May 11, 2014

Happiness: What’s the Deal? ~ Olya Kudryavtseva


Why are some people happy and some are not?

What defines happiness? Is it something we are born with or a skill we learn during the life?

I travelled to Cambodia for the first time in September 2013. That trip shifted my material mindset and made me question the things that I thought make me happy.

Children from Cambodia

Seeing people smiling when they have an absolute minimum (or what we refer to as a minimum), being sincere in their offerings to others and enjoying life as it is made me wonder: what makes them happy and what makes me happy? Is there any difference and should it be different?

Positive psychology is a science that studies the happiness phenomenon and it is explained in the documentary,  Happy.

How much money do we need for happiness? I used to think the more money the better. I am a typical consumer who needs or think she needs everything from unlimited internet data to a penthouse in New York. Actually, the material joys make one happy for a short period of time and then you have to buy something again. This is a hedonist treadmill and I’ve been running it for too long, probably.

To pause my own hedonist treadmill, I guess I had to cycle through Angkor Wat and villages behind it to see the primary school “building” where every morning 40-50 kids study math, literature and khmer language. That particular moment was an eye opener for me, and I told my husband to stop me if I will ever whine about things I want but don’t have.

At that moment I caught myself thinking: What is the real key to happiness?

This question mark grew more and more and I started a list of things that make me very happy. This helps me to answer my unanswerable question and also to keep me on track when I think the world is over and life sucks.

1. Family and friends.

The bonding and experiences with close people bring me joy and happiness. I don’t want to miss out on something, leave important things unsaid, or regret that I didn’t spend enough time when I could. This is why I am skyping with my family every day because I live away from my parents now, for over six years. My mom still keeps track of what I eat and checking that I am not starving myself. She also asks about what meetings I had and what new things I bought (hello treadmill again).

2. Practice.

This includes yoga and running. I should refer to driving as my practice too. I spent so much time behind the wheel, it is unbelievable. These two (three?) disciplines makes me complete, happy about myself and happy in general.

Morning is my favourite part of the day—especially on weekend when the city is quiet, without traffic. Runners, cyclists and walkers fill in the quiet roads, parks and sidewalks. I love it and I want more of it every time I experience it.

3. Coffee.

This is the black magic that fills me with joy and energy every morning. I love to hang out in coffee shops, read, write and just be. It is an addiction and I am not fighting it.

4. Volunteering.

I am not sure if this is because it feeds my ego or if it’s because I have a true intention to help. Regardless, it brings good experience to both parties. I volunteered for a year in a school for kids with autism. I taught them yoga and I loved every minute of it.

I got so hooked that I went to Hong Kong to learn from Sonia Sumar who is the founder of the “yoga for the special child.” She is an amazing woman and teacher and that was one of the best thing I have learned so far. Currently I am volunteering in the school for refugees from Afganistan teaching a teenage girl English and Math. But really just mingling for two hours with her and other kids is what matters the most.

5. Being vegetarian.

I don’t consider myself on a mission to prevent people from eating meat or fish. Obviously, the world would become a much happier place if we would stop wearing fur (hello, Russian fashionistas!), become responsible pet owners, and maybe try a vegetarian diet for a day or two during the week. The thought that I am one of those who cares about sustainability of the nature and environment makes me happy and proud about myself.

I am not trying to make an impression of a person who does not care about material things and wants to live in a cave and eat roots. Not at all. I love to go to the hairdresser, I love good clothes and frequent travels to somewhere nice.

This post is just a prove to myself and maybe to others interested that there are a lot of things that will bring us happiness for free and the experiences will last much longer than having a new dress.

So far, it is a work in progress. I do what makes me feel happy and usually it is what makes others happy too.

Volunteer, recycle, help seniors and be a good person in general. I think we all can be happy at least this way:)

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Apprentice Editor: Dana Gornall/Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photos: Provided by author, Flickr/Caleb Roenigk

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