What Are the Ingredients to A Happy Marriage?

February 13th, 2009

secret-ingredients-1Recently I was asked by a dear friend a familiar, yet an unexpected question, “Is there something called happily ever after?” in marriage?

I was somewhat surprised by the question in the context of our conversation.  I had to pause and think about where her question came from.  Then she proceeded by inquiring what are the secret ingredients to my marriage.

Let me digress for a minute. For those of you who don’t know me, I am Chinese and married a Caucasian, a white guy or “Gui Lao” (an endearing way of saying “foreigner” in Chinese) for the past 14 + years.  I am not the one bragging, or even talking about my personal life in a normal course of conversation.  I tend to enjoy listening to other people talking more about their ups and downs in life.  I really can’t pin out exactly why I am the way I am.  Perhaps, my friends often have more challenges in their lives and they need to bend my ears; or I am just a private person; or any issues or problems in my life are not that insurmountable.

Obviously my friend was not going to let me off the hook on this one.   I thought for a few seconds and here are some thoughts to summarize what has worked well in my marriage:

1. Respect Each Other in Terms of Time and Space

My husband and I are good at providing each other “space’ and “alone time”.  Both of us have our own circles of friends and have our unique hobbies besides the common ones shared by the both of us.  For example, my husband enjoys skiing and plays the piano.  On the contrary, I love shopping, reading lots of books and walk with my friends.  None of us has the tendency to restrict each other’s schedules and both of us are very understanding of the differences and needs.

2. Support Each Other’s Endeavors

Professionally and personally we make our best efforts to support each other’s endeavors and new pursuits.  My husband does an exceptional job in pushing me to actualize my potential and never once would he feel threatened by my so-called success.

3. Intellectual Curiosity and Exchange

I wish you could be a fly on the wall to listen to our dinner conversation.  It’s very rarely that we talk about just the mundane events during the day.  More often than not, we talked about the books we’ve read/listened to during the day; new things we’ve learned; and new ideas that we are inspired by.

4. Emotional Stability

One great advantage of getting married at a later age (in the 30s for me) is that we have matured so much emotionally.  There is no room or inclination to play the little mind games to manipulate a given situation for personal gains.  We understand that each of us will have our “up” days or “down” ones.  When one experienced a bad day, the other would be there to support by assessing the situation and putting things into perspectives.

5. Attitude Towards Money

I know in real life, many couples would have plenty of occasions to argue or fight over money matters.  Who is spending more on what?  Who is the irresponsible party? etc.  For our marriage, we share a joint account completely and both of us contribute to the best of our capabilities.  Both of us have the discretion to spend money on what we choose to within a reasonable limit RESPONSIBILY.

6. Relationship with the In-Laws

I am forever grateful for having such a healthy relationship with my in-laws.  Culturally, it is vastly different on the relationship with the in-laws.

In the Western culture, I see my in-laws a couple of times during the year and we show our ways to celebrate each other’s special occasions.  It is very common that in-laws here don’t tend to interfere with their children’s life and decision-making.

On the contrary, in Chinese culture, dealing with the in-laws, especially as a daughter-in-law, is one of the most monumental tasks due to the sheer ambiguity of your in-laws’ life versus yours.  In China, it is still not that unusual that two or more generations live together under the same roof.  The elderly tend to “participate” in the children’s lives too willingly. Inevitably there will be more opportunities for frictions between the generations due to generation gaps, and value systems towards many aspects of life.

7. Play Our Part

As a couple, we function as a team.  After all, a family is a microcosm of a society.  We have our loose definitions of division of labor and responsibilities in our daily chores and we complement each other by utilizing each other’s strengths.

8. Trust Is the Foundation of Every Successful Relationship

Lastly, but not the least, is the trust we have for each other.

I don’t want to pretend or sound for a nino second that we have THE perfect marriage given the divorce rate of the first marriage in the United States is 50% or higher.  What I may offer is:

Healthy Relationship = Trust + Respect + Understanding + Compromise (when needed).  Don’t forget to water and fertilize it, either.

What has worked well in your marriage?

Is It “Indifference” or Inefficiency?

February 11th, 2009

Life in Slow Motions

Today is one of those days that everything could be delayed did.  I started my day with a visit to the OBGYN’s office.  As usual, I was somewhat concerned that I would be waiting endlessly like I did in my last visit a year or so ago.  I told myself that don’t be so negative and give the doctor’s office another try.  I did make my best effort.  I arrived 15 minutes early to keep up with my usual punctual reputation both professionally and personally.

