Tag Archives: being happy

Is Happiness a Place?

photo 1I’ve watched three episodes of Bourdain’s Parts Unknown since last night and now my thoughts are consumed by food and culture.

It surprises me how much I’ve been thinking about food, culture, and the next phase of my life — in which I sell most everything I own and take up the wanderer’s lifestyle for hopefully the next five years.

I had to write a foreword for my cookbook last week and it made me more contemplative than I expected. What did I value in life? Why? What did I want more of? And I found myself echoing in the words I was writing. I too was lost “in the whizz-whizz/whoosh-whoosh pace of city life” I’d been writing about. I work too much, live too little. But I have a goal in mind: Five years abroad, and a year to go before I want it underway. The clock is ticking. The end is in sight. The race is on. Yada, yada.

Watching Bourdain wax poetic about the timeless lifestyles of Granada, Spain, or Ecuador, or Peru, or Croatia, or… It all makes me realize how far off the mark life is here in North America, or where I’ve been living. Or how I’ve been living. Life here, though, is all about the Benjamins. Or would be, if we had American currency.

With one of the most costly lifestyles in the English-speaking world, Vancouver (and therefore Victoria, where it’s only marginally cheaper) has suddenly become a struggle to live on a budget. A lot of people I know, if they can work from home and aren’t tied down, are taking the risk of living abroad. Some have made permanent ventures of it. And why not? If one can tap into a different lifestyle in a place that, after so long hamstrung in Vancouver, where life feels like a vacation because everything feels new and shiny for a year or more — well, why not? And if it’s 30-60% cheaper? Fuck, yeah.

I understand that we have it pretty good in Canada, and that’s where our money goes, but I also think it’s pretty ethnocentric to make bold claims like “best place on Earth.” After all, there’s a lifestyle in places like Spain and Ecuador and other fantastic places where they do have long vacations every year, and they focus on life first/work last, and they celebrate real food and wine and nature, and they do it all for cheaper than we do here, while still having a nice social safety net for the citizens.

We don’t have a monopoly on lifestyles. In many places, living really is pretty good, and they’re honestly too busy living life to bother trying to sell an image of it. Here, it feels like it’s so fast-paced and distracted that we’re constantly being reminded of just how GREAT everything is and how WOW SPIFFY our world is so we don’t start questioning how ridiculous it is that we have among the least amount of vacation time in the world, with the longest hours.

It’s like that time a friend read The Secret and told me what a powerful thing it was, and I should read it, blah blah blah. And I said, “Dude. You’re not happy with your job, where you live, and your relationship is in tatters. Prove to me that The Secret works by fixing your fucked-up life and oozing happy-happy/joy-joy, and then maybe I’ll buy the book.”

If life here was so sensational and happiness was the natural byproduct of it, do you think we’d be selling Xanax and Prozac like it was going out of style? Do you think self-help books would be so endemic? If life’s so amazing here, why do we need to keep being reminded about it?

When I was living in Vancouver, I kept telling people I wasn’t happy there anymore. Everyone said I was nuts, it’s the best place on the planet. Well, I can tell you wholeheartedly that selling the dream ain’t the same as delivering the dream, and for me, Lotusland just wasn’t delivering.

photo 2But maybe I’ve just got a restless heart. This time and place, it’s not right for me. I don’t know where is, but it ain’t here, not now. Not today. I think, for me, the joy will come from looking. From going to one place and being blown away and thinking “Nothing can ever top this,” and then, boom, next town, next country — “Nothing can ever top this.”

What if there is no place better than where I am today? What if, for the rest of my life I remember about the magical two years I lived in a magical neighbourhood?

Well, that could happen. Sure. But it’s a pretty big planet packed with a lot of wow, and I’m pretty sure things get amazing anywhere there’s mountains, trees, ocean, good wine, beautiful food, and kind people.

Happiness, for me, is a state of being. Having the time to be in the moment, not distracted, not paying a ton of money for an experience. A quiet place, a few kind people, the ability to speak my mind (or stay silent), a great glass of wine or a tall lemonade or strong coffee, some nature near me or surrounding me. Usually many of these criteria get met when I get to feel “happy”. It’s the recipe for happiness we hear so much about. Or my recipe, anyhow.

