Often, when I post about 礼品之路 ( Lǐpǐn zhī lù ) – The Way of the Gift – I share ideas about the way we think, for it is definitely in our minds & hearts that happiness germinates.
A lot of our happiness has to do with our mindset, our attitude and ultimately our world-view.
We are, however, not just Spirit.
Not just Spirit.
We are a unique combination of ‘wind & earth’.
Soul & matter, fused together in an uncommonly beautiful synergy.
And so, when it comes to happiness, there are some things we need in a physical sense, without which our happiness wanes.
Happiness isn’t an exclusively Spiritual thing.
Happiness overwhelms us when we acknowledge the extraordinary fusion of ‘wind & earth’ we are.
I moved to North-East China, a little more than a year ago.
I’m studying ‘happiness’.
I was happy, before moving to China.
I am even happier now.
Which made me wonder, what is different, 13 months down the road?
Why am I even happier?
Happiness is something which is supposed to increase.
You don’t ‘get happy’, like a car you buy & park in your garage, and then that’s it.
Real happiness infests.
It spreads throughout your being, like a virus infecting every part of your soul.
I’m delighted that I am happier today, than 13 months ago & I certainly hope I will be happier, 13 months from now, than at this present moment.
In Nelson Mandela Bay, South Africa, where we lived before the move, I was a radio station manager.
I had a challenging job in media, with a whole lot of variety to make every day interesting.
We were surrounded by beautiful friends with whom we shared life.
We lived on a not-so-little hill, outside the city, with stunning views of the ocean & a private forrest.
Every morning a choir of birds would say good morning, accompanied by the exuberant shouts of monkeys.
The sound of the ocean just loud enough to soothe.
We drove my dream vehicle, a Landrover Defender, which took us to every nook and cranny of the Province we lived in & often enough, also to other parts of Africa.
Now we live in an apartment on the fifth floor of a building without an elevator.
Our view is similar buildings – old aesthetically unpleasing buildings, built during the seventies without much care for beauty.
We have no car.
And my job, because a 43-year-old with a family of six can’t just study, is to teach English to little Chinese children.
Nothing exciting in comparison with the world of radio & social change we were used to.
In every material sense, we have less now, than we had 13 months ago.
It is interesting that we can be ‘happier’ with less.
Off course, we also have less ‘stress’, since studying & teaching English aren’t the most demanding things a person can choose to keep busy with.
Less ‘stress’ – a definate contributor to greater ‘happiness’, but today I’m not talking about the gift of less, I’m talking about the gift of a little more.
Looking at our, life 13 months on, I can see 3 things we have a little more of, which I believe contributes to our inncreasing happiness.
Three physical things we have a little more of, which naturally found their way into our lifestyle and which I think makes room for happiness in our being.
Walk, Sleep, Eat.
First off, walking.
Back home we lived on the outskirts of the city. Time & distance was always an issue. Like many others, going to work, going to the store or going to visit someone meant getting into the car or onto my scooter & driving there. Parking at our destination. Working. Shopping. Visiting. To climb in or on again & driving back home, or to the next appointment.
Here in China we walk. Wherever we want to go. We live centrally, so most places we need to be are within walking distance. Off course we don’t always walk. If it is bitterly cold (temperatures sometimes drop below -35ºC) we’d take a taxi, which is easy, as there are more blue & gray taxis in this city than yellow cabs in New York. And I think they are cheaper too. A ride seldom costing more than 6¥ (1$) or if you really travel far 12¥, which is still less than 2$. Or we’d take the bus, which stops at bus-stops every 5 minutes and costs 1¥, no matter how far you need to go. Mostly we walk though. And while we walk, we talk, if we’re walking together. We notice delicately designed buildings, vendors selling dried fruit or organic beans, the smell of freshly baked bread and interesting sculptures scattered across the city. It is amazing to realize how much ‘talking’ is unlocked, while we walk together. Light and sometimes deep conversation, comfortably mixed together at the rhythm of one foot stepping in front of the next. Our walking isn’t amongst pristine forest trees or quiet little mountain streams. It is city. Inner-city. Taxis, busses and cars rush by. At crossings we notice cyclists and little three wheel delivery tricycles. We don’t walk far. Perhaps two kilometres to work, 2.5 kilometres to the park or not even a kilometre to the little markets where Zuko buys fresh produce for the evening’s supper, but we walk every day. And our walking isn’t the crazy fitnes-fanatic kind of run-walk for which you nedd special shoes & sweats. Our walk is a liesurely walk. Slow even, sometimes. Unrushed. Breathing. Smelling. Seeing. Talking, as we find our way from one place to the next. And when I walk alone, the talking is replaced with thinking. Ideas rushing into consciousness. Random ideas, which later, with more walking, forms something sound.