As I vaguely recalled, the doctor’s office was run very inefficiently.  I really couldn’t put my fingers on why I always have experienced such a feeling.  Maybe it was because I didn’t feel they respected my time as I did theirs.  Twenty minutes past my scheduled time, I got a bit antsy.  My name was finally called by a lady, whom I know for a fact that she is not a nurse.

I proceeded to one of the rooms (you know what I am talking about, four-walls, no windows), I will be sitting literally butt-naked waiting for the grace of the doctor.  While the lady was measuring my blood pressure, I curiously asked if she was going to draw my blood per my request.

Here she went with a long-winded story about one nurse’s family situation and the other one wouldn’t come until 10.  The bottom line was that I could either wait for the nurse to show up hopefully at 10 or schedule another time to get blood work done.  I would have to fast again for another 12 hours or more.

To my amusement, she didn’t sound apologetic at all.  Does she wish that I would understand and tolerate the consistent mismanagement of the doctor’s office?  Or worse, is there a pervasive “indifference” permeated throughout that office that their patients are just numbers to them?dreamstime_compassion-1

My Observation Validated by Other Impatient Patients

As I was sitting there hopefully for the nurse to eventually show up, I could see the impatient looks on the few patients in the waiting room.  Better yet, one brave soul latched out on the office lady expressing her frustrations about the habitually indefinite waiting.  I applauded silently to the patient and felt her “pain”.

So my five-minute check-up turned out to be 1 hour 45 minutes. I thought to myself that maybe I could spend a day or two there just helping the doctor to straighten out the inefficiency.  But am I in the position to influence him in shifting the culture to that of care, respect and compassion?

Turn Indifference to Compassion

People often say that “indifference” is a worse feeling, worse than “hate” because when “hate” is expressed, it usually stems from “love” and “care”.  I certainly hope the doctor’s office will be different next year, surely for the better.

Does Occupation = Self-identity?

February 9th, 2009

Our Love for Pho – Prelude to A More Serious Question

Self-identity?

A week or so ago, I took my daughter to meet a friend for lunch.  We met up in our newly-found Pho joint.  For those of you who don’t know what Pho is, it is a traditional Vietnamese beef noodle soup garnished with Thai basil and a variety of other vegetables.  I know for sure my daughter and I can’t live through a week without having Pho.

We happened to sit next to another couple who have enjoyed Pho as much as we have.  They know many hangout places in town and naturally we struck a casual conversation over where to go.

Who Am I?

Near the end of the conversation, the gentleman asked me what I do.  For a few seconds, I was simply stunned and I had to think quickly on my feet to come up with an answer.  I told him that I am just a housewife and he concurred with my self-professed identity.

In my mind, I wonder if he indeed would guess I am just a housewife or he was just being polite to me.  The truth of the matter is I used to so naturally describe myself as what I did.  I would have said that I worked for a company and my job function was such.  Introspectively, how untrue it was to use my profession to represent who I am.

So what should the right answer be?  Should I say I am a mother, a wife, a sibling, etc. or should I elevate my thoughts to a much higher level to share my mission in life?

What would be your answer to this question besides the typical occupation = self identity scenario?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Scarcity and Abundance

February 6th, 2009

If you grew up in China in the early 60s, you would definitely understand and fully appreciate what “scarcity” means, literally.

I remember vividly that at the end of each month, my parents would scrape the bottom of the container where flour was stored hoping to make do another meal if they could just add some filler like water.

Starvation Was A Perpetual State of Being

I was constantly starved to death and felt that I had a bottomless stomach.  Granted I ran every day and I was hyper-active like most of the teenagers going through growth spurts.

During that time, China and the former Soviet Union was experiencing the so-called “cold war”.  The former “Big Brother” turned his back on China pressing the Chinese government to repay all the loans and debt.  With China’s population as it was back then, everyone in the city was on a “ration” system.  To be more specific, everyone would have x kilos of wheat flour, so much cooking oil, so many eggs, tofu, etc.  Every family had a little booklet of coupons for this type of staples.  It was such a rare occurrence if we could have an entire meal made of white flour.

A Story Retold A Million Times by My Dad

It was such a devastating experience that one time, my dad asked me to go to the grocery store, I accidentally lost my family’s coupon book.  You could just imagine how I was scolded by my dad and how guilty I felt to have deprived my family of all the goodies for the month.

