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Friday, September 30, 2011

Travel Tale: No place to sleep

As I was trying to convey to my oldest daughter, R, after she accidentally fell in a frog pond while tadpole hunting (soaking her shoes and socks with swamp water)... misadventures are not necessarily a bad thing. Even if they upset us at first, give it a little time (and a little bit of resiliency), and not only do they teach you a useful life lesson, they also become a cherished memory that you don't tire of recounting. The initial pis*** off state gives way to hilarity, and you are actually glad it happened to you, for it gives you material for telling tales around the campfire or on long winter nights.

After all, without misadventures, life would be boring!

(I still have to work at convincing R of this, I'm afraid.)

Of course there are different levels in misadventure, and each of us is equipped to deal with so much.

For example, a friend of my parents once embarked upon a solo crossing of the Sahara in a car that was not meant for that endeavour. (Needless to say, that kind of journey is considered foolhardy by even the most adventurous of us.) Soon enough, that friend encountered a group of men whose intentions were far from noble. And so he ended up being mugged in the middle of the night by unscrupulous thieves of the desert. I'm not quite sure how he managed to do that, but apparently (or so the story goes), he ended up having tea and chatting the night away with them. In the end, they only took his money, not his life. Pfiew!

I highly doubt I would be up for that kind of experience. But I have had my share of milder misadventures. And more precisely, I have found myself in the situation of not having a place to sleep, late at night in a foreign city, more than once. At least 4 times, in fact.

1) Paris

Tired after a long red eye flight from Montreal that had been delayed 3 hours, my friend P and I arrived in Paris, anxious to get to our hotel, get rid of our luggage and take a shower. Traveling on a budget, we decided to forgo the taxi and walk what seemed to be 500 m or so between the subway station and the hotel. That was without taking into consideration that we would get lost in the 4th Arrondissement; it took slightly longer than we had planned. When we finally arrived at the hotel, the combination of the flight delay and our long stroll in the city added up to about 4 hours. The hotel employee had concluded we were not coming, after all, and decided to give our room to someone else. So here we were, exhausted, carrying huge backpacks, without a room, past sunset, in a city we were only slightly familiar with. And nobody there was keen at helping us find another place to stay. Luckily, we soon found one on our own, a very nice and clean and central hotel with zealous employees. The only downside, it was about triple the price we were hoping to pay, and we ended up busting the daily budget we had agreed on within 2 hours of our arrival. An auspicious start to the trip!

2) Berlin

This one was clearly our fault. On our way to the train station to catch a late-evening night train, we got caught up in a conversation. When we arrived on the quay... our train was leaving. Since we are no James Bond nor Indiana Jones, we did not run alongside and jump in. This train being the last of the day, we could not simply take another one either. So we located a phone, and we started calling ALL the hotels in Berlin. Now, remember Berlin is a huge city. We were pretty confident we would find something. Well, by the time we were reduced to call hotels 30 km away in the suburbs, and still getting negative answers, we figured out 1) there must be some huge event going on here that we are not aware of, for all those rooms to be taken (it was high season, too) and 2) we need a plan B. By now it was close to midnight, the punks were invading the train station and the streets, and the last subway was about to leave. We ran and quickly got in. While we were being taken to an unknown neighborhood, I feverishly turned the pages of my travel guide, looking for a place (other than a hotel) to spend the night. Finally I found it: the Cafe Voltaire, a restaurant opened 24 hours. At the next station, we got out, walked briskly (punks were everywhere!), hoping it would not be full. It was not. We spent a sleepless night eating pasta, drinking coffee and writing poetry (what else to do?) It ended up being quite pleasant! The next morning, we got on a day train to Munich... and slept the whole time.

