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The joy of giving

The joy of giving


The other day, I was reading acclaimed writer Maya Angelou’s take on philanthropy in her first collection of personal essays, “Letter to My Daughter,” a book dedicated to the daughter she never had, but has won the hearts of women of all ages worldwide through her captivating voice. She revisited an episode of her childhood, where she described her self as her grandmother’s shadow, a figure she so highly respects that she “imitated” her. “She was the picture of dignity. She spoke softly and walked slowly, with her hands behind her back, fingers laced together.”

As I was reading the chapter, I recognized the little soul of a quiet girl who had never known the hidden powers of her smile, and that it can mean the world to someone else. Reading her exposee has brought me delight, knowing that long ago, in another time and another place of the world, someone I never knew shared the same silent spirit as I do. Now, she is widely respected for that enigmatic smile on her face.

Being the mother figure that she is, I consulted her chapter once again after the realization of our increasingly secular yet selfless generation, upon pondering Scott Brown’s message in his article, “How Twitter + Dopamine = Better Humans.

We be, therefore we are. Deep down, our be-ings are built as lovers of humanity. Yes, you might say that we are designed out of the idea of humanity, from which we call our-selves “human beings”. Our mere existence is a living proof that each one of us is a lover of mankind – not necessarily are we labelled as philanthropists, but we are all charitable by nature, at least, on a neurochemical level.

Evolutionary science has proven that our brains are wired to feel good once we’ve performed an altruistic behavior. Infants who have not yet learned even the most basic social skills are readily there to pick up our clothes for us if they fall off the hanger. Once tapped, this ingrained cooperative spirit in all of us huddle into one powerful energy to fend off imminent dangers. The 9/11 attack elicited an unstoppable heroism toward the victims, demanding the donation of bloods and other acts of compassion or an expression of grief, as selfless as the 300 Spartans who died for the welfare of their state against the Persian invasion, expecting no reward of any kind in return.

Actually, we kind of do. Whenever we act out a selfless deed, the brain’s reward system is flooded with the feel-good hormones better known as dopamine. It’s the same kind of feeling when you receive a hug, eat chocolate, have good sex, and gets a promotion at work. You reap what you sow. I suppose that is why when someone thanks you for what you’ve done for them, you say, with a smile, “My pleasure.”

In the words of Angelou, being charitable is as if to say, “I seem to have more than I need and you seem to have less than you need. I would like to share my excess with you.” My generation, the Millennials, practically grew up with technology. We are better informed, better equipped, and better connected to the world than any other generation before us to reach out and help those in need. With our multitasking skills and spurts of creativity, we are capable to drive any social, environmental, and political cause with the least amount of time, considering a tweet and a Facebook like is as easy as clicking a button.

I had numerous impulses to give in excess to various charities I feel passionate about. After all, I memorized my credit card information by heart, thanks to my humongous hippocampus (through regular exercise) and overflowing dopamine (through brain stimulation that comes along with regular exercise). Yet, my conscience will always strike back at every impulse, especially when distance and time can still be a factor despite technological advances.

I remember those exact words my mother, my most enduring role model, once said to me when I decided to give up life: If you want to give so much, might as well give to the people closest to you. “You’ve got a lot to give, so give those you care about in abundance. You don’t have to go so far as to donating huge amounts of money for people you never know. There are people at your arm’s length – sick grandparents, elderly neighbors, wounded beggars and starving children in Indonesia – who need more of your help than the needy in Africa.”

I still live off my parents’ income and am presently living with them. I’m jobless too.Yet I’ve also recently done something that has made them extremely proud: I am a college graduate. That alone has brought the all smiles and made them kissed me on each cheek. With the addition of my job offers, upcoming activities, and future opportunities, I have succeeded in making my self a joyful gift for them.

With every individual who focuses on the people closest to them to be happy, the less amount of time it takes for the joy of gift-giving to come back in return. Even fewer the hungry and the sickly have to wait for someone across the planet to give them clean water to drink, replenish their souls with medicine.

Looking ahead, despite the occasional hurdles to test our faith, humanity remains promising. I am promising my parents, two people who have given me life, to continue making them proud, for I have never failed them (but have been close to) in my 22 years of existence as a human being.


By this, I, too, am happy to describe my self as charitable.



– Image courtesy of Serendipity; life itself via Tumblr

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To get high


July 2012





It’s July! OMG! One more month and I’m going home!!! It feels exhilarating, you know, getting out of college and jump in to the unlimited possibilities of an open future. But what’s most important is that I’ll be closer to the place I know so well, the place I’ve been all my life, surrounded by the people I love most :)

So. On Fifty Shades. On Mr. Grey. On sex. Perhaps the general public has already  had their inner voices screaming “Shut up already!!!” about the Christian Grey hype. But I’m not going to shut up as of the moment. Because, like I said, I’m a real-life Ana Steele with a protective and loving boyfriend 6 years my senior who has a habit of showering me with gifts and caring words.