But to get there, to have that, I need to spend another year working like a dog to set my plan in play. Taking moments like this to think about the what-ifs of living abroad, the potential that life might hold, it makes knowing I’m working through another Saturday and Sunday all worthwhile.

That balance will come. For a little while, it means I have to prove how much I want it. And so I shall. With that, it’s time to do some work.

Happy? Stopping in the Small of it All

What do we really need for contentment? At what point do our goals cloud “life” itself?

How much work is too much work? How much of something is too much anything? How little is too little?

There’s no universal answer. The less one can live with, though, the more likely one’s chances of finding contentment.

I remember a friend once commenting that the wealthy are more scared of not having money than the poor are of never getting it.

I don’t know, I guess it’s true. I know some moneyed folks who don’t understand the class divide, and when they peer over that pay-precipice, whoo-ee — us little peoples with our cheap-ass wine, “good” and not-so-much-so underwear, “I Need a Paycheck” stack of recipes, and tendency to have to ask “how much” ‘cos we know there’s a price we can’t touch and it’s low… well, we’re a different breed.

Some of us are angry about it, and some of us know how good we really have it.

For all I don’t got, what I got’s pretty awesome — ‘cos it comes with a worldview that helps me enjoy it and not want for more (most of the time, for now). Sure, I stay out of stores and pretend we’re not a materialistic society in order to pull that worldview off when my finances dictate it, but whatever.

I got what I got, and I like a lot of it, and what I don’t got, I tend to get by without.

Soon I’ll be chasing the self-employment dragon with school, etc, and I imagine my desires will be increasing and my quiet, simple life will be shaken up as my needs grow and the corresponding scene develops.

There are some things I hope never change, though.

  • Like knowing a six-pack of beer and a burger-to-go eaten at the beach with a summer sunset, great friend(s), and million-dollar view rivals any experience had in a many-walled 4-star restaurant with entitled waiting staff and hoity-toity diners.
  • Or the delight of ugly boxer shorts, a torn concert t-shirt, and a DVD marathon with blinds drawn on an unapologetically rainy Sunday.
  • Or the here-and-now never-seen-THAT joy that is a road trip instead of flying somewhere, including the neuroses of choosing the music and a route before the trip ever happens.
  • Or knowing moments are built for milking and it doesn’t take long to do so, whether it means stopping to see the stars at night, taking the long way past a sunset, watching life unfold, or smelling a flower.
  • Or loving hanging out with friends who enjoy casual and chill as much as or more than being a part of any scene.

Sure, the media and the fancy folk sell the image of swank-and-busy lives, and how much we should validate our lives by the foods/drinks/things we can afford when with others, and maybe that’s great for you, but, for me, life’s about the simple-and-small moments that fill it all.

Someone once told me it wasn’t the big stars he loved in the sky, but all the little ones in between them.

And I think I look at life like that.

It’s the small things — the moments you pause for, gazes you steal, words you exchange, accidental encounters en route to Your Real Plans, unexpected little incidents that pepper your days.

That’s life, that’s the real deal. It’s the snippets, the moments, that stand out.

There’s a whole breed of world and people that live for the weekend, or the big party, or the next swank thang.

Sometimes I’m guilty of that too, but then I try to remember the moment, the smallness in the bigness. What’s something here, now, that I can notice or experience or remember? A taste, a smell, a sight, a sound — anything.

I want that, for forever — remembering the smallness in the bigness.

I hope my life is never always Big. I hope I always have Moments. I hope there’s forever equal parts of the Small and the Strange while it’s filling up with Big and Beautiful.

These are things I hope on this simple, nothing, every-day-is-like-today kind of Thursday… but a simple, nothing, every-day-is-like-today kind of Thursday on which there’s an amazing marine breeze as sun breaks behind cloudy heat reprieve and my bluesy-funk tunes swell and pound in my living room and my toes are painted pink, and the coffee’s brewing, and the floors are clean and…

Well, for what it is? It’s an amazing day. And I hope I always, always remember that.