3) Toulouse

After spending a few nights in the capital of cassoulet, a rather fatty dish of pork, lamb, sausages and white beans, P and I were ready to go explore new destinations. A friend of P had generously offered to welcome us in his home in Switzerland, so we decided to end our sojourn in Toulouse and pack for a night train to Geneva. Full of foresight as we were, we waited AFTER checking out of our hotel to call the Swiss friend and confirm our arrival on the following day. That's when he sadly informed us that he was actually out of town for 3 days, and could we please postpone our arrival until then? F***, P and I both exclaimed. It was late evening in Toulouse, and when we went back to our hotel, they had insensibly replaced us with new customers; there was no vacancy. So once again, we walked in the dark city with our huge backpacks, until we found a cute place to sleep for 3 nights. This hotel was actually the place where Antoine de Saint-Exupéry had stayed between his transatlantic flights, and was full of aviation paraphernalia. Also, it was conveniently situated on the market place. We ended up enjoying it a lot.

4) Chora Sfakion

Ah! Crete! This Greek island, the largest of the country, is situated in the Mediterranean, a night of ferry boat away from Athens. It is a paradise for both history buffs (Minoan civilisation) and enthusiastic hikers. P and I decided to "do" the Samaria Gorges, a breathtaking canyon on the southern side of the island. The views were incredible, the weather was glorious, the water was warm (even in early April!) We had an awesome time. At the end of the day, though, our bliss quickly faded when we realized that Cretan public transport does not synchronize buses with ferries. We missed the last bus and were stuck in the small town of Chora Sfakion while still paying for a room in Chania, on the other side of the island. This time, we did not have to spend much time considering our options. Recognizing the anxious look on our face, a local guy walked straight to us and asked if we needed a hotel room. Not in the mood to wonder if this was a scam, we followed him. We ended up in the quaintest room of the quaintest hotel in the quaintest of coastal towns. On the restaurant terrace overlooking the ocean, that night, we chatted with globe-trotter, polyglot waiters, who gave us dessert and liquor for free. We never regretted having to pay for 2 hotel rooms at the same time, and the following morning, we were quite sad to leave.

In the end, some of our best traveling memories are related to those misadventures that turned up to be positive surprises.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Children and happiness



I am among those who think happiness is a skill that can be learned. Like anything else, if you start early, you can guide a child to his/her discovery of what it takes to lead a happy life.

This is why I often grab opportunities to slip a little bit of "happiness training" in daily life interactions with my kids. An easy way, for example, is to play the "grateful game": we each have to name at least one thing we are grateful for at the end of the day. (Hopefully that somehow compensates for all the whining and complaining!)

During her latest visit at the school library, my youngest daughter, A, chose the following book: Woof. A Love Story by Sarah Weeks.

This is a lovely tale of a dog falling in love with a cat. Not only does it emphasize the acceptance of difference and positive relationships between individuals belonging to separate groups, as well as underlining the universal language that music is, it also contains a wonderful "happiness debriefing" prompt:

When a dog's low and his troubles seem big, one thing that may help cheer him up is to dig. He'll dig and he'll dig 'til his spirits are lifted, and things can turn up in the dirt that he's shifted. Sometimes a coin or a shoe or a stone, but this doggie dug up-a shiny brass bone.

This passage led me to ask the girls, "What do YOU do to lift your spirits when you are low and your troubles seem big?" They were quick at answering. A said "I go see Mudslide" (Mudslide is our cat and has a gift for comforting sad children, I must admit). R (my oldest daughter) said: "I read" (Oh yes. She does). Not bad, I thought. Cats and books are an excellent starting point!

This also made me realize that among all the strategies we have to get out of the blues, some are healthy (petting a cat, reading a book). But some are not (hence the numerous addictions that cripple so many people). I myself have a tendency to go right for chocolate ice cream. Which is not a dangerous drug, you might argue (I wouldn't be so sure!), but hey, there must be a healthier way to deal with problems.

Once when dealing with a "difficult" employee at the swimming pool I was in charge of, it got to a point where the discussion between us made me boil inside with anger. Of course, I hid it well (repeat the mantra: "Stay professional. Stay professional. Stay professional") but once she had left my office, there was only one thing on my mind. I looked at the clock: I still had 10 minutes before the end of the lunch break. I quickly put on my swimming suit, dove in, and swam fast laps until I regained my calmness. Guess what? It worked. Turns out exercising vigorously is very effective at wiping off negative thoughts.

