Happiness: ha-pē-nəs  The state of being happy.  Simple, right?

New Year’s Eve, a holiday, even more so than Thanksgiving or Christmas, that leaves me feeling melancholy.  This year, I spent New Year’s Eve quietly home alone, not lonely, there is a difference, with a glass of pink champagne, well actually, sparkling wine, although it was from France.  Confession, I did have a martini, well maybe two, until it was time for bubbles at midnight.  So, what does all this have to do with Down the Rabbit Hole ~ My Adventures in the Middle Kingdom?  A LOT!  I started contemplating my life.

As usual, my melancholy had my head spinning.  Am I happy?  Have I ever been extremely unhappy?  Was I a happy child?  How did I end up in China? Am I happy in China?  What was the best day of my life?  Where is home?  Am I ready to go back to Warren, Ohio?  If I am not ready, do I want to stay in Dong’e? Were my parents happy?  Would they be happy with the path my life has taken?  Was my relationship really happy?  And so on and so on…..you get the picture.

It’s now 5 days later and some of these questions and more are still running around my head.  I’m not losing sleep or anything trying to answer them, but after a couple outings with new and old friends and a couple of movies that made me think, even more, I decided, hey, write about it, even if it opens up emotions I have kept to myself.  So, here goes….

I probably would have gone to sleep and forgotten my melancholy, but on January 2nd, I decided to watch a movie I had read about, “Paths of Souls”.  A documentary chronicling the 1200 mile pilgrimage of 11 actual residents traveling from their Tibetan village to Lhasa. The pilgrims included a young girl and her pregnant mother who gave birth on the pilgrimage and her father.  They (all 11) made the journey on foot wearing animal skin aprons and wooden blocks on their hands.  This is because every few steps they must “dive” to the ground or kowtow, followed by touching the earth with their forehead and clapping the boards together to complete the ritual. I was blown away by the dedication of these people. They ended each day in prayer, song and for the most part happiness no matter what obstacles they had faced that day.  It made me reflect on my time in Tibet and what a peaceful feeling I had there.

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Little girl kowtowing at the Potala Palace

 

 

 

 

 

The next night, I chose “Hector and the Search for Happiness”.  A movie I had for some reason downloaded.  After watching, I figure it must have come up in a list of travel/wanderlust movies.  I initially thought it was a movie about a child.  I quickly found out that although Hector often reflects back on a vision of himself as a child, it was definitely not a movie about a child, or was it?.  Hector is a psychiatrist who lives a very organized, routine life in London with his girlfriend Clara.  One day Hector decides he needs to search for happiness and boards a plane for China.  Of course, I was hooked at this point.  Clara slipped a journal in Hector’s carryon and he scribbles pictures and notes on happiness, such as, “Happiness is a long walk in beautiful, unfamiliar mountains”.  My personal experience with this, “Happiness is watching the sunset and sunrise on the beautiful, powerful Mount Everest”.  As Hector travels around the world seeking happiness and jotting down happiness phrases, I started putting myself in those phrases.

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Hector noted,  “A lot of people think happiness is being rich or important”. I grew up on a dead-end street that most people didn’t even know existed.  We definitely weren’t rich, I remember my mom counting change to put gas in the car.  Important, ha, far from it.  My dad was self-employed because an accident had left him with a head injury that made holding down a normal  9 to 5 impossible. I do know they loved us and our happiness came before theirs.  My personal take on Hector’s note, I know now that rich doesn’t necessarily mean monetarily rich and you can be important to more people than you ever realize in your lifetime.  My father died at age 63, far from rich and important only to his family, so we thought.  We had planned 2 hours for his calling hours.  That sad afternoon brought much happiness to me, my mother and brother.  People came, he was my baseball coach, he used to buy me ice cream, you guys had the best tree fort, etc. 5 hours later we were finally ending a tribute to a man that wasn’t rich in dollars and unimportant, so we thought.  Two years later at 60, my mother also passed.  She had the same tribute.  Yes, I had a happy childhood.