Speaking of fiction, let me interrupt your attention for a while. Christian Louboutin has finally announced that his version of Cinderella’s glass slippers, embedded with his signature red soles, will be out in stores later this year. The pair of glasses look like this:




The first thought that came to mind was… ‘Whoaaa… Christian Grey would probably pre-order this directly from the designer himself for Ana.’ I think my thoughts are getting dangerous. Christian Grey is not real. Christian Grey is not real. Christian Grey is not real.



Source: The Telegraph



In other news, I’m planning to wake up really early, then go for a long run, on this Sunday. Say that again? Yes, I’m finally going for a long run after years of stopping (a softer word for ‘quitting’). How does that relate to Fifty Shades?

Well, basically, my goal is the runner’s high. Most people, especially the physically inactive, would think that this is a myth. Unsurprisingly, the most times I experience the runner’s high was during my regular runs (almost everyday of the week) way back in 2009. That was the year I began my diet to lose my American pounds, so I was really crazy about running to lose weight, and then after I did lose them, I began a completely submissive affair with running (which explains why I didn’t have a boyfriend at that time ;D). At the same time, I was really just enjoying my runs – I didn’t have a heart rate monitor, I didn’t own a timer, I didn’t wear a watch – I just run as long as I can for as far as I can go. Which is why, in my running resume, I only have a vague record of my times before October 2010.

The shocking revelation of my fitness was when I saw that this is my time for running a 5k: 18:35 (5’58″).

Which, at my current state, seems close to impossible.

During that year, I can say that I experience the runner’s high at least once every week. How does it feel, you may ask. Well, my pelvic bones and muscles seem more flexible, I feel the release of something coming out of my lower area, a big, happy feeling overwhelming me while my painful strides gets swifter as time goes by, a clearer sight and a straighter head looking toward every passing stranger with a genuine smile (despite all my sweating), and a tremendous, relentless amount of energy even when I don’t eat anything right after the long run. Amazing, right? Especially in the morning San Francisco winds, when pink skies surround you and Above & Beyond is rocking your world.

Then, as I started to become more familiar with how the professionals train, with their gadgets and gears to monitor their stats, I started to do the same. Bad decision.

Of course it’s different for them since they’re “professionals”. They want to make record times on real races. I just want to have fun, but also knowing how much I did so that I can feel happy about my fitness level.

So that’s what I did; I didn’t enjoy my music anymore, I run a couple of blocks, looking my time on the clock, feeling I had to speed up, and I couldn’t catch up to my ideals. Big letdown, big self-loathe, big meals coming back, hates running. That’s kind of the short, depressed version of my story.

So… I stayed within the confinements of the gym. Run on the treadmills. Never go out again. The roadside pavements are painful for my knees. The winds are too harsh. Rain is falling. Yada yada, and many other excuses.

I never felt the runner’s high again. I suspect that’s the main cause behind the disappearance of my menstrual cycle for over one year (2010 to mid-2011).

The journey back to a more stable mental wellbeing would take a lot more word in this post. Let’s just fast forward till today. I have a loving boyfriend, continued menstrual cycle, and a dangerous lust for some fictional character.

Runner’s high feels a lot similar to a turnon.




Ask any athletes and they’ll smile. And I’m not talking about the shy, fidgety turnon when you see a beautiful creature passing you by. But the confident kind of turnon when all you want to do is just prolong the flirting.

Back in 2009, my main motivation to run in the first place was to feel comfortable in my skin, lose weight, and be and feel sexy (that’s what you get after a spending a steamy night with your partner, right?) Well, my intention for this Sunday is to get that back again – which logically sounds easier because now I have a clearer motivation in my head – picturing my boyfriend’s face while I run :D

P.S. I’m a celibate, so I’m not qualified to talk about subjects concerning sex. However…

I’ve taken a basic psychology class for my liberal arts requirements at my university. What I know about basic human motivation is that there are 2 biggest primary motivators every human being naturally experience:





Source: Glorious Treats on Flickr



2. SEX

Source: Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis for ELLE



We all know that reducing our food intake is the easiest way to lose weight. But it deprives us of the other human motivator, which is also a part of our motivation to lose weight in the first place – sex. Aren’t women supposed to be a symbol of fertility, that 0.7 waist-to-hip ratio? Plus, what about women who love food (I’m raising my hand)?

