Jane Marczewski famously made Simon Cowell speechless and shed tears on America's Got Talent with the line above. Going by her stage name Nightbirde, the Singer-songwriter got the coveted golden buzzer for her amazing performance. I loved her voice and the song she wrote. It is extra poignant because she faced a recent divorce after a cancer relapse and only had a 2% chance of survival. Despite the circumstances, she CHOSE happiness. She chose to do what she loved.
She died in February this year.
Being happy is a feeling indeed but I've come to realise that it is a feeling we can decide to have. The thing is, we CAN feel happy and sad at the same time. We can REFRAME our thoughts and adjust our lives to make room for more happiness. That's exactly what we set out to do 22 weeks ago when we set off on a trip with no end destination in mind.
It has been stressful trying to publish books, balance our budgets, school the kids and travel at the same time. Despite the stress and worry, I find that there's still so much room to choose happiness, faith and hope.
So how can we decide to be happy?
I found this picture Debra took of Gwyn and I walking in the mall when we were back in Kuala Lumpur. This picture alone gave me the inspiration and answer to finding happiness.
I've always found great difficulty in understanding why a balloon (a piece of coloured rubber filled with air) gave my children so much joy. I realised that they found happiness because they received a gift (in their favourite colour). To an adult, you really can't do much with a ballon other than stare at it or take photos of it. To children, they can come up with a million games involving bouncing, throwing and hitting the ballon.
In the same way, life is a gift. Waking up tomorrow is a gift. It is up to us to find joy in the moment through contentment. I truly believe that even on the worst days, we can find something to be grateful for and to be happy about.
2. Numbering your days
How many times will get to hold my daughter's hand while she looks at her balloon with immense fascination? How many more years will I have with my kids around my dinner table every single day before they head to University, Army or have their own families? When we realise how little time we have left, it puts things in perspective. That helps us appreciate what we have more and feel that happiness deeper.
I don't claim that being contented and numbering my days to be an easy exercise. I grew up in a society where million dollar properties, a fat bank account, a shiny career and an expensive car defines success. Spending almost all our healthy and years of youth pursuing these things have become almost a commandment and the only way to live life. Societal pressures can be quite daunting at times.
It is perhaps wise that we took this trip to reshape our world views and grieve at the same time. This trip we've been on has completely opened my eyes to how little we need to have happiness and joy in our lives. I'll use a little throwback to when we were in Melaka to illustrate this....
We live off two cabin sized suitcases. It is quite obvious we can't bring their collection of toys and furniture on the trip with us. We also believe in giving the kids as much freedom to be kids as possible. After their daily dose of academic exercises, they are free to do whatever they wish. Sounds like a formula for disaster for many parents out there eh?
We thought that way too for a moment but we've come to realise how resilient and creative kids can be. They spent hours drawing on the floor with chalk, collecting rocks (pretending to be penguin parents building nests) and playing hopscotch. There were genuinely happy. We don't hear the kids telling us "I'm BORED! There's nothing to play/do!". We got so much of that back in Singapore when they had an entire room full of toys, puzzles, crafts and books.
Matthias took my deck of cards (that I sometimes play with Debra in the quiet evenings) and decided he wanted to play solitaire manually. It was a game my late-father played a lot and Matthias learnt while sitting on his lap. I was pleasantly surprised that a deck of cards can occupy him for afternoons on end.
We do of course still carry some age appropriate toys that they can enjoy along the way. This box of Lego with a carrying case is the best thing we've bought for the trip. They have been making all sorts of fantasy worlds and characters with them. Gwyn narrates an entire epic while she plays with them. Its fascinating and hilarious watching her play.
We really don't need a lot to be happy. What we need most is to be contented. That means we have to stop chasing something more exciting, something bigger, something better. We have to stop comparing ourselves with others and stop building our self-esteem around that. We need to number our days and enjoy the moment.
Our evenings nowadays are pretty intense. It is filled with sly deals, sneaky +4s and saying NO. Lowest scores that night will entail some push-ups or squats. The kids have an absolute ball of a time! I'm so glad we are able to create these memories. I'm so glad we are able to fill their core memories up with the simplicity and joys of being together.
After many days of heavy downpour, we finally got a break in the weather. The sun came out and we headed to Patong beach! And boy, its beautiful!
Now that the monsoon rains are more frequent and the school term has started in the US/UK and Australia, Phuket is experiencing the lull season. It is unsurprising that the beach is a lot cleaner (still has some plastic trash) and less crowded. It is really soul soothing to just sit and enjoy the wide open space.
Even I got interested in digging up the sand to find out what was below and bubbling! I didn't get to find crabs though. If you are a geologist or an expert with beaches, please comment and let us know why are there little holes in the wet sand that release bubbles!? It is so liberating to be on a beach that doesn't want to eat you alive. There aren't mosquitoes or sandflies here!
We were gifted one of the most beautiful sunsets we have seen on this trip. It really drove home the message for us. Life is as fleeting as the beauty of these sunsets, we can't wait until it isn't hard anymore to feel happy and enjoy it. We need to seize the moment because life will always throw difficult times at you.
We just want to end off by announcing the title of our second book and to give you a sneak preview of it!
"The aroma of his coffee" is our journey down memory lane as we remember a man's love for his family, travel and his coffee. Debra and I have been working together on creating this book that to help others journey through their grief of losing a loved one through remembering. We want people to explore the many forms that memories take. Although Photographs/Videos have been the primary medium through which we reminisce, we've realised how powerful smells (and other senses) are in rekindling memories.
Please support our work by generously purchasing our merchandise, art and book at www.hirojack.com :) We're also accepting donations and support for a remembrance trip!
Vincent & Debra Kwan, Founders of Hiro & Jack and stay-at-home parents with the odd life.
Drop us an email at email@example.com