If you, like me grew up in a kampong in Yio Chu Kang Road in the 1970s, it is very likely that you would have spent your evenings watching some Chinese TV serial produced in Taiwan or Hong Kong. You’d be the oddball in school if you actually watched English-language programmes that were not cartoons.
It wasn’t until I was 13 or so that I was introduced to my first English-language programme, the American comedy Happy Days, featuring Henry Winkler as Fonzie, the world’s favorite heartthrob and Ron Howard as Richie Cunningham, the nerdy teenager and Fonzie wannabe. I watched the show every evening. In fact, if you look carefully at my signature, you will see that my name is spelt as Richie Cunningham.
Somewhere in season 5, an Orkan named Mork was introduced. Played by Robin Williams, the character was so well-liked that it led to a spinoff of a very successful sitcom named Mork and Mindy. Mork and Mindy became such a hit among my group of friends that we would greet each other in school with the Orkan greetings “Nanoo, Nanoo” accompanied by the Orkan handshake.
On August 11, 2014, Robin Williams was found dead in his home in Marin County, Northern California, apparently as a result of suicide. I received this shocking piece of news by way of a text message from my son, Zech, who also counts Robin Williams as his favorite actor. I spent the rest of the day in a state of shock, wondering what could have caused such a talented, successful actor to resort to take his own life. Williams spent the bulk of his career bringing laughter to the lives of millions. Yet in his own private world, things must have gone quite wrong, for him to fall into depression and eventually do the unthinkable.
In a study done by Carleton University (Ottawa), more than 6,000 respondents indicated their agreement or disagreement with statements such as, “Some people wander aimlessly through life, but I am not one of them.” After fourteen years, those whose results showed a stronger sense of direction and purpose had far better health outcomes and seemed to outlive their less-focused counterparts. The author of the analysis, psychology professor, Patrick Hill, indicated that purpose-driven participants faced a “15 percent lower risk of death”, a difference that persisted even after factors such as age, gender, marital status and other indicators of emotional well-being were taken into consideration.
And I surmise, from Ben Shapiro’s blog Truth Revolt, that having a clear sense of purpose in our lives can be the BIG differentiator between life and death, literally. Shapiro writes:
If the Carleton study is right in suggesting that a sense of purpose can help to keep you alive
and healthy, then it’s reasonable to assume that the absence of such focus may leave you more
vulnerable to despair, loneliness, self-pity, suicide and other pathologies. In this context, even
the nation’s most stubbornly secular observers in academia and media ought to take note that
a sense of personal direction doesn’t arise most commonly from a commitment to social change
or artistic expression – the late Robin Williams scored well on such accounts.
Wildly successful and talented as an actor, Robin Williams must be one of the most well-liked persons in Hollywood and beloved by his viewers too. At the peak of his career in the 1970s, he made US$40,000 a week! Sadly, he did not find his answers in fame, popularity or fortune – the three things highly sought after by many people.
How I wish he could have found his answers and continued making a difference to his audience and fans all over the world.
And food for thought for all of us would be : what would our answers to life be?
For Ben Shapiro's blog post, please see: