Iceland: Happiness is Failure

This weekend I found myself thinking about the things in life that bring me happiness – live music, cycling, Town Lake, long conversations over coffee, sunny weather, and getting lost in a good book, just to name a few.  Luckily my weekend involved all of these.

Town Lake, Mute Math at Stubbs, Cafe Medici, Tour de Cure Training Ride

I want to submit a drawing to Draw Happy – an ongoing global art project inviting people to draw what makes them happy. The project began in Iceland, a place that I hope to visit one day. You see, I do not consider myself a creative person and lack pretty much all artistic ability, however it is said that pretty much everyone in Iceland is an artist. How can that be possible? Apparently they do not worry so much about talent as much as they do personal expression and trying new things.

This project brings me to one of my favorite books, The Geography of Bliss. During a year the author, Eric Weiner, travels to ten countries attempting to discover each culture’s definition of happiness.  One chapter is titled “Iceland: Happiness is Failure.” To most people, including myself, this concept of happiness seems absurd. What about the American dream? Isn’t it all about success? To better understand their perspective, take a moment to read this excerpt:

Iceland was an essential aspect on my journey to discover contentment. This country has consistently ranked in the top percentiles -if not number one- of the happiest places in the world. After questioning many native Icelanders, I had come to the conclusion that this is because failure is admired in their culture. Well, failure is admired if it is a result of good intentions. For instance, if an American businessman uses ruthless tactics to reach success this is considered the ultimate taboo. Icelanders think that it is only the trying that counts, not the end result. They like to try and learn new things even if they know the end result will not necessarily be a masterpiece. This explains why it seems like absolutely everyone in Iceland is a poet or an artist of some sort, or why so many teenagers have garage bands with no hope of success. I imagined that the lack of pressure to succeed only caused more success and a deeper understanding of one’s inner self.”

I am going to try to make 2012 a year of creativity – good or bad I don’t care, it will just be for me. Like this blog.

Finally, while I am on the subject of Iceland, I would also like to share a band I recently discovered – Of Monsters and Men. They will be visiting Austin for the upcoming South by Southwest festival. Enjoy!

Conversations with strangers

This past weekend I was in DC and Boston for work. I really dislike staying in hotels and was fortunate to have a good friend to stay with in DC.  However in Boston I was not so lucky, so I had two options 1) the traditional affordable hotel located in the outskirts of town or 2) stay with a stranger in the center of town using Airbnb.

Option 1 would have looked something like this:

Location: Anywhere America surrounded by chain restaurants and shopping centers.

Option 2 looked like this:

Location: Center of Cambridge, MA reserved using airbnb.com

In my true fashion I arrived to Boston on Saturday night with no plan. It was about 10pm when I finally got to Cambridge and I set out to wander the streets. I came across restaurants of international cuisine while the bars were blasting jazz, rock and African music. There were even some MIT students walking down the street with a robot.

Not feeling social enough to go into a bar on my own I was hoping to find a small, quiet coffee shop to hide out in for a bit.  I started to worry that I should have planned my evening better by having a destination in mind. For a Floridian, walking around in 18 degree weather is not an easy feat. Just as I was about to turn back I finally stumbled across this place:

Zinnekens in Harvard Square

Nothing could have made me happier in this moment than defrosting with a delicious hot chocolate. I stayed while they were closing and talked with the friendly owner from Belgium who got his MBA at Harvard and just opened this place a few months ago. We exchanged business cards and I ventured outside to see the famous Harvard Square before heading back to my hosts house.

The next morning I had big plans to go on a little two-hour tour of Boston before heading to work. My host prepared me a wonderful breakfast and we ended up having such great life conversation I did not leave the kitchen that morning.

Maybe on my next trip to Boston I will see more of the city. Or maybe I will just wander the streets again talking to interesting strangers. Either way I will definitely have to visit the coffee shop for the authentic Belgian waffles.

