Skip to Content

Dr Lee Wei ling Explains the Stoic Philosophy

There is something that I find it hard to deal with over the years.

One of them is the need for extreme swings of happiness and sadness.

Whenever there are case studies in life where it usually call for a collective need to be extremely happy (promotions, work success, family success) or extreme sadness (someone passes away, someone got into some really bad shxt), I find it hard for me to resolve the need for this emotion.

I sometimes wonder whether there are some emotional or psychological flaw in my make up.

Until I realize that its not just me feeling this way.

There is a whole host of folks that over time followed the stoic philosophy even though they do not know it themselves.

This philosophy stems from the influence of Seneca, Marcus Aurelius centers very much on pragmatism, knowledge, reflection, grit.

Because most things can be explain by some logic, emotions are looked upon differently (and perhaps they need to be explained as well)

I couldn’t explain this concept well, but Dr Lee Wei Ling can.

For those who are unaware, Dr Lee Wei Ling is the former Director of National Neuroscience Institute (NNI). She is also the daughter of late Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew.

I would say Singaporeans was less acquainted with her compared to her other siblings until reading some of the pieces of writing on her father and family.

It made me realize how much contentment to a day a piece of good writing can bring you.

In this latest piece, Dr Lee Wei Ling shares her reflection on a challenging situation with loved ones and distills how she felt about the situation.

The following are parts that I most identified with:

The way I was brought up, the pursuit of happiness was never an activity that we engaged in. That does not mean we grew up miserable. Getting injections and going for dental treatment without making a fuss or crying earned Mama’s praise and that was happiness enough. Perhaps my Hakka toughness is the result of a Hokkien mother who wanted her children to grow up resilient and stoic. Helping my classmate with his studies because the teacher was going too fast in class also gave me a sense of happiness which is doubled when he does well in the exam. Yet, I am aware that the final arbiter of success is how he copes in society as an adult: what job can he do and will he do it?

I am by nature a restless person and feel the need to be gainfully occupied even on my own time, whether exercising or learning something new, like the characteristics of the cathedral we toured. Perhaps, that is a genetic trait.

Socially, I tend to avoid parties and big gatherings. But with the mobile phone, it is impossible to escape greetings by SMS or WhatsApp. I never initiate such greetings, but on receiving one, my standard answer is “the same to you and your family”. When I needed to thank friends for presents they’ve sent, I usually write: “Wishing you and your family a happy, healthy and peaceful new year.”

I use the same response for Chinese New Year as well because “gong xi fa cai” is to wish the person to gain great wealth and I don’t think wealth on its own brings one happiness.

But to some people, wealth is the most important thing in their life, and they are forever endeavouring to accumulate more wealth. Whenever they gain more, it is never enough, and they then plan or plot to gain even more. It is an endless pursuit in self-gratification with no meaningful purpose in life.

Happiness, in whatever form one sees it, becomes more elusive the harder one tries to pursue it. That’s why my personal aim is much more realistic: All I ask for is calmness and contentment. These at least are partially within my control.

I don’t believe pursuing happiness is an effective way to achieve happiness. By behaving well, and by helping our fellow humans negotiate the obstacles that are part of life are more effective ways to become happy. Doing so will make the people around us happy as well. There is nothing profound in this, but sometimes simple solutions can achieve what complex thought cannot.

To me, she showed all the signs of a person driven by logic, needing an explanation to various observations and someone who prefers to spend time on things that brings fulfillment, concepts that they greatly valued and less focused on things that are of low valued.

These people would came across as weird most of the time. In this piece, you will grow to understand why sometimes presentation is not that important to her.

Presentation is still important to me more so because my presentation reflects about my bosses.

But you can identify people that prioritizes important things versus those that were less important.

Just this afternoon, lunch was in NUS, and I was walking to the cafeteria with my colleagues when in front of us walked a guy wearing short socks with his sandal slippers. My colleagues was making remarks on how can someone wear such awkward presentations at public places. I think the guy probably is having a ball of a time with his deep conversation with his Indian friend to care less about what others think about a random guy walking down the corridor.

Concepts like Stoicism will always be seen as eccentric and less common in this world unless attitudes take a profound shift.

I am just glad we have a prominent person who writes very well explaining it to the masses.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


Wednesday 24th of February 2016

Simple Simon still believes there is a time for joy and there is a time to weep. Without spring, where is summer, autumn and winter. Perhaps we have our own ways to be happy and to be sad. How much and how you feel about things are all inherently you.

There is no one way superior, right or wrong. To each his own. Happy can liu.


Saturday 27th of February 2016

yes uncle temperament, there is no one way. it is just that sometimes you tend to think whether you have an issue with yourself or not haha

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.