaders to do so? Because they have learned the important lesson that it is not achievements that give one happiness – but a sense of knowing who you are, what you want, and where you are headed.

I believe that it is only a self-actualized person who can help another individual to become self-actualized, and I am happy that I have in my life people who have reached this state and are willing to help me do the same.

What Makes a Person?

When I was a college student in India, I keenly observed everything that went around me. It was a place called Pune, located in the central state of Maharashtra. Coming from Malaysia where I grew up having enough food, good neighborhood, ample space and opportunity for childhood entertainment and fun, I saw a stark difference. For the sake of brevity, let us just say that Malaysia (at least in my mind at that time) was a land of milk and honey… while India was the opposite.

But there was one thing that made India much much more superior than Malaysia – the profoundness that one finds in a simplistic life-style. Yes, though many people that I observed did not have much, they did not seem to be dissatisfied with their lack. They were still happy. Whereas in Malaysia, people could have a lot, and still be dissatisfied and unhappy. In other words, I realized that many people in Malaysia are materialistic and are given to their desires and wants of temporal needs (unreasonably so). They couldn’t see life beyond the externals. They needed to have a house, a car, and more material possessions… because these material possessions defined life and success.

In India – they have this famous saying – “high thinking, simple living” – this is not just a saying… this is what one would see in the people of this country. I was amazed at how an unassuming vegetable vendor in the market could talk to me about the profoundness of life – the essence of existence – the importance of spirituality, etc. – these are philosophers… and you would find philosophers everywhere in India – I even had a conversation with an engineer in a public bus and although engineering is his profession, he talked so beautifully about life and how to make it more meaningful. I would never find things like this in my country… because we don’t even teach subjects like philosophy and psychology in our schools. We only teach subjects that would make people ‘rich’… and do away with subjects that might make people ‘wise’ toward living a meaningful and happy life (sadly).

To cut the story short, I found myself falling in love with India – not because I am of Indian origin, but more so because I found a place where people lived for the right purpose – and the purpose is to ‘live life’ itself and not be bogged down by all that is not really important. These people understand what life is and how it should be lived. And everyday, I learned the beauty and profoundness of life from someone or the other. So in love that I lived there for about 9 years… and became a philosopher myself :p

So, what makes a person? In my opinion, all external factors that surround our lives do not make us who we are. They might affect us. But they do not determine who we are or become. What makes a person? The answer: What’s inside of him – his thoughts, emotion, and intentional behavior that stem out of the first two.

When I know ‘what truly makes me’ (by being completely in touch my internal experiences) – I would know that happiness is within my grasp. But when I focus on the externals to determine ‘what makes me’ – then I am making happiness an impossible experience to have and cherish.

Validating Your Beliefs

Beliefs are important, as important as the air that we breathe. There are people who are willing to die for their beliefs. Others would do anything to preserve their convictions and promote them to their fellow men with fervor and enthusiasm.

I remember a story I heard long ago about a group of villagers performing a ritual handed down to them by their forefathers. A curious passerby stopped and observed the mystical ritual as it got more and more eerie with the priest preparing to slaughter a goat as a sacrifice to the spirits. In the midst of this episode, the passerby’s attention was directed toward something rather unusual. There was a black cat tied to a tree near the place where the ritual was taking place.

Driven to know more, the onlooker asked someone nearby, “Why is the black cat tied to the tree over there?” The man answered, “We have been doing this for years now, from generation to generation… everytime we perform this ritual, we are required to tie a black cat to a tree to appease the spirits.”

The onlooker wasn’t satisfied with the answer given to him. During his further investigation about the matter, he learned that long long ago, when the ritual was in progress, a particular black cat made it a point to stalk and steal the sacrificial chicken and fish pieces that were meant for the spirits. Angry with this particular cat, the priest ordered the villagers to catch it and tie it to a particular tree during whole the time of the ritual, so that the cat wouldn’t be able to interfere in their sacred religious activity. However, during the course of time, the villagers took it for granted that the black cat was an important part of the ritual and that it is a requirement for the same – to the extent that they even started rationalizing why they need a black cat during the ritual.

One can believe in anything – but believing in something without knowing why – and/or believing in something for the wrong reasons – make us spiritual infants. A true believer knows why he believes in what he believes in and the reasons for his beliefs are crystal clear to him… if nothing goes wrong, the reasons are never short of everything beautiful that makes life a journey worth taking.

