Sunday, 29 July 2018

The Power of Community: How being part of communities can help you grow and flourish in life

Person Gather Hand and Foot in Center

A few years back, I moved to Melbourne, Australia to further my studies in Psychology. Besides adapting to the western individualistic culture, different education system and public transport system, it was also tough making new friends.

As I did not have a mentor or guide through university life abroad, I did it the traditional way, via trial and error. Throughout my undergraduate degree, it has been tough and I did not think I was successful in making friends that I could really connect with. Three years later, I am confident to say I have found my own communities and these wonderful people have enriched my life tremendously.

In The Village Effect by Susan Pinker, she emphasised that it is not just having social networks that is important, it is also vital that we actually connect to others in a meaningful way. Reflecting back, I realised just a year ago, I tried to fit into groups that do not really welcome me into their cliques. I also tried adopting new interests in order to have common topics with others. The problem which arose from such 'adaptations' or trying to be a social chameleon resulted in me becoming less authentic, and less real with others.

Time passed, I realised there was no point for me to keep trying to fit into a group which I could almost never blend in. I made a decision to leave that group of acquaintances. Subsequently, I ventured out of my comfort zone to find new people to connect with. Fortunately, the friends that I made were really positive for my wellbeing. We connected, shared stories and were open and honest with each other. These environments were incredibly supportive and I felt I could be myself with these people rather than pretending to be someone I am not.

Since finding these unique communities where I belong and am welcomed fully, I found social connections with them more nourishing than ever before. Conversations uplifted my spirit and gave me more energy to be productive. Meeting these people who I connect with also helped me find opportunities to bless others and contribute to the community in my own ways.

Based on my own experience and relevant research, I find that reducing the time we spend on social networking sites can help us connect on a deeper level with others face-to-face. Since meeting the friends I have now, I have deliberately reduced my social networking site usage and also had less need to go online to check for updates. Also, as Susan Pinker said, it is important to find friends that we can truly connect with, rather than just seeking for social connections just for the sake of having them. I personally found having friends with similar values and interests really helps us relate to one another. When I had friends with different opinions than I did, I remind myself to respect differences, and that also helped us build our friendship. Finally, social connections require maintenance. If we do not work hard to maintain our friendships, we can easily lose touch with our friends or community. With the current communities I have formed, I make an effort to meet them regularly even though I am busy with university.

Finding communities in which I fit in and meeting people who I click with helped me feel more confident about my abilities, improved my wellbeing and allowed me to contribute more for my local community. I hope you learned something from my post. Please share with your friends if you find it helpful.

Friday, 20 July 2018

Life update 2018: Studies, Social Life, Visions for this blog

Hi everyone, it's been a while since I have written anything on my blog. Some of you might wonder what I have been up to, some might have no clue I have a blog. Now you know.

My studies

Life, has as usual taken a huge part of my attention this past seven months. In July 2017, I have finished my undergraduate degree in Psychology and since February this year, I have been pursuing my Honours degree in Psychology at Australian Catholic University in Melbourne. I have always wanted to get admitted into the highly competitive Honours in Psychology degree in Australia. Through sheer hardwork and determination, I made it, however, what came after admission was not something I could predict beforehand. The workload was heavy. We (students) had to deal with multiple assignment deadlines at the same time and meet with group members for group discussion as well. I had to learn one statistical technique every week, which was unlike in my undergrad degree, where we had the luxury of 3 to 4 weeks to learn a topic.

My first semester was tough. I did my best, and my results was satisfactory. Although there is still room for improvement, I am grateful for the marks I got given the difficulty of the course.

Social Relationships 

Unexpectedly, my social relationships improved tremendously this past 6 months. It was probably due to the small class sizes at my uni and friendly and understanding peers and lecturers. Given the difficulty of the course, I often rant to my friends (who offer their listening ears) and they would understand my struggles because they too are in the same position. Facebook chat groups and Facebook page were formed quickly at the start of the semester, and that offered a sense that "we are in this together".