I think the exercise element of the walking is important. It makes the blood flow & the muscles work, but it isn’t strenious. It is regular. Two, three times every day. No more than two kilometres at a time.
I think the low-intensity is important. We’re never out of breath.
And I think the sociality of it is important. Walking together. Talking. Walking has a way of unlocking conversation. You know the word ‘pedagogue’? A ‘pedagogue’ was a teacher who walked with his students, talking & teaching as they went along. As we walk we are teachers and students, without effort, as if our mind opens up to ideas through the collective motion.
The sociality is important. Walking past the guy who delivers our water, smiling, saying ‘hello’, past the proprietor of the little green grocer and the old lady with the shock of colored red hair at the hardware shop, the tiny bakery where we get the most delicious breads, being smiled at and greeted, asked ‘how are you?’ – this is an important part of the gift of a little more walking, creating space for happiness.
Maybe that’s what people subconsciously find in ‘retail therapy’? Park the car at the mall. Walk. At the bigger malls definitely more than 2 kilometres. Not rushed. With a friend by your side. You feel safe. You talk. You walk past interesting little shops. Wave at people who recognize you. Think, if you’re on your own.
If only you could do that every day.
Not as something you have to squeeze into an overly busy schedule, but as a normal routine, on your way.
For us, the gift of a little more of this kind of walking, is precious.
Although existentialist, I do believe, if you can find a way to build this into your life, there will be greater room for happiness.
Sleeping – that is the second bit of a ‘little more’ we receive.
The gift of a little more sleep is a precious gift.
We sleep too little.
Tired people can’t possibly be happy.
Back home, sleep was a precious comodity. Nights were short, evenings extending past midnight, the wake-up call always before sunrise. There was always more work and more demands and more to do.
Here in China, being a student, who also teaches English to keep the pot boiling, the opportunity is ample to keep on living the ‘little sleep life’, which is no life at all.
There are always another lesson to prepare and a mountain of books from the hearts of ancient philosophers to read.
There is always something more to do.
I remember, back home, at one stage I was running the radio station & playing editor for a magazine. I would go to work at seven. Come home at six. Spend some time with my family. Put my kids to bed. Go to bed myself around eleven. And get up at three to do some editing. I was younger and physically I managed with 4 hours of sleep. At another time I was presenting a breakfast radio show, alongside managing a radio station. I got up at 4 every morning, to be at the studio at five. I did the show from six to ten. Had meetings and did management, after 10 until about four in the afternoon. Spent some time with my kids. And most evenings at around seven there was some event or function I had to attend. Which went on until eleven, which meant I got to bed at about twelve, to be up at four again.
I managed physically. But I lost something. I lost my sense of humor. I lost my judgement & insight. I lost my kindness and my creativity.
We can’t live on little sleep.
If I recall what I’ve been reading, most science suggests we need at least 10 hours of sleep, every night, until we hit our twenties, when we can do with eight hours a night (but ten hours is still preferable) and only when we near the sixty year mark, we can cope with six hours of sleep, our need for sleep rapidly decreasing after sixty-five, but never dropping below four or five hours every night.
Six hours of sleep doesn’t cut it.
