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.
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.
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”
“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!
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.