As the course was demanding, I had to drag myself to uni almost everyday and motivate myself to get something done, no matter how small the task is. But when I feel discouraged or had an impulse to drop out of Psych honours, I remind myself that I have 39 other friends doing the degree with me, and that gave me comfort and courage to carry on.

Besides, there were lots of changes and pressures which came as part of the nature of this course that we had to adapt to. For example, I came up with my thesis topic idea the night before I submitted my research proposal. Due to insufficient time for detailed research, I changed my hypotheses and variables multiple times. Also, due to the lack of time, I had to creatively choose the questions I wanted to do in an assignment in order to make my life easier. But through it all, I am grateful and happy that I had my friends' support.

Another part of my social life that improved was the new circles of friends that I have made. In the past, I used to (perhaps unconsciously) stick with friends that neither shared my values nor particularly want me in their circles. However, this year, I have deliberately sought out new friendships with people who shared my values of mutual respect, authenticity and openness. This has led to experience greater fulfillment in my life and improved my wellbeing.

Vision for this blog
It has been interesting reading my old posts on this blog. I have realised that my ideas for blog posts now has changed quite a lot compared to what I thought were good blog post ideas in the past. To me, that isn't a bad thing. Rather it's evidence of growth, of learning, of new reflection on life. It has been a journey these few years. I have learned to be more empathetic, understand other's perspective and hold back of judging others. I have also been more sociable and outgoing.

One of the main reasons I have not posted much these past 6 months was that I feared what others would think if I post content that my viewers may disagree on. I had fears that I may be judged for my values, beliefs and perspectives. However, if I don't put it out there, how would my blog reflect my aim of being authentic?

So, after pondering on it and talking to some people about my concerns, I have decided to write what I think will benefits others, regardless of what others think of me as a person. If I wanted to please everyone, I probably will never write another word on my blog. I am always open to others commenting their views on a certain topics, all I ask is respect for each others and be civil.

My vision for this blog in the near future will be posts about spirituality, studying psychology, reflections on life and learnings from people. Even though I am not the most creative writer or a know-it-all, I hope some of my posts will benefit you and you would be happy to pass them along to a friend who may enjoy them.

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Minimalism: A tool that will allow you to pursue what is meaningful in you life

It’s been a long while since I have written any blog posts. The reasons are that I have been rethinking what I want to write on this blog as I learn and grow everyday to become a better, kinder, more compassionate person, hopefully, and also have just been caught up in life, hence did not have much time to write.

In the past few months, I stumbled on a concept called “minimalism” on Youtube while searching for tips to organise my study space and wardrobe. After watching a few videos, I fell deep into the rabbit hole of more and more minimalist inspirations. Minimalism does not really have a fixed definition. It generally means that we reduce our possessions and live with only the essentials for us. Minimalism helps bring clarity into our lives, reduce stress associated with cleaning and tidying up if we have lots of things, and helps us focus on the important aspects of our lives.

I am currently studying psychology in Melbourne. And I have a confession to make: I rarely use my own study table to do my assignments, throughout my two years of university life in Melbourne. Instead I always do my assignments in the library. The reason I won’t or couldn’t use my study table to do my work was because it was always cluttered with other things! Without my conscious awareness, the clutter in my study environment made me feel annoyed, yet I have never really tidy up my table and my shelves. They would always be filled with papers and books I never touch or read again and other knick knacks. After reading The Joy of Less by Francine Jay and watching numerous Youtube videos, I decided to begin decluttering the things I owned and start my journey towards living with minimal things.

While I was back home in Malaysia, I sold about ten of my books to different people. I did not reallyread the books although I had purchased them several years back. Initially, it was difficult for me to let go of my books, but because I did not read those books since buying them, I thought it may be better for someone else to benefit from them. After I have sold those books to people, I felt quite happy, surprisingly. I was happy not because I had gotten some cash for those books, but knowing that these people may very well benefit from reading those books. Among the buyers, some of them are even school teacher /university lecturer wanting those books so that they can place in their institution’s library collection! How amazing is that? Knowing that my books can be read by others at a cheaper rate just makes me smile.