That’s basically why I love making my own food, so that I don’t have to suspect the hidden fattening ingredients in what I eat. However, if I tell myself the mantra “I want to feel sexy, I want to feel sexy, I want to feel sexy” as I take each stride, I don’t think I’ll ever feel sexy (tried and true).

What makes me feel sexy, right now, and every other woman all across America (possibly around the English-speaking world), is reading into all the sweet things Christian Grey wants to do to Anastasia Steele.

“Ana is so you,” my boyfriend kept saying. No, it’s the other way round. Part of why I’m so obsessed with the trilogy is that a lot of things Christian said to Ana are exact things my boyfriend have said to me before, and that we’ll never forget. We thought E. L. James secretly spied our lives or something, to write the book. I’m kidding.

And all these things are such a turnon :D It makes me giddy every time I read a text either from Mr. Grey himself to Ana and from my real-life boyfriend, who claimed himself an unromantic person, and has had many firsts since we’re together :D

In short, I want to do a long-distance run while picturing my long-distance lover’s face, which I’ll come face-to-face with in the not-so-distant in the future.

Now, before you judge me, and I know I sound crazy by connecting all these unrelated dots into one super long post, I’m telling you now that there’s actually scientific evidence about how physical movement affects your entire wellbeing, specifically the runner’s high.

We all know that physical exercise floods the brain with endorphins, drug-like chemicals that make you feel that giddiness when your beautiful creature reciprocates your feelings. These endorphins are the body’s response when it’s heavily stressed. Both the logic and reality says that the greater the endorphins released, the greater the “feelin’ high” effect the runner experiences. Why can these high runners think clearer while they’re in such state of euphoria simultaneously (unlike drug-induced “feelin’ high)? Because these endorphins attach themselves to parts of the brain that has to do with emotions, specifically the limbic brain (that means your hormones and nervous system) and the higher-thinking prefrontal area.



Source: The Brainwaves Center




Dr. Henning Boecker of the University of Bonn told The New York Times that these are the areas of the brain that are activated when people are engaged in romantic love and when you hear your favorite music being played in the radio. “Some people have these really extreme experiences with very long or intensive training,” said Dr. Boecker, a runner and cyclist himself. Imagine that feeling what you inhale a deep breath and slowly release it – calm and collected. Imagine that feeling when you’re dancing alone in your room to your favorite song while nobody’s watching. Imagine both feelings at once. “You could really see the difference after two hours of running. You could see it in their faces.”

That just seems fit – I remember my glowing face and content mood after those runs, and I remember my cheeks flushing whenever he has an indescribable way of staring at me in a small smile.

OK, I’m blushing as those memories rushing through my mind.

Anyway, I don’t plan to go as hard as I used to, since I’ve only done occasional jogs recently and none of the hardcore stuff I used to do. Like it used to before, I don’t plan to wear a timer to monitor my speed. I just want to know how long I can run until I feel good, no matter how fast or slow I run.

See: wikiHow: How to Get a Runner’s High

It’ll be fun.









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Bring it on, woman


January 2012




Mental health experts are beginning to understand that anxiety does not necessarily mean a warning for more worries to come. They discovered that how anxiety affects us depends on how we perceive the stresses in our lives: Do you take it as a “challenge” or break it down as a “threat”? “Anxiety itself is neither helpful nor hurtful,” says Sally Winston, co-director of the Anxiety and Stress Disorders Institute of Maryland. “It’s your response to your anxiety that is helpful or hurtful.” Scholars suggests that simply not feeling anxious isn’t the answer. In fact, people who have too little stress suffers as much physiological damage as those who experienced too much psychological stress.

Common sense suggests that the quieter your life gets, the happier you’ll become. However, in modern-day lifestyles, stress is inevitable. Stress is an integral part of our lives, and women, who are more prone to illnesses as they age compared to men, should accept that challenge and manage their anxieties better to prevent, or, at least delay those fatal diseases caused by their inability to cope with stress, which is learned helplessness in disguise. In a sense, stress itself has a sweet spot. Through proper diet, consistent exercise, and adequate rest, a woman enhances her overall well-being alongside the passion for her work. But first, let’s examine the emerging theory behind the symptoms of clinical depression.

Learned helplessness is a formal term to indicate “the perceived absence of control over the outcome of a situation”, as defined by positive psychology pioneer Martin Seligman in his book “Helplessness: On Depression, Development, and Death”. A widely respected finding among his peers, psychologists have now understood that the more people perceive outside events are unpredictable and uncontrollable, the more stress they will experience, and the less hope they feel to making changes in their lives. Recently the National Institute of Mental Health researchers have published a study in Nature that may link chronic stress, now an everyday experience for most of us, as a lead to depression. The area of the brain that’s responsible for healthy stress response can be damaged if the woman is experiencing chronic stress. The hippocampus, where new brain cells can grow, is inhibited when a person responds slower to triggers of stress over time.