Eight hours is just enough.
Nine is ideal.
Do you do this too? I set my alarm for the next morning. It tells me the alarm will go off in so many hours. Let’s say eight. And then I lie back in bed and read. Sometimes for two hours. That isn’t an eight hour night. It is a six hour night. It takes time to fall asleep. Reading before bed-time is precious, but we shouldn’t fool ourselves. There is a difference between being in bed and sleeping.
We need at least eight hours of sleep every night.
Here, in China, now, it still happens that I deprive myself of sleep. Not often, but sometimes. A book too interesting to put down or our little Maddi demanding the attention almost three year olds sometimes need in the middle of the night.
At those times, when a co-worker is being an asshole, my first reaction is to be an asshole too.
When something happens, my first reaction is to expect doom and gloom.
My fuse a little shorter.
Anger a little closer to the surface.
When I’m rested, fresh from a solid eight or nine hours of sleep, I am a little more resilient. I see beauty with greater ease. I have a little more compassion. A better sense of humor. The asshole co-worker not such an asshole after all, just another being with his or her own troubles and desire to be noticed and loved.
It could just be me, after all, these ideas arise from my experiences, but I do think science and your own experiences back this up.
We need enough sleep.
And mostly we don’t get enough sleep.
And our lack of sleep shrinks the space for happiness to infest our being.
Nowadays I aim at eight hours every night. Heading for bed at least nine hours before I want or need to wake up.
And I am happier.
And my Zuko and our kids are happier too.
For I am nicer. Kinder. Friendlier. More relaxed. More compassionate.
I know there can be times when it is impossbile to sleep enough. Like when I did the editing and the radio show alongside my other responsibilities of radio management. It just happens. We are consumed by the flow and the opportunity or even our own desire to achieve or be seen or to make progress, often making empty promises to ourselves that we’ll catch up later.
We won’t. We can’t.
Every day is its own day. Every day needs its own little bit more walking and its own little bit more sleeping.
Those two things alone, create a lot of space for happiness.
Space needed by our being as it is fused to our matter.
We are wind and earth.
The earth needs some stuff for the wind to be able to blow freely.
Eating, a little more, is the third bit of ‘a little more’ we are receiving as gift, as we find ourselves here in Siberian China.
It is so familiar.
A quick cup of coffee for breakfast.
Perhaps complemented by a slice of toast or a bowl of cereal hurriedly consumed while standing at the kitchen counter, before rushing off to work, dropping the kids off at school or daycare on the way.
The clock always ticking.
Lunch, a pie bought at the convenience store swallowed with some soda. Or a tasteless sandwhich gobbled down with coffee, while multi-tasking, replying to e-mails, reading a report, or doing that bit of work that just won’t get done if I take a proper lunch.
Dinner hurriedly consumed in front of the TV, before rushing off to gym or the dining room table where more work awaits.
In China meals are important.
And they are slow.
Breakfast is taken early. There are no cereals, except at the little section in the upmarket shopping mall where ‘foreign products’ are sold. Fish & rice is popular. Also a ‘rice porridge’ which is more like a soup than a porridge, filled with meat and vegetables enjoyed with tea or fresh pastry filled with minced meat.
Lunch is a slow affair. Schools and businesses stopping for at least 90 minutes so employees and students can enjoy a slow lunch, from around 11h30 until 13h00. A lot of people go to a restaurant. Sit down at a table with friends. Enjoy some company while eating. Slowly. Refreshed at one from fabulous food and good conversation.
I see the younger generation of Chinese are sometimes giving up on this. A few of the young men and women in their early twenties taking lunch at their desks. Quickly. Before working some more. Hoping to get an edge in a very competitive society.
They are the exception.
Dinner is served just after five.
Early for someone like me who comes from the West, who often only got home from work after six.
Here people also work late.
Perhaps more so than in the West, but like lunch, dinner time is set aside – 16h30 till 18h00.
If you need to work some more, you can work some more after six.
And to eat alone is not acceptable.