Since I have returned to Melbourne, I have decluttered my kitchen, pantry, book collection and also some stacks of paper and miscellaneous items. Even though the process of taking everything out, seeing them all in one place, then choosing things to keep, donate or throw away can be a long one and feel daunting, once I started the process, I gained some insight into what exactly I had in those piles of clutter. Turnsout, apart from University lecture notes, most of them were brochures, advertisements, flyers, freebies from events, other people’s namecards etc. I had a problem of taking what everyone promoting stuff on the street gave. I never threw anything out apart from weekly food scraps, and that over the years have created 10 bags of random things that I needed to look into.

Becoming minimalist is definitely a tool I want to use to simplify my life. These few weeks of exploring this concept has led me to truly realise that things do not and can never make us happy. Owning more does not mean that we become happier. I have seen people from the USA having 50 pairs of shoes to declutter, I only have 4 pairs, and I think that’s enough for me. Things that are excess are different for everyone. For me, I had minimal shoes and socks, and minimal number of bags, however I have lots of books and papers, and also lots of clothing. These things, unfortunately create the visual clutter around our living space.

I truly think that minimalism is a great tool to help us live more simply and find more time for meaningful pursuits in life. Personally, I would like to connect with friends and family more regularly, and able to take self care breaks exploring a nearby suburb or a local park or library. Of course, there are more to minimalism than what I shared here, and I will in time explore different aspects of minimalist lifestyle.

Other blogs you may be interested in:

Friday, 5 May 2017

Public Lecture: Neuropsychology of Dementia by Dr Luke Smith

Today, I went to Swinburne University, Hawthorn campus to attend a public lecture on the neuropsychology of dementia, mainly because I got interested in ageing, mental health in older adults and diseases that are common in older adults from my psychopathology lecture on cerebral disorders this week. It was my first time visiting Swinburne University, so it was definitely a good thing that I arrived at the uni 15 minutes early to locate the venue of the lecture.

So, this is just a brief overview of what topics were covered in the public lecture. It is by no means complete with all the notes in the slides, but it will be a summary of the main points that I manage to jot down during the lecture.

This public lecture is part of a series of seminars on ageing which runs every year for more than 6 years already. So basically, this lecture is the continuation of previous lectures on related topics in ageing. Dr Luke Smith is a Clinical Neuropsychologist and he conducts neuropsychological testing with older adults who were often brought in by their concerned family members to examine if the individual has illnesses that can cause dementia.
1. Cognitive Domains
Dr Smith started the lecture by talking about the cognitive domains that are tested in a neuropsychological assessment for dementia. They are information processing (a fancy scientific work for how fast you can think), attention and concentration (divided into attention span, sustained attention and attention to detail), working memory (ability to hold information and manipulate them simultaneously), visuo-perceptual processing (how a person construct, integrate and organisation visual information), and finally language (which includes semantic processing [word finding], verbal fluency [naming as many words as possible starting with the letter F] and repeating sentences. When a neuropsychologist assess an individual, he will usually use "thinking and learning" instead of cognition to describe what tests he will be administering to the patient. This is because not many people understand what cognition means, therefore using phrases that people can understand will be essential for effective communication. Testing will also require 3-4 hours, including approximately 1 hour of history taking, which comprises interview with the client's family and friends, asking about premorbid functioning, social, occupational, educational history and so on.

-Learning and Memory
A special mention on learning and memory here is because the general public (or us) often think that memory problem is the early sign of dementia, however Dr Smith explained that this is not the case. Learning is usually the aspect that becomes impacted first. It starts with learning problem, where the person is not able to take in much information from his/her surroundings, and also may never encode the information. Hence, the memory problems that are observed by caregivers are because the information was never learned / encoded in the first place.

Other aspects that are assessed are free-recall memory (ability to recall something without prompts), and recognition memory (ability to recognise if a word was on a list or not).

