A Year of Living Gratefully


I’m no social scientist, but I love experimenting with life.  The great thing about experimenting is that you never know what you’ll get.  The trick is to “Just do it” and see what emerges.

Sometimes, nothing much shows up. Sometimes, you get lucky, and discover a few gems that profoundly change your life.

In January 2017, I embarked on an experiment with ‘Living in Gratitude.’  At the end of each week, I would reflect on my experiences over the week, and make a #CountYourBlessing post on Facebook to chronicle the moments, events, and people that I am grateful for.  The first entry looked like this.

Screenshot 2018-02-11 21.42.02

Week #1 was a pretty emotional one.  It started with an annual gathering with friends of almost 30 years, followed by a process of ’empty nesting’ as Sean got enlisted into National Service and Dylan began his year of boarding at NUS High hostel.

This weekly ritual of FB posts went on non-stop for 52 weeks, and the result was astonishing.

Screenshot 2018-02-11 22.29.29

And here’s what I’ve learnt from living gratefully for a year (in no order of significance).

Life Lesson #1.  Life has its own plans.

Life doesn’t always turn out the way I had planned.  In fact, Life has its own trajectory and rhythm. And if it happens to match mine, that’s great.  I learnt to be grateful for even the smallest co-incidence, like waking up to a rainy morning on days I longed for a ‘legitimate excuse’ to skip the morning run.

And when they don’t, I learnt to listen to what Life is trying to tell me.  For example, encouraged by the momentum built up from completing a half-marathon in April and a 3km open water swim in May, I had signed up for an Ultra Aquathlon in October.  The idea of testing my physical limits to swim 2.25km in the open sea followed by a 21km run seemed both challenging and daunting.  But there was just one small hiccup.

Around June, my right shoulder began to hurt so badly that I could barely remove my shirt on my own.  Clearly, swimming was painfully impossible.  And my dream of becoming an Ultra-Aquathlon Finisher was regretably quashed.  “Maybe not this year,” I consoled myself, and focused on what I could still do.

The frozen shoulder hasn’t stopped me from completing a full marathon, swimming with dolphins, or climbing a 50m tree.  But it has taught me the importance of physical mobility and helped me develop greater empathy for those who have lost it  – like my dad whose eyesight is failing and had just begun using a walking stick.

What I’ve learnt is that …

when things are going well, be grateful and enjoy them while they last. When things aren’t going well, be grateful for the lessons and new experiences that they could offer. 

Life Lesson #2: It’s not what you do or where you are, but who you’re with.

I’m blessed with the work I do at BRIDGE and the places that our work takes me.  In 2017 alone, I get to work with colleagues and clients in Bhubaneswar, Guangzhou, Jakarta, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, and London.

But what makes work wonderful isn’t necessarily what we do or where they are done, but WHO we do it with and sometimes, WHY we do it at all.

I’m blessed to be surrounded by people who readily challenge, encourage, and support me to be at my best. And I’m grateful for the opportunities to witness the transformation of individuals and leaders I’m privileged to work with, and how they inspire themselves and others to be a force for good in the world.

I might be biased, given that my work centres around working with people.  But I genuinely believe that the quality of our lives, be it personal or professional, lies in the quality of our relationship with the people we are with.

It doesn’t matter what we do. What matters more, is who we do them with.

I could choose do work with people I care about, or care about the people I work with. And I could also choose to do both.

Life Lesson #3.  Sometimes, a small investment can make a big difference.

I love taking photos, especially with my iPhone. Colleagues at BRIDGE once crowned me ‘Mr. Selfie’ – a title I accept with pride.  Apart from confirming my narcissistic tendency, it honours a handy skill I’ve developed from years of traveling solo, long before iPhone came with a front camera.

But I also love taking photos of other people, nature, and just about anything that captures a moment or experience that I cherish.

I like to travel light (hence the preference for iPhone over a bulky digital SLR) and wasn’t a fan of accessories, until a street vendor in Kuala Lumpur sold me a clip-on wide-angle lens for RM10.  It turned out to one of the best investments I’ve made in 2017.  This new gadget enabled me to literally see the world with a new lens, take some amazing shots, and bring a newfound joy to what I already enjoyed doing.


It doesn’t necessary cost much to have a big difference in our lives. Really.

Life Lesson #4. It’s easy to take good things for granted, until they’re lost.

The absence of any major illness has made many things in life possible.  It’s easy to take good health for granted until it’s lost.  I frequently get reminded that “Health is first wealth,” especially when I’m not feeling well.

I was fortunate to have been able to complete a record number of races in the year – including a few fund-raising runs and my first full marathon.   Looking back, I know there’s no way I could have made it through 42.195km (albeit with lots of pain), had I been down with a flu or twisted my ankle weeks before or during the race.  I am grateful for the good health that enabled all of that.

Now, I seldom take good things for granted anymore.  I make a conscious effort to appreciate and maintain them, be it good health or great relationship with my loved ones.



Life Lesson #5.  Nature is the probably the best therapy.

Singapore is an amazing garden city, but I suspect, people just don’t get out into the nature enough to enjoy what’s available.  Each time I’m out in one of the nature parks for ‘forest therapy’ (an almost weekly ritual that my wife and I enjoy), I get reminded that the park didn’t just exist naturally without human effort.   Someone had a vision, and did something about it.