“One way to think about neurogenesis is that it’s a process in the brain that allows you to adapt to changing environments,” said Rene Hen, a researcher at the New York State Psychiatric Institute. “In stressful environments where you have lower neurogenesis, this may be adapting to the fact that when you are in a stressful situation, it’s better to stay put.”

In such harsh economic times and stressful working life today, it’s better to develop resilience rather than staying put and backing out of all the things life has been throwing at you. That is, accepting life’s biggest challenges but knowing when to stop when things are too big for you to handle, especially alone.

Nearly half of the American population, about 100 million people, are unmarried, according to the Census Bureau. “But a huge proportion of the population is unmarried, and the single population is only going to grow,” said Naomi Gerstel, a sociologist at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. “At the same time, all the movement nationally is to offer benefits to those who are married, and that leaves single people dry.”

As women, we feel a stronger pressure to marry at a certain age. Although research shows that unmarried people are the ones who contribute more to their society, studies repeatedly show that these singletons tend to die younger than married ones. A new study published on the American Journal of Epidemiology concluded that compared to married women, single ones face a 23% higher mortality risk across their lifetime, and 32% for the single men compared to the married men. Aside from that, marriage actually alters your hormones so that you, by default, experience reduced stress in the long run.

Naturally, two heads are better than one. As both a homemaker and passionate worker, poor health can get in the way of living our highest potential. Not only does finding meaning outside the home and being engaged with the community challenge a woman to be psychologically more resilient, but long-term commitment with a man provides women support too, and in return, taking good personal care becomes more meaningful, especially when children comes in to the picture.

Working mothers are reportedly happier and healthier than stay-at-home moms, concluded a study in December 2011 issue of Journal of Family Psychology. Cheryl Buehler, professor of human development and family studies at University of North Carolina at Greensboro studied how work impacts the well-being of mothers and their parenting based on three areas: sensitivity toward their children, involvement in their kids’ schools, and learning opportunities that these mothers provide their kids (books, enrichment courses, library and museum visits).

Her results matched previous researches that part-time working moms reported less work-family conflict than full-time working moms. Full-timers did not report more depression or worse health than moms who works one hour a week, so this does not suggest full-timers have lower well-being and poorer health than the part-timers. Apparently 32-hour workweek mothers are able to cope with stress as they are juggling with family life. One theory for the function of employment is to increase social skills and gain awareness of their community and the surroundings. “Maybe that translates to the experience they bring to their children,” says Buehler.

However, this is not to say that supermoms are better off than stay-at-home moms. The key is to keep the amount of stress manageable without compromising too much, as low to moderate amount of stress is necessary for healthy growth. After all, stress within control develops the person’s abilities to cope over time, providing a more established support to deal with stress and makes future adversity less worrisome. Way back in the hunter-gatherer days when a woman’s role is child-rearing and to perform “easy” tasks such as gather plants and other small foods, the deserts were an unsafe and most likely a threatening environment. It was far better to stay put than for a pregnant lady to hunt for food out there in the jungle. However, times have changed. Anxiety is within control, and most of us working behind the computer screens and sitting comfortably on our chairs are within safe grounds, while others choose to accept juggling everything at once – tackling deadlines, picking up phone calls, and eating junk food in between tasks. These challenges take a huge toll for the brain and the body, especially for these supermoms, who are better of spending those extra hours to nap or do light aerobics instead.

Laura Vanderkam, author of “168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think”, is a happy, healthy mom who has a flexible working time and therefore the hours to prioritize her kids. Before having children, she thought the start of it would ruin her career, and she would have no time to exercise and enjoy sex. “Yes, life often takes more planning when kids are involved, but planning ahead is a great way to make sure things get done,” she then suggested. “If you don’t have good time management skills before having kids, life will definitely be chaotic afterwards, but that’s not really the kids’ fault.” She did not give up her job to be a full-time mom, nor did she overthink the difficulty to raise children. Neither are a threat, as she perceived them as her personal challenge. In fact, she’s ran a marathon and had a vacation in India after she became a mom.

“I never would have written my book if I hadn’t had my son, and now my book is opening doors for me, professionally,” Vanderkam told The Happiest Mom. “Which means, by the transitive property, that my baby opened doors for me, professionally. That makes me a happy mom!”

Indeed, the sweet spot of stress enables us to handle our work, children, and sex life into perfect balance, women. There’s nothing threatening about finding meaning outside closed doors.