-Executive Functioning
I remember learning this in my capstone subject at my university, although I still don't really know what executive functioning means. So, Dr Smith describes executive functioning as top-down processing. It involves ability to generate ideas, divide attention, inhibit attention, reason and problem solve, planning and organising, and finally having insight.

Often, individuals presenting with symptoms and signs of dementia are refered by carers or other people as being in denial. However, there is a crucial difference between being in denial versus having no insight. When one has no insight, there is no awareness of the problem to begin with, whereas being in denial is when the individual knows that there is a problem, but does not want to acknowledge it or is actively ignoring it.

2. Behavioural Changes
Secondly, a neuropsychologist assesses a client's behavioural changes by interviewing family and friends of this individual. A clinician / diagnostician needs to be mindful of the possibility of an observed behaviour to be just eccentricities of the individual which may be present for all of the client's life. The behaviour of interest has to be a change from a person's pre-morbid presentation. Examples of these include: being disinhibited and impulsive, irritable, agitated, aggressive, being rigid and inflexible, being repetitive (i.e., repeating same things over and over), being hyper-oral (i.e., having a sweet tooth), and apathy (i.e., not caring about things they used to care about or anything at all).

3. Social Cognition
Third aspect that is assessed in a client to determine if the client may have dementia is social cognition. Social cognition is our ability to judge and interpret others' emotions. This ability is crucial for us to understand what others are feeling. It allows us the capacity to empathise and is essential for communication. Generally, we have more difficulty judging negative emotions such as disgust and confusion compared to positive emotions such happiness and excitement. The participants of this lecture (me included) completed an activity on social cognition, where we had to identify another person's emotions based on what they express on their faces. In dementia presentation, the individual will generally have difficulty expressing emotions, and the way they express emotions may changes as well. This is called affective expression. They may also have difficulty judging the emotional tone of another person's voice. As a participant brought up the issue of the appropriate action when the client being in a culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) background compared to an Australian born and raised clinician, Dr Smith explained that he usually cuts out all forms of sarcasm and tones, and just being very formal and neutral when conducting the assessment. This cuts down the chance that the client misinterpreting what was said.

4. Disease Syndromes
Fourth aspect which will be examined in a neuropsychological assessment is which of the syndromes does the client's presentation fit in, Alzheimer's disease, Dementia with Lewy Bodies, Vascular Dementia, Frontal-Temporal Dementia, or others.

For Alzheimer's Disease (AD), a common form of neuropsychological disorder in older adults, patients often present with naming (word finding) difficulties, visuo-construction problems (unable to copy a drawing of a house), and rapid forgetting where prompting no longer helps. Interestingly, in initial stages of AD, patients often do not present much executive and behavioural changes. A neuropsychologist can also administer a test called Block-Design test where the patient is required to recreate a design using colour blocks as shown.

Vascular dementia was also discussed. But unfortunately I didn't jot a lot of information down. I did include a link so that you can have a read if you like.

Next was dementia with Lewy bodies. This forms of dementia have presentation including visuo-perceptual problems, hallucinations (often nocturnal, meaning at night time), problems with executive functioning, attention problems, and REM sleep behaviour disorder (which means patients act out their dreams). A point was also highlighted about the importance for clinicians to be able to constant differentiate the presentation of the client and ruling out what may not likely be the diagnosis.

Furthermore, we have frontal-temporal dementia. This is when the person can show language changes (i.e., repeating sentences), and carers may report the patient has sexual disinhibition (i.e., cheating on their spouse when they never would have before developing dementia).

Dr Smith also highlighted the relationship between movement disorders such as Parkinson's Disorder, Huntington's Disease and Motor-Neurone Disorder with progression towards development of dementia. In particular, almost 100% of people with Huntington's disease will develop dementia later in life.

5. Decision Making Capacity
Decision making involves ability to do four things: Understand, retain, communicate and weigh up information. The assessment of this capacity will involve corroborating information from the patient's family and friends, followed by a structured capacity interview and finally a comprehensive cognitive and behavioural assessment. The point is to assess if the patient has the cognitive capacity to make well-reasoned decisions in their daily life.

