While I am writing these lines, I have the Pretenders song in my head.
She will always carry on, something is lost and something is found, they will keep on speaking her name, some things change, some stay the saaaaaaame.The Pretenders. Hym to her
Two years ago, I got a very very nice book for my birthday. It is a kind of a journal with a twist. Every day you get a question and you can record the answers for five consecutive years. As the book proclaims, it becomes a personal time capsule.
I got hooked on the book from the start, so I have been dragging it in all my trips and, as it couldn’t be otherwise, it came with us to Costa Rica.
Now that I have filled a couple of years, some clear patterns emerge. Like the fact that for some questions, I have exactly the same answers, to the coma. Of course, one could think that this is just the normal outcome of looking at your previous answers. But that is the thing, my own personal rule has been to NOT look at what I had answered before until I write this year’s answer.
And, at least, I would expect that being this sabbatical year so “a-typical”, the answers would be very different from the previous years. Right? Oh well, not entirely…
So, what are the things that change?
Mostly, those related to specific places or time periods. For example, not so long ago, the question was What do you see outside of your window?…
Being asked this question around this time period of the year, in the previous years, the answer always led to some combination of grey and rain. And darkness. And clouds. And I felt frustrated and unhappy writing bout it.
Needless to say, this year is WAAAAY better. It relates to jungle, red macaws, monkeys, sun and blue skies. And it feels soooo incredibly nice to write about it.
And, which ones remain the same?
The one that triggered this post was enquiring about What outfit would you wear every day if you could? For me it has never been any doubt: summer clothes and flip-flops. Let me repeat slowly. Summmer clothes. Aaaaaand. Flip-flops.
Did you read scarves, gloves, wool hats, jackets, long-sleeve t-shirts, turtle necks, rain pants, socks and boots. No, right? Just wanted to make sure that we were on the same path.
What could change? Or should?
But what is mostly interesting is to think about what has remained the same…but could and even should change?
Looking at the answers to the the question “Which year of your life has been the most enjoyable”. The answet has consistenly been when I lived in Brazil. This is puzzling.
It is puzzling because of the living conditions that year. I was poor as a rat. No, really!. Let me explain what it truly meant. Brazil had hyperinflation at that time, with rates close to 1000 per cent per month. This meant that any price was 1000 times higher at the end of the month than at the beggining. I had a meagre student stipend that was in the local currency. I had to buy all the food that we needed for the month the first day of each month and hoped that it would last. So I ate cabbage almost every day.
But that is not all. I was living in the South of Brazil, with night temperatures that could reach zero and minus degrees at night. But our house had no heating. We had no fridge. No phone. No TV. And….no mattress! I couldn’t afford one so, I slept on a piece of wood on the floor.
Yet, with ZERO MATERIAL COMFORT, I was incredibly happy.
I felt a sense of belonging which I have not felt ever since. I learnt portuguese in a heartbeat, blended in and felt sooooo alive.
Why don’t they change?
Decoupling material comfort from happiness and realizing how happy one could be with very little comfort, makes me think about all the fears I have of making changes in my (our) current life. In Sweden, I have all the comfort that one could dream of: a permanent position in a very good university, a good salary, the prospects of a good pension, a nice apartment. Yet, I do not feel that sense of belonging. And, most of the time, in fact, I feel quite miserable. It is not the job -which I enjoy- or having lovely friends – which we have- or lovely family – which we have, even in Lund. But it is the many months of greyness and cold, which really gets into my bones and my soul…taking away all joy. We have all comfort, but the truth is that, most of the time, I am not happy.
So, why am I not changing? Hard to say, but may be it has to do with the fear of losing that material comfort. The fear of financial loss, of losing the hardly won career status, of starting again from zero… of jumping without net …
But looking at the diary and the answers over time, also makes me think about the things that really matter in life. Like living a meaningful and happy life. Recall that I didn’t say a “safe one” or a comfortable one. But a meaningful and happy one….
Do they need to change?
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”Mark Twain
As they usually say, change starts with awareness. And somehow, somewhere, this diary is waking up my awareness. Of fears. Of sources of happiness. Of the life we live and the one we could live.
But the key question is, of course, if happiness could be achieved just by introducing incremental changes in the current life – for example, being away part of the winter or even taking a leave part of the year- or if they really require more radical transformations. We still have several sabbatical months to go, but it is a question that comes regularly in our conversations, and for which we do not have an answer. Yet.
The jury is out there. And suggestions are more than welcome!