Wednesday, December 31, 2008


The countdown has begun. In a few hours we bid adieu to 2008 - an annus horribilis if ever there was one. If you haven’t made any resolutions, or set any goals for the new year, now's the time.

What would make 2009 a great year for us seniors? More wealth? Better health? Improved relationships? Less stress? A new romance? We know for a fact that wealth doesn’t always bring happiness. And better health doesn’t necessarily translate into contentment.

Perhaps the key is striking a balance in the areas of our lives that matter. In 1976, Dr Bill Hettler, co-founder of the National Wellness Institute, came up with his model of the Six Dimensions of Wellness. According to him, wellness is much more than the absence of illnesses or diseases.

Wellness is a state of well-being that we attain when there is balance in the social, intellectual, physical, emotional, occupational and spiritual dimensions of our lives. All six are integrated and continually influence each other.

Dr Hettler's model of the Six Dimensions of Wellness

We can use Dr Hettler’s model as a guide to set our goals or resolutions for 2009. Some suggestions:

Social Wellness ~Work on improving our relationship with our family members and friends.
~Widen our circle of friends e.g. join a senior citizens club or a Toastmasters club.
~Reconnect with old friends.
~Take up a new hobby that encourages social networking.

Intellectual Wellness
~Embrace life-long learning e.g. learn a new language or skill.
~Take up an activity that is intellectually and mentally challenging e.g. online forums, Sudoku.
~Learn to think critically, analytically and creatively.

Physical Wellness~Exercise more regularly e.g. daily brisk walking, yoga or qi-gong.
~Watch our food intake.
~Get enough sleep.
~Get rid of bad habits that are detrimental to our health.
~Go for regular medical & dental check-ups.

Getting a dental check-up at Specialist Dental Group clinic

Emotional Wellness
~Learn to accept who we are - warts and all.
~Find ways to cope with stress. Travel. Play with our grandchildren.
~Remember “not to sweat the small stuff”. Relax.
Group qi-gong session in the park

Occupational Wellness
~Share our experience, knowledge and skills with others in the community
~Volunteer our services to help the less fortunate
~Find a worthy cause to support.
~Undertake a community or environmental project.

Volunteer for the Malaysian Association for the Blind

Spiritual Wellness
~Adopt universal values and incorporate them into our daily living.
~Show gratitude for what we have.
~Respect differences in others.
~Discover meaning and purpose in life.

It is interesting to note that Dr Hettler does not mention financial wellness.
You can be more specific when you set your individual goals. You know best which areas in your life need working on next year. I won't recommend that you cast your goals in stone, but you should at least put them in writing. That way you create a stronger commitment to them.

I suggest going one step further – make your own 2009 vision chart and visualize your goals every day. Trust me, it works. 85% of what I’ve put on my vision chart for 2008 has materialized. And this was before I had read about the
Law of Attraction in 'The Secret'.

My vision chart for 2008 - 85% of goals achieved!

2009 will turn out to be another annus horribilis if all we do is pass each day aimlessly, watching TV and slowly withdrawing from the world around us. As Singapore's Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew says, "people who retire and lead sedentary lives, the pensioners die off very quickly."

Enough said. Here's to wellness and active ageing in 2009 and beyond!

Friday, December 19, 2008


If you’re looking for a Christmas present to buy for someone or yourself, I highly recommend you get your hands on John Izzo’s latest book “The five secrets you must discover before you die” . Ok, ok, I know the word ‘die’ might not go down well with most people, especially seniors like us. But, hey, let’s get rid of that mental block and give John a chance to present his case.

This book is for everyone. We do not know when our time is up. Life can be short, life can be long. Why do some people die happy with a smile on their face while others feel life has short-changed them and left them with only bitterness, pain and regret?

In my research on the oldest people in the world, I’ve discovered that some find old age a burden and wonder why their time has not yet come, while others want to stay on, god-willing, to enjoy more great years. We need only to look around us to find examples of either group from among our own circle of family members and friends. What separates one group from the other?

Thanks to John Izzo, we now have some answers. He invited 15,000 viewers of his TV show “The 5 things you must discover before you die” to nominate someone whom they know has lived a long life and has something important to teach us about living. From the 1000 names nominated, John interviewed 235 people, aged 60 to 106, to seek their wisdom.

Some of the questions John asked at the interviews:

~What has brought you the greatest sense of meaning and purpose in life?
~Why does it matter that you are alive?
~What brings you or has brought you the most happiness in life?
~Tell me one major ‘crossroad’ moment in your life, and the difference it made in how your life turned out.
~What do you wish you had learned sooner?
~How do you feel about your own mortality?

Those interviewed came from diverse backgrounds in profession, religion, culture and status. Yet their answers revealed a commonality in the things that matter most to them. John has condensed their answers into these five secrets:

Be true to yourself.
Leave no regrets.
Become love.
Live the moment.
Give more than you take.

