Tag Archives: living better

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.

Making Plays in The Game of Life

I am in catch-up mode.

We get so ensconced in our lives that all need to remember the wise words of social genius/role model Ferris Bueller: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

So, when you’re like me and you’ve been out of the game for about six weeks with something stupid like pneumonia, you sort of realize some things:

1) Many happenings/obligations in life are unnecessary, yet we feel pressured to throw ’em on the calendar too.
2) When trying to get back to your old self, you need to pick your battles, and the one battle you can likely do without includes all the social and networking events that aren’t “real” time with friends you crave seeing, or lowkey happenings.
3) Those easy activities we fall into “autopilot” on really take a lot of discipline to develop routines around, and getting back to that is a real challenge after taking a necessary break from it.

I think part of my antisocial behaviour over the years stems from the fact that much of my years from 25-35 were filled with illness (was bronchitis-prone yearly) or severe injuries, and I just lost my ability to struggle through life and be Little Miss Lively.

From Guardian.co.uk: Gk Hart/Vikki Hart/Getty Images.

And I was always angry about it, too — my failure in my struggle to balance life during those times.

One day, I read Carl Honore’s In Praise of Slow (its Canadian title).

I learned about the Slow Food movement, and how it was spawning the “Slow” lifestyle. Talk about your lightbulb moments.

So, I learned what I could about these new-to-me ideas.

Slow Food was about getting back to the basics and using real ingredients, very little processed, and ensuring one had the time to enjoy it all. At least half the time, this is what I’m after in my kitchen: Slow.

“Slow Life”, in a nutshell, is about doing everything purposefully, mindfully, and without spreading yourself too thin. It’s about reading a paper and enjoying a quiet breakfast, not working on your laptop, watching Criminal Minds, and scarfing down a protein shake.

“Slow” is in not rushing to an event that’s only about shaking a few hands when you could stay home, re-centre yourself, eat healthily, do some fitness, and enjoy some mental-recharging in preparation for a great and full day tomorrow. Slow Life is even about Tantric sex and sleeping in.

Slow is essentially about making choices, and choosing to pare back on commitments, doing only what life and time dictate as good choices.

Carl Honore’s website defines “Slow” as:

It is a cultural revolution against the notion that faster is always better. The Slow philosophy is not about doing everything at a snail’s pace. It’s about seeking to do everything at the right speed. Savoring the hours and minutes rather than just counting them. Doing everything as well as possible, instead of as fast as possible. It’s about quality over quantity in everything from work to food to parenting.

There are people who thrive on social interaction, it completes them or feeds their ego or whatever it is it does for them, and maybe they need that component in life to really feel alive.

Many of these people, though, I see tweeting or Facebooking about how frantic they feel and their panic to get to the events on time, et cetera, leaving me to wonder just how much they’re “thriving” on these things after all.

Others, these excessive commitments get in the way of our goals, they cut back on our time to be creative, they erode our sense of self, and they turn us into 5-to-6-hour-a-night sleepers instead of getting the 7 to 8 hours doctors recommend. For some, the overcommitting eats at savings, inspires bad behaviour, or leads to missed opportunities.

Not everyone’s suited for the Slow lifestyle.

But I am.

The older I get, the more I realize I’m a rural dweller living in a citylife.

I want the country house, the seclusion, the quiet at night that’s broken only by sounds in nature. I want to wander country paths and marvel over how light changes on the landscape. I want trees surrounding my home and a body of water a short walk away.

Unfortunately, right now, I can’t have that life. By the age of 45, I will.

For now, though, I can balance my life with being smarter. These days, I’m a “maybe” for all events until the final 24 hours hits. I’m tired of having to bail for reasons others don’t want to hear about and certainly don’t care about.

At this immediate time, I’m not making any social plans at all. My two birthday-weeks with only 3 social happenings in each proved Way Too Much for me. The pneumonia rebound is a hard one for me.

But the pneumonia is a wake-up call. I’ve worked far too hard on my life to be rewarded by being this sick. No more.

The frustrations I feel now, after being taken out of the game of life and trying to catch up, they’re reminding me of why I gravitated to the Slow Life a few years ago, and they’re making me wonder why I ever drifted away from it.

In order to be successful at Slow, it means I need to make a few more changes. Routine becomes more important — cleaning up after cooking, waking up with focus, committing to an active life but also being sure to actively rest, both in mind & body.

Starting this week, it looks like I have a personal trainer willing to take me on in exchange for my writing about my journey to fitness for her blog (and mine). More on that on Wednesday.

It scares the living shit out of me, honestly. A high-intensity personal trainer with a mission to kick my ass?

I’ve been there before. I know what working out with high intensity for 6 to 8 hours a week feels like. I know the price my body pays. I know what “leaving it on the floor” feels like the next morning.

I know what it takes, but I HAVE what it takes.

What I really know, though, is that being social goes right out the window for a month. At least.

That 6 to 8 hours of fitness, for me, requires at least 4 hours of stretching. And hot baths. And icing. Next thing you know, it’s 16 hours or so of my week. Physical hours, hours in which I’m often thinking about exactly how my body feels and what it can do. It also means I need 8 hours of healing rest per night.

That physical demand on me and my time also means I really have to focus on healthy eating, and since I can’t afford to buy the healthy prepared food (which are expensive, of course), I need to do the cooking myself. More time invested.

And, you know what? No problem. I can do that.

I just can’t do “social” during it too. Not much, anyhow. Not at first.

Not if I want to achieve everything I know I can achieve.

Me first, you last — that’s what losing 50 pounds takes.

If you can’t put yourself first in weight loss, you won’t succeed. Period. I know.

“Slow” living means making choices and choosing your battles. It means doing one thing and doing it to the best of your ability. So does weight loss.

There aren’t a lot of books that have really changed my attitude on life, but Honore’s In Praise of Slow really did. It’s time it changes my life again, and this is the best time of year to make that change.

Whether we like it or not, there are 10 weeks till Christmas. Manic just got more manic. Socializing will be through the roof.

For me, Christmas means people — it means warm drinks, kindness, small homemade gifts, toasting with wine, laughing in warm lighting, and generally just Being with Real People. It’s not about events with 200 folks, or even 100. It’s about being in places where I can actually talk to each person present.

As the invitations start pouring in, I’ll pick events that are most intimate — preferably home gatherings — with the greatest number of people I’d like to connect with. And maybe only one every week or two.

But that’s how “Slow” goes.

In the end, I’m finding pneumonia has been a gift to me on a few levels. Most importantly, it’s helped me clarify my goals and remember what’s important to me in my world.

Or, at least that’s what I’m choosing to take from the pneumonia experience: Reminders of who I can be.

Now comes the part that’s the hardest of all: Turning those reminders into my new reality.

And, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I’m grateful I get to try at all.