What are YOUR strategies to regain your cool or ditch the blues?

Warning: as a parent, as much as you can guide your children on the path to happiness, you don't want to overdo it either. Happiness is a general state of mind; being happy does not mean being content at all times. Check out this awesome article for more details. The 4 pages, plus the video, are all worthy of your time.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Sarcastic rant: Personal space

Happiness is also about venting frustrations once in a while... as long as it's done in a healthy way, and does not harm anyone. Better yet: if it is sarcastic enough that it makes other people laugh (or at least smile), then bingo! You've killed two birds with one stone.

Last weekend, I was lucky enough to attend a NHL pre-season game, here in Halifax, a game bringing together the Bruins and the Canadiens. Unsurprisingly, the former won because they had put experienced players on the ice, whereas the latter used this game as a "test" for potential new players/rookies. In any case, it was fun, and I don't know if it's the game itself or the atmosphere at the Metro Center that made me happy. The cheers, the "boos" (not to mention the booze), the music... even if you didn't want to, you'd end up filled with enthusiasm and excitement.

It is also a very nice break for overused brain cells, to hear "dialogues" such as this one:

- Chara sucks!... Chara sucks!... Chara sucks!...
- Chara is a SUPERSTAR!

Unfortunately, amongst all this fun stuff, something was annoying me big time. It was not loud, no, it was subtle, but it came close to ruining my evening. It is something I have experienced in the past, in crowded university amphitheatres or public transport: the lack of personal space respect by the guy sitting next to me.

When space is tight, you keep your limbs to yourself, right? Well, turns out you need a specific diploma to figure that out. This creates frustration for lots of women (and probably some men), as apparent from a simple Google search.

The Chicago Transit Authority has published an article on the topic. It's worth a read, especially for all the comments. There's also a good rant about this common problem on this blog. Here's an excerpt:

Why do men sit with their legs wide open like they have the biggest package on earth anyways? For e.g if I was sitting in a two seater and I joined a guy on the seat, he wouldn't close his legs to give me a little room. Noooo, he just leaves em opened while his leg touches mine, while I'm cramped up next to the end of the seat, trying to move my leg away from his. I don't want my leg to be touching some random guys leg regardless of how good looking he is! On the other hand, if a guy was to come and sit next to me on a two seater, I would move so he has more room. You know what? I have learnt my lesson, and I refuse to move for any guy now. Cause once I give him some room, out goes his legs. Screw that for a joke. I'm gonna sit with my legs wide opened for a change!

It puzzles me how those men don't seem to have a clue they're invading our personal space, or don't seem to give a sh***. How could my "neighbour" not notice that while he was using BOTH armrests, left and right, I had none? How could he not realize he was hitting me with his elbow or shoulder with every movement he made? How did he end up positioning his feet so wide that one was in the middle of MY space, forcing me to pretty much glue my knees together in order not to be in constant contact with him? I mean, I do understand that male morphology calls for spreading your legs a little bit, but come on! There's no way his "lunch" was THAT big!

My main problem, however, was not this guy's behavior. It's HIS problem if he was never taught good manners/appropriate sharing of available space with other human beings. My role was to find a way to let him know, nicely (telling him politely) or harshly (screaming at him, pushing him away). But as much as I tried, I just couldn't find how to tell him what displeased me in a way that wasn't rude nor coarse. And if I tried to regain my space by subtly stretching a little bit, would he move? Oh no. He stayed right there. Probably enjoying the way our thighs touched. Horny old goat.

Maybe I should have changed seats. But who knows what was awaiting me on the other side?

Friday, September 23, 2011

Laughing Matters: Friday Fun

After talking quantum physics and Buddhism, I guess we deserve a little break and some lighter stuff.

After all, this is Friday.

So here is the first Laughing Matters post.

Laughing should be practiced as often as possible for enhanced happiness. I guarantee good results!

I personally try to go on the Damn You Autocorrect website at least once a week. It never fails to make me giggle. Sometimes, I even get the cramps and the tears that come with too much laughing. Enjoy!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

What if time didn't exist?

The eternal topic of time!

