The essence of Happiness

On a late morning of a lazy Sunday, I am reading one of the columns of the Straits Times, about the hardship of being happy. Incidentally it  is at page 46, Nov 18, in the “Think” section. How appropriate!

The article wittingly written by John Lui is a light review of the book “The Antidote”, by Oliver Burkeman. The book is about the vanity of material gratifications in the First World’s recipe on the pursuit of happiness. In essence the article is hinting that according to the author of the book, happiness is directly linked to the quality of your thoughts rather then the power of your hard achievements.

I have not read the book and I am now quite attracted to the idea of getting a copy. What makes it quite attractive is that the book seems to be relatively thin compared to the heavy tomes written by other super-achievers.  I cannot resist however to draw a parallel between the comments in the article with my experience about the importance of breeding healthy thoughts. Obviously these will be my own opinions, and hope that the wise Burkeman won’t be too upset with me, should he happen to read these lines.

During my  long hours of solitary walking along St. James walk, I learned how to become familiar with more universal needs, through the increasing awareness of the mass of human beings involved at once  all together on their arduous  life journeys. Each individual journey shares the very basic needs with the other fellow pilgrims, and your own misery is often the same misery of others. So what’s the point of being irritated by the behaviors of others? Or by the selfish desire of complaining about a perceived violation of a personal right, or by the inadequate delivery of an expected service?

I told to myself: ” Do concentrate on your shortcomings, offer sincere apologies to whomever you may have hurt, and move on with a clear mind. Likewise do not focus on the wrongdoings of others, and be prepared to forgive”

I came to realize slowly how the shift of my attention from the commiseration of my personal shortcomings to the awareness to the voice and the stories of the other walkers, was positively affecting the quality of my thoughts and my inner happiness as a consequence.

Once sedated the roaring of my inner grievances, I could enjoy like a child the beauty and the calmness of the surrounding nature and the positive appreciation of true happiness hidden in being the first to offer a smile, or a greeting, or the simple sharing of some food.

It is a well known theory on how the hosting of positive, serene and healthy thoughts can help to achieve your personal and also professional targets. Now I believe that the soft agent of success is eventually the  happiness that comes from living in harmony with simplicity. So, in a process where happiness is the root cause, positive achievements are natural consequences.

Talking about challenges….

The taxi approaches to the stand at a major hospital in Singapore. I always walk up there to hire a cab to reach the office every day. Speculating on the never failing dependency of urbanites from the quick fixes and treatments provided by the Medical Science, there is always ample availability if cabs there.  I am first in line and with impatience am noticing the rather slow attitude of the alighting passenger in paying the hire fee and in getting off the taxi. Even more annoying is the fact that he’s not even acknowledging my presence and slams the taxi door behind him, while I was hurrying to jump in. I react politely albeit irritated and reopen the door to take my own ride. The passenger suddenly realizes and humbly apologizes and slowly walks away inside the hospital.

“He’s almost 90% blind”, comments the cab driver shortly after, “I fetch him to work every day and often here to the hospital. He’s got a degenerating eye disease but makes a point in continuing to contribute to his work to support his family of three”.

Now, when I talk about challenging my comfort zone, I am still taking for granted too many blessings which I seldom acknowledge and quietly appreciate. I felt confused and sorrowful for snapping and being judgemental, and will remember this small but enlighting episode for further reflection.

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In a recent Sunday walk, a couple of senior ladies surprised me for their determination and daring attitude. In front if a closed gate a few hundred meters from the final trekking destination, I felt at a loss in dealing with mounting frustration. Not many options were available. Either to climb over the gate, in an overt act of trespassing a private property, or turn back in search of a more convenient passageway. I opted to walk back alongside the fence around and eventually found a break to sneak through and reach the target destination. Once there, with dismay, I saw the two ladies approaching from the straight direction and I prompted them whether someone opened the gate for them in the meantime.

“No”, they answered un a giggle,”….we just climbed over!”.

The candid answer prompted me with some thinking whether the straight approach to obstacles is the right decision compared to going around them. I concluded that every situation requires a different evaluation of the odds, but I could not help admiring the ladies for their courage and athletic fitness. My old male ego was also harmed a bit…..

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What will I really need on the road?

If this question is being asked while visiting one of those inviting outdoors shops, the answer is frightening: everything! As it is always a good advice to never going shopping for groceries when you’re hungry, likewise you should never go shopping for outdoors amenities, unless the burning need and regret from not having handy a specific tool or support item has been already experienced in a real occasion. As a matter or facts, the zero budget approach is probably still the best. Shoes and foot comfort is probably number 1 in the list; second is likely some protection from the wheather, third the minimum gear for spending the night and getting the so deserved rest. The other real necessities such as a decent shower, drinking water and food will have to be sourced locally, and so be it.

Pilgrimage, it is.