The cynics among us will brush these ‘secrets’ aside and say “Everybody knows that! Nothing new there”. Maybe so, but it requires a humongous leap of faith to get people to take action. Surely we all agree that mere knowledge is not enough. The key is to apply what we know.

If you haven’t planned your goals for the new year, consider including these five secrets among your goals for 2009. The book is available at all major bookstores in the country. If you can’t get hold of a copy, you are welcome to borrow mine. Click here for a video snapshot of the book.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! I’ll be away in Germany during the festive season, but will keep in touch via the Internet.

Monday, December 15, 2008



WHEN my daughter told me we were going to be grandparents soon, we had mixed feelings. I shared their joy and excitement. That was an understatement; actually I was over the moon, but I was also saddened to acknowledge that I was approaching my third age.

Today my husband and I are the proud grandparents of two lovely grandchildren – Kay Leen, four, and Ai Leen, two. And we found that the evening of our lives is indeed the best part.
And what of our role as grandparents? Well, this role is full of enjoyment. The grandchildren live across the Causeway and when we visit them, my daughter and son-in-law would take this opportunity to go shopping, catch a movie, run errands and meet up with friends.

My little jewels - Ai Leen and Kay Leen

My husband and I gladly take over their duties. Our little jewels will not allow their Filipino caregiver to bathe or feed them when we are there. For a start, we do not get to sleep in because the first thing they do when they wake up is to head to our room to wake us up.

And then it’s non-stop activity until bedtime. During mealtimes we have to sit with them. They love being fussed over. We go to the playground and run after them as they move from see-saw to the slide and the swings.

We act as arbitrator when they fight over toys. We don many hats when we are with them. We become their playmates as we join in their games, we jolt our memories as we sing nursery rhymes with them, and hold their hands when they watch their favourite shows like Barney, Wiggles and High Five.

The delight on their faces when they watch the shows never ceases to amuse us. We turn storytellers before bedtime when we go through stories we have not heard for a long time. The last time we told these stories was probably when our children were tiny tots. But with our grandchildren cuddled up in bed, listening intently as we tell the stories, the experience is exhilarating.

Few things are more delightful than grandchildren fighting over your lap. I was in seventh heaven when my little angels, with their arms enveloping me, told their friends that I was their grandma and refused to let them come close to me. I never felt so wanted. Yes, happiness is being grandparents.

And so in the sixth decade of our life, when we are all done with our career, parenting and enjoying our retirement, we relish our new roles as grandparents.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


Teresa with adopted son Sharana Rao.

The first time I met Singapore’s supercentenarian, Teresa Hsu, was on Oct 20, 2008, a day after attending the MIM- RAMLEAN life enrichment programme. I had just spent four days with 32 senior citizens ranging from 50 to 70 years of age. We were all looking to discover meaning and purpose in our sunset years, and here was a 110-year old woman who had already found her calling early in life.

Teresa had been invited by YPO (Malaysia Chapter) for a dialogue session on “Healthy at 110”. 110 and still actively involved in community work and traveling around to give motivational talks. How does she do it? I most certainly wanted to find out from her.

My daughter, Belle, with Teresa.

I was half expecting to see a frail, wrinkly old lady with fading eyesight and hearing loss. When I finally met her, I was completely bowled over by her clarity of vision, her infectious laughter, her natural wit and her mental agility. She could have easily passed for 40 years younger.

Teresa’s life story makes for fascinating reading. Born in 1898 in Guangdong, China, she has lived in three different centuries and seen more than she wanted of the horrors of war, hunger, poverty and disease.

From the age of four, Teresa learned to make herself useful with a broom. Her world was one of constant sweeping, cleaning and doing housework. She was deprived of an education in China where only males were allowed to attend school. But when her family moved to Penang in 1927, she managed to persuade the nuns at the convent where she was working as a cleaner to let her study with the children. Four years later, she passed her Senior Cambridge. With that under her belt, she left for Hongkong, and later Chongqing to work as a stenographer and bookkeeper with a German news agency.

In 1937, she quit her job and volunteered to help the injured soldiers during the Sino-Japanese War. In 1945 when World War Two broke out, Teresa was once again witness to the suffering of the sick and wounded. Determined to learn nursing so that she could better help those in need of medical attention, she left for London in 1947. Despite being overaged at 47, her sincerity and dedication helped her gain acceptance into the Royal Free Hospital where she developed her nursing skills over the next eight years.

While in London, she joined the International Voluntary Service for Peace and travelled around Europe to help the needy and promote peace. Hearing about her willingness to serve in return for food and lodging, Bruderhof, a German charity group, invited Teresa to work with German Jewish refugees in hospitals and homes in Paraguay. She was to remain there for the next eight years.

