So last year I began this blog on my 33rd birthday and it touched so many people and still is, so I decided each year I would add the biggest life lesson I learned in the year that preceded each birthday. I turn 34 on the 25th of April and I know it will be my wisest and most joy-filled year yet.
A follower messaged me on Instagram today and said “Simone, I just want to be happy every day.” Here is the thing, as desperately as we all want that sort of euphoric joy every day, recent research has revealed it is really dangerous telling people “they should be happy.” It sets a false expectation which makes people despise their adversity. Your adversity is the singular most important thing for your growth as a human being.
How you handle that boss that bullies you, the loss of that direct family member, the disability of that other family member or any road blocks you may have, defines who you are as a person. Pain is part of life, don’t let those memes fool you. It also grows your wisdom and this enables you to help others and help yourself through anything. If you ate ice cream every single day, it would stop tasting sweet to you and when you finally put a lemon in your mouth, it would taste far more sour to you than to a person who eats lemons regularly. Accept the “lemon” days you have, we need the contrast, we need bitterness because without it we would have no market for our feelings.
Do not despise your sadness, embrace your sadness, it will induce your gratitude when times are good and gratitude is the foundation for the kind of wise joy that stretches evenly over a lifetime, not the kind of short-lived manic euphoria you see jumping up and down at music festivals.
Here are my 34 things, I hope they make you laugh and cry. If you read this last year…skip down to number 34. It features Beyonce. Because…well, Beyonce.
- Hug things. Anything. Dogs, trees, people you need to forgive, babies (ok, not the babies of strangers. That would be weird/borderline illegal. Make sure you know the parents).
- Take care of something. Learn the art of being nurturing. In my case, this was through my Mum. A woman who was the least maternal woman I knew. She would give me Oreos to take to cake day at school and scratch off the brand name off the cookie with a butter knife and insist she baked them. Really. But what a huge lesson it was to learn to take care of her, take her to the toilet, towel her down in the bathroom after a shower, put her make up on for her. Maybe you don’t have a Mum in nappies but you have a child, a dog, a chia pet. Whatever it is, by 34, giving of yourself to someone else and having that things’ happiness depend on you, will make you happier and grow you from the inside out. It will also make you feel more youthful, that is what the expansion of the heart does.
- Get some fake hair. I hate to break it to all you mid-20s-Megan-Fox-Lookalikes, but with age the only thing that gets thinner is your hair. In some cases, it just stops growing. I have been rocking a hairstyle inbetween Ashton Kutcher in “Dude, Where’s My Car” and Steven Seagal for what seems like the last 3 years. No one’s hair should grow that slowly (except maybe Chewbacca ‘cos dat boy got enough). So do yourself a favour, buy some fake-ass clip-in ponytails and run.
- Cut out all the people who do not want the best for you or support you. I mean it. Cut those people out like cancer (I feel I can use cancer here, because *cough* I am the daughter of a cancer victim). Any friendship you have that doesn’t serve you, serves to make you more aggravated. It weighs you down and that aggravation leads to stress which then makes you age. PS. This also extends to family. If there are any “Debbie Downer” cousins or bitchy aunties, get the scalpel out and cut them away. This also goes for social media, unfollow and block anyone who makes you feel bad about being you, your mental state is far more important.
- Live in a city which you love and that makes you feel alive. At my lowest point in Perth, I sat down with a piece of paper and wrote down the things I loved the most of all the countries I had lived in until that point (Switzerland, Singapore, The United Arab Emirates and Australia). I decided that the next destination I would choose to live in had to afford me all those good traits. Singapore gives me proximity to my mother but at the same time allows me to have a frenetic life (like Dubai) when I want it but the choice to be quiet when I need (like Perth) and surrounds me with highly interesting, cosmopolitan people which keep my mind agile and challenged and is such an efficient city (like Switzerland).
- Do a job that you love (or at least like). I don’t know about you, but besides really wanting to be able to talk like a sassy black woman, my other life goal was to wake every day completely turned on, in love and besotted by my job because I always knew I would spend more hours with my career than with any man.
