It was in 2011 when I spent a month traveling around East Africa. I visited the vast savannas of Kenya, the beautiful national parks of Tanzania, and the pristine nature of mountains in Uganda.
This trip redefined in my mind what happiness is all about. I saw many impoverished people who were smiling all the time. They went through their days with a certain level of appreciation of even the little they’ve got out of life.
I stood in the middle of the desert, seeing women walking hours with canisters to the nearest freshwater well, saw small children sitting in the dirt suffering from hunger and diseases but still smiling.
I visited the Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania, the cradle of humanity and saw the kids in a local school. Small, unhealthy kids who had to travel each day many kilometers through the wild desert to the school as it was their only chance for a better future. I came to them and offered something sweet.
They seemed a bit confused by individual wrapped hard drops. Some just put it to their mouth as it was with the wrapping. I had to show them how to unwrap it. It was the first time some of them saw and tasted something this sweet.
They seemed happy. They enjoyed the sweets. I was delighted for them and for myself. I gave them something that made them happy! And do you know what their teacher said? “Please, don’t give them sweets, they don’t have enough food, and this will make it worse. They may never have something like this again. If you have a bag of rice, that would be much more appreciated.”
It hit me. I was just standing there feeling awkward and incredibly sad. I didn’t feel so good about myself anymore. I made the kids happy for a couple of minutes, but at the same time, I set an expectation. I just gave them an experience that shifted in their minds what sweetness is.
Before this, they would be pleased with getting some sweet fruit. Not anymore. They will not have the same level of enjoyment from fruit since in their mind they know that there is something even more delicious and they will long for that. The fruit, if they can get it, won’t bring the same satisfaction to them as before.
In about a week, I went to Uganda walking in the mountains through villages that don’t see many tourists. I went for a three-day trek on Mount Elgon. In some of the villages, small kids would be curiously running around me, touching my white skin and giggling like they never saw such a strange individual with a huge backpack before. I have never seen such joy in a kid.
I’m sure they saw tourists before. And they still had fun when seeing a new one. It was so visible that they enjoyed the moment, the small interactions, the fact that I smiled back. It made my heart sing. Nothing material was necessary. It was just the simple realization that even little things in life could be incredibly powerful and memorable.
So what does this mean for you and your quest for a better life?
With every new experience, we redefine what is possible and reset our expectations. Do you remember when you bought a new car? The first couple of drives were magnificent. But with each new drive, it became a routine. It was the same experience you had the first time, but it felt different. There was no excitement anymore.
What you experienced once, you can’t un-experience. What you saw once, you can’t un-see. Everything new, over time, becomes old and routine. If you are the type of person who gets bored quickly, you may be forced to pursue new activities to feel satisfied with life.
And it will never end. In fact, it will be more and more difficult to find an activity that will feel genuinely new. In my travels around the world, I saw so many different beaches and coral reefs that even if I go to a new beach or dive in a new coral reef, I never saw, the excitement of the first time won’t be there. Unless I change my attitude.
There is a better way. If you are one of those people, who feel that their life is getting nowhere, that they have a routine job, routine days, and even their holidays are routine, there is nothing in the world that can change that.
You can quit your job and join another company, and within a couple of months, it will become routine again. You can go to more and more exotic places, but over time they will look more and more the same as the last one you visited.
The more you experience life, the more it feels all the same. It feels like life. The only way to truly enjoy life, to enjoy even your routine job, and even your boring way to the office every day, you need to start paying attention to details.
Learn to be curious about the small things all around you. All you need to do is to pay attention. I admit that I’m a very curious person. I’ve always been proud of that. And I can see how that made my life more interesting. I find so many things I see around myself interesting.
From the window of my living room, I have a beautiful view of a stretch of grass, a field and on the horizon a forest. Every now and then I can see hares hopping through the fields. Every single time I stop in my tracks and just watch them for a couple of minutes. I have seen these animals thousands of times in my life, but I still find interesting observing them. They make me smile.
You need to learn to enjoy, appreciate, and celebrate the small niceties of life. After I finish writing this article, I know that I will read through it one more time and feel satisfied with a job well done. I have written hundreds of articles, but I still good every single time I finish one.
I was shopping for groceries yesterday, and an older lady asked me about helping her to get a pack of rice from higher shelve as she couldn’t reach it. So I did. I smiled as I handed her the rice and asked if she needs help with anything else. She smiled back and thanked me. It made my day.
If you pay attention, you will discover that your life is full of small interactions like this. The question is whether you take the opportunity to enjoy them. An even better question is whether you actively seek these little things in your life. And the best question is whether you stop and enjoy the small things everyday life brings.
Are you able to touch the hand of the white tourist with a backpack and giggle with pleasure? If you can learn to do that you will be able to go to bed every day thinking about a couple of the mini-experiences you had during the day so you can say to yourself, “today was a good day.”
What are your tips and tricks on how to find satisfaction even in routine jobs and in the daily struggles? Do you work just to make money so you can get some fancy new stuff or experience something new? Or do you work to actually enjoy the work and to enjoy every single day of your life?
Photo: jill111 / Pixabay.com