It may be a dream afraid of waking up, or it may be a dream coming to realization in the next morning.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Not-So-Positive Positive Stress

Tomorrow my sister is getting married and while it should be a happy day, and it is for most part, it is also a day that proves positive stresses can also have backfiring effects on the affected person.

Some academicians categorize stresses as negative or positive stresses. Negative stresses are stresses that result from unfortunate events such as death, divorce, etc. It is reasonable to assume that negative stresses produce strains on our minds and body negatively. Only those with effective coping style could prevent these stresses from negatively affect their psyche and health. Positive stresses, on the other hand, result from events that are desirable - such as weight training, planning a holiday, and getting married. One would assume that positive stresses, while also have strains, produce a lot more good feelings. What do you feel when you are about to be married, for example? It must be good kind of anxiety, and euphoria, right?

Marriages are a universal culture, yet they are experienced very differently across places and ethnicities. Malaysia is a collectivistic country, thus we would be able to expect collectivism to be expressed by people involved in a wedding event. In a collectivistic culture, members are expected to cooperate with the community, to share ideas and exchange opinions among another. It is common for parents to exercise their authority in deciding what shall happen in a wedding of their children. Relatives also get together and sometimes help with decision. But what does this make the bride or the groom in terms of the decision making?

While collectivistism can be measured in a community as a whole, it is acknowledged that different person shows different level of collectivism. Also one individual has both collectivism and individualism expressed in different times and context. But I believe marriages are very personal, despite being in a culture that appreciates cooperation with other community members - therefore, the bride or the groom would be more likely to be more individualistic when it comes to their own wedding event.

This is what happened to my sister, she has to endure with the different angles of opinions, feedback, and even demands from different people. This positive stress has cost her negatively, mostly because she feels like she has lost some control over her decision making ability. We could and would expect this to happen, and I believe it happens in almost every wedding event in a collectivistic culture. So, understanding from both sides would be necessary to ensure smoothness. Coping styles, education on (or simply telling about) privacy, and communication are important components to healthy adjustment.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012


So, like last post, I would like to begin with quoting several phrases about happiness, except this time, the phrases sound so common I don't know where they come from. Phrases like "Happiness is a choice," or "Happiness is a journey, not a destination," or any phrases that imply that happiness is as easy as wearing a hat actually, for me, mislead us from what happiness really entails. Look at "Happiness is a choice" phrase. If it is a choice, do you think many of us would choose to be unhappy? How about a phrase that asks us to "look at the bright side". I think that is pretty selfish. That person is inflicted with one of the pains in his or her life, and you ask that person to look from another angle? How ignorant is that? Glass is half full, instead of half empty? How if that half-full glass can't even begin to feed that person's children? Do you see how selfish that supposedly inspirational phrase is?

I don't think happiness is such an easy phenomenon. When you feel happy, there is this combination of feelings that you have inside that is so addictive. The feeling that makes us feel like this world is so beautiful and our life couldn't be more precious. So, what makes people unhappy? Is it because they choose not to feel like this world is so beautiful and their life couldn't be more precious? Happiness is, again, not a choice. Consider a case where a person who is lonely. Don't you think it's ignorant to say, "Look at the bright side. You are now not tied down by anybody. You are free! You can enjoy your independence!" Well, if I was that person who is said that to, I would do what Batman did to Robin in this comic..

If a person can't be happy until he meets his love life, or have a fulfilling career, or make amends with his best friend, then, happiness for them is when they achieve what they set their heart to. So, happiness is subjective. Rather than being cheesy about what happiness is, try to define happiness in a more personal level and help them achieve it, or cope with it in a less impersonal way. That's more important, don't you think?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Marshmallows and Juvenile Delinquency

Are you familiar with the famous marshmallow experiment by Walter Mischel in 1972? I have talked about this in another post, but in this post I would like to relate this experiment and its implication on juvenile delinquency. In this experiment, the researcher put children in a room with a marshmallow in front of them. Mischel told these children that they could eat that one marshmallow now, but if they could wait until the experimenter returned, they would earn another marshmallow. The findings showed that less than 40% of the children actually waited for the other marshmallow. According to Mischel, this phenomenon called as "delayed gratification" has a major implication on the cognitive and personality development of these children. 