“Happiness is doing a job you love”.  I loved my job at the YMCA until I didn’t.  There came a point in time I no longer looked forward to going to work.  What used to be fun and rewarding had become one of losing sleep and dreading the next catastrophe.  This also, unfortunately, coincided with the decline, demise, end of my relationship.  I made a decision, I am definitely not happy right now.  What makes me happy?  Travel! Paris! How can I combine the two?  First thing I did was run away, yes, I ran away.  I decided to spend Christmas in Paris, away from everything, everyone, away from unhappiness.  I was happy in Paris. When I returned, I started researching how I could travel and still make money.  I got my TEFL certification from the University of Miami of Florida and I haven’t looked back since.  Things didn’t work out with my work visa for France, but I had an opportunity in China.  So that’s how I ended up in China teaching English.  When you are almost knocked over by a group of kids when you walk in their classroom, you have to smile.  “Happiness really is doing a job you love”

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“Happiness is to be loved for exactly who you are”.  This is so true.  Living abroad really teaches this lesson.  Walking away from a secure job, that was making me unhappy, ending a relationship that was for the most part, at least in my opinion happy, until it wasn’t, can change who you are.  Those pounds I put on, used to bother me, but tell the truth, I like to eat and drink, it makes me happy.  Nobody abroad knew me “then” and guess what? They like me for who I am NOW! I have made friends all over the world and they don’t care who I was back then.  They like the person I am now, so yes, that is happiness.

Well, if you are rolling your eyes at this point, I don’t blame you.  I will try to wrap it up even though Hector has many more happiness points.  I will say I do agree with his point, “Happiness is feeling completely alive”.  Life abroad and the opportunities it gives me for travel to places most people only dream of make me feel completely alive.  Camping on Mount Everest, Tibet, Angkor Wat, Moscow, camel riding in the Gobi Desert, living in Paris, Tokyo, Seoul, Vietnam and Dubai to name a few….traveling makes me feel completely alive!

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Finally, am I happy? Yes, most of the time.  Have I ever been extremely unhappy? Yes, and I ran from unhappiness.  Was I a happy child?  My memories say yes.  Was my relationship really happy? It was until it wasn’t.   How did I end up in China? I ran from unhappiness and I’ll always have Paris.  Am I happy in China?  Most of the time.   What was the best day of my life?  Maybe I haven’t had it yet, although I have had many amazing days.   Where is home?  I have discovered the world is my home.  Am I ready to go back to Warren, Ohio?  I really did ask myself this question several times this week.  The answer was always no.  If I am not ready, do I want to stay in Dong’e?  The answer was no I am not ready to go back to Warren, but I am considering a change of venue.  I have applied for some jobs inside and outside of China for later in 2018.  Were my parents happy? For the most part, I would say yes.   Would they be happy with the path my life has taken?  Definitely and I know they would try to visit me wherever my journey takes me.

If you stuck with me through this random post, thank you!  Back on track to Moscow next post, I hope!

PS, I recommend both movies.

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13 thoughts on “Wendy and the Search for Happiness