The Power of Words: Feeding your Brain the Right Thing

I woke up yesterday morning, surprised and awestruck because I dreamed of a debate that was taking place in the ‘malay’ language – and one of the debaters shared the following quote to support her position:

what is said is more important than how it is said

It came as a shock because you usually dream of things that has happened to you in the past (during the day, previous week, or month) – but this was something altogether new. I had never heard this quote anywhere from anyone ever before… and the best part is, it was said in the ‘malay’ language!

Anyway, instead of trying to figure out if this was some kind of a vision or simply a dream, I decided just learn the lesson that was given to me…

Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) followers and positive thinking authors and speakers have all understood and passionately advocate the power of using the right word to condition the mind to harness positive results for one’s life. The brain functions on the instructions we give to it. And these instructions are given in the form of words. Words enter into the brain at both conscious and subconscious levels – and are processed, organized, and retained for future reference and use.

Wheterher or not I am generally positive, hopeful, and happy depends largely on the kinds of words I feed my brain, from the time I was born (fed by my parents, siblings, etc.) until I come to feed my brain by myself (school age – starts when I am able to reason). Words have inherent power in them. This is so because words are the very tool we use to think with. When the words that pre-occupy my mind are nasty, hurtful, and hateful – my brain starts thinking low about itself – and the rest is history – my emotion would be characterized by pain, trauma, agony – and my behavior would be characterized by disorder, guilt, and instability.

You take any successful person in this world; truly successful… if you have to ask him one thing that has brought about his success, he would say – without any doubt – that it is the kind of words he has fed into his brain, eversince he was a child. That explains why some very poor kids turn out to be very rich; that also explains why when the society gives up on someone, that someone can still rise up above the expectation of the norm, and be a great personality despite all odds – because he has harnessed the one free gift available for all, at no cost whatsoever – the gift of feeding our brains with only good words – words that would build, develop, and make us who we want to be.

Positive words – constructive words – happy words – these do not cost a thing… but feeding my brain with these kind of words might make a world of difference – between a happy fulfilling life and a miserable guilt-ridden life.

The Meaning of Existence

Have you ever been asked, “why are you here on earth?” What was your answer? Many of us have a hard time answering this question. Why is that so? The answer lies in the fact that most of us haven’t come in terms with the simple reality of ‘who we are?” in order to answer the former, “why am I here on earth?” It makes sense to know who I am first before I address issues surrounding the larger me; questions that require me to define myself in the context of my existence on earth. Who am I? I am everything I think I am. I am the very essence of what I create in my mind about myself. The thoughts I think, second after second, minute after minute, hour after hour, day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year – makes me who I am. Have you ever looked back in your life and realized that nothing much has really changed? I often look back, and what I see does not surprise me, because I see the same me over and over again. Though it does not suprise me, it does however cause great disappointment in my heart toward myself, as to who I really am. I whisper to myself, “Life is meant to be progressive, and yet, here I am, not changing for the better. What has caused my stagnation? Why am I not becoming what I really want to become?” In the midst of all these questions, come an answer… clear, simple, and powerful – “YOU HAVE NOT CHANGED BECAUSE YOU HAVE NOT THOUGHT OTHERWISE.” My thoughts have re-created the same me over and over again. The secret to changing me then, is to changing my thinking about myself. I have to learn to embrace the art of thinking about myself in a different way – I have to re-conceptualize the ideas that I have about myself, about my present, and about where I want to head in life. Hence, the meaning of existence is as unique as myself; as I re-invent and re-define “who I am,” I would find myself gaining a clearer understanding of “why I am here on earth.”

“Do you know what you want?”

“Do you know what you want?” was the question asked by one of the students in the cross-cultural psychology class during a heated discussion about students’ preferences on cultural orientations and practices.

A sense of deep realization dawned on every member of the class at that moment. Often, we ask and answer a wrong set of questions. But asking and answering right questions about life (and issues about life) invariably assist in enhancing the quality of living.

“Knowing what I want” seems to be the pre-requisite to answering questions that relate to other important aspects of human existence. If it is true that humans are beings of choices and active decision-making, then, every individual must realistically ask him/herself the question, “what do I want?” before answering “what is my decision?”

The immediately response to this profound question when asked by the students was… can you guess?

Yes, NO response! Everyone kept quiet. Suddenly, the class felt like they were facing the toughest question ever. Why was this so?

