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Over one year ago I was walking around the Forodhani Gardens in Stonetown , Zanzibar with a good friend to get some food. She asked me when was the last time that I found myself to be really happy. I was dumbfounded, not able to remember a time I was thinking to myself: Wow, this makes me so happy! Sure there were times that I was somewhat contented, but even living on a tropical island where everything went Pole Pole (everything in time, literally slowly slowly) left me feeling stressed and unhappy. I wasn’t feeling at home and I didn’t know for sure my work was making a difference in the world.
A lot has happened in a year as you can read in my previous two blogs which has changed my life drastically. I stepped out of the highly competitive job market of the Development Aid world and made my own job doing the things I absolutely love. I found my best friend and partner in life with whom I travelled, learned and created a family (the two of us and a cat). I know who my true friends are and who is just sucking the energy out of me. I finally appreciate and understand my parents and everything they’ve done, so that I now really enjoy going back to my hometown again. And lastly, I am officially 30, an adult-all grown up- not an insecure 20-something anymore who needs to prove herself by changing hairstyles/crazy hobbies/being loud etc.
"Happiness is not something ready-made. It comes from your own actions."
~ Dalai Lama
Although I was living the Minimalist lifestyle for a couple of years already and gave up most of my attachment to stuff, I was still clinging onto some relationships. I was trying to help people who could only help themselves. At the same time, I was putting my own happiness on hold as I was bending over backwards to make them happy. Only when I was on the verge of being burned out, I realised that I needed to make myself happy and healthy and I wasn’t helping anyone else by getting into their problems. If that meant we had to break the relationship in order to break a co-dependent cycle, so be it. I stood my ground, was tested a few times, but had great support from friends and my coach to choose Sies first. Eventually, the storm passed and I found a new equilibrium. One where I was not trying to solve anybody else’s problem, but only offer a listening ear when needed, without judgement. It made me feel lighter, and less attached and affected by other people’s problems.
After that I met a person who was not afraid of a woman who chooses her own path, but who dóes have the same ambitions as I do; to travel the world, have great conversations, be awesome at what you do, learn and reflect and find a partner who makes you even stronger. He made me write down a list of everything I wanted to do in the next year. Together with the assignment I got from my coach (write up your life story until your 35th birthday, so look backwards and forward) this was an ideal nudge to finally realise the plans I had all these years.
So I started working on becoming an independent working pet carer, I travelled to the places I wanted to see this year and I became healthier and contented with myself.
I also noticed that, by introducing a regular yoga practice, regular sleep and a positive mind-set in life, I was less snappy, thus less inclined to act or speak before thinking. A good example was about eleven months ago when I was on my way to yoga-class. I surprised someone else, but most of all, I surprised myself.
I was biking through the beautiful Rembrandt Park in Amsterdam, enjoying the changing colours. I was taking a shortcut and riding on a pedestrian path when I encountered an elderly lady and a tiny dog. Because I knew I was in the wrong biking there and I didn’t want to scare them with my loud bell, I quietly waited until I found a moment I could pass them. When I did so, the lady was startled (because I was so quiet whilst following her) and she started cursing at me. A few months before the event I would have cursed back at her in a storm of gargling sounding Dutch curse words and would have been pissed off for many hours after that because it was I who was friendly for not disturbing her! But before I could resort to that bad habit, I stopped, took a deep breath, got of my bicycle and said to the lady in a normal, friendly tone: “I am sorry that I scared you. It was not my intention, I just didn’t want to startle you and your dog by ringing my bell. I know I am wrong by biking here, that’s why I waited for you to move to the side, but again, please excuse me”.
In turn, she was startled by an Amsterdam cyclist being humble, honest and caring for a pedestrian and her canine. She stumbled over her words when she replied with: “Oh, well… You are a friendly girl for explaining it so nicely to me. Most cyclists are not that friendly. Sorry for being so rude, have a wonderful day!”.
It made my day that she came back on her cursing, but also that I didn’t let myself react negatively to negative actions. And that was even before I went to my yoga class!
I think what makes me the happiest in the present is that I have learned to be flexible. This means that I can move and go wherever I want, whenever I want, without me worrying about stuff or other things that tie me down. I am also feeling good about myself physically and mentally. I feel appreciated by others (family, friends, partner and clients), but more importantly, by myself. And most of all, I have learned to be (even more) empathetic. Before reacting to a certain behaviour or action I disapprove of, I always remind myself that the other human being has reasons to do something a certain way. The only way we can truly understand their actions is to start a dialogue.
A few weeks ago I signed up for a discussion group on Facebook for people with cats as part of my marketing strategy. Most of the sharing was very positive, but one lady posted about her neighbour saying that the next time she wouldn’t be so understanding if the lady’s cats would come onto her balcony again. The lady was wondering what she could do about it. I was astonished what kind of replies were posted from cat-lovers about so-called cat-haters. Instead of giving constructive feedback like the simple solution of just fencing off the balcony so both the neighbour and cats could live on their own property happily ever after, the group was giving her rather cruel suggestions of what to do to the neighbour. There was no understanding or the slightest interest in why the lady didn’t like the cats to be on her balcony (e.g. messing up her plants or maybe she once lost another pet to a neighbour’s cat), only judgement. I exited the group.
Stephen R. Covey wrote: “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” Although it is very difficult, I feel like I have trained to listen for understanding and sedated the reactive part: The part that wants to convey Sieske’s message or the part that wants to solve the solution for the other person. Furthermore, I am very aware and grateful of the people around me and I feel privileged that I can be flexible and reflective.
The other day I spoke with my parents’ neighbour, whom I hadn’t seen in almost two years. She asked me: “Are you as happy as you look? Because you look amazingly happy…”