Reflections on Happiness and a Great Weekend

Wow, I’ve been here for 8 weeks already. Here’s the first in what I plan to be a series of posts about “the meaning of it all”.

Coming to India this year involved quitting my job, asking Jeff to quit his, and signing on for quite a bit of time away from places and people I love. It has been very lonely at times, and since I am working 9 to 5, at least 5 days of week, it just feels like regular work life, but in a different culture, away from my social support network and my home.

However, what I hope is that it will help lead to bigger and better things.  Last week I had a great discussion with my office mate Parul, a great gal from Delhi just a few years younger than me. She’s definitely a kindred spirit with similar overall goals, and it was really interesting to compare our cultures. We wholeheartedly agreed that above all, the most important thing in life is to find out what makes you happy and do that. And we also agreed that this is simple to say, and not at all simple to achieve.

This reminded me of a big reason of why I am here: to get closer to this elusive goal. I find it somewhat funny that I’m here in India, because how often do you hear about people giving it all up to “find themselves” in an Ashram or learn to teach yoga. I’m not quite taking that approach, but I am hoping that the change of scenery, having more time alone, being around the culture that bred yoga and meditation, and having a lot of time to travel, will bring about three main goals that I think are most key to my own happiness:

  • Relaxation. Like, actually learning how to relax. Working hard and playing hard, and achieving some work-life balance. At home, I seem to go between being at work but avoiding working (sorry, Alberta Health Services), feeling guilty about not working, or slobbing out in front of the tv eating bad food. Remember that scene in Eat Pray Love in the barber shop in Italy?
  • A sense of purpose and passion in my life. This is about my job being fulfilling for me (something I will talk more about in a future post). It’s also about arranging my life so that I can feel that sense of purpose in everything I do, not just if I’m being paid for it. My strong suspicion is that purpose will come from my links with people – from my very special inner circle to society as a whole. Based on a lot of evidence, including talking to “happy” people, spiritual and philosophical things I’ve read, and especially, what I’ve seen in my own life thus far. I just have not been able to harness this consistently.
  • Creativity!!!   Another things I’ve had in fits and spurts, but haven’t felt consistently in my life. Creativity is one of the best things about being human. I mean “creativity” in the most common use of the word; i.e.  I want to write more music, do more art, get crafty, make my house beautiful. But it’s also more generally about a mindset. The feeling that you are doing something new, not just running through the same old activities or thought patterns you are used to. And I want the chance in the work I do to let my mind run around wildly, to find the best solution to a problem, to get past what other people think are challenges.

Which brings me to this past weekend. I felt happier and more at peace than I have for a long time. Why?

  • A lot of time alone, but lots of great skype and email conversations with people from home. Somehow, I feel closer to people even though I’m on the other side of the world. Probably because I appreciate every minute I get to talk, since I’m such a recluse lately. And/or because all this time alone has helped me to feel more grounded.
  • I spent a bunch of time thinking and writing about this very topic. This is one that drove me to study political philosophy and psychology and health promotion in university , has been the topic of most of the songs I have written, and is what I consider the basis of my spirituality (more on that in future posts…). Yet it has eluded me. Not that I’m the only one.
  • Tons of time playing guitar. I got a new Martin Mini, it’s so beautiful and I’m head over heels in love.
  • Planning for my consulting business. Which I hope I can get off the ground in the next year so I can stay away from the old golden handcuffs – no more 9 to 5 work for me! And I hope to blend some interesting work with collaborating some of the awesome people I know. I made a list of people that are in the evaluation or applied research field that I have worked with or am friends with, and it’s got 25 people already, mostly in Edmonton and Calgary. Big ideas brewing, I’ll be writing about that in the future, too, but if you’re reading this and want to be on my list of people I’ll be contacting with business and consulting ideas, let me know!
  • I’m joining the home workout movement. 12-15 minutes of ridiculously intense strength-building exercise- like cross training but from home – and it’s demonstrated by people with the hardest bodies I have ever seen: [http://www.bodyrock.tv/2010/10/13/how-to-start-working-out-with-us-at-home/]. If you can look past this lady’s insane cleavage (or even be motivated by it), I highly recommend it, even though I am currently hobbling around like an old lady and discovering muscles I never knew I had.

So for my next post I’m planning to write some things I have figured out about what makes me happy, so I want to ask those who have read this: what makes you happy? What makes you smile, laugh, feel good? Little pleasure or overwhelming joy, doesn’t matter. I just want the good stuff.

I’ve loaded a whole bunch of pictures on facebook, just cause it can handle the bulk a bit better: #1: http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150945013630574.763566.655905573&type=1&l=a7a3890d5c

I’ll post some pics of the dinner I made today – my first attempt at my new favourite Indian dish, poha (http://www.manjulaskitchen.com/2011/03/21/poha-or-chudway-flattened-rice/). I’ll also post a picture my beautiful guitar, who needs a name. Any ideas?

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Cooking

So my first weeks in Delhi I was able to pay the maid to do the shopping and cooking… now she is away for several weeks, and the girl covering for her doesn’t cook. Perfect opportunity to try out some cooking myself.

We don’t have a choice as far as having a maid goes – the couple downstairs who own the building insist that whoever rents the apartment employs her as well because they can’t give her full time employment.  And I won’t lie – it is amazing to come home from work to a clean house, your laundry folded on your bed, and a healthy tasty meal waiting for you in the fridge.

Me and my housemate cooked on Sunday night, and I complained that I felt in the dark both metaphorically and literally.  Metaphorically, because even though I was only making dahl (boiled lentils with spices) and rice with veggies, we had a cupboard full of unidentified spices and I have not yet mastered the art of using spices in the true Indian manner (i.e. not just plunking a spoonful of curry paste in the pot).  Literally, because the light in the kitchen had burned out!

Anyway, tonight I felt much more confident, and tried out a simple and tasty recipe found on an Indian cooking blog (http://www.quickindiancooking.com/2011/09/29/on-the-move/#more-926).  I have found quite a few of these, and will share any good recipes I find. I am determined to master a few great recipes in the next few weeks, since I love this food and it is hearty and healthy.

I also realized tonight just how important the ritual of cooking can be to just embracing and enjoying where you are.  I’m looking forward to hitting a few markets to track down some more spices and ingredients – this was always the part I envisioned when I imagined myself living abroad. Not that I ever thought I would end up in India! Life is certainly full of surprises.

I’ve attached some kitchen and food pics…