6. Behaviour management
Contrary to what we usually think is the main problem with dementia, such as memory, it is in fact behaviours of the patient that cause most distress to his/her family and friends, and also health professionals. Behavioural management is now considered first-line therapy for patients diagnosed with dementia. It is based on models of behavioural change and includes evidence-based strategies. Anyone can learn methods of managing behaviour of patients with dementia. Connecting with the person's long-term memories is also important to build rapport with the individual, as the person's short-term memory is often impaired.

Finally, although at present there is no cure for dementia, getting an individual to seek help from a multidisciplinary team, involving geriatric specialists, neuropsychologist, dietician, speech pathologist, occupational therapist, nurse and social worker is likely to help the individual in the most comprehensive way possible.

I hope you enjoyed my summary. Please share with others who you think this information might be helpful for.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Life update mid-2017: Studies, Visa, and Australia

Hello everyone!

It's been a while (more than 1 year) since I wrote a blog post, and many things have been happening. So I thought I would do a posting just to update.

I have always wanted to volunteer for some mental health organisations and non-profits. This year, I finally achieved this goal. I got accepted into three mental health organisations in Melbourne for volunteering. So far, I have been volunteering for them for about 3 months, and the experiences have been great. I met wonderful people, many older and much wiser than me, and I am glad I learned a lot from each of them.

I am currently in my final semester of my undergraduate studies! My goodness, I can't believe I am actually graduate in 3 months time. By August this year, I hope to get a Post-Study Work Visa  so that I can stay in Australia for a longer period of time to study and maybe find a part-time job (haven't figure that out yet).

Perhaps because I am graduating soon, I have been enjoying more of my psychology studies recently compared to previous years. I thought I would post a series of posts about what I study in uni, which maybe can help some students, whether they are Melbourne University students or from other universities, to understand their lecture material better.

Also, I plan to visit some surrounding suburbs for the next few weeks, take some photos and share my experience here as well.

That's all for now. Will post some new updates soon!

Friday, 4 November 2016

100 Ideas for Self Care!

Recently, I have compiled a long list of ideas for my own self-care during Uni exams period (which is now really). I will share them with you today, some of them have been modified to suit most people. 

1. Take a few deep breaths
2. Take a 10 minute walk
3. Make yourself a cup of hot drink 
4. Practise gratitude
5. Be compassionate / kind towards yourself
6. Take a break
7. When stressed out, brainstorm alternative ways to solve the problem
8. Accept uncertainty as part of life
9. Allow yourself to feel your emotions, don't shut them out. 
10. Love all parts of yourself: the good, bad and the ugly
11. Focus on just one thing that you have to do for the day.
12. Talk to someone you trust
13. Write a letter to yourself
14. Embrace surprises, unexpected turns and failures in life
15. Go to the beach and the ocean
16. Tell yourself: "It's hard, but I can do this"
17. Go back to the basics: Nutrition, Rest, Sleep, Leisure, Water, Cut down on sugars and caffeine
18. Be present in the moment
19. Practise meditation exercises
20. Listen to some relaxing music
21. Look for the positives in every situation (especially during adversities)
22. Don't compare yourself with others. There are 7.5 billion people in this world, you can't top them all. 
23. Hit the gym or run around your residential area
24. Smile to someone else
25. Help someone else
26. Avoid catastrophising (i.e., making things bigger or more serious than they actually are)
27. Have some comfort food
28. Recall happy times with friends and family
29. Call or text a friend to catch up
30. Open up
31. Read a book
32. Watch a movie you like
33. Hugs
34. Colour
35. Journal
36. Volunteer 
37. Visit a local exhibition / museum / or some other artsy stuff
38. Cry
39. Do yoga 
40. Hyperfocus on something
41. Laugh about problems
42. Accept what you can't change, and change those that you can. 
43. Learn a new language / craft / recipe / whatever you like
44. Surround yourself with nature for a day
45. Practise being. 
46. Do nothing, literally. 
47. Solve a puzzle
48. Visit a bookstore 
49. Go to an art gallery
50. Paint
51. Take a mental health day, or schedule it into your week.
52. Spend time with people who empower you
53. Avoid toxic people
54. Remind yourself why you are doing what you are doing, this keeps you motivated. 
55. Appreciate the beauty of this world
56. Play video games / iOS / Android games
57. Put on makeup, or put on a suit
58. Join social events
59. Share your knowledge with others
60. Work limited hours
61. Set boundaries by saying "no" to things
62. Be brave and do something you are fearful of
63. Go shopping
64. Accept your painful / unpleasant emotions.
65. Go for a massage
66. Try aromatherapy / essential oils
67. Eat healthily
68. Sleep at appropriate times
69. Set a positive intention at the start of your day
70. Don't let petty things get to you. Ask yourself: Would this matter in 5 or 10 years time?
71. Try a new hobby
72. People watching
73. Get a pet or many pets
74. Eat ice-cream
75. Pamper yourself
76. Create a list of 10 things you like about yourself
77. Fail, but fail happily, because you can learn something each time you fail
78. Go to your favourite cafe
79. Party with friends
80. Lose yourself momentarily in a good book or movie
81. Go on an adventure
82. Create a bucket list
83. Read inspirational quotes
84. Spend quality time with your significant other
85. Smile even when you feel horrible
86. Creative expression
87. Go to a garden, watch the flowers, the trees, the grass
88. Watch funny videos
89. Attend a musical or theatre performance
90. Go for a buffet
91. Take naps
92. Look at yourself in the mirror and say "I love you"
93. Experience life as it comes, as it is. 
94. Go on a roadtrip
95. Sleep in for that day
96. Educate yourself on wellbeing and self-improvement
97. Travel
98. Help someone who is less fortunate than you.
99. Meet new people
100. Learn to forgive yourself and others