A Ramble: Valentine’s Day

This day, the 15th, is one of my least favourite days of the year for private reasons. I fucking hate it. So, I got to thinking last night as I smoked a joint and continued to write, and this is the rambling ode I had about being single on Valentine’s day, and I dedicate it to all those who rolled out of bed alone today and didn’t feel badly about it.

I’m at home on Valentine’s night. There’s a Dr. Phil show on, about how to “love smart.” It’s a primetime special. Ever noticed how the matchmaker sites go onto full boil around this time of year? Notice the fix-up services advertising more these days? It’s like the world conspires to tell you you’re a loser if a) you’re single or b) your lover doesn’t spend enough on you or c) your lover doesn’t put out.

I’m reveling in my singleness this evening. I made garlic bread. With extra garlic. And spaghetti with meat sauce, something the wise would never eat in front of a date. I’m wearing my cut-off shorts and a fleecy sweater. I’m having an awesome night of relaxing, writing, cooking, watching a little telly, and reading. And deep down inside there’s this niggling of “But they think you need a boyfriend. Do ya, honey?”

I know I had a moment of weakness last week, that’s what I do know. I seized a moment with someone and let things go further than they should have, but for that night, regardless of what the future did or didn’t hold, companionship sounded like a good idea. There are people you know you can trust, even if you can’t imagine really being with them for the long haul. And there are weak moments.

Ultimately, though, I do love being single. I admit, I am alone. I’m not lonely, though. Not usually. (Weakness, it happens.) And I resent Valentine’s Day (and the media and society) for seeming to think my lack of desire for a real, true relationship is anything less than healthy. I want a relationship, but I want the right relationship. Anything less than simpatico is just not worth my time, grief, or efforts. The right man, he gets it all. I’ll drop anything for the right guy, you know. I’m just a diehard romantic. But I scrutinize with the best of them, and I just want the right combination.

Otherwise, I’ll keep my Sundays for reading the paper in my boxers and a t-shirt. I’ll get up when I want, sleep where I want, eat what I want, and do what I want. I won’t have to check to see if “our schedule” is clear, I won’t have to worry about any of that. Like I say, when it’s right, it’s worth it, but when it’s not absolutely right, it’s infringing on my space.

That makes me very male in some ways, I think. I’m not sure why more men feel that way than women, but perhaps it comes down to how comfortable they are alone. It’s interesting, I’ve seen an increase in the media, people bringing up something I’ve long believed: One of the worst things you can say to a lover is what they said in Jerry Maguire, “You complete me.”

If you cannot be complete on your own, you are not a whole person. If you do not have a sense of self, you have nothing. If you cannot love yourself, who else can? These are clichés, and for good reason. They’re as true as they can be.

If you don’t know yourself when you fall in love with someone, you’re going to have the very, very rude experience of cluing the fuck in to who you are somewhere down the line, and that person you’ve committed yourself to is going to find out that they no longer fit the bill. Who you love must complement who you are, not complete it. We’re foolish when it comes to love, we put the cart before the horse.

I long ago discovered that my “fuctedness,” as one pal would say, needed solitude. Every time I got into a relationship, I lost more and more of who I was. I became this person who needed to have that approval from “them” in order to have that sense of self. Now, I couldn’t care less. I know that the right people, the ones I want around me, they dig me. The ones who don’t dig me, don’t get me, and won’t have me, and that’s just fine. Don’t fight it, man. Go with the flow.

But when you really learn to dig yourself, you don’t need anyone anymore. You see people for what they are: Icing on a fuckin’ fab cake, baby.

See, the difference between those of us who enjoy being single and those who do not is pretty simple. Those of us who enjoy it, we’re optimistic about love. We figure, hey, if the time’s ever right, if the cosmos ever aligns, then maybe we’ll come out of that with something/one we just can’t get enough of. Until then, we’re alone, and we’re going to enjoy it, ‘cos when that love comes, aloneness goes. And it’s more than aloneness. It’s solitude, quietude. There are some things you will never, ever experience if you don’t command your time alone. Some of the most profound experiences of my life have come to me in moments spent completely isolated from the world.

