I Found the Key to Happiness!!

I’ve found the key to happiness!

It hit me like a bolt of lightening after observing other cultures while traveling through South East Asia.

Here it is:

I don’t want anything more than what I have right now. I don’t wish to be anywhere else than where I currently am.

Really internalize these thoughts. When you do, you cannot NOT be happy. When you truly believe that everything in life happens exactly as it’s supposed to (and it does), you release yourself from a desire to control and thus become free to experience joy in it’s purest form (presence and gratitude).

All that you have right now is all that you need. And you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be.

An Ode to Travelers (Travel Inspiration)

Traveling introduces us to ourselves. As we discover more of our world, we discover more of who we are.

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We visit places that leave us speechless, and then turn us into storytellers.

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We learn how other people live. There are so many ways to exist.

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And we get to choose!

…but we only get one life.

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We push past limits. Break through boundaries. And live outside of our comfort zones.

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We meet people. Love people. Trust people.

Even when we don’t share a language…

It’s okay because we’ve learned how to trust ourselves. And our intuition.

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We make unforgettable memories, that become like secret treasures…shared only by those who were there.

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Our loved ones want to hear about our travels. They like our stories of adventure. So we do our best to tell them. But we can only share so much.

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Because the truth is, the great things in life can’t be captured or described, only experienced.

And the best moments of all, no doubt the traveler’s favorite, are the ones that can’t even be understood…only appreciated.

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Is America Really Successful?

I recently got home from an incredible adventure abroad and want to share some observations with you, which I think are important. I spent three weeks traveling through Thailand and Vietnam. While the trip was unforgettable, I’m glad to be home (and for all new reasons).

Things I’ll miss about Vietnam and Thailand: the friendly people, smiling faces, and simplicity.

Things I’ll appreciate more in America: clean drinking water, fresh air, and being able to sit outside in the sun for more than 2 minutes without being soaked in sweat.

Probably the biggest and most obvious culture shock upon returning to America, even just making my way through the airports, is how unhappy we, as a people, are in comparison to these other cultures. I’ve spent a lot of time pondering this. What’s causing it? Can we change?

First off, I think we have too many options. As Americans, we have all grown up in so much favor that it’s often hard to remember to be grateful. We have so many things to be grateful for but instead, we focus on what we don’t have yet. Things we want. Places we’d rather be. It’s tragic really, because in the midst of all of our wanting and wishing, we miss the joy that’s right in front of us.

Secondly, I think our definition of success is wrong. From birth we’re conditioned to work hard so we can live the life we want. We work hard, get to where we want to be, and our definition of success changes. Now we want even more. So we work hard to get there and still aren’t satisfied. And on and on it goes.

America is known as one of the most productive, successful societies in history. And we have a lot to show for our efforts. Productive? Absolutely. Successful? That’s debatable.

How can you be successful when your people are unhappy?

After observing the Thai and Vietnamese people, I personally think they’re a lot further along in the realm of successful living than we are. This is because, unlike the vast majority of Americans, they’re not stuck in a perpetual state of longing, they’re too busy living.

Unlike Americans, they’re not in a rush. They takes things as they come rather than bulldozing full speed ahead in an attempt to grasp things not yet meant to be. Comparatively speaking, their lives are simple. Men are seen squatting on every corner. Women are fanning themselves in the street. This simplicity lends itself to generosity. They notice the little things that we so often take for granted. They aren’t happy because everything is going their way. They’re happy because they trust that the way things are going is the best way, even when it’s not their own.

I don’t know the recipe for happiness nor do I have the formula for success pinned down. But if I had to guess… simplicity, faith, and a grateful heart are the best starting points.

Patara Elephant Farm – Chiang Mai, Thailand

Yesterday, I visited the Patara Elephant Farm in Chiang Mai, Thailand (www.pataraelephantfarm.com). They’re a great organization that rescues and breeds elephants. The program I participated in is called Elephant Owner for a Day. No words can describe how incredible this day was for me but I’ve chosen to attempt anyhow.

Me taking a selfie with an elephant who smiled for the camera :)

Me taking a selfie with an elephant who smiled for the camera 🙂

Upon arrival at the property, we were greeted by a baby elephant and his mother. For the first hour, the staff simply observed us in order to determine which elephant would be our best fit. Just like humans, elephants have very distinct personalities and therefore, it’s important for the staff to carefully match the elephant and his/her “owner” for the day.

Patara Elephant Farm
Patara Elephant Farm

The baby elephant was very playful and kept trying to wrestle with us. Though he be but small, he is STRONG.

The baby elephant was very playful and kept trying to wrestle with us. Though he be but small, he is STRONG. Mama is always close by.

After this initial period of observation and a quick debriefing on the elephants, it was time for the staff to reveal our matches. We sat in a circular hut as they went around one by one and told us who our elephant for the day would be. When they got to me, I was informed that I had been chosen as the best match for Booyin, the alpha male and leader of our herd. He was noticeably larger than the other elephants and one of the only ones in our group with tusks.

Booyin

Booyin

I must admit, upon first sight, I was intimidated by Booyin. “He is the dominant male of our herd and doesn’t like to be told what to do,” the staff warned. “…But don’t worry, you will be great with him. Just don’t be afraid because he will sense your fear and lose respect.” ……….”Okay, I can do this,” I tried to reassure myself.

Booyin and I meet for the first time.

Booyin and I meet for the first time.

Despite my initial hesitation, Booyin and I hit it off from the start. The other guests would come over to us and want their picture taken with him. I found myself feeling territorial as I stroked his side and reluctantly agreed. (Perhaps I had more in common with Booyin than I thought?;) I fed him bananas from a basket (he stole a bunch too), while patting his head and saying, “Deedee, Booyin.” Which means “Good boy, Booyin.” We took our time getting comfortable with one another. I suspect Booyin sensed my initial fear, but as soon as I began to warm up, so did he.

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Before long, it was time for us to begin our 45 minute hike through the jungle. In order to get onto his back, I commanded Booyin to bend down. He bowed with his front right leg bent. I stood on his calf as he raised me effortlessly and I used his ear to pull myself the rest of the way up. I sat on his neck, my legs firmly clutching just behind his ears. I had nothing to hold onto and was suddenly much higher off the ground than I expected. We began our trek.

Patara Elephant Farm

We hiked through the jungle, up steep hills and back down. Through winding bends, and near the edge of deep cliffs. At one point, when we were descending a particularly steep and rocky hill, Booyin began to jog. I bounced around his neck, fearful that at any moment I would fall. I squeezed my legs as tight as I could and commanded Booyin to slow down. But he was used to being the boss and gave little attention to my measly commands. Instead, he graciously pressed his large ears back, covering my legs, as if to say, “Don’t worry, I’ve got you.” I instantly felt much more secure. Not only was I holding onto Booyin, but now he was also holding onto me.

Patara elephant farm

Never mind his independent nature and somewhat naughty streak, I trusted Booyin and he could sense this. In return for my trust, he gave me his trust and made sure to treat me with gentleness and care. Our connection was amazing. I wish I could describe this experience better, but like all of life’s best moments, it simply can’t be captured.

Patara Elephant Farm

After 45 minutes of trekking through the jungle, I was relieved when we reached a water hole and Booyin jumped in. I slid off his back and began to splash him with water. I used a brush to comb the dirt off his legs and trunk, only to discover I would need to climb back on him in order to brush the dirt off his back. After his bath, we splashed around in the water together before heading to a nearby waterfall so that I could wash myself, too. And boy was I dirty. In fact, the dirt still remains under my finger and toenails. I had no idea spending a day with an elephant could be so dirty. When I got home last night, I scrubbed my hands and feet for over an hour and still wasn’t able to remove all the dirt. I did, however, gain a nice, large blister on my right thumb from trying. Regardless, the stubbornness of dirt and mud pales in comparison to the joy of bonding with an elephant like I did with Booyin.

Lovely Lunch by the waterfall

Lovely Lunch after swimming in the waterfall

Booyin stealing kisses (and food) from me during lunch.

Booyin stealing kisses (and food) from me during lunch.

If you are ever in Chaing Mai and have a chance to visit Patara Elephant farm, do yourself a favor and go. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Just 24 hrs until I’m backpacking in SE Asia

Tomorrow I’m leaving to backpack through Thailand and Vietnam by myself. It will be my first time backpacking abroad alone. Up until two nights ago, upon hearing my family members express their concern, I’ve had little to no reservations or anxiety about my trip. I understand why my family would be nervous for me. I’m the youngest child of three and will likely always be “the baby” in their eyes. I take their concerns as an expression of love and don’t accept them as personal. After all, I know who I am and what I’m capable of. (More importantly, I know who my God is and what He is capable of)

While I appreciate my family’s expressions of concern, I also think that they don’t understand (nor may they ever) just how well equipped I am for this journey. If I were to try to give them concrete examples for how this is so, I would fail. Because it’s true that backpacking in SE Asia is something I haven’t done before.

So how do I know that I’m well equipped?

I know that this world can be a cold and scary place. I’ve experienced it firsthand, probably more so than most people my age. I know that as a woman traveling alone, I face unique challenges. But, none of this is new to me. The same challenges hold true in my own country, living alone as a female. The truth is, I wouldn’t take a trip like this if I didn’t feel safe and/or experienced enough to do so.

Experience is our greatest teacher and life so far has taught me much. For example, I know that good people are everywhere. That strangers offer to help at the most unexpected times. And that my God goes before me and stands behind me. That I am never truly alone. It’s precisely this knowledge that has propelled me to go fearlessly forward in most all of my endeavors.

But backpacking in Asia? Where did this come from? And why does it feel so natural for me?

I’m pondering this question and realize something incredible…

Every thing up to this point in my life has been preparing me to take this trip.

From the time I was nine years old, insisting that I fly by myself from my hometown in North Carolina to a summer camp in Missouri, I have always taken my own path. More often than not, this path has been a solo one. I feel the upmost comfortable being alone and I purposefully seek out experiences that challenge me. I always have.

I also find traveling alone to be particularly enjoyable. When I was fifteen, I travelled across the US on a bus with dozens of other kids. I toured almost the entire continent of Europe with a small group in high school. And I spent two summers taking classes in Salamanca, Spain. On all of these trips, I enjoyed going off on my own. I always made my own way through the hotels and airports. Perhaps, a strong desire for freedom is written in my DNA. I don’t know. But what I do know is that I’m perfectly capable of traveling to foreign places on my own. In fact, I prefer it.

Ok, so I’ve traveled to various parts of the world and always enjoyed exploring on my own. But still, I’ve never traveled abroad by myself. There were always other people, or a set schedule, or someone I planned to meet.

(I should note that the idea for this trip was sparked by a friend who is taking one of his own. People are often used to push us towards our next destination on life’s journey. While I will be seeing him abroad, the majority of my time will be spent alone. I don’t know whether his role was simply to push me towards this step, or if he’ll wind up holding a larger role in the next chapter of my journey. But I’m grateful for the role he played in getting me to this moment….typing on my computer, just 24 hours away from backpacking alone in the “foreign” continent of Southeast Asia.)

“Foreign” is an interesting word. We call SE Asia foreign because they don’t share our language or culture. But cultures vary widely, no matter where you are.

And there are far more foreign things than a language barrier.

For example, when I left everything behind after college and moved by myself to Los Angeles, THAT was foreign. When I befriended a group of Rastas who took me under their wing, and to this day, care deeply for my safety and well-being, THAT was foreign. When I drove 14 hours by myself to a small suburb of New Jersey and stayed on a couch for two weeks with three guys I met the day before, making music, THAT was foreign. Or just last summer, when I hitchhiked across Hawaii with a stranger and wound up meeting some of the most incredible, hospitable, and helpful human beings to date, THAT was really foreign.

And amazing. And liberating. And life changing.