How did you find this list? Did any of them helped you? If you have any tips that are not listed here. Please share them in the comments below. 

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Flourishing in the 21st Century: Learnings from Dr Alan Wallace's Public Lecture

Photo from Pinterest 

Guys, apologies here. I meant to publish this post more than a month ago, but my perfectionistic tendencies hindered me from finishing what I started. I am working on it! So, here it is.

I went to a public lecture at Melbourne University on the 27th August. It was a talk by Dr Alan Wallace titled, "Flourishing in the 21st Century: The Rise of Contemplative Science", presented by the Center of Positive Psychology at the Graduate School of Education at the university. The talk inspired not just me, but many among the audience as well, to think more deeply about what is it that we are pursuing in life, are we actually flourishing, and how do we get there to where we want to be?

I aim to provide some key nuggets of wisdom I think everyone to have a think about at this very moment of your life. Are you happy? Do you think that you will be happy after you have achieved some goal, like work achievement, or marriage, or obtaining wealth and prestige? Dr Wallace invites us to really rethink our pursuit in life.

I have typed detailed notes on my computer during the lecture, but I wish to present several essential points. I will start with the definition of happiness.

Two types of happiness

The first type of happiness is the hedonic pleasure. This type of pleasure is characterised by seeking pleasant stimuli and avoiding unpleasant stimuli. In other words, if we are having hedonic pleasure, what we mainly do is seeking pleasure and avoiding pain on a daily basis. This is also called the hunter-gatherer approach.

The second type of happiness is genuine wellbeing. This is defined as "wellbeing derived from an ethical way of life, mental balance and wisdom." Genuine wellbeing is also called the "cultivator approach".

Disadvantages of pursuing hedonic pleasure
- Constantly flourishing = something wrong 
Dr Wallace explains that the by the nature of us pursuing hedonic pleasure, such as the chasing for status, wealth, prestige, we are competing with others. Because we are trying to constantly seek pleasure and avoid pain, we may want to constantly flourish. And if we see people who seem to be constantly flourishing, there may be something really wrong going on there. Think about it, is it possible that our lives be always filled with joy, happiness, excitement etc, and not even a brief moment of negative emotions, such as fear, disgust, sadness, grief, frustration?