- Make yourself do things you fear. I have a fear of dark water (because I grew up in Western Australia, the land of shark attacks and tennis-ball-sized blue-ringed octopii which can kill toddlers), which I define as any water that I cannot see the bottom of. This proved super-limiting when travelling and almost vetoed any trips which involved the ocean. In 2015, after moving to Singapore, I decided to throw away the fear, I snorkelled in Bali for the first time. That was actually bearable. So, then, because I have balls bigger than Hulk Hogan (as we all know), I jumped off a cliff (no fear of heights) 10 metres above the ocean into the water. Since smashing that fear, I have gone swimming in Boracay and snorkelling for hours in Palawan. Throwing away fear and limitations is like throwing away stress.
- Have friends from diverse backgrounds because they will broaden your mind. This means people from all over the world (much easier to find in some cities than others, mind you), sexualities, genders and faiths. Something that Singapore gives me that no other city I have lived in gives me, is diverse perspectives. If I have a problem, I can call a member of my family (who are local), an expat friend (foreigner) or someone who is a friend and local but not family. In this way I get 3 comprehensive opinions and am able to make the best and wisest decision.
- Stop giving a damn what people think. This absolutely released me and has led me to become the happiest I have ever been. I laugh all the time, I laugh at myself, I forgive myself and here’s the thing, when you’re in my line of work which depends on others’ opinions of you, this can actually stifle creativity. Being afraid of what people think makes you less entertaining and more vanilla. So this year, I decided to get brave about things because creativity also makes you more youthful. If you get bold and real and stop allowing other peoples’ judgement of you to determine your happiness, you also release yourself from so much harsh, self-directed judgement. It also gives other people permission to be more authentic too (that is not a Simone Heng original, some chick called Oprah came up with it. sigh. All the good lines are always taken).
- Sing. A lot. Not just at karaoke, but in the car, shower, walking naked in your house. Just do it. Release, release, release. There is something innately powerful about knowing that God planted an instrument inside of you, the same way man created a Stradivarius. How unbelievably friggn’ awesome, to know you were so loved that he/she gave you an inbuilt means of making beautiful music. Even if you cannot hold a tune, I promise it will make you feel younger and look younger because of all the facial masks we use when we sing. Just close your eyes and lip synch for a while. Talk about Japanese facial yoga, ya’ll.
- Do things you used to love as a child because being childlike makes everyone feel young. I used to paint in high school and started again when I lived in Dubai, eventually doing an entire exhibition. It was very fun and very relaxing. Last year they made me sprint a relay at work for a celebrity sports day, I hadn’t run sprints since high school but to my amazement I could still run super fast. I then started singing again recently thanks to lessons from Aureus Academy and it is like my pipes remember. Every time I sing scales, I am 14 again in school choir. I also used to write and up until today had not penned anything longer than a Facebook status in 5 years. Oh, how I blame the internet…
- Stop judging. Just stahhhhhp. All of it. This was a tough one for me, I grew up in a judgemental house in a judgmental migrant community. Judging for me was like breathing. But compassion is so much easier for good people to cultivate. Compassion is the natural, child-like reaction we all have in us. It opens the heart, it draws people to us and it makes everyone (you and others) happier. It isn’t your concern how other people choose to live, their choices are their choices, if it doesn’t affect you or concern you, why even think about it.
- Get botox. Money cannot buy you happiness but it can buy you botox. Botox makes everyone look younger…except for people who buy it on the internet and inject it into the wrong places in their own faces. No, seriously, there are too many videos of that on Youtube. I adore Dr Valentin Low. That guy is the bomb diggity. Dr V for President, pullleassse!
- Dance naked while listening to music from the year you turned 18 (in the United States this is 21). They did a radio study that revealed that people largely loved the music from the year they turned 18 and named songs from this era as their all- time favourites because this was the year they experienced a lot of their profound firsts. In my case, learnt to drive, got drunk for the first time, went to a nightclub and moved to Switzerland and lived away from my parents for a year. The music from this time becomes the soundtrack for those profound and heightened experiences, so whenever you hear it, this music will make you feel more youthful. So now ya’ll all know why I be playin’ Ja Rule and Ashanti on repeat when ya’ll are over.
- Buy something for yourself and completely on your own. It never occurred to me that there were people in the world that never paid their own rent, bought their own cars or homes. There are people who have always been someone’s dependent or “other half” forever. This was the level of my independence. When I was 30, I bought my first property on my own. When I collected the keys to that apartment, it was a rush that I cannot explain to you. Those little metal keys were made of sweat and tears. They were made of the sacrifice of giving up everything I knew to chase a dream halfway across the planet. I moved to the Middle East as a single woman, alone at the age of 23, knowing no one and worked almost every day for 5 years, so I could one day hold those keys in my hand and know that no one had ever helped me financially to get there. That moment was all mine and it was so sweet it almost gave me diabetes. If you have never felt this rush, brothers and sisters, do it because this sense of achievement and faith in yourself will make you feel strong!
