Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Bratislava, Slovakia: That Time I Was Happy

Sitting on a sequence-of-events post but internet is... less than ideal here and it wouldn't work without photos. Here! Have this instead!

A few posts ago I concluded I might actually be happy more than half the time. “Concluded” might not be the best word, of course, because I also used “might” and ended with a question mark; nonetheless, I think I received more feedback on that sentence than I have on any other motif of the blog. I am grateful, of course, to have followers that want me to be happy, but I also feel it would be remiss not to elaborate a bit more on what I meant and how exactly I'm feeling.

I've linked to this comic like four times in this blog so I apologize for doing it again, but if you haven't read it, go read it and then you can ignore it when I link it a sixth time: engagement is more important than happiness.

What I felt when I wrote I was happy more than half the time was that I was engaged. It's easier to say you're “happy,” of course, but that's not how I was feeling and to me, that's okay. Happiness isn't my goal. I am happy often, but happiness is a byproduct. I am happy; more, though, I am engaged.

When I left for this trip, I had depression and anxiety. I still “have” them; much the way you might have polka-dot socks, they are still there even when they aren't taking over your life. But they are no longer taking over my life. I am no longer anxious all the time; I am anxious, but what I would call a “normal” amount (whatever that means). In the past month I have only had sleep paralysis (where you dream you can't move; more annoyingly for me, I usually “wake up” into another dream, think, “finally, I can move!” only to discover I'm still paralyzed) once. I haven't had any anxiety attacks, and I haven't felt terribly sad, lonely, or listless (again, not any more than a “normal” amount, whatever that means).

I've felt... purposeful.

I've developed a sort of faith that things will work out. Because for four months, they have (there was that shop that sold me the wrong size tire and then wouldn't let me return it, but for the most part...). I haven't gotten arrested, beat up, robbed, or any plethora of other things that could have possibly happened (knock on wood). I continually meet incredible people and experience seemingly endless kindness. My attitude when things don't go quite right is no longer, “Let's dwell on this until it's devoured my soul,” but, “What awesomeness is this precipitating?”

I don't believe (yet?) that every happenstance precipitates another, but that this trip is so continually filled with cool people is hard to ignore. If I have, for now, overcome my anxiety and depression, I've done it by filling my life with positive experiences. The brain is sort of like a river valley: the route most taken is the route most likely to be taken. If you want to have new mental habits they are hard at first, like digging out canals; as the water begins to flow the route becomes self-sufficient and widens itself, then the flow becomes stronger and eventually almost unstoppable. I used to have to try to be positive: I would dwell on small things that didn't matter, the voice in my head played songs about feeling lost and lonely and angry. Now, the songs that pop into my head are goofy and fun and celebratory (“because I knew you, I have been changed for good...;” Avenue Q's If You Were Gay). I'm more outgoing, I smile more.

There's research that says your life circumstances only dictate 10% of your happiness, but I wonder how much your lifestyle dictates. I used to work 40 hours a week at a job I liked that was sometimes engaging. I worked with great people (many of whom I miss... Orders team, comment on my blog again!?), but some of the duties were less than engaging. For a while, I had a friend group that was continually judging me and I invested way too much into unhealthy relationships (a few in particular). I spent more time than I care to admit on “the internet” and playing video games.

I wasn't living what I would call an unhealthy life – it is, perhaps, the average American lifestyle (though I am reminded of that quote, “There is nothing healthy about being well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society...”). There's nothing wrong with any of those things; many have done them. I don't regret having lived that life and it might be waiting for me when this trip is over. But compared to the way I'm living now, it's night and day. My time is evenly split between exercise, sleep, and getting to know people; “chores” are limited to cleaning the bare necessities of living (my clothes) and repairing my bike; I get to know new people every day; I do something every day that scares me, yet given the trend of everything working out, I feel safe. Nothing I do is without purpose, except occasionally after a blog post I find myself scrolling through my News Feed (and then I feel listless and stop). With my previous lifestyle, digging the river away from depression was a chore; now, it seems to have happened on its own.

It can, of course, always go back. Those polka-dot socks are still there, hiding under the pants' legs.

Time and life are the two most valuable things we are given: they are the only things that, once spent, we never get back. You can always make more money or buy a new car. But you will never get younger and you will never meet anyone else like the people you meet. Once they're gone, they're gone. I'm spending my time meeting people – finding out what they are passionate about and sharing stories and ideas with them, exploring what it means to be human, to love, to feel. And that is the most engaging and meaningful thing I can think of doing.

Let's close with some Tim Krieder, shall we?
My own resolute idleness has mostly been a luxury rather than a virtue, but I did make a conscious decision, a long time ago, to choose time over money, since I’ve always understood that the best investment of my limited time on earth was to spend it with people I love. I suppose it’s possible I’ll lie on my deathbed regretting that I didn’t work harder and say everything I had to say, but I think what I’ll really wish is that I could have one more beer with Chris, another long talk with Megan, one last good hard laugh with Boyd. Life is too short to be busy.

1 comment:

  1. You are engaging in and embracing life in a way that few people ever do. It brings tears of happiness to my eyes for you and your journey. Splitting one's time between exercise, sleep, and getting to know people, and chores sounds heavenly, like a dream. Do you know how brave you are to make this happen? I hope so. Many people are wearing polka dot socks. Time and life are the two most valuable things we are given - interesting how so many people miss that.

    Love you, Mom