Children who could wait for another marshmallow were described by their parents to be more confident and assertive, better in self-control, and more intelligent. What is more interesting about the findings too is that, when the children were presented with an object of gratification in front of them, and they were given a choice of refraining if they want more of this object, it caused a dilemma that caused this feeling of frustration, especially when the marshmallow was in front of them. So, the coping mechanism they used to refrain from eating that one marshmallow gave an understanding on individual differences in handling frustration. Some created a mental distraction by playing with their hands, some even attempted to sleep, and some others spoke to themselves. All these showed that children, even without guidance, are able to produce their own ways to control themselves. 

So, relating to my current interest, does this have a similar implication on adolescents who have the tendency to be delinquents? Do adolescents who have a less efficient self-control strategies are more likely to commit crime just to satisfy their current gratification? Are adolescents who could manage timely reception of rewards more likely to have a stronger defence against delinquency?

I a intended to conduct this research, but it might take quite some times. When I have done with the research, I'll definitely share the findings with the world. But this makes an interesting research findings, doesn't it?

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Willpower Is Overrated

"If there is a will, there is a way..."

"If you can dream it, you can achieve it..."

"Impossible is nothing..."

These are among the popular phrases that emphasize on the power of will and dreams as a drive of a person to do anything. We grow up being taught that success only comes to hardworking people. Only those who make effort will reap the benefits. And only those who work for something that will achieve the result that they are dreaming of. Sure, it's a virtue that we need to instil in every individual. But, for me over-emphasis on willpower can create sense of hopelessness, especially when we don't consider that while willpower is powerful, environmental factors can be too.

Psychologists have acknowledged the fact that environmental or external factors are major factors to the development of a human being. Things like personality, aggression, helpful behavior, shyness, extraversion, and many more have both internal and external roots. Consider an example that someone is socially awkward and has difficulty making friends. The society would more likely to lean towards the notion that that person chooses to be shy and chooses to act on the shyness, so nothing should be blamed but him- or herself on the event of the person having less friends which results in loneliness.

This is called Fundamental Attribution Error.

This error is when we always consider personal reasons to be the cause of someone's behavior, ignoring the possible external factors that might chip in to the very behavior. Consider again the case of the shy person. There is a possibility that the shy person lives in a culture where self-independence and confidence is so valued that anyone who doesn't have that is alienated from the society. This shy person might do something to socialize, but coming from the said culture, the person whom this shy person approaches doesn't seem to reciprocate - resulting in the shy person to feel unrewarded with the effort. Again and again, slowly the motivation to change deteriorates, until finally the shy person succumbs to the situation, and be shy forever.

If you want to help this shy person, for me, the worst thing you could say to him or her is, "You must have the willpower! Without it, of course you'll go nowhere!" While willpower is a factor to the person's success in behavioral change, there are a lot of environmental factors (e.g. supportive friends and family, or an appreciative culture) that can help in the transformation.

I have focused heavily on a case of shyness in this post, but do remember that fundamental attribution error can happen in any instance, and it is one of the causes to difficulty in behavioral changes.

What do you think would our religion say about this?

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Definition of Friendship

Recently I had a discussion with one of my colleagues and how he was dissatisfied with current situation of friendships in his life. He is not Malaysian, so it is logical for him to be a foreigner here and to expect closer relationship with people of the same nationality in here. But, instead, he felt like he was alone here and that he did not really maintain close friendship with the people of his nationality. The reason why he felt so was that whenever he ever needed a friend, his friend would always be busy.

So, I asked him what his definition of friendship was. For him, to be together, and to eat together, to hang out together, that is not his definition of friendship because everyone could do that. His definition of friendship entails being there for him whenever he is struck with real life problem such as a death of a family, or a difficulty in struggling in Malaysia.

I guess his definition of friendship is quite different than mine. I wrote an entry before, titled "Little Friendship" and I argued that to have a meaningful friendship with someone, we rarely need dramatic event to give us the realization of who our real friends are. The little things are always enough - remembering to invite this one person for lunch, saying "hi" followed with a personal greeting or a sincere "how are you doing" in FB, or anything that makes us feel appreciated and that someone actually remembers us.

Of course this is not the sole factor, but I believe the little things are often the starter to a more meaningful friendship because the little things provide the "comfort platform" for you to be more open and personal in your friendship. That is my definition of friendship.