I’m grateful for what the National Parks Board ( NParks) does to preserve, create, and maintain so many green spaces in this highly urbanised and tiny island.

Being out in the nature, is possibly the best therapy. And to top it off – it’s FREE.

Looking back, 2017 had been a spectacular year.  This year-long experiment had taught me to be grateful for the many gifts that Life has graciously served up … good health, loving relationships, and great opportunities for work and travel.

“So what?” I asked myself.  What would 2018 be like?

This experience has also inspired an idea for my next experiment for 2018.  Last year was about counting my blessings and being grateful for all the good I have received.  This year, I’m experimenting with ‘A Year of Giving’ – essentially, it’s about spreading goodness through creating a movement that encourages, enables, and inspires the joy of giving.

Stay tuned for more details about this exciting project that I’m currently brewing. Meanwhile, do reach out if you wish to find out more or would like to be a part of this movement.





How Facebook Almost Ruined My Marriage

I’m still amusingly shocked by what I actually said to my wife last week.

You might find it silly. A Freudian slip, possibly.  But it’s true. And definitely music to Mark Zuckerberg’s ears.

We had a heated argument over what I considered trivial – the kind that loving empty nesters do when they don’t fret over their children.

In the heat of the moment, as she interrogated (or curiously asked) me on the motivations for my weekly posting on Facebook, I answered with gusto, Because I AM an active Facebook user!”

Yes. That’s who I am, and that’s what I do.

We both burst into laughter. It’s absolutely hilarious.

What a nutcase narcissistic social media maniac I’ve become!

Or maybe, not.

At the start of 2017, I began an experiment on gratitude.  Rather than reflecting once a year as part of our annual family yearend gratitude-cum-visioning ritual, I started to count my blessings daily. The initial idea was to keep a daily gratitude journal.   It didn’t take long for me to realise that sitting down to reflect and write proved to be more difficult than jumping into the pool and swim 20 laps every day.

“There’s got to be another way to do this,” I pondered.

The last time I successfully picked up a new daily habit was when a colleague nominated me to take up a 22 Days Push-up Challenge (#22PushUp) – a campaign to raise awareness on war veterans suicides due to post-trauma stress disorder (PTSD).  The rule of the game was simple.  Over 22 days, each day, I was to do 22 push-ups, capture it on video, post it on Facebook, and nominate another to the challenge.

What started with a tinge of regret (I shouldn’t have liked her FB post) turned out absolutely amazing!  I never knew I could pull it off, especially on days when I was flat out exhausted after work.  But the drive to honour my word, the encouragement from friends, to fun of roping in my boys and brother,  and the inspiration from watching those I subsequently nominated kept me going.

It was the first time I managed to keep up with doing something new every day for about month.   Reluctant to give up a habit that took much determination and sweat to develop, I carried on with daily push-ups beyond the 22 days.  I felt strong and fit, but eventually had to stop due to a wrist injury.

But not all went to waste. I learnt a valuable lesson on habit formation.  And it’s not the usual motivational BS like will power, perseverance, or determination.  It’s not the “It takes 21 days to rewire the brain” kind of pop-psychology.  And there’s no need to get overly philosophical – although I’m a huge fan of Friedrich Nietzsche who famously said: “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.”

What I’ve learnt, is simply … the power of structure. Having an enabling structure can make the performance of the habit easier.  22 push-ups isn’t easy, at least for me.  But the entire act of pressing record on the phone, get down and just do it, and then post it on FB is relatively simple.

So, I applied that learning to my attempt at cultivating a habit of gratefulness.  I started posting my reflections at the end of each week on Facebook (#CountYourBlessings).  After four weeks of sharing photos of significant moments and people, receiving a few hundred likes, and exchange of comments with friends with whom I hadn’t been in touch for years, I hit the first snag.

My wife wasn’t too pleased.

She’s concerned with the risk of chronicling our family life online, and preferred a little more privacy.  Whilst I think her concerns are valid, I have a higher risk appetite, and lower need for privacy.  There all kinds of FB users.  I’m just not that type that post picture of cats or share videos of Trump parodies.  So, we have our differences.  Not totally irreconcilable.

I promised to be more discrete, but I’ll carry on, at least till Week 52.  Why?

Because I AM an active Facebook user.  It’s that simple, and more …


The second lesson, and possibly a more significant thing I’ve learnt about human change and habit formation, is identity.  Co-incidentally, I chanced upon a chapter in The Impact Code (a book I’m currently reading) in which author Simon Tyler wrote:

There are few phrases as powerful, as evocative as: “I am …”

“I am …” reflects, or sets the tone for, the activity of your life. When you say and feel “I am …”, you release unstoppable springs from within.

The release of unstoppable springs from within – that totally resonated with how I felt.

I am adventurous … someone who loves challenges and new experiences.

I am curious … someone who loves experimenting with new concepts, behaviours, ways of seeing and being.

I am a man of integrity … someone who keeps his words.

I am grateful … someone who counts his blessings regularly (and not shy to share it online).

I am unstoppable (at least on this weekly #CountYourBlessings experiment on FB)

Honestly, I am not sure how well this will impact my marriage.  But I am open to whatever lessons that Life sprinkles into our lives.

I am a huge fan of Nietzsche (as you know by now) – who also famously said: “That which does not kill you us makes us stronger.” I remain hopeful that if Facebook doesn’t completely ruin our marriage, it will strengthen it.