I’ve decided to take a trip around the world. Apart from the obvious reasons which are to see the sights, to realize a dream, and who the hell doesn’t fantasize about a one-year long vacation? Yes, all of this is true, but for me, there is another goal, more interesting and more important, especially in the long-term.
Not so long ago my life was based on trying to reach a point where I would be “happy.” I’ll buy a new car, and I’ll be happy. Or maybe as soon as l get a job at a famous big company, I will be the happiest person on earth.
And yes, happiness did come with each achievement, but not for long. And to get a new dose of happiness required more and more effort, and it lasted less and less.
I finally realized that happiness is not a destination, but a way of living. You can be happy here and now. And for that, it is enough to rejoice in the little things, live the current moment, smile and be open to the world and people.
Now I’m trying to learn how to live with problems. With problems? Yes, with problems—concerns, instability, and uncertainty. I tried controlling everything in my life, and it took enormous strength and energy. I was always striving for a comfort zone where I thought I could control everything.
I tried to avoid unstable situations that brought nothing but stress. I thought: I’ll wait a little longer, I’ll work, I’ll push myself, and then I’ll find a comfortable stability and everything will be all right. But as soon as I achieved any of those goals, I immediately became bored. Yes, of course, I enjoyed certainty, for a while, but, it never came with the satisfaction I expected.
I began to imagine living like that for the next five, ten, twenty years and it became even more daunting to think about. So, I began thinking about something that would not be boring and unsatisfying. It led me to consider unstable life situations, and that led to unhealthy stress. That’s when I realized I was chasing my tail.
All of this was a futile search for happiness. Recently, I found what I was looking for. It came about when I noticed that problems don’t have an end. It’s an endless race to nowhere. Problems are a part of life. I finally figured out that I was looking for certainty and balance in the externals of life. The lightbulb went off when I realized what I was searching for had to be found inside myself. It is impossible to control the entire external world, but it is possible, and even necessary, to control my internal world.
At one point I started to analyze what was uncomfortable in an uncertain life? I asked myself why it brings me to a permanent state of stress? And I quickly found the answer. It all came down to fears about my future. Yes, I am always worried about it. What will happen if the money runs out? And what will happen if I get fired? And what will happen if I get into an accident? And so on. I’m afraid of a million different things that could happen. Apparently, they haven’t occurred yet, but I’m worried about them right now. I call these fears phantom fears. Despite their phantom nature, they feel real and steal my time, affect my health and bring down my mood.
The human brain is astonishing in what it can do. It can inspire itself with something and lock in belief in it. In effect, as far as the brain is concerned, it becomes a reality. I’ll give you an example. Ksusha loves to take a bath in the evenings. She turns on the water and leaves to do something else. And what do I do? I start freaking out about the water that will overflow, and the flood it will create. Even though this never happened, I still freak out about it every damn time.
One morning I woke up to the sound of water running. It was probably seven o’clock in the morning. The usual fear arose in my head that the water would overflow and there would be a flood. Since it was one of the last days before we were moving out, my mind started racing with the thought that the flood would significantly increase the number of problems we had to solve before the trip. I honestly did not want to get out of a warm bed, but I made an effort and went to the bathroom to check on the water. And what do you think? The bath was empty, and even the tap was not turned on! I went back to bed and again heard the sound, which I took as the sound of water. Actually, it was not at all like running water. It was a splash from the street. My brain, in a short time, took an extraneous sound and turned on my fear. To my brain, and therefore to me, the situation was quite real. That is, a completely phantom and non-existent situation turned into a real one by a mere effort of thought that then led to action.
And there are a lot of such phantom fears. I understand that fear is a protective reaction, but I want to separate real fear that helps me survive dangerous situations, from phantom fear that paralyzes me. Phantom fear generates an energy drain and creates significant stress only to accomplish nothing in the end.
So, my answer to the question of why take this massive undertaking is that the around-the-world trip is an equation with a huge number of unknowns. Anything can happen on it. It is impossible to calculate everything in advance and control the entire world. I want to learn how to be prepared for situations that can be prepared for, but at the same time, I want to stop living in a state of constant phantom fear for my future.
I do not want to worry about situations that are very likely not to be. I want to live here and now. Sure, I want to and will think about the future, but I do not want to live there. A very long time ago I learned not to live in the past. And now I am no longer worried about what happened back then. I learned all the lessons from it, but the past is the past for me. It does not touch me now at all. Now it is time for the future. It’s time to stop worrying about it and solve all the issues as they come.
My quest is to feel comfortable in any of life’s uncomfortable situations. And for this, it is necessary to leave my comfort zone. Since I like to feel comfortable, I have found a most comfortable way out of the comfort zone. It’s an around-the-world trip!
So, the main answer to the question “Why?” is my desire to live in a state of entropy. I want to accept that I cannot control everything but I can control myself, my feelings and my actions. There is no endpoint, no destination, but there is a way that I go on in peace. The skill of enjoying this way of living for me is now my primary goal.
Moreover, I realize there is a direct link between happiness and problem-solving, and problems and boredom. It’s the ability to work from the inside-out, instead of the other way around. It is challenging to feel happiness without contrast. And problems are exactly the contrast necessary for this. I’ll write about that next time.