Fresh beginnings

And so, another year has passed. Time again to ponder on your 2009 list of personal accomplishments — or its nonexistence. Either way, it is your big chance to make your own “year-end review.”

The start of the new year is the perfect time to sit down, reflect, and set some goals for the coming year. It affords you to have some meaningful time to carefully listen to your heart and know what your true calling in life is.

What do you want to accomplish in 2010 and beyond? Where does your heart passion lie? What special projects do you intend to pursue? How do you intend to bless the people and communities around you in a practical and meaningful way? Write it all down and be serious with the whole goal-setting ritual.

Time is money. Actually, it is more valuable than money (and successful business people know this full well). Lost money can be retrieved or replenished anytime. But wasted time is lost forever. What you do with the time is irreversible; one simply cannot go back in time to undo things that had already been done. So be a good steward of time. Some people do not realize that wasting time is such a travesty!

If you think 2010 is the time for you to pursue a dream, say, putting up a small food business or studying photography or web design, then do so. Follow your heart and invest your precious, precious time on something that you know is right for you and the people in your area of influence. In the end, you will be happy you have made this crucial decision.

Remember, there will always be ‘dream detractors’ in your life. The world is full of them. But do not easily lose heart when you hear a barrage of criticisms that weigh you down. Focus. Do not swerve to the right nor to the left; do not allow yourself to be sidetracked. Instead, march on straight ahead and disregard needless distractions. Reaching your personal goals is of prime importance. You live your life only once. So stop letting others live it for you.

Maybe you have been derailed in the past and find yourself in a rut right now. But do not get discouraged. It is not yet too late for you to put yourself back on track. Finish that college degree. Apply for that dream job. Set up that business. Join that church or community initiative in helping the poor and needy in your area. The options are endless. So what are you waiting for?

Remember, how you live your life is a personal choice. So why not live it to the fullest? You basically do not regret the things that you do, but the things that you do not do. Better to have tried and failed than not to have tried at all (okay, that’s a spin-off of a famous line). So make that first step NOW. Attempt is actually a good word.

Here’s to 2010. Have a wonderful new year filled with well-intentioned action plans!


The art of post-holiday recycling

We can now heave a sigh of relief: no more holiday feasts to whip up, no more parties to go to, no more crazy Christmas shopping downtown, and no more gifts to wrap and distribute. Thank goodness, the Yuletide madness is finally over.

With the hectic holidays still fresh in our minds, the question is, have you been wise in handling some stuff you’ve purchased or have received by default last Christmas? Have you done any recycling at all in the name of good stewardship?

If yes, then well and good. If not, then maybe it’s time to re-evaluate your post-holiday habits and be less wasteful. It’s not yet too late to learn from the economical ways of our wise grandmothers, who had gone through a lot during the Depression era.

Here are some general post-holiday recycling tips, courtesy of Freitag:

• Gather all your leftover Christmas paper items. Put all the used (as long as they are still in good condition) and unused gift wraps, tags, cards, bows and ribbons all in one storage box and label it well, so that when the next Christmastime arrives, you’ll know where to get those holiday paper goods. By the way, the key to recycling used gift wraps is to open your gifts carefully the next time you receive a present from somebody; and not just carelessly tearing up those nice, colorful gift wraps as tradition dictates. Then fold neatly those used gift wraps and put in your to-be-recycled Christmas storage box. Teach your kids to do this, too. It will save you a lot of paper — and money.

• Keep those boxes. Whether they are shoeboxes (maybe you received a pair of shoes last Christmas), shipment boxes, or carton gift boxes, make sure you just don’t throw them away. Boxes are always good for storing things up — stuff like used Christmas tree ornaments (see related tip number one), photos, postcards, and electronic items. Plus, you can also recycle these boxes when you need to wrap up a present on any occasion (birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, Christmas, etc.). Or if you are an active Ebay seller, these boxes will come in handy every time you need to ship items locally or internationally. So, keep those boxes!

• Keep those tin cans and glass jars, too. The same principle applies here. Tin cars and glass jars, just like boxes, make great containers. So don’t discard those Christmas tin cans and glass jars. You can use tin cans for storing food items like cookies, candies, or tea bags. And depending on the shape of the actual tin can, you can even use it as a sewing kit, why not? As for the glass jars, they can be resused to preserve homemade jams, pickles, and yes, halo halo ingredients.

• Reuse shopping bags. Again the same principle: keep those used shopping bags, whether they are made of plastic or paper, and reuse them. For what? For shopping! Every time you go to the supermarket, bring a used shopping bag to carry your groceries. Paper shopping bags can be recycled as gifts wraps, too. Just cut them up and wrap your present in them. It’s art for practical art’s sake. Just make sure the quality of the shopping bag is still good, though — not overly crumpled or anything like that. Plastic shopping bags, meanwhile, can be used again when you are giving a present to a family member or friend whom you are going to meet outside on a rainy or wintry day. It protects the paper-wrapped gift inside.