To retell a story like this seems to be unreal to many younger generations in and outside of China, especially to those in the United States who have enjoyed nothing, but abundance in life in every sense of the word.

Simple Abundance

abundance

Simple Abundance

As much as I still have the obsession over food and the subconscious fear for starvation, I miss those days with its simple life style and easy-to-fill expectation.  I didn’t feel shabby or shamed because my worn-out clothes may have patches on them.  My siblings and I only had one piece of new garment once a year.

Joy in life is not measured by how big your house is and how fancy of a car you drive.  The contentment in life comes from a pure connectedness with yourself and with the universe that nurtures you.

Victor or Victim?

February 4th, 2009

Corporate Casualties – Layoffs

There is hardly a day passing by without an announcement of corporate lay-offs.  Admittedly, we are going through a very tough economic time and the sub-lending financial industry has led to a downward spiral in the global economy.  What surprises me the most is that we don’t hear much about senior leadership teams in major corporations take any responsibilities for the inevitable cause of so many people’s jobs.  On the contrary,  recession has become an over-used excuse for lacking of leadership and incompetency.

Media’s Spin of the Already Bad News

We all know how the media beats the drum in lock-step with the recession and are so “successful” in painting a loomy and gloomy picture for the economy and for those who have lost their life-time employment.  What’s next?  How could they make a living?  Are they victims or victors?

10 Reasons to Declare Victory Instead of Defeat (in random order)dreamstime_triumphant-1

  1. Closing one chapter of the book means you will have a wonderful opportunity to create another.
  2. Hanging on to a going-nowhere-fast career is not going to do you or anyone else a favor.  Lay-off saves so much of time and agony.
  3. Like the old saying, when one door is shut, many windows will open.
  4. How about taking an inventory of your life and determining what really makes you excited to get up in the morning?  What would it take to put a bounce in your stride in life?
  5. When you channel your focus and energy into something you are passionate about, creativity flows like a mountain stream to the ocean.
  6. It is a perfect time for those working parents to mindfully attend the needs of your spouse and your children for a change.
  7. Be in the moment.  All of a sudden, you would notice the vivid color of the pine tree limb and smell the fresh scent from the pine needles.
  8. What about starting a work-out routine to get your health back and to become fit again?
  9. You get to keep your sanity.
  10. You don’t have to give up your self-dignity and sell your soul to hang on to a thin thread of a depressing job.

What’s your list?

At the end of each game, winning or losing is just a subjective interpretation.  Do you believe that everything happens for a reason and it’s always for the better?

Vital Few or Trivial Many

February 2nd, 2009

Vital Few or Trivial Many

I am sure most of people like me have heard of the famous Pareto Law, also known as the 80/20 Rules.  Yet, until recently, I haven’t made a concerted effort to apply the rules in my life such as how I would manage my daily routine and how I would apply the same principle to friendship.

I’ve noticed a gradual transformation in me.  Previously, I would have picked up every phone call as soon as it rang the first ring (most of the time anyway). I would have attempted to attend most of my friend’s needs whether or not they are important.  So what was the consequence of my obsessive behavior?  My life was measured by busyness, by a never-ending “to do” list, by speed from A to B, by sheer volume and by pure quantity.  Where does “quality” fit in you may wonder?

Isn’t it true that in the Western culture that we take so much pride in what we have accomplished within a limited time?  It is so rarely we ask ourselves what are the vital few in our lives and pour our hearts and souls to focus on them.

As a society, there has been a slow, but sure shift into “slow down and smell the roses”.

I hope many of you will go through similar “cleansing” process as I am.  Simplify life and ignore the trivial many.

At the end of the day, they wouldn’t mean that much to us, wouldn’t they?

Unhappiness versus Uncertainty

January 30th, 2009

dreamstime_cliff-11How many people will do anything to endure a profound level of unhappiness instead of facing the inevitable reality, the unknown?

Without pretending to be a statistician, I can roughly assume the percentage is astonishingly high.  Why?  Why so many highly educated, highly intelligent people numb themselves to sustain this type of misery?  Isn’t life too short and too precious?