  1. Pretty Things-“Eve of Destruction”. Kid Leo is playing a set on Little Steven’s Underground Garage. Stones, Bruce, Ramone’s etc. Rocking out at home while I cook a version of asparagus soup with lots of other veggies thrown in for good measure. Sometimes you hear a set of music that makes one, well, HAPPY! Something it is about a New Year that gets you and the rest of the world thinking about happiness…I don’t really know if I have anything new to offer you on happiness, but, the Dave Clark Five say, “anyway you want it, that’s the way it will be!” And Jack White and the Raconteurs sing, “When you have completed what you thought you had to do and your bloods’s depleted to the point of stable glue, then you’ll get along, steady as she goes!” I guess for me, just about all of life’s answers are offered up in a song someone once sang…some old blues musician, some confused kid in their parent’s basement bedroom, some kick ass smart as a whip rock and roller, or some Jewish boy from where???, Minne-fucking-sota, that has written more songs about life, living and where you can go if you screw with his heart, with the audacity to name a song “All Along the Watchtower”…or a dude that calls himself Mink DeVille, or a ‘Walk on the Wildside” with Lou Reed, remembering when “Love’s Made a Fool of You”, or sitting through Van Morrison’s whole Moondance album…I know I have been totally happy singing, “Well, it’s a marvelous night for a moondance/with the stars up above in your eyes, a fantabulous night to make romance neath the cover of October skies”…top of my lungs, dozens of times, maybe hundreds. So, we are all getting older, closer to our date with the Grim Reaper, but holidays, especially New Year’s, makes us all think once or twice about who we are and the progress we have made. I know I have spent two or three totally happy nights with you and my crew of friends, sipping great gin, great noodle broth, fine wine, the intoxicating aroma of being together and having fun. Anyone that gives you one night of happiness is a friend and I thank you for all the things you have done to be a friend of mine…baguettes, French butter, spices like a blackened lime, reading about bathroom holes in China and seeing god at the summit of heaven (you know where)…you make me happy. Was I happy way back then? Yes, probably, maybe. I just know the happy days grow sweeter every year..like this holiday with ALL the kids and their mates and mates to be and magnums of fine champagne and long, lazy days with nothing to do but walk the dogs, talk about the Glory Days and watch football. It will be interesting to see where we are next January, eh Wendy! Love you, my friend.

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    1. Ah, Clark….always giving me a reason to think. The air was bad in China today, so I stayed in. That makes me happy. I spent the afternoon listening, really listening to music, looking up lyrics and singing along…not quite at the top of my lungs, my neighbors probably wouldn’t quite get it. Asparagus soup sounds delectable. I also enjoyed soup today, the beef noodle kind. Not nearly as delicious as my favorite noodle shop or even “our great noodle broth”, but comforting all the same and they deliver. It’s been a while since I have listened to an entire album start to finish and I’m not sure what I would choose. Music does do something to your soul. I am finding Chinese music beautiful. Much of it has poetry even if I can’t understand the words, but sometimes I find myself “singing” along even if I don’t know what I am saying. Like you said New Year’s is definitely one of those holidays that gets into my soul. I usually describe it as melancholy, but the dictionary says that emotes sadness, I personally find melancholy to mean more pensive thinking….what I have done, what I want to do, what a small place I have in this world, how little I have really seen, yet how much I have. Yes, moments, days, periods of happiness indeed grow sweeter as we grow older. AND…those moments are sweeter shared with those we love. I love my friends here and I have had moments of sheer pleasure just making dumplings. As for time spent with you and our crew of friends, it is something I treasure and look forward to. As for next January, I can’t imagine the happiness I know I will feel. If all goes as planned, I will be in Warren, Ohio celebrating the grand opening of the Robins Theatre and celebrating my brother who has given so much of himself to not only me but our community. That makes me happy just thinking about it. I am sure we, and the crew, will be sipping gin, whiskey, champagne, great wines, sharing marvelous food and stories. It’s what we do and it makes us happy. Love to you my friend and let’s make the best of 2019….Don’t worry, be happy!

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  2. Not too long ago I was reading about how people my age (Baby Boomer) have raised their kids with happiness raised as the flag of sure success. I know I have said it to my kids, “I want you to do what makes you happy.” “If you aren’t happy, don’t do it, change courses, find happiness.” The author of the article said that maybe an offering of happiness as a goal isn’t such a good thing. She said, and I think rightly so, that happiness is not an ideal to be achieved on a permanent basis. Some days are happy days, some days are not so happy. She said happiness was more of a gift, an occasional blessing, an awareness to be cultivated rather than a state to be achieved. My parents had goals for me, things they wanted me to achieve. I knew when I achieved one of those goals. I could check it off my list. Go to church-check, graduate from high school-check, go to college-check, and so on and so on. I know they wanted me to be happy but for them happiness was the result of a bunch of check marks on the “right” kind of things. Yes, I revolted at times. Yes, I did my own thing. But I knew when I had done something that pleased Mom and Dad and when I had accomplished something special…and mostly, that made me happy. But as you so perfectly made clear, Wendy, happiness is a hard thing to pin down. I find it much easier to be grateful, or satisfied than happy, although I think I am most of the time. Maybe I have done a disservice to my kids, making happiness as a goal. Only time will tell. But maybe what I told them isn’t that big of deal…because I suspect, like you Wendy, that they have watched what I have done and who my friends are and how I have treated them, and whether, at times, I act as though I am happy. Thanks for your entry. Love you and what you are doing in the world. I am grateful.