As a proposition at the time I write this,  I’d like to challenge my comfort zone by endeavoring to tour the world on foot. Nothing new, nothing heroic, nothing spectacular with strong sponsorship backup: only a slow journey within myself and my soul.  A walking pilgrimage to connect to the millions of other souls that have done the journey before me, and also to the many whom I shall encounter on the road and also those who will start their first steps much after me. Even if this is a journey that has be be completed in total solitude, I am hoping to share the path with other pilgrims in search of their walks of life.

How long should the right planning time be?

As the basic groundwork for engaging in a long walk is completed, I mean when the balance between knowledge of the task and the mistery of it has reached the sweet spot, then it should be pretty much the date of departure.

If not, a painstaking process gets immediately on the way, conjuring against your still precarious decision balance. This comes in from various sources: either from people that want to to join you, it people that say it us totally useless, or too commercial, from the agony of fear of unplanned discomfort, of not being physically fit, of missing the single fundamental item that will turn the experience from barely bearable into a total hell.

Energy sources on the go….


This is (almost) the whole gear to ensure a supply of power to my smartphone and music player during the trip. The description is as follows:

#1 (center top right): a DC/DC converter that generates an USB low current source at 5V from two AA batteries. This is an emergency kit and assumes that I can buy batteries pretty much everywhere. Inclusive of two AA batteries plus 2 spare ones, weighs 68 grams. Comes with a white LED as torchlight.

#2 (top left): a solar powered lithium rechargeable battery with an USB output. It has an extra hi-power LED to work also as another emergency torchlight. Inclusive of the output USB cable it weighs 134 grams. It charges an exhausted phone battery in 12 hours, and under direct sunlight it recharges the internal battery in about 10 hours.

#3 (right): this is my HTC Desire S smartphone, the only communication tool I will bring along. It allows me to post text on FB and on this blog, and receive comments, emails, etc. It weighs 131 grams.

#4 (center top left): a 220/230V AC/DC adapter to source an USB 5V from a wired power line. With an european plug (two prongs) weighs 21 grams.

#5 (center bottom) : my 4GB iRiver MP3 player, USB rechargeable. With earphones it weighs 59 grams.

All together, the whole kit weighs 413 grams, or 5.16% of total targeted carry on weigh.

The fear of income loss….

Being trained as an engineer I have been living so far in the quest for the perfect mathematical life model:  a simple one, with few variables and some magic formulas than can constrain the uncertainties of the future into a pre-defined range with small and controlled  variability.  A scheme derived by the example of my parents: get a degree, get a job, get married and breed a family, buy a home and grow your capital, take two-three weeks vacation in expensive resorts (didn’t you deserve it?), etc, etc.

Not surprisingly at all, the company I work for granted me the requested two months’ leave of absence with no pay, no medical coverage, no accruals for seniority, or yearly bonuses. As said, this was already expected but it’s quite a hard impact to face the reality in front of a Letter of Undertaking.

The fear of losing financial income is similar to other fundamental fears which dig deeply inside our stability controls. In a way is similar to the fear of the dark, or the fear of death. It’s all about the loss of reassurance of the future to be exactly as it is now. It adds a few levels of complication into the perfect life model…..

But, is this not exactly what am I trying to do? Is it not an attempt to allow some higher level of uncertainty in the plan and be ready to accept my  future for what it is and when it is?

A true change cannot be faced in total comfort, and the challenge now is to replace stability and trust in the future in a financially comfortable condition with stability and trust based on a higher confidence level on my own character in all conditions. Again no formulas are available, only some pain, lot of time and a few smiles.

The first challenge: the homepage name for this blog…..

Using commercial blog portals is easy, effective and convenient. So should have felt most other users that before me attempted to find a name for the homepage to synthetically evoke a seductive wealth of content promises…most of the names that I wanted were already taken.

Sometimes even simple obstacles like this one are placed across our way for a reason. Most of the times our initial choices are simply not good enough, and the hurdles are only a memento to always try harder. Again, time is the worst advisor and I had to fight the initial reaction to compromise for a quick result.

I brewed another coffee and sat outside in the porch observing the world walk by.  I had to take more time dig further inside me as to what this walking experience is true to me.

The idea was still to connect somehow the concepts of  “life in motion” (i.e. ageing) with ” journey”. After not long, the intuition of using “Pilgrim” instead of “Explorer”, or “Wanderer” or even “Adventurer” came out quite strong, and I checked “lifepilgrim”….

The positive response flashing in green under the proposed name told me that there was more than the choice of a name in the game. I moved on, much later than what I wanted originally, but with a lot of more inner satisfaction.

All journeys have to start with the first step….

Today is March 24th, 2012 at 11:46 GMT+8.

Yesterday I have disclosed to my employer the intention to take a 8 weeks sabbatical leave in occasion of my 60th birthday.

I have done the first step of my commitment. The practical aspects to delegate some of my work duties to another colleague shall make part of the learning of the ‘letting go’ process, and to truly trust others. All step programs initiate with an act of acceptance of our own limitations, that no-one is indispensable and no-one is almighty. The remission of my work to another person will be the first step of my detachment journey.

Today I am also experiencing the start of a blog for the first time.