In my previous post, I touched upon lack of time as one of the main reasons we do not reach our goals (or do not live our lives the way we really want to, on a daily basis). Are we to be pitied? Is life such a rat race? Is time such a scarce resource?

First of all, I think the concept of time deserves a more open-minded approach.

Time is, at best, a very relative thing. That is, if it exists at all. Before you start laughing, let me remind you that very intelligent people have questioned this.

Take, for example, the whole Quantum physics approach of time. Questioning the sole existence of time feels uncomfortable to you? You are not alone. Just read this article by the Discover Magazine on the potential nonexistence of time.

Questioning the existence of time is not only done in science; literature has challenged it too. For example, Siddhartha (see the must-read eponymous novel by Herman Hesse) had his own taking on time:

"We are subject to deception, as if time was something real. Time is not real, Govinda, I have experienced this often and often again. And if time is not real, then the gap which seems to be between the world and the eternity, between suffering and blissfulness, between evil and good, is also a deception [...] The river is everywhere at once, at the source and at the mouth, at the waterfall, at the ferry, at the rapids, in the sea, in the mountains, everywhere at once, and there is only the present time for it, not the shadow of the past, not the shadow of the future [...] I looked at my life, and it was also a river, and the boy Siddhartha was only separated from the man Siddhartha and from the old man Siddhartha by a shadow, not by something real. Also, Siddhartha's previous births were no past, and his death and his return to Brahma was no future. Nothing was, nothing will be; everything is, everything has existence and is present [...] Oh, was not all suffering time, were not all forms of tormenting oneself and being afraid time, was not everything hard, everything hostile in the world gone and overcome as soon as one had overcome time, as soon as time would have been put out of existence by one's thoughts?"

Of course, most of us are not Einstein nor an aspiring Buddha. Therefore, we are entitled to considering time with a more down-to-earth perspective.

A lot of us are complaining of not having enough time, and a lot of us are using lack of time as an excuse for not doing something (common examples include reading, exercising, and calling your mother). But are we being honest with ourselves?

In fact, all of us have access to the same amount of time. People who accomplish grand things also have to put up with 24 hour days. Given the improvement in life expectancy, we can usually count on many more years than most people from the previous centuries did. Plus, technology has been instrumental in helping us save lots of time. Where is our time going, then?


Salvador Dali

We have to admit that for the most part, we get to choose what we do with our time. Time is just like money in that respect: whatever the amount you have, you could always use more... but it's all about priorities. Making the right choices can go a long way in helping us feel better. Saying yes to something often means saying no to something else. We have to take full responsibility for that kind of decision.

I, for example, admit to wasting time checking my email and my Facebook accounts way too often. Other people watch TV, play computer games, oversleep, surf the Internet aimlessly, etc. Whatever the way we waste our time, at the end of the day, we are the ones dealing with the consequences.

What are you saying yes to today? What are you saying no to?



Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Perseverance

Persevering at something is a powerful happiness factor.

Unfortunately, it often takes an awful lot of time before you live your dreams.

I've wanted to be a runner and a writer all my life (basically since I was about 10 years old). Different things get in the way of our goals. In my case, I was afraid. Afraid of failure, AND afraid of success. That didn't leave much room for "let's just try and see".

Sometimes you have to refine your goals along the way. Running 100 m sprints at the Olympics (I first fell in love with running while watching the 1984 Summer olympics in Los Angeles) is out of the equation for me now, but running races at my own pace and coming back with the generic medal might be just what the doctor ordered. After all, another one of my running inspirations was the story of a woman who was still running marathons in her 70s. It's certainly not to late for that!

As for writing: for the longest time, I didn't want to write anything substantial (I did write a journal for a good 20 years, though, and I do have a Master's degree in creative writing) if it was not gonna win a prestigious litterary prize (think Goncourt in France or Pulitzer in the U.S.). I kept coming up with ideas that I would scribble on yellow Post-Its... only to lose them in a pile of paper and never come back to them. Needless to say, my improbable expectations were very effective at keeping me away from the page. Nothing beats unrealistic goals for giving you the writer's block! With time, I have come to know myself better; specifically, I have come to realize that I need almost instant results and very quick feedback. Spending months, even years, on one novel, is just not an option for me. All the while I was struggling to find a way to write that would fit these criteria, along came the blogging age. And my problem was solved. No prizes, no big frills, no snobbish intellectual circle, but my thoughts are on the web, and my friends are enjoying it. Do I really need anything more?