Most of us lack the ability and nerve to answer this question with certainty (at any given time) because we have never asked it to ourselves before. We go about making general and specific life decisions without asking the pre-requisite question (“What do I want?”) and answering it with conviction. We have become used to making decisions that we (in actuality) didn’t want to make. Most often, we decide to do something because, “my parents told me to do so” or “I had no other choice” or “I am bound by the norms of the society” or “I can’t do it” or “it’s impossible” or “anything would do.” This applies to both the individualistic and collectivistic societies. This is a phenomenon common to all humans, regardless of their gender, age, country, education, and status.

My own analysis is that people find it difficult to answer the question, “What do I want?” because they are not in touch with themselves (at least not completely or in the way they should be) as yet! I remember the motto of a friend of mine – know thyself. She strongly believes that many of life’s problems can be sorted out or dealt with in a more constructive manner if we only “know ourselves”. Being in touch with who we are, what we are made out of, what we are capable of, where we are headed, and what makes us happy or sad helps us to be realistic in assessing and responding to a variety of life situations and challenges.

When I know who I really am, every decision that I make will reflect my own conceptualization and view about life and the world around me. Developing into a whole person, who possesses a distinct ‘self’ from other ‘selves’ is the ultimate goal of a human life. Without knowing, accepting, and being happy with who and what one is, he/she cannot become a functional and contributing member of the larger society.

However, according to the famous psychoanalyst Carl Jung, obtaining a complete and relatively accurate knowledge/picture of “who I am” may take a lifetime. Hence developing a sense of a “whole self” is tedious and demanding. Nevertheless, it is imperative to realize that people who actively make decisions and are happy with them are those who know themselves and are aware of what they really want. They are deliberate in their thoughts, feelings, and actions. Their choices and the outcomes of their decisions produce a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment. Even when things are not rosy, they are chirpy and sparkling because they own their choices and are prepared to face the consequences for all their undertakings. These individuals spread joy in the midst of sadness, encourage in the midst of disappointment, act in the midst of crisis, and strengthen in the midst of pain. They choose to walk on a particular path only after having thought about it thoroughly. Their personalized decision is unwavering despite the type of outcome (positive or negative, favorable or unfavorable, pleasant or unpleasant) they face thereafter.

Taking Time for Yourself

“Where are we?”

We need to?”

“When should we?”

“What should we say?”

We, we we. Being married certainly is a “we” proposition. And when kids enter the picture, whatever sense of privacy or self you enjoyed goes down the drain faster than ever. But remaining happily married requires an “I” focus, too.

Is taking time for yourself a selfish preoccupation? It can be if you routinely neglect the needs of others. But one of the more selfish things you can do is to neglect yourself. Why? Because when you neglect yourself you become needy. You then require more help from others and resent it when help isn’t forthcoming. Selfishness can unravel a relationship. But so can an absence of selfishness.

Who were you before you became a “we”? Does any part of that person still exist? When you’re alone (do you have quiet time to be alone?) who is the “me” inside of you?

“My teenager was talking about his future dreams,” a middle-aged man told me one day. “He wants to become an actor. An actor, can you believe it? He explained to me-before I could warn him myself – that 95 percent of all actors are unemployed and he doesn’t care. He simply wants to act. You know what? I envy him. Not for his wish to be an actor. I envy him because he has a dream.”

People stop dreaming when they think it’s time to wake up. Home loan repayments, taxes, children, aches and pains, hair loss, a fondness for quieter music – are all reminders that you’re older now and that the real world must be faced, not an imaginary one. But if facing the real world means abandoning personal dreams or losing your sense of individuality, you may feel imprisoned by your commitments and smothered by your intimate relationships.

Happy couples not only balance time together with time apart, they use their individual time to replenish themselves.

Broadly there are two kinds of self-renewal. Taking time to do more of those things you really enjoy is one type. Vacations sometimes serve that purpose, though most people could use more than the allotted two weeks every summer. Learning to relax, to enjoy solitude, to gaze at a night sky and feel a stirring of wonder and peace – all help you to re-orient yourself to your neglected inner world.

A second level of self-renewal is more profound and longer lasting. It involves having a vision for your life, a mission or purpose. Too many people with worthwhile dreams talk themselves out of them. They convince themselves that they already have too many responsibilities. Besides, dreams are risky. But meaningful dreams, according to Frederic Hudson, are not items on a wish list but “a visceral yearning…a picture of what you most deeply want your life to count for…a haunting refrain…” Will your dream still be important a year, or five years, from now? When your life is nearing its end, will you regret your decision to forsake that dream? If you answered “Yes,” you have a dream worth pursuing.

Maybe. Maybe not. If your dream makes you apprehensive, join the club. Dreams challenge us to stretch our capacities, which increases the risk of failure or setbacks. If you abandon your dream, will you resent your spouse for “holding me back”? If so, you are not accepting full responsibility for your decision. Instead, you are holding your partner responsible.

