While we’re still enjoying the freshness of January, many of us will be fervently committed to some form of self-improvement as we look to make big changes in life this year.
As I thought of some of my own goals that I want to achieve, it was during a Christmas lunch when the realisation dawned on me that there are two major elements to self-improvement. There’s striving – which we’re most familiar with – and gratitude, which can seem a little less glamorous.
The lunch took place in Klang, in the home of Mr E.A. Louis and his wife, affectionately known as Rosalie. I had never quite figured out why being in their presence is as comforting as it is uplifting until I returned home from my recent visit.
It’s difficult to put into words the welcoming hospitality I always find in the home of Mr and Mrs Louis. Besides the amazing food (Rosalie is by far the best cook I’ve ever known) and incredible warmth expressed by the whole family, I have rarely felt so at ease and at peace in a home that isn’t my own.
When I returned from the lunch, I later watched a film about the life of St Francis of Assisi, who has been a great inspiration of mine ever since I was a child.
As a disciple of Jesus Christ, Francis lived as closely to the Gospels as possible, and preferred to lead by example than by the words he spoke. With some practise, it’s easy enough to memorise Bible verses and chapters, but the life of St Francis showed that we are defined much more by our deeds than by our words.
In the company of Mr and Mrs Louis, I always find myself uplifted by their presence. As a man in his 80s, Mr Louis is sharper and more active than some in their 30s, and while neither of them would suggest they are perfect, they set a fine example for anyone who is blessed enough to know them.
Whenever I have the pleasure to chat to Mr Louis, I’m always struck by the simple yet profound words of wisdom he imparts. As a man not long retired, he continues to look for and find a purpose in everything he does, never killing time but filling each hour in the most meaningful way possible, which starts with a morning walk at around 6am.
It’s hard to argue with his approach to life, which is based on having a routine, being active, taking care of your health, giving to others, and not taking yourself too seriously. If I’m to have just some of the vigour and clarity he possesses when I enter my 70s and 80s, I’ll count myself a fortunate person indeed.
When I began to reflect on what I’d like to achieve in the year ahead, it struck me how Mr and Mrs Louis seem grateful for what they receive, and how important gratitude is to growth. Striving from a place of wanting simply leads to more wanting – nothing is ever enough. But by starting with a foundation of gratitude, striving becomes more about enriching our lives in ways that provide us with a deep sense of contentment and peace.
In an interview last year for Star2 with Mo Gawdat, the chief business officer of Google X, he said, “Isn’t it amazing that we’re talking to each other through a tiny device, hundreds of miles apart, as though we’re in the same room?” I hadn’t given it much thought – over the years, I’ve conducted numerous interviews through my smartphone; it never seemed like a big deal to me.
And therein lies the rub. If nothing seems like a big deal to us, and if we treat whatever we receive in life as a right rather than a privilege, then no matter how much we try to grow or better ourselves, very little of what we strive for will reach beneath the surface.
If we consider the odds of ourselves just being alive (estimated at a staggering 1 in 400 quadrillion), then everything that unfolds from there – including the triumphs and disasters we meet along the way – truly is a miracle, and something that we would benefit more from if we took the time to appreciate the fact.
Hopefully, you’ll have similar people in your life to Mr and Mrs Louis – the kind of people who, just by being who they are, remind us that there is so much of life to value, cherish, and be enjoyed. As Gawdat reminded me, “If you’re in a position to be unhappy at what you don’t have, you’re probably in a better position than you realise.” With that in mind, one key resolution for this year might be to become more thankful for the people and the things we already have.
There’s nothing wrong in striving for more, but perhaps we’d get further more quickly if we cultivated more gratitude for everyone and everything that has helped us to where we are at this point in our own continuing miracle.