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    1. Clark, I have to agree. Maybe happiness shouldn’t be a goal, as such, but it is something to enjoy searching for. I save literally hundreds of images of quotes in multiple albums labeled happiness, dreams, wanderlust, etc. Buddha tells us, “the art of being happy is to be satisfied with what you have”. That satisfaction is so different for everyone. If you saw my post about the “ice boy” here in China, he was happy he had a school to go to. It made no difference that he walked over an hour in artic conditions. He was satisfied with a school that had no heat. Trust me, I would not be happy in that situation. I am often without heat in my kindergartens in the countryside and I see how happy the children are when I arrive for English class. Am I happy? No Satisfied? No Grateful? Yes, I am grateful for the opportunity to have these experiences. Can you imagine the “happiness” of the “ice boy” when he was taken to Beijing (a dream of his) and experienced central heating for the first time? Happiness is an enigma and everyone has a different answer. If you didn’t see my posts on the ice boy and you have time, google him. He made world news. It’s a feel good story, but also shows that we are often worlds apart in terms of how we view happiness. I’m a quote freak, from John Rohn, “learn to be happy with what you have, while you pursue all that you want.”

      Clark, your replies to my posts always give me something more to think about. I appreciate the time you take to read them and respond. I too am grateful!

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      1. I have had time to think some more about this and remember some of the points others have made about happiness. They talked about how parents need to talk to their kids about, and teach them how to become successful, not in opposition to happiness, but as a path to happiness. Another slippery slope to be sure because what is success for one is not necessarily success for another. In certain cultures certain events achieved=success. Success does not automatically equal happiness. The point was made to show how the achievement of certain steps normally leads one to a successful conclusion. Everything is clear and measurable. Like, when you have that diploma, skill, job, you have succeeded. Successful attainment of a skill or education or position in society happens when one follows a norm set by the generations before. I think their point was, happiness as a goal is a much murkier proposition. Chasing a diploma is different than chasing a state of mind/being. It is easier to chart success than it is to chart happiness and when our kids have been told to be happy, and they aren’t, they feel they have failed (because Dad said “Do what makes you happy”, and I’m not happy so I fucked up).

        My daughter, Leigh, once in exasperation, after what was to her a long dissertation about this or that thing said, “Dad, sometimes when you talk it makes my head hurt”. I could be doing that to you right now! Well Wendy, here’s to our success and happiness! Be well.

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        1. Thanks again Clark for the words of wisdom. I do have to admit, my head hurt while reading this, but I don’t believe it was from your talking. More than likely it was the amount of baijiu consumed during one of many “happiness” toasts with my Chinese co-workers. Cheers!

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  3. Wendy
    I enjoyed the way you presented you thoughts.
    I’m sure it will also help someone who takes the time to really read and reflect on their own lives. Possibly using your ecample to begin to make changes in their owm lives. You deserve a lot of credit in making and taking that plunge into uncharted territory. Good for you!

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  4. Wendy, I absolutely love this post! You have shared part of your soul and posed questions that probably all of us have asked at some time. Be well and enjoy your adventures for as long and wherever they lead you. We always have an extra room should you ever find yourself touching down in or near Delray Beach, FL or Peoria, IL.

    Have a splendid New Year! Hugs, Marla

    Marla Brady, Ed.D. MBConsulting, 561-376-7348

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    1. Hi Marla, thanks for following. I would love to see you again sometime. I will definitely give you a shout if I am ever near you. My next two adventures are taking me to Osaka at the end of the month and then 8 days in Bali at the end of February. Take care and much happiness to you in 2018! I think Beverly is headed to Fla about now. Will you get to see her?

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    1. Hi Sue, thanks for following. Hope all is well with you and the family. Maybe one of these trips back to the states I will end up in Fla for a visit. Bob thinks I need to spend some time down there. 😉

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