A meal is meant to be shared.
I read a while ago, the American corn industry was in trouble, after the Chinese government got wind of new GMO regulations in the US and cancelled an import contract for corn for their defense force.
China is serious about organic food. Or rather, they are serious about farming without pesticides and genetic modification.
Our little Maddi had terrible eczema on her skin, since birth.
We kept her away from grain and meat, feeding her breast-milk and vegetables, which seemed to help. She couldn’t even eat eggs or cheese and sometimes when she had fruit, the eczema would flare up, our little baby unable to sleep at night, scratching herself raw wherever the sores presented themselves.
Three months after arriving in China we noticed her eczema dissipating. Five months after arriving here you couldn’t even see she used to have the terrible wounds on her body.
And she was eating meat and bread and fruit and nuts and vegetables to her heart’s delight.
Good food, shared with people is important.
I’m healthier too.
We eat breakfast together.
We share a slow relaxed lunch.
And enjoy a long quiet dinner.
I eat more than I ate 13 months ago.
Often taking a second helping.
The food in China is delicious. Raw, in the scence that it is naturally farmed. They have processed foods as well. And GMO-milk imported from Australia, but we avoid that. Here it is easy to avoid. Real natural food is cheap and readily available. You should see the selection of mushrooms. Probable thirty different types. And milk-products produced from nuts. And vegetables that are fresh. Crunchy. Clean.
I eat more, yet friends keep comenting on social media on how lean I’ve become.
I didn’t try to lose weight.
I’ve never been bothered about an ideal weight or even thought being skinny is synonymous with being healthy.
Still, I am leaner and healthier, despite enjoying three big meals, sprinkled with slow conversation, every day, in the company of beautiful people.
And I am happier.
Tired people can’t possibly be happy & neither can hungry people.
It isn’t just the food which creates space for happiness.
It is the company.
The time we have to eat together.
And the oftenness of the event.
Eating a delicious meal in the company of people you love and who love you back, three times every day – this creates wide space for happiness.
The gift of three things we have a little more of, now.
None of these would find place in our lives without time.
A little more time.
To walk slowly, instead of getting in the car and rushing to the appointment.
To go to bed early, instead of burning the candle at both sides.
To eat slowly in company, instead of gobbling down tasteless food-fakes, on your own.
Maybe this is where we should start, if we want to create some space for happiness in our lives?
Cutting stuff from our life.
Even if it means earning less or being less recognized or achieving less.
I know this – wherever our journey will take us from this little Siberian City, ‘Walk, Sleep, Eat‘, those three will be a gift of a little more I will always consider.
If I am to lose those three, I will not take the opportunity.
Yes, it is going to take a while longer to finish mining the wisdom of ancient philosophers about happiness.
Every day does have less time for reading.
But who is so concerned about when the PhD is received – it doesn’t really matter if it is at then end of 2017 or the end of 2018 – what will a PhD about happiness be worth, if happiness had to be sacrificed in the process of earning it?
It’ll be a bit like a pastor sacrificing his family, in order to serve religion.
It doesn’t make sense.
Or like sacrificing a life, hoping to be happy one day when I’ve achieved and amassed, everything I imagine I need to achieve and amass, I order to be happy.
A bit stupid really.
And so I encourage you – walk, sleep, eat – as much is possible.
And if it isn’t possible, change your lifestyle, so that it will be possible, for our being needs space to be happy in.
There are other things received, which also contribute to our happiness.
In our hearts.
And in our lifestyle.
About them I can write at another time.
These three, however, are sort of the essence of ‘earth’, for me, of the space we need to live a happy life.
I hope you’ll consider them.
You’ll give yourself an immense gift.
You’ll have space to be happier.
And if you start with a hope in your heart, our Origin will give it, for our Origin is the Source and Sourceror of the happy life.
If you whisper the hope to ‘walk, sleep, eat’, our Origin will give it to you, as (s)He has given it to us, for (s)He is the Giver and the Gift.