- Travel by Yourself. Just do it. Do not get married without knowing how to do this. I am the daughter of a widow. My mother was one of the most co-dependent Asian wives I have ever seen. When my father died of cancer in 2004, after a short 90 day battle, my mother’s world changed overnight. Like Moses down the mountain, her hair tuned white. She didn’t know how to do anything without him. Her isolation, living in a suburban environment full of couples, was palpable but travelling alone brought happiness back to her. Years later, after my mother’s stroke, I went and cleaned our entire family home so we could get her into a 24-hour care facility, here I found a thumbdrive. I took it back with me to Dubai, thinking it was empty. To my surprise, when I opened it, it was full of images of my Mum riding on camels in front of the pyramids. Here I was, living in the Middle East, and my little grey-nomad Mummy had the balls to go on her own to travel in parts of the region I hadn’t even seen yet. She had taught herself, to finally be independent while travelling and she looked the happiest I had ever seen her. But don’t wait until a tragedy happens to gain that happiness and sense of self, get out there and give yourself that gift.
- Find the funny in everything, even in the darkest moments. I think by now, you are probably taken aback by the ease in which I can talk about some of the tragedies in my family life. Many people say to me they cannot believe all of this has happened in my 34 years and yet I laugh as if I am some sort of carefree 18 year-old. It was not funny going through those things at the time. Laughter is one of the best things about living, I challenge myself to laugh every day until I almost pee my pants. My Mum’s face is slightly crooked now from her stroke, she cannot laugh that big, youthful, full-faced laugh of her teens, so I figure I should try and laugh extra to compensate. I went into her bathroom at the nursing home recently, on the wall was a photo of George Clooney (*2018 Update: George Clooney has been replaced by Prince Harry) and I asked her why he was there, she said it was so when the nurses cleaned her bum and she had to try and stand, she would aim to stand straight and kiss the photo of him. I thought, yes, that’s where I get it from, that resilience in seeing the funny, even in the darkness. Find the funny, find the fountain of youth.
- Do the self-work. Before you procreate, do it. Everyone has issues, get a counsellor. Face them, be brave and sort it because the type of partner you will choose will change depending on those issues being solved or not. And that partner, will determine the happiness of you and your babies until you die. Also, do the self-work because it will give you life tools to be smarter and happier.
- Get out of the Sun. Yes, I mean you over there. Yes, you, wearing the linen shirt opened to your navel like you are Richard Branson sans the private jet. Cover up that chest, wear a hat and you will age backwards. It’s beyond fact, it is science.
- Double your exercise. Want to age backwards after 30? Well, Sweety, it actually pains me to say this, so I am going to grab your shoulders and shake you at the same time. Y O U R M E T A B O L I S M IS A B O U T T O DIE. Glad we got that out of the way. Now that I have made that clear you cannot claim I said nothing, because all my retired supermodel friends tried to tell me in my twenties and I was all like “Whatever, I eat Mcdonalds and never run and have enough sass to burn calories at rest. Basically I am a superhuman.” I was such a punk. Well, they were right. I should have believed them, after all, they are retired supermodels.
- Learn to genuinely be happy for everyone and everything (Ok, I will allow an exception for the Trump Family). So here’s the thing, the more we are happy for others, the less jealousy, envy and hate in the world. The less jealousy, envy and hate, the less crime, war and sadness. Easy right? So it does start with you, so be happy for others, it’ll make you happier and make you look younger.
- Go and get drunk and dance like when you were a teenager. When I lived in Dubai, I worked like a dog. I worked almost 7 days a week for half a decade. I did not go out. I went clubbing maybe 3 times in 5 years. Somehow I was too focussed, I felt dancing the night away was a waste of time, but I started to look uptight. I started to get that stiff “old lady hunch” and frozen “old lady hips” like I could no longer shake it. So now, I go out with the girls every 90 days and we dance it off. I always make sure that I have the day off the next day because the 30-plus hangovers actually makes you feel 1000. (*2018 Update: Hangovers now so bad that have resorted to dancing like drunk but actually sober. Proof is on Instagram).