Sometimes a person lets go of a dream in order to commit more strongly to the marriage dream (for example, by turning down a promotion that would have required spending too much time away from home). A sacrifice, to be sure, but done for a worthwhile reason – to allow the marriage to flourish. It’s not always easy to know which dream should be followed and which should fade. But happy couples keep dreams alive.

Have you given up a bit of yourself over the years? Do you often think in terms of “we” or “us” and rarely “I”? If so, you’re preventing your spouse from enjoying a major source of marital pleasure: a partner who likes himself, enjoys himself, and who has personal goals and ambitions.

Respond to this statement: If I had complete freedom (more opportunity, more money, support from my spouse, etc.) I’d probably devote more time to …. If you come up with an answer that you can’t shake off, you owe it to yourself to take the idea seriously.

Two years ago, my wife bought a ticket for me to go deep-sea fishing. It was on our wedding anniversary. That morning when I woke up, I had envisioned spending the day together with her … but she had other plans.

I couldn’t believe it! Why would carol want me to be away from her? BUT she simply kissed me, and said, this is your anniversary gift! She gave me the ticket to go on a boat for the entire day, fishing. I enjoyed the kiss but couldn’t understand the message behind the gift.

I love fishing although I have moved away from the sea. I can still hear the ocean calling me. And now and again, I just play with my fishing gear in my garage.

I caught some very good fish that day and I will never forget Caroline’s gift to me. Her gift was not a ticket to go fishing but in essence, it was a gift of time alone with myself. Wow! My wife really knows how to choose well, look at who she married! Ahahhaha!

I will never forget that gift. She understood that sometimes we need to spend time alone, apart from each other. The importance and need to spend time apart was highlighted by choosing to give me that TIME on a very special day when it was expected that we should spend time together.

Today, as I write this article, it has been 7 days since our twelfth anniversary, I am in the Johannesburg International airport, waiting for my flight to take me to the arms of the only woman of my dreams. I wasn’t at home for my anniversary because I had to be in Zimbabwe for a speaking engagement. So it is time to celebrate 12 years of happiness with my high-school sweetheart.

I have loved Carol every minute we were together, but today, I love her even more as I realize that in marrying her, she did not bury “me.”

Copyright by Paul Charles, Ph.D, August 2006,

You ‘saved’ her!

This past weekend, I had the privilege of speaking at a Camp-meeting in the Eastern Cape (Queenstown), in South Africa. It was a total of 5 sermons that I preached, including a presentation on Christian Lifestyle. It was a total of four hours that I spoke for on Sabbath. I was quite exhausted. On Sunday I had to deliver the farewell message and had the opportunity to listen to a colleague of mine preach for the morning manna. While listening to him, I thought to myself that it would be perfect if I could link my message with his, to let my message be an extension of his message from the morning. I had already preached a message similar to his many months ago and I could repeat it without much effort. It was a perfect plan.


But when I was about to stand behind the pulpit, I did not preach what I thought was best but preached a message that I was impressed with earlier.

I was anxious to drive back home at the end of the sermon.
As I pulled out of the ‘parking area’ of the camp-meeting venue, I was stopped by a woman who introduced herself as a Shepherdess. I have great respect for Shepherdesses. She said: “Pastor, do you know that you saved a soul today?”
I replied: “really!”

“Yes,” she replied, “I have invited a young woman who was determined to -end her life this weekend but I asked her to postpone and attend this camp-meeting today. Your message saved her soul today. Thank you.”

I simply replied: “Praise the Lord!”

The next few moments, I did not have the strength to turn my radio or cell-phone on. I just kept on the road with tears in my eyes. What a privilege to be used by God to save a soul. When I had wanted not to preach the message that I did, it was to accommodate me and “I” was going to preach.

It was yesterday, I was reminded that the Preacher is the voice of God, and should not take his calling lightly.

preacher.gifI am sharing this experience to encourage you to be faithful in your calling to preach the gospel. You may never know, who the Lord has arranged to HIM that day. Let them hear His voice rather than ours. After all, if they meet us and forget us, they lose nothing but if they meet Jesus and forget Him, they lose everything. Fellow preachers, this recent experience of mine made me realize that as a preacher, I am the nail on which the picture of Christ should hang. After all, Jesus said: ” … If I be lifted up …”

and the greatest testimony is a life lived for Jesus…

Copyright by Dr. Paul Charles, July 2006,