Also, flourishing does not come from a technique, like mindfulness or meditation. Only people in the West enjoy going to retreats for meditation when meditation in and of itself can be incorporated in our day-to-day lives.

- Hedonism leads to exhaustion of the Earth's resources
If everyone in the world is focused on hedonic pleasure, we will all exhaust the planet, i.e., digging all the mines, using up every resource we can to generate wealth, inventing more nuclear weapons etc. These all do damage to the environment. There may be no more efforts invested in conservation for the environment, because everyone is so obsessed with increasing wealth, improving "Quality of Life" by earning more and more, even though they may have more than sufficient amount of money to get by. The rich become richer, the poor become poorer. What good does this bring?

The ethical way of life
The ethical way of life, Dr Wallace explains, is rooted in non-violence, and this form of life does not stem from self-centeredness for "no wars have been fought on the basis of non-violence". The flip side of violence is benevolence. When we practise benevolence, we give ourselves more opportunity to bring something good to the world.

Displeasure - Genuine unhappiness

Genuine unhappiness is when we are unhappy within ourselves, and when we get out there in the world, we bring to the world unhappiness as well. It is my personal view that sometimes this is not very much controllable for many who are less aware or reflective of their inner world, that they may be unable to see the unhappiness they are bringing to the world.

Dimensions of human flourishing 

Now, from the realm of unhappiness, we will move to the three dimensions of human flourishing. They are ethics, mental balance, and wisdom. I will discuss each of them in detail.

1. Ethics (social, environmental flourishing)

Ethics is divided into social and environmental flourishing. If we summarise the concept into one word, it's harmony - harmony within one's own communities, family, country and internationally; with the environment (or ecosphere), maintaining a sustainable economy, without environment destruction.

2. Mental Balance (psychological flourishing)

Psychological flourishing or mental balance is "a sense of wellbeing not contingent on external or internal stimuli, and is qualified by serenity, joy, and contentment, rather than excitement and arousal". It is a state of conative balance. We can of course stimulate ourselves in many ways, such as excitement, food, movies, relationships etc, but it's still hedonic. And the problem about hedonic pleasure is that when we stop doing it, or stop having those stimuli, the wellbeing vanishes. This is the core issue of all addictions. I would venture to say it's a never-ending cycle for those addicted unless they find something healthy to replace the excitement or dopamine surge that their addicted substance (beyond drugs) are giving them.

Dr Wallace points out that the notion that happiness must relate to excitement, arousal and stimulation is essentially a Western concept. He gives an example of how young people in Western cultures these days equate doing fun things as being happy. It's equating exciting activities as happiness. On the flipside, Eastern perspectives will say otherwise. More often than not, the eastern world also value things like serenity and solitude, meaning that excitement is not necessary for one to be happy or feel a sense of wellbeing.

Mental balance has four components: conative, attentional, cognitive, and emotional. It is when these four components are somewhat imbalance in an individual that problems start to occur.

1. Conative Imbalances
Conative Intelligence: "Do you have the intelligence of not eating the third dessert?" if you are wanting to keep fit. This form of intelligence guides us in adopting goals and desires which cultivates wellbeing.
-Conative deficit: A state where we are have an apathetic loss of desire for happiness (Too little desire). When we experience conative deficit, it's when we say to ourselves, "I don't know". There is no vision in our lives. This signifies lack of mental health.
-Conative hyperactivity: A state where we have an obsessive desire that causes the reality of the present to be blurred (Too much desire). When we experience conative hyperactivity, it is not an indication of mental balance according to Dr Wallace. It's a state where we are obsessive, fixated or addicted to something. Anything.
-Conative dysfunction: A state where our desire for something is not conducive (or helpful) for our own and others' wellbeing. An example of this is when we are addicted to something.

Resolving conative imbalances - Use the Fourfold Vision Quest

Upon explaining what conative imbalances are, Dr Wallace challenged us (the audience) to ask ourselves these four questions:

  • What would make you truly happy? 
  • What would you love to receive from the world to help you find such well-being? 
  • How would you love to transform and mature inwardly in order to realize such well-being? 
  • In order to lead the most meaningful life possible, what would you love to offer to the world? 