I think I’ve always sought out foreign experiences for these reasons. They challenge, change, amaze, and liberate me. Language, I’ve learned, is just a compilation of words, and certainly not the most prevalent or useful form of communication. In fact, life’s greatest moments typically involve only a small exchange of words, if any at all.

The reality is, all of my life experiences thus far have been preparing me to take this trip.

So while no, I haven’t backpacked alone through foreign countries before, it’s not necessarily new to me either.

After some reflection (sparked my family’s expressions of concern- so thank you!), I can now say with confidence, that this trip was, and always has been, the inevitable next step on my journey. And I can’t wait to see where it goes from here!

To be continued…

Traveling Abroad Solo as a Female

solo female travel
I’m leaving soon for my first solo trip abroad. I’ve traveled abroad numerous times and traveled alone plenty, as well. But this will be my first time combining the two and I feel compelled to share some thoughts…

I love traveling alone because it teaches you to trust others, and more importantly, yourself and your intuition.

For me, doing it in a foreign country is exciting and just outside of my comfort zone. That’s how we grow and change. Not by doing outright risky things, but by knowing our limits and striving to stretch them, ever so gently.

Everyone has different boundaries, comfort zones, and accompanying beliefs. Here are mine (as they pertain to this trip):

I believe in living outside of your comfort zone.
I believe in the kindness of strangers.
I believe that experience is our greatest teacher.
I believe that when we act with boldness, mighty forces come to our aid.
And most of all, I believe in the God of angel’s armies (who has never once left my side:)

To be continued…

Grief, Acceptance, and Grace

This past week has been a hard one. Filled with losses that don’t make sense.

A baby left in the car.
A sister’s body found outside an apartment building.
A dear friend who jumped into a lake and never resurfaced.

I think during such times of unexplainable tragedy, it’s natural for us to want to make sense of what happened.

How do you forget your baby in the car for 8 hrs.? How did you not see him on your way to work? How did your sister die? Why was she lying outside of an apartment building? Who was with her that night? How could such a good swimmer dive into a lake and not resurface? Why were there not cuts, bruises, or abrasions on his body?

What happened?
What happened?
What happened?
Why?!

I think of the five stages of grief. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. I think that they must have left out the stage of wanting to make sense. Or is it part of denial?

I think about my dear friend in his last moments. About the baby. About the sister. In that moment, just before death, when time is frozen and all is quiet, what was he thinking about? His family? His life experience thus far? Childhood memories? Did he think, “Ok I’m going to die now”? Was he scared? Was he peaceful?

Questions. Questions. Questions.
These are what we’re left with when our loved ones are snatched away from us without warning. Questions to which we likely will never know the answers. “I don’t know,” being the sole answer we must carry forth.

I don’t know why.
I don’t know how.
I don’t know.

I think how as humans it’s against our nature to admit that we don’t know. It’s against our nature to accept that we may never know. That some things will never make sense. That maybe not everything is supposed to. Acceptance.

Acceptance invites faith, freeing the chains of uncertainty that bind us to the dark. Acceptance and faith, I realize, go hand in hand. Together they form the sliver of light in our stormy sea of darkness.

Acceptance is our freedom.
Faith our guiding hand.
And grace our greatest gift.
This much I know.

Hawaii Adventure: Lessons from Traveling with a Stranger

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It takes a certain kind of person to agree to travel with a virtual stranger, into unknown territory, for an unknown period of time. A rebellious soul; fearless, faithful, and perhaps a bit crazy.

That was Mason and I when we agreed to travel together to Hawaii, island hop, and explore the unknown.

All in all we wound up spending around 100 hours together.

To spend 100 hours straight with another person can be challenging no matter how long you’ve known one another.

We didn’t know for certain where we’d sleep on any given night; unsure of how we’d get there, or even where we were going.

Our 100 hours together was characterized by uncertainty and vulnerability.

The defining characteristics of any moment worth living.

You learn a lot about a person in 100 hours. But you learn even more about yourself.