The problem with pursuing goals, as Gene C. Hayden puts in The Follow-Through Factor, is that "the worst that happens to those of us who fall short in follow-through is nothing. Life goes on as is. Nothing happens. Just as the opposite of love isn't hate but indifference, the opposite of success isn't failure, it's status quo." Who would have known if Mozart had never written any music? If he had simply played (very well) what other composers were writing?

So motivation has to come from within. Unfortunately, most of the obstacles we encounter on the way to our goal also come from within. To name but a few (according to Hayden):
- lack of belief in oneself
- not being sure that's the right project
- not knowing which of the good ideas to pick
- not knowing if it's passion
- not knowing how to proceed
- being afraid (of failure, of getting bored)
- lacking time, energy, money, a mentor, patience

Let's be honest with ourselves: those are all excuses.

Being realistic is fundamental. According to Hayden, "the difference between those who follow through and the rest of the world is that people who persevere don't expect that opening a dance school or bread shop is going to be an earth-moving experience. They accept that it's going to be a lot of hard work and hassles." They also understand that going slow and taking small steps is perfectly fine... as long as you do something!

One of my favourite slogans of all time is Nike's "Just do it". Stop thinking, pondering the pros and cons. Don't even ask yourself if you "feel like it". Most athletes and creative people would rather stay in bed or lounge in front of the TV than train or work on their creation. But they do get up and start working. Because they have a goal in mind.

To stay within the perseverance/follow-through theme, here is a nice little song called "Let's Do It". The pleasure of jazz and Ella's lovely singing are yours to savour. Enjoy!

(If you don't like jazz, you can always try Joan Jett's version.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Let's have some fun


My critic number 1, after reading the last entry on this blog, complained that it was too serious. (I suspect it is the "homework" at the bottom of the post that turned him off. I never said it was mandatory homework!)

A blog on happiness, he said, should be fun to read.

Fair enough! So I decided to intersperse some lighter, funner posts in between the serious ones. This will take 3 forms:

1) The Travel Tales posts
2) The Laughing Matters posts
3) The Blissful Moments posts

Today, we'll start with Travel Tale # 1: Venice

Venice! ah! Venice! the beautiful, the romantic, the marvellous. Venice has been called a number of superlatives including "La Dominante", "Serenissima", and "Queen of the Adriatic". According to Luigi Barzini, it is "undoubtedly the most beautiful city built by man". And who has not heard about Venice being one of the most romantic cities?

Traveling with a friend, I arrived in Venice one early morning on the 3rd night train in a row. And who says night train says sleep deprivation + no shower = a pretty awful state to be in after 72 hours.

Needless to say, I was in a foul mood even before setting foot on the lagoon.

It was a nice, sunny, warm spring day. I didn't care. I was exhausted. All I wanted to do was to find a spot to sit (and hopefully doze off) in the shade on the Piazza San Marco. Our budget being what it was (minuscule), we figured the gondolas were way too expensive. Taxi boats? Forget about it. Walking is free. Let's walk, we decided. Well, if you didn't know it, the walk from Venice's train station to Piazza San Marco is a long one, especially when you get lost one too many times in the maze of tiny pedestrian streets that, more often than not, end in a cul-de-sac. (Why didn't we have a good map? Too expensive, maybe?)

We ended up in the Piazza after what seemed an endless and very frustrating walk (the huge, heavy backpacks we were carrying were not making it any easier, either... but we didn't have enough money to leave them in the train station's lockers, right?) I was hot. Tired. I felt more irascible than ever. Everyone walking by seemed to be taunting me with their classy outfits, perfect hairdos, and blissful smiles. I wanted to kick them all in the "/$%?&* (after putting my all-too-bulky backpack on the ground, that is). To make matters worse, the tackiest music ever was played by virtually every musician around the Piazza. There were cute couples kissing in every corner, friends chatting away while sipping on their unaffordable drinks. My own fiance was about 7000 km away, and my water bottle was almost empty.