• Use those greetings cards as future Christmas decors. Okay, maybe you have not really received a deluge of physical Christmas cards in your mailbox last December in the advent of e-cards. But if you have, well, don’t trash them as some practical (read: non-sentimental) people do. You can recycle them later on as Christmas decors. For instance, you can string them together and, voila, you have an instant Christmas festoon — and a personalized one at that. Or you can simply decorate your Christmas tree or your mantle with a well-chosen set of greeting cards come Christmastime. You will save yourself a lot of money by doing this. No need to buy anymore those fragile silver or golden balls and glitter string decors that are not that cheap actually.

• ‘Regift’ unused and unwanted Christmas presents. If you have received some Christmas gifts that you do not really need (maybe because you already have it, or simply because it does not fit your lifestyle) — e.g. receiving a perfume you’re allergic to or getting a blouse that’s not your size — and therefore can’t use, then you can give them (presents) to somebody else. Just make sure that the items are in great condition and usable, and that the person you are giving it to is not in any way related to the giver. And yes, some people do take such unwanted presents to what they call the White Elephant Gift Exchange.

This post-holiday recycling list is by no means comprehensive. There are still tons of things you can do to reuse stuff and not letting them go to waste. You just need to let those creative juices flow freely.

With the global financial downturn, we all need to be extra wise in handling all our resources. Learn a thing or two from Grandma.

So, guys, let’s use the R word more often these days: recycle, recycle, recycle!

Holiday gift ideas for the budget-conscious

‘Tis the season to be thrifty, you might be telling yourself. Many are already feeling the pinch — or the punch, for those who have already lost their jobs and homes — of the current economic crisis. And indeed, it’s time to tighten the belt some more.

And here comes the Christmas holidays, when commercialism is usually at its all-time high. Will consumers still be buying gifts for their loved ones at fever pitch to mark the merry season? Probably not. Already, there have been media reports of a slowdown in retail store sales almost everywhere. It appears that people are putting off purchases this time around.

But if you’re the type who just couldn’t — or wouldn’t — forego the Christmas gift-giving tradition ‘just because,’ Freitag has this to say: Be creative! Gifts need not be bought from the store all the time. A little imagination, plus some DIY (do-it-yourself) skills, will do the trick.

Here are some basic Christimas gift ideas for the budget-conscious:

• Make your own gifts. If you’re good at knitting, for example, you can knit scarves, gloves or socks for your loved ones (of course, this is for those who live in four-season countries). Or you can bake cakes and cookies and give these homemade goodies as Christmas presents. You can also indulge in some paper crafts and design your own decorative boxes (using shoeboxes) that can be used as fancy containers of CDs, DVDs and photos. Hopefully, the people who will receive your labor-of-love gifts will appreciate the extra effort you put into the task.

• Offer your personalized services. Services are as good as products. Depending on your skills and talents, you can offer services ranging from ad copy writing, taking photos, and teaching a foreign language to cooking/baking, sewing, and repairing stuff (cars, clocks, watches, and what-have-you). The idea is, offer services based on yours talents and skills.

• Design and print out your own gift certificates. This is related to tips 1 and 2; but it comes in voucher form. Using bond paper and your computer keyboard (or pen, if you’re technically challenged), design a set of gift coupons for your family and friends. For instance, you can give your spouse the following gift certificate: This entitles ___________________ (fill in the blank with your spouse’s, child’s, or friend’s name) to a one-hour foot massage at home. Valid till December 24, 2009. Or you can give this gift coupon to your best friend: This entitles _________________ to five hours of Adobe Photoshop lessons. Valid till December 24, 2009. These are just examples. Of course, you can customize your gift certificates based on your personal skills and the actual needs of your family and friends.

• Give ‘time gifts.’ Sometimes, spending quality time with your family is the best gift you can ever give to them — not just on Christmas Day, mind you. In this age of busyness, a number of career-driven people compensate the lack of time they spend with their family by showering them with expensive gifts. However, their familial presence, especially on special occasions, is actually more important than the actual presents. Studies show that children value more the time they spend with their beloved parents than the material things they receive from them. So spend more time with your loved ones this holiday season. That, in itself, is already a priceless gift.

• Recycle gifts. This is a delicate topic. Some people are not open to the idea of recycling gifts (i.e. giving away a present you have received to another person), and regard it as something unethical. However, others do this actively out of pure pragmatism. A newspaper editor, for instance, may opt to give away the tons of new books or IT products he/she receives from corporate publicists to his/her family and friends just because he/she has more than enough books or software products, and his recipients are more than happy to have them. As long as there’s no sentimental value attached to the gifts, many deem this gift-giving style acceptable. What’s important, these pragmatists say, is that the recycled gifts are all in pristine condition (read: unused) and something that would really be appreciated by the would-be recipients. (Note: One should not recycle gifts as a form of ‘convenience dumping’ activity that would save him/her lots of money. The giver should always think hard if the item is in line with what the recipient needs or wants. So you don’t give a book on good parenting to a menopausal spinster or a Logitech mouse to a non-computer user.)

