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Being Grateful is the key to happiness

The Year of the Tiger is marching away, roaring powerfully.

Tigers have never been kind to humans, and this year was no exception. The beast’s teeth marks were evident throughout the year: the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that shook Haiti in January, destroying thousands of buildings and 200,000 human lives; suicide bombings in Pakistan and Afghanistan killed Americans; the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico caused monstrous destruction to wildlife and human civilization that still makes the news. And on Nov. 23, North Korea brutally attacked the South.

As odd as it might seem, I am sad to see the Year of the Tiger go. Not that I am particularly fond of the beast or its personality shown on people born in the Tiger Year, but I don’t know if I’ll live long enough to see the next Year of the Tiger, which will be 2022. Besides, after this year, I am no longer 60-something. Why should I be excited about turning 70?

Ten years ago, turning 60 was tough. That horrible day in February, I was in solitude, my bedroom curtains closed, the phone unhooked. According to Emperor Huang Ti, who invented the Chinese zodiac 2,500 years ago, a human life span is only five cycles of 12 years, each year represented by one of the 12 assigned animals. This is the reason Asians make a big deal about one’s 60th birthday, celebrating for days. In other words, your 60th birthday is supposed to be your final day on earth, and “Happy 60th birthday!” means, “Happy departure, dear!”

How can I be 70 and look at my reflection in the mirror without crying? I can’t run away from this harsh reality, nor can I forget about it. Something must be done, so I prayed desperately on my knees. But the almighty wasn’t sympathetic. “I’ve given you a good life,” he said. “What’s this nonsense?”

I am a firm believer of “do it yourself.” I drove to a library and looked for a book on how to overcome aging blues, but no one had written such a book. While browsing, the title “Magnificent Mind at Any Age” by Daniel Amen caught my attention, so I checked it out.

The book taught me a lot about the human brain — young and old, normal and abnormal. It detailed how one’s behavior, nutrition and lifestyle shapes and changes the brain cells, beside offering me wisdom on how to cope with everyday aging symptoms such as memory problems, anxiety and depression, and how to prevent certain brain diseases common to old people.

The logic is simple: without a healthy brain, one cannot live a healthy life. Though I disagree with the author’s theory that one’s spiritual experience is not the phenomenon of the Holy Spirit or God himself but a simple function of the brain, the book was worth reading.

The jewel of the book in my opinion is this: one’s sense of gratitude toward a super power or someone or something produces a healthy hormone in the brain.

Don’t we all have something to be grateful for about who we are and what we do? I am no exception. In fact, I should be grateful for my approaching birthday, because some folks, including my parents, haven’t been lucky enough to see their 70th birthdays.

The Year of the Rabbit is about to step into our lives. Rabbits have been kind to humans ever since the dawn of civilization, appearing in many children’s story books as quiet heroes and friends.

May 2011 be as gentle and peaceful as our host for all of us.