I moved to the Yukon for one year when I was 21, and it was a profound experience all the way around. Before then, I was a popular gal and always had plans, always was out. I moved there and discovered the true art of being alone and loving it, and it changed my life. I remember a night right around summer solstice. It was daylight then from three in the morning until two in the morning, just an hour of dusk in between… fucking sublime. Sigh. You could sit and watch the sunset followed by the sunrise in the time it took to slowly nurse a single beer. I was having one of these profound days – a day in between nights at the bar, preceding a long weekend away, where we’d be camping at the foot of Mount McKinley and Mount Logan, the continent’s highest peaks. I remember thinking, “I’ve got it pretty fucking good. This will be one of the best times in my life, and I will never, ever forget these experiences. But tonight I got to slow it down and keep it all to me.”

I packed up a few things… a joint, a couple of beers, some Robert Service poetry, and a sweater. I drove the car out of the city (of 15,000) into the nearby country, Miles’ Canyon, the Yukon’s mini version of the Grand, through which the Yukon river carved a wide and tumultuous path. I did a hike out to the edge of the canyon and found an isolated spot above the river where I sat leaning against an alpine fir and facing northward, where I could see the sun dead ahead, just slightly left of the magnetic north. It was midnight and the sunset wasn’t far off. The mountains lay before me to the north (and to the south and east and west) and the land was all reds and browns and greens and yellows with this beautiful deep blue sky. The light, as that incredible northern light is, was absolutely preternatural. There’s something angelic and sweet about the late eveningg summer’s light up there that bathes the world in buttery goodness. I did what I often do, I just sat there and watched how the light changed and shadows shifted on the landscape. There’s something profound about sitting there literally watching time pass by.

So all I did was sit there, consider my life, my place, the potential in my future, who I was and who I would become. To this day, that moment stands in my top twenty, if not my top ten, in my life experiences – and still, stacked up against international trips, true rites of passage, it holds its own, my friends. I was with no one. Nothing really happened. It was quietude in its finest. Not a human voice. Not a plane. Not a vehicle. Nothing electronic. No wires. Nothing. Just me, the gods, and the earth. And it was fucking incredible.

And when you’re afraid of aloneness, you miss out on moments like that. Moments when you sit around and connect with nature on your own time. A guy once said to me, Cities are built for distraction. Meaning, they’re there to help us forget all the things we wish for, that we’ll never have. So too are the wrong relationships, Valentine’s day be damned.

When you spend more time alone, when you get really honest with yourself about what you ought to be valuing, you gain this inner contentment about what it is you’ve got, and you often develop clarity about what it is you need, and how to attain it. These are things, qualities, that many of my fellow (wo)men need to find.

I wouldn’t say that being single leaves me in a state of nirvana, but I’m in a place that I really dig, and it’s because I’ve come to feel that I’d rather be alone than in a relationship where I’m not fully… I don’t know, what, plugged in? I’m charged, he’s charged, it’s all good? I mean, I’m damned good company, most times, so I’d really have to value a guy to keep him around, is what I’m saying. Life’s just too fucking short.

So, yeah, Valentine’s day. I digressed a lot there. Love’s hard enough without cheapening it with commercialism. If you want romance, celebrate it always. If you want love, keep it year round, not because a calendar tells you it’s that time again. And love ain’t about what you can buy, people. These expensive gifts… really. When did generosity become about the almighty dollar? When did it stop being a thing of spirit, of gesture? I just honestly find that buying into this Valentine’s day bullshit really helps to make people forget what relationships ought to be about. The little things: The qualities shared, the words said, the actions done. Not the things bought. Not the fancy places we go.

But the very best thing about being a content, whole person in the search of love, is that when you find someone who really does deserve a shot at fitting that bill, it’s so incredibly rewarding to just drink them in. They’re not fulfilling you, they’re just nurturing all that is good about you. Then, it feels like a gift, like something you should cherish. Something you want to cherish. Not a job, not an obligation. And isn’t that how things ought to be?