The answer to this question boils down to a fearful word “risk”.  Even though “unhappiness” is such a dull and indescribable pain, taking the risk and making the jump can be very frightening. Let’s look at a scenario.  As an employee (say Tom) in a typical corporation, Tom is in a dead-end job feeling the drudgery of 8 to 5 for a very long long time.  The sparkles once in Tom’s eyes are long gone.  Tom walks around the office shuffling his feet with head down as if he has just lost his close family member.

I am pretty sure a person like Tom has contemplated long and hard of various options.  Pros and cons of staying with the uninspiring job or taking the plunge to face the fear as well as to feel the new-found excitement.  In the end, many people chose to stay with the familiar world due to sheer apprehension of the risk and the uncertainty.

If you are one of the Toms, I can assure you that the plunge is not  that scary.  In fact, slipping off a cliff, intentionally or not, you may pleasantly discover blue ocean, green forest and an unbeaten path that may lead you to a new world and to the ultimate happiness.

Are you ready to make the jump?

Mindfulness

January 28th, 2009

Mindfulness

Today is so-called hump day, mid of the week.  In my previous corporate life, I would have felt a bit relieved that I have survived almost half of the week as the weekends were approaching.

Nowadays, it doesn’t make any difference whatsoever as I have all the freedom and time to roam around town.  I did exactly that.  I met a friend for tea and talked about our dreams to become the pilot of our own ship instead of being a hopeless passenger on a bus going to where? Nobody knows for sure.

Since I was in an open mall, I thought why not enjoying the opportunity and the fresh air to browse through a few of my favorite stores.  No brainer, right?

I walked into Banana Republic where I have started purchasing my semi-casual garments.  I was greeted with a friendly welcome and a smile with an unmistakable British accent.  Immediately following the greeting, the shop attendant, an English lady named Julie, commented about my clothes.  Obviously, she noticed that I was “Banana” head to toe.

What I was so grateful for was an exceptional shopping experience attributed to Julie’s attentiveness, her natural persuasion skills and her innate sincerity.

Let’s recount of what transpired in the short twenty-minute encounter during which Julie played her role so well.  Firstly, friendly greeting with a genuine compliment; highlighting the deep-discounted sales and location of the racks/shelves; showing up at the right time to help me during my decision-making process; lending her personal touch to adjust straps to ensure the garment hang beautifully on me.  Of course, what impressed me even more was when she asked me about my origin.  It turned out that she has some Chinese gene as well even though you can spot her big and blue eyes from her Irish heritage.

There are so many events and incidents (major or insignificant) in our daily lives.  What we tune in determines our mood, our attitude and the outcome of the journey.  Be mindful and be present.  You will be guaranteed to spot the beauty and the kindness in others intersecting into your life.

The Year of the Golden Ox – Happy New Year!

January 26th, 2009

Year of the Ox

The Chinese New Year Tradition

Chinese New Year, similar to that in many cultures, is a time for family reunion, a time for celebration and a time to indulge in excessive food and drinks.  As many of you may know, Chinese New Year falls in the lunar year instead of the calendar year.  This year on January 26 is the beginning of the Year of Ox.

Chinese New Year, for many of us living outside of China, has been reduced to a distant memory simply because it tends to fall during a week day and there is no legitimate reason for us to take time off from work to observe the holiday.

I know for a fact that right now, millions of Chinese are traveling to their hometown, shopping like there is no tomorrow for food and beverages and cooking up a major storm.

What Was My Recollection of the Holiday?

My fondest memory from childhood includes the anticipation of the New Year’s Day as we would get our red packets from our parents after bowing to them to show our respect and thanks.  The red packet consists of  hard cash. It was also the only time that my siblings and I would get our new clothes for the year.  I recall vividly that my mom would be spending half of the night touching up the garments for us to wear the next day.

The New Year Day always started off with endless fire crackers to ward off the evil spirits.  It is said that whoever has the longest fire crackers would have the best year.  This will be followed by a breakfast.  In where I grew up in the central part of China, the breakfast is typically dumplings (“pot stickers” known to most of Westerners).

The entire holiday week is filled with greetings by family members and friends.  Food is always the focal point for many as there was such a scarcity when I grew up and that’s why I have such an obsession over food throughout my life.

I wish we spent more time with our friends and family in this part of the world.  After all, life should be anchored with these two elements instead of chasing a phantom and materialistic dream.

By the way, for those of you who were born in the Year of Ox, you should wear red under garment throughout the entire year to ward off the evil spirit.  Believe it or not, I have certainly conformed to this tradition.

Did I hear that President Obama was born in the Year of Ox?