I finished a really fascinating book the other week called "The Geography of Bliss : One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World," by Eric Weiner. The author travelled to ten different countries trying to figure out the secret to happiness and if a place can make one happy. He chose countries based on research (http://unsdsn.org/resources/publications/world-happiness-report-2013/) and his own experience from working as a news correspondent all over the world. I thought the book was brilliant, with the author telling all his personal experiences, while giving us glimpses at different ways of looking and thinking about happiness. His main conclusion was "Money matters, but less than we think and not in the way we think. Family is important. So are friends. Envy is toxic. So is excessive thinking. Beaches are optional. Trust is not. Neither is gratitude."I whole heartedly advise you to read the entire book.
But I wanted to tell you about some thoughts that this book brought up for me. One concept that came up early in the book was home. Weiner writes, "Humans, even nomadic ones, need a sense of home. Home need not be one place or any place at all, but every home has two essential elements: a sense of community and, even more important, a history." I have written before that I have struggled with the concept of home because I moved a few times growing up and never identified strongly with one place as my home. But Weiner's definition makes a lot of sense to me because when I feel "homesick," I do not miss a place (certainly not rural Ohio), but I miss my friends and family, my community. I miss having people who knows my stories and have been a part of my life, my history. Here in Croatia, I do not have that. I am making friends and I am creating a new part of my own history, but it is not the same. Here is not home. And can we truly be happy when we do not feel at home?
I think we can, but while reading this book I began to believe that I couldn't. I started thinking about the things that make me happy and realized that most of these things are back in the United States. I began thinking of last school year when I was the happiest I had ever been. And in comparison, I thought that I must be very unhappy here in Croatia. And for a few days I found myself in a rut, believing that I couldn't be happy here and the next two years would go by very slowly, indeed. But after many long Skype conversations and a few long runs, I was able to realize that happiness has different forms. At EMU I was happy because I was living with all my best friends. I was able to take interesting classes and excel in my schoolwork. I had many leadership roles and felt like I was able to make contributions to the campus community. All these things brought happiness and a fulfilled life.
But, I am happy here, too. I can be happy because I know I have a home. My community and history might not be here, but I know that there will always be people who love me and support me and they will always be there for me. Being away, I am able to better appreciate the things that I took for granted. I am also forced to look for the little things that make me happy, such as running by the Drava or singing "Fifty Nifty United States" to my co-workers in the library. I am happy here because I get the opportunity to travel and discover new people, new places, and new ways of thinking about the world. I am happy because I have the time to read books for fun again. I am happy because as hard and lonely as times can be here, I know that I am learning so much more about myself and the world around me; lessons I would not learn if I was still in the United States.
And as happy as I am, I also realize that happiness is not what I really want out of life. I want to be happy, but more than that, I want to have a purpose in my life. Right now, I feel called into peace work. This work is probably won't make me happy all the time as I will see suffering and violence all around. However, I do hope that this work will make me feel fulfilled as I help others in need. And possibly make the world a better, happier place to live in. Even Weiner, in the end of his book, realizes that life is not always going to be happy and that is okay. Happiness is good, but it is not the most important part of life.
....Although I am trying to be content living in Croatia, I did want to add a bit about the place where I hope one day to live and what would make me happy. I have decided that I want to move to Denver, Colorado. You see, I love the Rocky Mountains and there is no place on earth (at least that I have see) , that can compare to those mountains. However, I also want to live in a city that is artsy, is healthy, has a lot of events to go to, and has a Mennonite church. Denver seems to be the perfect combination and is a city that sees a lot of sun all year round. However, I also need community, so I have decided that when I move back to the the U.S., I hope to get several of my friends to move to Denver with me. Hopefully I could find work with some NGO working with refugees or community development or something of the sort. I would be doing work I love, surrounded by the people I love, in a place that makes me happy. This is my dream.