That's when I noticed them. How could I not? They were EVERYWHERE. Small, cute, cooing and all. The PIGEONS. There were pigeon food (dry corn) vendors, too. I figured I had enough money for that! And spent the next half-hour feeding the birds, who eventually adopted my shoulders, arms, hands and head for perching. I was finally happy amongst my newfound little friends. My smile came back. I forgot about everything else. I realized that this trip - and Venice - was not that bad, after all. That night, I went to sleep content (on the 4th night train).

The following morning, I woke up with the worst case of gastroenteritis.

I blame the bird droppings.

Life sucks? Reset your buttons

Happiness is not about walking around with a big wide bright smile all the time (or, as we would call it in French, "un sourire niais").

Take me for example: I consider myself a rather happy person. Yet no later than yesterday, I was so tired of the whining festival that's been going on in my house for days, I was ready to put my kids for sale on Kijiji... and though I did not do it, I did spend some time alone, head in my hands, dark thoughts spinning out of control, completely depressed at what a lousy job I must have done as a mom to end up with such whine-prone kids.

(Mind you, a few hours later, they returned from school in a much better mood and everything was forgotten... until the next crisis!)

Yes, life has its good moments, and we should absolutely savour them, but life also has its share of unpleasantness... when it's not plain pain and suffering. Shit does happen, and let's put it bluntly, at times, life sucks. Sometimes in such proportions that a whiny child would come as a refreshing break from the harsh reality. Think about the all too common financial problems, health problems, conflicts and violence, addictions, losses (of a loved one, for example)... a little monster's tantrum is nothing compared to that!

Yes, life is unfair, life is tough, and on top of it all it doesn't last nearly long enough.

Now that everyone's depressed, let's look at the bright side of things. One does not need constant pleasure and/or serenity, sprinkled with loads of good luck, to be happy. Happiness is in you, and if you push the ON button often enough, whatever happens to you, it will stay ON.

Frustration, stress, bad surprises and all the other inconveniences of life are like the overload or short circuit that makes the fuses blow. It is unpleasant, especially when it happens often, but to each problem its solution. While you deal with the situation at hand in a calm and pragmatic manner (as much as humanly possible!), keep in mind that you also need to reset your happiness button.

Now, how does one go after that?

Hmmm... not so fast! I am not going to give you a ready-cooked-masticated-and-digested list of ways to push your happiness button. No. Instead, I'm going to ask you to come up with your own, personal list. Why? First of all, because it will be more meaningful to you, which in turn will make it easier to internalize, remember, and act on it. Second of all, because part of the fun (and source of happiness) resides precisely in the challenge. I am not inventing that. Read what Dan Baker, author of the excellent book What Happy People Know, says about it: "The human mind, body and spirit thrive on struggle and challenge, just as a muscle thrives on exercise. Satisfaction without effort doesn't create happiness. It creates only dissipation, alienation, boredom, weakness, and a sense of worthlessness."

My infinite leniency :-) forbids me to let you readers experience such negative feelings, therefore I will let you build your list of button-reseters without my help... for now.

Once you think you've found some good ones, share them with us, and we'll see how they all fit in one big list. This should be fun! So go ahead: think about all the things that reset your happiness button, especially after a drawback or in the midst of chaos. Write them down. Enjoy!


Saturday, September 17, 2011

Traveling

There's no way I could start this blog without mentioning traveling. Traveling has always been a great source of happiness for me, and it started early: by the time I was 8, I had already spent a year in Sénégal (Western Africa), and visited a few countries in Europe.

The first question that comes to mind is: why is traveling a source of happiness? What happens when people travel, that makes them happy?

If, like I said earlier, happiness does not originate from being in a specific place, at a specific time, with a specific person, and with a specific number (of dollars - of possessions- of secret admirers - you take your pick)... then what, about traveling, helps "activate" happiness?