He also shared that we can't really do anything entirely alone. We need people in our lives. As death is the natural endpoint, perhaps it's important to reflect from time to time that as time passes, do answers to these questions change or flatline?

2. Attentional Imbalances
-Attentional deficit (Laxity): This is when we lose clarity and the vividness of our attention. In other words, distracted.
-Attentional hyperactivity (Excitation): This is when we are involuntarily agitated and distracted by compulsive desire. We could use an example of drinking alcohol. If you are reaching for a bottle everytime you feel stressed out and unable to stop yourself and focus on what's most important, then you could be suffering from attentional imbalance. ADHD is also an example.
-Attentional dysfunction: This is when we attend to things in a dysfunctional way.

Resolving attentional imbalances - Use two faculties to refine your attention

-Mindfulness: The buzz word nowadays in psychology. "This is the faculty of our mind to sustain voluntary attention continuously on a familiar object, without forgetfulness or distraction." Being mindful about what we are doing when we are doing it can reduce our tendency to mind-wander.
-Introspection: This is the faculty of monitoring the mind, recognizing the occurrence of excitation and laxity.

The result: Relaxation, stability, and vividness of attention.

How do we then cultivate this? Dr Wallace suggested that we attend intelligently to everything we are currently doing. Being present is key. How often do we attend to human beings and human beings? Not as preys or something to be beaten down? It's learning how we can change from "I x It" --> "I x You"

3. Cognitive Imbalances
-Cognitive deficit: This is when we fail to perceive what is present in the six fields of experience. For example, Dr Wallace used an example of women voting and the idea that women cannot vote because if they do they are going to vote the same candidate as their husbands anyway, so what's the point?
-Cognitive hyperactivity: A conflation of conceptual projections with perceptual experience. Hyperactivity in cognition results in what we think we see with the reality. 
This happens in paranoia (being too concerned about others having malicious intent), schizophrenia (having hallucinations and delusions), bipolar (swinging between extremes of mania and depression).
In all these conditions, people are too absorbed in a local reality.-Cognitive dysfunction: This is when one have distorted perceptual and conceptual experience of reality.

4. Emotional Imbalances
-Emotional deficit: This is when one feel dead within and have a cold indifference to other people and events.
-Emotional hyperactivity: Examples of this is Elation - Depression, Hope - Fear, Adultation - Contempt, and Attachment - Anger. This is when we experience too much of an emotion and do not have balance within ourselves.
-Emotional dysfunction: This is when one have inappropriate responses to situations.

The materialistic worldview, Dr Wallace added, is that "only matter exists, and we are only matter, and we have really no control over things". If one is materialistic, how will one get more eudaimonia? This materialistic worldview, hedonic way of life is very destructive and it is making mental health worse. There is lesser kindness, more hatred.

Remedying emotional imbalances - Four ways 
-Hedonism: Learn to use loving-kindness.
-Aloof indifference: Be compassionate.
-Depression: Empathetic joy
-Self-centered attachment (fixation on "I, me, mine") and aversion: Use equanimity (i.e., composure).

3. Wisdom (spiritual flourishing)

Finally, is wisdom or spiritual flourishing. This is a quality of wellbeing that carries one through all the ups and downs of life and till death. When we flourish spiritually, whatever way you prefer, whether through meditation, yoga, mindfulness, religions, philosophies, we find that we can make it through.

As a close, genuine happiness is cultivated by way of ethics, mental balance and wisdom. Mental health is cultivated by having conative, attentional, cognitive and affective (emotional) balance. And finally, exceptional mental balance is the basis of knowing reality as it is. Not wanting more in the moment, or wishing more, but accepting the current reality as it is.

Disclaimer: 99% of the content here are notes I have taken from Dr Alan Wallace's talk, except for my brief comments here and there. I am just summarising them to benefit those that didn't manage to go to the talk and for public learning.