Teresa and her volunteers dishing out food for the poor and hungry.

In her mid-50s, Teresa returned to Malaysia to see her ailing mother. While there she also helped her brother start the Assunta Foundation in Ipoh. She later went on to establish three homes for the elderly and two homes for young girls and the neglected, all in Ipoh.

In 1961, Teresa went to live with her older sister, Ursula, in Singapore. Seeing how devoted Teresa was to helping the less fortunate, Ursula bought a piece of land with her savings from her work as principal of the Convent for the Holy Infant Jesus in Bukit Timah. There Teresa started Singapore’s first Home for the Aged Sick in 1965 at the age of 67.

In 1970, with the increase in the number of inmates and the lack of funds to keep the Home running, the sisters signed over the deeds of the Home to the Rotary Club which then took over the management of the Home. It was renamed Society for the Aged Sick. Teresa stayed on as matron till 1980 when she was asked to retire at age 83.

Not one to settle for passive retirement, Teresa started the Heart-to-Heart Service with her co-worker Sharana Yao from her sparsely-furnished house next to the Society for the Aged Sick. Today she remains actively involved in the weekly distribution of food and provisions to the elderly in need.

A keen practitioner of life-long learning, Teresa continues to expand her knowledge by reading and learning new skills. She has a collection of more than 2000 books all donated, and is currently reading the Bhagavad-Gita for the eighth time. It’s incredible that at her age she reads without the aid of glasses. At 69, she learned yoga and has incorporated it into her daily rituals. At 90, she embraced Buddhism. At 100, she picked up Mandarin and now speaks it fluently. She also speaks Malay, French, German, Spanish and four Chinese dialects. At present, Teresa is busy learning Sanskrit.

When asked about her longevity, Teresa attributes it to a spartan lifestyle, a vegetarian diet, healthy habits, and a positive outlook on life.

Some quotable quotes from Teresa:

"I never harbor negative thoughts as this will distract my focus in getting on with life and work."

“There are no naughty children – only naughty parents.”

“When you greet people with a smile, people will feel happy and smile back. If you pull a long face, people will not feel happy and pull a long face back at you.”

“Crying wastes tissue paper, and cuts down trees. It’s better to laugh.”

“If you see someone fall, you do not ask him why he did not see the stone. You help him up and ask him to be more careful next time.”

“If I’m married, I make only one man happy. If I’m not married, I make many people happy.”

“The answers are not from me. They are just out there.”

“The world is my home, all living beings are my brothers and sisters, selfless service is my religion.”

“I prefer to laugh than to weep. Those people who cry to me, I say is your body full of water? I always tell them it is better to laugh than to use tissue paper, as laughing is free but tissue paper costs five cents. 'Ha ha ha' costs no cents.”

“If I stay at home, I just ha-ha to myself. If I go out and ha-ha with 20 people, I make 20 people happy.”

“I don’t give. Giving means I have and you don’t have. I share – I share all I have, except ice cream and durians!”

“The whole world is one big family. All human beings are related to me. We may not have the same surname, but we share the same universal surname – human beings. And that’s good enough for me.”

“What do I think about death? I don’t know. I haven’t been there yet. Have you?”

"No one has ever explained religion or spirituality satisfactorily to me. My religion is my conscience, and my conscience guides me."

“If you think old, you are old. If you think young, you are young. Even when you are 100+, you can still do a lot.”

“Why am I a vegetarian? Do you want to cause pain for your pleasure? Ask yourself that, and you won’t dare to put a knife to their (animals and fish) throat.”

“It’s good to have a black man in the White House who rules with grey matter.”

Over the years, Teresa has received numerous accolades in recognition of her humanitarian work. But she remains humble, preferring to shift focus from herself to her work at Heart-to-Heart Service.

My daughter, Belle, and I recently spent one whole morning with Teresa and Sharana in Singapore. Teresa graciously welcomed us into her home and even sang a jolly German song and a traditional Cantonese nursery rhyme to entertain us! Teresa enjoys laughing and we had plenty of it that morning.

She was delighted when Belle gave her a pen from an Anthony Robbins seminar she had attended. Teresa amazed us when she proudly read aloud the small inscription "Living is Giving". No need for eye glasses. "I like that," she said simply of both the pen and the inscription.

Later, we joined Teresa and Sharana on their weekly visit to distribute provisions to some elderly ladies in Chinatown. It was a truly enriching and inspiring experience for us to be in Teresa's company and listen to her words of humour and wisdom.

Teresa distributing provisions to the elderly in Chinatown.

Teresa is proof that it really doesn’t take much to live a long, happy, healthy and fulfilling life. As for Teresa herself, she says, “I hope to live till 250! In this world, there are still many poor people who need help from others. I can't leave too soon!"

May you enjoy double happiness and double longevity, Sister Teresa!