See, when you’re traveling with a stranger, you can’t afford to worry about whether or not they like you. You’re stuck together regardless, and you’re only option is to be yourself.

It’s not like most initial meetings, where you tip toe around one another for an undetermined amount of time in what I call the “Getting Comfortable dance”. It’s not like that at all.

The only dance you’re doing is your very own, to a song that comes directly from your heart, to the very drum that makes yours beat.

You come to appreciate the differences, the things that make us unique as individuals and also the imperfections, which define and unite us as human beings.

When you’re traveling with a stranger, of course, you hope that the other person’s moves will be in rhythm with your own.

Sometimes they are. Sometimes they’re not.

But at the end of 100 hours, you come to learn that it doesn’t really matter anyway…

What matters most is that you stepped onto the dance floor at all.

Because when you only have 100 years to live, you have to know your own steps so good, and trust your own rhythm so much, that it will one day be unmistakable and undeniable when you find that person who sways the way you do.

The Only Thanksgiving Recipe You’ll Ever Need

Happy (almost) Thanksgiving to all of you!

I know many people are busy preparing recipes for their Thanksgiving feast but today, I want to offer you the opportunity to make a more meaningful Thanksgiving Recipe. This recipe is not about food that you eat, but rather it’s about food for your soul. Its ingredients consist not of turkey and gravy but of joy and meaning.

If you have five minutes, I encourage you to try this out. I recently completed my own Thanksgiving Recipe with my personal Ingredients for Joy and Meaning and I think that it has immense benefits. I’ll explain more later on…

Are you ready? Here we go…

Grab a pen and paper and make a list that answers this question: “When things are going really well in your life, what does it look like?”

Call the list “My Thanksgiving Recipe: Ingredients for Joy and Meaning.” This is your personal Thanksgiving Recipe and I promise you it will be more fulfilling than any other dish you feast upon this holiday season.

Here is a sample with some of the items from my personal Thanksgiving Recipe: Ingredients for Joy and Meaning (to give you some ideas):

– Eating Healthy
– Exercising regularly
– Plenty of sleep
– Lots of time spent in the company of friends
– Meaningful work that doesn’t consume me
– Time spent reading and writing
– Going to church regularly
– Plenty of time to spend with my dog
– Time for singing, dancing, and performing
– Creating and regularing sharing my work with other people
– Not being overly concerned or consumed by family affairs and/or drama
– Time spent outside/exploring
– Adventures and new experiences
– Someone to go on adventures and share these new experiences with who equally enjoys them
– Connecting deeply and spiritually with at least one other person
– Romance
– Progressing towards an established and realistic goal

Once you have finished your Thanksgiving Recipe: Ingredients for Joy and Meaning, now I want you to write a “Dream List” consisting of all of the things that you want to accomplish and/or acquire in your lifetime.

After you’ve completed both lists, compare the two.

I think you may be surprised to find, as I was, that nothing on my “Dream List” in any way enhances or changes my “Thanksgiving Recipe: Ingredients for Joy and Meaning” list.

In other words, if we can simply let go of our “Dream List” and begin to embrace our “Ingredients for Joy and Meaning” list, we’ll realize that we’re already living out our dreams, right now. What more could we possibly have to be thankful for?!

As you go about your Thanksgiving holiday, feel free to pass along this important recipe to your loved ones. And remember, gratitude and joy always go hand in hand.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Hungering for Joy

The idea that we’re “not enough” permeates our lives whether we’re aware of it or not.

Think about our typical day. We wake up and think, “I didn’t get enough sleep.” or “I don’t have enough time.” We spend so much of our time complaining or worrying about what we don’t have enough of… We don’t have enough money. We don’t have enough work to do. We don’t have enough weekends. We’re not talented enough. We’re not driven enough. We’re not smart enough.

Before we even sit up in our beds each morning, we’re already inadequate in our own eyes. What begins as a simple expression of the hurried life, grows into the great justification for an unfulfilled life.

It makes complete sense why we have become a nation hungry for joy…because we’re starving from lack of gratitude.

I am enough.