- Learn some new skills. Build some new pathways in your brain by taking up a new sport, language, musical instrument etc. I had to learn protools for my new job when I moved to Singapore and I was amazed at how slow I am to learn after 30. When you pick up new skills and you’re in your teens, your mind just soaks things up. Stay youthful and keep the mind malleable by forcing yourself to upskill.
- Understand that “family” doesn’t mean you have to take meanness from individuals. This was hard for me, it still hurts sometimes to think about the members of family I found out were disloyal. I realised that just because we have shared genes, doesn’t mean I have to swim in their negativity pool. So cut the cord and replace with friends, many who will be more loyal and generous than a lot of your real family.
- Stop trying to control everything. Remember when you were a kid, and a teacher at school would lose her shizz. Like literally, throw her toys out of the pram. You’d look up at her stressed-out, raisin face and think, “Dayum girl, you really look old.” That’s the face you get when you try and control things that you can’t control. Accept, let go, move on = looking like a hot young thang.
- Watch children play. Obviously not in a creepy way, but marvel at their absolute lack of inhibitions. Look at how simple things make them happy. Suck up their youth like a Dementor sucks up feelings. No, seriously, be more childlike, it’ll make you lighter and make you look younger.
- Find something to laugh at every day until you almost pee. I promise, if you go to certain instagram accounts with hilarious content or watch part of an old Dave Chapelle standup every day, you will laugh that kind of laugh that you cannot control your bladder with. Instead of trawling the internet for fake news, blog forums of people complaining or insta accounts of girls contouring their abs, look for comedy, you will be happier. Period.
- Mentor people. Just do it. The universe blessed you. This is what Hollywood-types call “giving back.”
- Go and live in another country if you have never done it before. Making your mind malleable keeps you empathetic, it keeps you flexible, it stops you from judging and nothing will build new pathways in your brain and ignite your passion for life like having every single thing in your daily routine turned on its head. In my 34 years I have lived in 4 countries alone and I have moved back to Singapore and Australia twice. Every move has made me better, more happy and more youthful.
- Eat 70% less carbs. I do not need to explain this. As in item 20: Y O U R M E T A B O L I S M IS A B O U T T O DIE.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help. I never used to do this until my girlfriends in Dubai would have to bang my door down to bring me food when I was sick (you girls know who you are). We are born to work in a team (tribal creatures), you need to accept help and help others sometimes. Relying on people keeps you connected to your external environment and that connectedness makes you happier. No man/woman is an island. (However, if I could be one, I choose Mykonos).
- Forgive your parents, for everything (except criminal offences, natch). They gave you life. If your mother is Asian (or Jewish) she will remind you of this fact. In which case, why are you even reading this?
- Turn off the notifications on your social media now and again. Studies show that looking at other peoples’ selfies makes us more depressed. Being sad makes you look old. I hope this blog made you the opposite of sad and that you are on your way to feeling younger on the inside than ever before. I want that for you because remember item 21, I am happy for your happiness. Be well. Be kind. Love life.
- Give first and expect nothing in return. (*2018 Update) I used to be a “matcher,” largely because my Mum always raised me to think that someone was always trying to take advantage or take things from us. Outsiders were to be treated with suspicion (Ps. Not blaming Mummy Heng, as in item 32, she did the best she could with what she knew at the time). Maybe a lot of Asian migrants thought that way because it is largely a survivalist way of thinking. It is complete scarcity mentality. I woke up 8 months ago and realised, I am not a migrant, it is not 1987. I am blessed beyond belief, I am a serial expat and I have a wealth of resources (everything from truckloads of free beauty products to only the slightly more valuable career contacts from 3 media markets around the globe. LOL) to share with people. So at the end of every meeting, every email or every interaction with a new person, I began asking “Let me know if I can ever be of service.” I started replying to every message on social media giving help, guidance or advice. Always with the expectation of nothing in return. This was hard at first, because our society conditions us to trade and barter. But do you want to know what is even harder than giving without expectation? Keeping score of the people you helped hoping for your favours to come in? Now that is truly freakin’ exhausting, ain’t nobody got time for that shizz. I hope my daughters will grow up to offer their help immediately with no expectation, no point scoring, it will be second nature to them but if they ever get asked if they want something in return, I hope they answer “No” just like Destiny’s Child in that song “Survivor” “Because my Mumma taught me better than that.” That’s the NEW “survivalist” thinking.