Thursday, 17 May 2012

Doing a Good Job

We sort of threw a benefit party yesterday, from which my ears are still ringing, even though I was wearing earplugs. We already had about 30 suitcases of secondhand clothing collected, and about 8000 soaps. But that wasn't enough. As a Good-Cause-Committee we wanted to do more: Collect as much money as possible for pencils, pens, notebooks, vitamines and aspirins. (Basically anything they don't have on Cuba)

We agreed with one pub that half of their wardrobe income was ours, we could ask for a voluntary entry fee, and we held a lottery (amongst the prices were: Breakfast in bed, a CD coupon of 15€, a clothing cheque for 25€, and as the number one winner: A holiday and hotel. Pretty good, eh?). And if that wasn't enough, we also managed to borrow the owner's polaroid instant camera, for which we only had to him back for the film. (I must've shot about 30 people together with Stace 8D )
Think there must've been some 250-300 people in there last night.
The exact amount raised still to be counted up, but it looks pretty awesome :)

We had a May Holiday of a week, but I spent it either being sick or practicing and practicing more to hold my tour through Utrecht with Stacey, instead of the actual plan: Working for school, finishing essays, buying and packing for Cuba. But: It was epic. It really was. The audience was terrific and grateful, and the compliments seemed never ending and did our ego a lot of good.

Apart from that we had our final exam at the school yesterday, a debate about Gorilla tracking in Uganda. And we had to write a report about it, as well as an essay. Which brings me to the next point: I feel like I've gained so much more general knowledge than I have in the longest while, having to research China culture, New Zealand's Maori, Roman history in Utrecht, Uganda's Wildlife, the world's geography (topography, politics, history, export-import, etc) and everything Cuba amongst many other things. I've learned a lot about myself, all thanks to those Group and Human Dynamics. I have even discovered a new interest: everything Geology related. :)

And we're not there yet. The school year still has another 4 busy weeks ahead, in Cuba: with intensive Spanish courses, exams (written and oral), and of course, the biggest part: Our Tour.
My part is Hemingway. Final day of the study trip. And I'm already drop dead nervous.
I'm hoping that my experiences so far have made me grow, the tours in the Museum of Tropics as well as the ones through Utrecht and Breda.. That I can apply what I've learned, and more importantly: That it is clear that I've worked my butt off for it. That people enjoy it.

I'm going to try and keep my blog whilst travelling, but we've been told internet's not as abundant in Cuba as anywhere else in the world (6% of Cubans have access to internet at all). Hotels don't do wifi, and private homes/people have neither the money nor the power to even own a computer.
But that's all good.
There used to be a time when there was no internet abundant anywhere.
And people still managed fine. :)
Anyway, as soon as we start travelling to part of the "normal" world, I'll give a shout.
Stay tuned :)

The Gypsy

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

The Hotspots of Happiness

There are a lot of theories going around about happiness.
Some say it comes from within you, others find it genetically linked, still others think it depends on the situation or country you grow up in. Maybe it is a bit of all three.

I've just finished reading Eric Weiner's The Geography of Bliss. (If you have time: Do read it. It is brilliant.)
Yes, you read that right, happiness has a geography.
According to Weiner anyway, and Ruut Veenhoven, who does his Happiness Studies right here in my little country: in Rotterdam. He has a happiness database of countries, selected so that the number one country is the  happiest, the last country the unhappiest.

A few things that struck me: the happiest countries in the world are not the ones you'd go on for a lazy, relaxed beach holiday, nor are they particularly warm. The top ten actually consists of a lot of Scandinavian countries. Long winters, cold nights.
Thai people say that thinking leads to unhappiness, so the less you think, the happier you become/are.
People in Qatar are not happy, though they have more money amongst than the more productive countries, simply because they have oil. ((aka: proven, money doesn't buy happiness.)) The Swiss prefer boredom and rules to any spontaneousity or chaos, they are happiest when they know what to expect.
Also, the United States only has a (rather measely) 23rd place in the list. Not unhappy, but definitely not one of the happier states. Apparently, being the economic super power isn't everything.
The Netherlands is the third country on the list though, so I'm not complaining.

New research I just stumbled upon last week found that teenagers here are actually happiest in the world, here in the Netherlands. And so are the women.

Also, according to (an good blog you should totally read if you're planning on visiting/moving to the Netherlands), Dutch people also work the least in the continent where the average working days are already not the highest in the world. An average of 30.2 hours per week, we work a whole day less than the 37.2 hours of Europeans, not to mention the gap between us and the hardworking North Americans, who work an average of 44-52 hours per week!
And if you ask any random Dutchie what they do in all this extra free time? Well, the answer is almost unanimous: they are enjoying themselves.
Most impressive about this? The Dutch do manage to top the list of productivity in the EU, so we're doing something right. :)

Another theory I was told about yesterday somehow spiked my interest. It is convinced that people are happiest when they are thinking about what they are doing. The extreme variant of living in the "now" and present, and forgetting about both future and past.
It says, for instance, that people are happiest when they are doing something they love, and concentrating on only that. But it also says that when people are doing something they dislike (ie. a chore, homework, etc) they are happier if they think of what they're doing, rather than if they think of something fun (like the clubbing last night, or a party tomorrow, or all the fun things you could be doing instead.)

And that's exactly Buddhism/Hindiusm for you. A lifestyle. A way of thinking "Carpe Diem, and we'll see what happens tomorrow when it comes."
Thing is, it needs to come from within you. With some, it comes naturally. They have either been brought up in that way, or they can't remember the past or plan the future very much. For others, unfortunately, it is more difficult. Some people cannot stop thinking about the future (all the things you have to get done when you get home), or the past (all the good and bad that's happened to you up till yesterday). Thing is, they have difficulty ever being truly happy, because they can't enjoy the moment when it's there, and usually end up morosely regretting it when it's over.

You can train yourself though, I'm sure of that. I'm neither brought up in the Carpe Diem way, nor am I naturally very optimistic. I have an inclination to get depressed easily, if anything. But I came to a realisation, somewhere along the way, that any negative feeling, ranging from worry to anger or downright resentment, is nothing more than a waste of time. And as soon as I really understood that, it was just a matter of time before a new me emerged, bubbly, cheerful, and full of self confidence.

Seeing as I only heard about that theory of "thinking in the now" yesterday, I haven't had the chance to try it out a lot.. I think ten things at one time, past, present and future, and am probably the most difficult person to teach how to meditate. I did smile to myself when I reprimanded myself on the bike yesterday when I was thinking of what I was going to do when I came home, instead of just thinking of biking, so it sorta works. ;)

Going back to Weiner's book about Bliss, though: The moment when you start thinking about your own happiness, or when you ask yourself whether you are happy or not, you cease to be happy (or in a lesser degree, become unhappier). Which leads me to think (ouch, there's that word again) that the Thai are right. So you should actually be forgetting about everything you just read (if you ever actually made it this far), and not think about how happy you are, or how you could become happier.
I'm not sure if telling (or forcing) yourself to enjoy the moment as it comes is going to work, but it might just become a habit if you train yourself to do just that.

See, this is what happens when it's almost your birthday.
You start thinking about life. And, surprise: I'm still happier than I've been in a long time :)
And I wish you all all the happiness you deserve~ -- because you got here, to the end (;

The Gypsy