These are just some cost-cutting tips for those who still have the resources to give presents this holiday season.

But if we can get rid of this Christmas gift-giving tradition altogether in this time of economic gloom, then well and good. After all, as the cliche goes, the best things in life are free. Our love, care, and presence should be sufficient enough for our family and friends all-year round.

Try the thank-you therapy and be happy

Research shows that cultivating an attitude of gratitude greatly benefits our general health and contributes to our personal happiness.

Prof. Robert Emmons of the University of California, Davis is a ‘gratitude expert’ and has been doing research on the psychology of gratitude for 10 years now.

In a Nov. 2007 online interview with Alvaro Fernandez, co-founder and CEO of SharpBrains (see the Q&A here), Emmons says that gratitude is a “positive emotion” which he and his team are studying “not merely as an academic discipline, but as a practical framework to better functioning in life by taking control of happiness levels and practicing the skill of emotional self-regulation.”

Emmons claims that the practice of gratitude can increase a person’s happiness level by around 25 percent and can bring positive health effects, such as a better sleeping time. He points out that people who keep what he calls a “Gratitude Journal,” where one jots down things he/she feels grateful for, often experience a “meaningful difference” in their level of happiness, even for as little as three weeks of gratitude journaling.

Of course, this positive psychology concept is not entirely new to us. We’ve heard more than once in church sermons or read in self-help books about the benefits of “counting our blessings” and “giving thanks in everything.”

We just couldn’t measure scientifically the results of being in a constant state of thankfulness the way Emmons was able to measure “objective data” in his study of the psychology of gratitude. We just noticed that people, who had a mental gratitude list, looked happier…and healthier. And they exuded that positive aura that made us want to be around them.

It seems, though, that being thankful has become an obsolete practice. A number of people, especially those who live in First World countries, have sadly become a generation of whiners, who take many things for granted.

However, it’s not yet too late to breed an attitude of thankfulness in your lives. By choosing to put into practice the basic principles of the thank-you therapy, you get to raise your happiness level dramatically, enjoy a healthier lifestyle, and build better relationships with others as a result.

Here are a few suggestions on how you can improve your practice of gratitude:

• Write a gratitude list regularly. List down things and/or people you’re thankful for in a journal. Make sure that you write at least five gratitude points a day/week (whichever frequency you prefer) on your journal — e.g. 1) morning hug from your spouse, 2) a surprise call from an old friend, 3) learning how to knit a scarf, 4) a new French word or phrase learned this week, 5) a job offer — and review your thank-you lists regularly. Better yet, create a “gratitude blog” (on Blogspot or WordPress), where you can post your gratitude lists on a regular basis.

• Count your blessings, and share your ‘praise report’ with another person. While keeping a gratitude journal does help cultivate an attitude of gratitude, sharing your list of blessings you’re thankful for with another person boosts your personal gratitude practice a hundredfold. Hopefully, your positive attitude will rub off on him/her.

• Thank someone today. Think of a person who has helped you tremendously in the past (i.e. did you a great favor) or has inspired you to be the successful person you are today. It can be your mom or dad, your sis, your teacher, your classmate, or your friend. Send him/her a personalized thank-you snail mail, pointing out how he/she made a difference in your life.

• Surround yourself with ‘gratitude practitioners.’ The company you keep is vital to maintaining a thank-you therapy that will work and last for a long time. If you spend more time with grumblers than with grateful people, you’ll soon become one of the whiners, who complain at every hassle that they encounter day in and day out.

• Always try to see the bright side of life. It’s not easy to be thankful when your mind is automatically set on a glass-half-empty mode. True, life is not always a bed of roses — bad things do happen in all parts of the world — but it helps to remain hopeful when things go wrong. Hope is a great thing.

• Look around you and appreciate the beauty of creation. Take time to smell the roses, as the cliche goes. Be thankful for the fresh air, the blue skies, the colorful blooms, the scenic mountains, the laughing children, and all the beautiful things around you.

• Focus on what you have, and not on what you don’t have. Think of the things you do have — i.e. your family and friends, house/apartment, education, job, food on the table, etc. — and make a conscious effort to be thankful for them.

• Say a ‘thank you’ prayer every day. At the end of each day, review how your day went and thank God for all the blessings (e.g. a safe journey to your destination, a sumptuous meal, a productive meeting, a new friend, etc.) that have come your way. Be as specific as possible.

Feeling and expressing gratitude may be quite a challenge in these tough times, but it’s doable. And the sooner you start your own thank-you therapy, the sooner you’ll reap the rewards: a healthier and happier you.