Before we go any further, I have to observe that I actually know people for whom traveling does NOT seem to be a source of happiness. I am not talking about the friend who travels for work, does not choose the destination, and never has enough time to even get out of the conference center to visit the city she's in. I'm talking about those people who travel by choice, during their vacation, on a regular basis. They spend a significant amount of money and time on traveling. They do it over and over again. They always seem excited about their upcoming trip. Yet when they come back, they never fail to look and sound disappointed (and I never fail to be incredulous at the extent of their disappointment).

I guess that's evidence for the fact that happiness comes from within: otherwise, how could you explain that someone would mostly have negative things to say about a shopping spree in Paris, or an exotic cruise in the Pacific Islands? Next time, I should tell them to just stay home and hand me the plane tickets! I would gladly sacrifice myself for the sake of their well-being!

But back to serious. What part of traveling ignites happiness in us? Here are some answers:

Freedom:

When I travel, I feel free. Maybe it's because I don't have a house to look after during that time. Maybe it's because I don't have to cook meals. Maybe it's because I don't have to work (although I sometimes do, and it has not been detrimental to my traveling pleasure in any way). Maybe it's because I do whatever I want, whenever I want, wherever I want. But the main reason for that exhilarating feeling of freedom, I think, is the fact that I travel light. Whenever I travel it reminds me that we don't need much possessions to be perfectly content. There is something elating about carrying everything you own and need in one single bag. Wearing the same clothes over and over again (yes, I do wash them at some point!) doesn't seem to have any negative impact on the way I feel. Quite the contrary, in fact.

Discovery:

When I travel, my 5 senses are constantly surprised by new sensations. I see buildings and parks and landscapes I have never seen before. I hear different sounds, voices, accents, languages, music. I smell different smells. I taste different tastes. I touch different textures. For some reason, I thrive on that kind of festival of novelty. I guess that's how babies feel when they apprehend the world for the first time: everything is a source of marveling: the grasshopper bouncing about, the softness of a blanket, one's own tasty toes. Yes, that's how I feel when I travel: I marvel just like a baby would (although I don't usually enjoy putting my feet in my mouth).

I am aware that traveling is time consuming, and not cheap. Sometimes, traveling is just not an option. And clearly, we are not gonna wait for a trip oversees to be happy. Good news: by reproducing the conditions of freedom and discovery, I think we can yield happy feelings inside. It is probably not a coincidence that one of the happiest times of my life was when I was studying for my Master's: I lived in a tiny 1 room apartment, and for the first year I did not own a TV, nor a microwave, nor a couch (the bed doubled as a sitting place). I had an ascetic grocery budget. Yet I was immensely satisfied with my life. It might sound counter-intuitive, but I truly believe the simplicity and the frugality of my existence led to a sense of freedom. And then there were all the discoveries that came from studying a subject that fascinated me, with passionate professors and other grad students. Libraries are free, and let me tell you I took huge advantage of it. Yes, I was eating a lot of tomato sandwiches, but I did so while reading Camus, Sartre, and an embarrassment of French classics. Pure delight.


Pieter Janssens Elinga, from the Alte Pinokotek, Munich

What about you? Do you like to travel? Why? And what is your idea of freedom and discovery?

Note: for those readers who would - wisely - remark the contradiction between endorsing frugality and dreaming of shopping sprees, please keep in mind that a simple life does not exclude the right to enjoy luxury from time to time. But we'll come back to that.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Happiwhat?


Let's face it: a lot of things in life can get in the way of happiness.

Like Scott Peck (psychiatrist and author of the well-known book The Road Less Travelled) put it wisely, "Life is difficult".

But we're not gonna let that stop us, are we?

Happiness is not a moment, a place, a person, or a number.

Happiness is a state of mind.

Happiness is not a tributary of exterior conditions.

Happiness resides inside of us (even if we are too often unaware of it).

In the course of this blog, I will explore what makes and brakes happiness, and discuss why and how we have a role to play - a huge role! - in our own happiness.

Because, after all, life is short... so why wouldn't we want to make the most of it?