Where thou art, that is home.

What I love most about traveling is not the places I see, but the people I meet along the way.  Near strangers have opened my eyes and taught me more about myself than any psychologist could ever attempt. I think that is because one’s true nature shines through in strange places. There is nothing familiar to hide behind. No box to fit you in. Simply put, travel is freedom.

One of the best lessons a near stranger and now best friend taught me was the value of making a home wherever you are. We met in Salamanca, Spain as she spent the summer studying and I working. One evening she suggested we return to the same place we had been the last few evenings, while I suggested we go somewhere new. She said to me “Why go somewhere new when we have already found a place we really like?”

(This video always reminds me of that summer)

She explained that while traveling she likes to make a home in each new place. Throughout our month in Salamanca I watched her do this. Everyday she went to the same bar for café con leche and the waiters often gave her free food.  She knew the name of everyone in our dorm and they lit up when she would enter the room.

At first I thought she was crazy. My nature is to wander and try new places. Searching for a novelty, excitement, something special or close to perfect. But that summer I followed her lead and realized how rewarding it felt to set down roots, albeit temporary ones. The only downfall was that this made it all that much more difficult to leave in the end. Regardless, it was worth every tear.

I guess roots don’t have to be forever and home doesn’t have to be just one place.

Where thou art, that is home.

Emily Dickinson

Gotta have my pops!

A lot can be said of a person by their cereal selection. The other day I was discussing with a friend how I love change.  In fact one of the few constants in my life is change. During the past ten years I have moved my residency every year to a different home, city, state, or country. I love to try new foods, restaurants, bars, shampoo, and of course, cereals. This is what you call an advertisers worse nightmare. I have a few favorites, but chances are my fickle nature will lead me to try the next product that catches my eye to become my new favorite.  This is very characteristic of the air sign, Gemini to which I belong.

My friend, belonging to the astrological sign of Taurus, does not like change. She has been eating the same breakfast for pretty much her entire life. As we reflected on our adolescence I remembered that my cereal preferences on the other hand changed on a regular basis. Fortunately my mother always kept a pantry stocked with a variety of breakfast options.

Whether you believe in astrologic signs or not, the reality is that most of us tend to prefer one to the other – stability or change. Somedays I wish I were more like a reliable Taurus, and less the inconsistent Gemini.

So what  are you having for breakfast?

Breaking up is hard to do

I’m not talking about romantic relationships, but rather breaking habits (for some, that may be their significant other). As the New Year approaches many of us are starting to think about resolutions. Whether that is the term you use or not, chances are you have already started to think about the changes you want to make in the year 2012.

Two years ago one of my goals was to stop using plastic bags. So I bought a couple of the reusable, recycled bags they sell in the grocery stores. I did pretty good at first remembering to bring them with when I went shopping, but most of the time I forgot and resorted to using plastic or paper bags. Today as I walked into the grocery store I realized I have finally made it a habit to always have one with me in the car, at home, work, etc. Oh the feeling of accomplishment…

I love the New Year because I like change, fresh starts, and an opportunity to reflect on the past. Besides, who doesn’t enjoy thinking about their future “ideal self?” If only we could overcome those bad habits and replace them with healthy ones!

I usually make a long list of things I would like to accomplish. But, like most, I don’t end up accomplishing the majority of them. Some years I completely strike out. This could be for a number of reasons:

1. I set too many goals
2. Some goals may be a little unrealistic
3. I get distracted and lose focus
4. My goals are too general (ex: learn to cook. Learn to cook what?)
5. Let’s just face it: habits are hard to break

This year I want to learn time management skills, so my first step is easy: make a list of resolutions and list them in order of priority. Then narrow down and focus on the most important ones first. This brings me to my reason for blogging. Maybe if I sit down every once in awhile to write down my random thoughts they won’t clog my brain throughout the day.

Hey, I focused long enough to write this? Another feeling of accomplishment…