What is keeping you from living the life you really want to live

There’s always a hundred reasons why you shouldn’t or you can’t, but only one telling you, you can. That voice that sneaks back into your mind every few months, asking the what if,  all the while haunting you with constant regret and a good dose of apathy to get you through your current boring life.

Or, maybe it’s not boring. Maybe your life is so great that other people would kill to be you. But you wouldn’t, and that’s all that matters. You may feel depressed that the life everyone else dreams of isn’t giving you the satisfaction you crave.

According to a study done in 2014, asking participants to rank how they feel their life ranks on a scale from 0 to 10, 0 being the worst possible life for you and 10 being the best, the results showed remarkable similarities.

The 5 countries with the highest results (all above a 7.5) were Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, Sweden, and Denmark, respectively. Now, I asked myself why are 4 out of these top 5 countries Nordic? In my weak efforts to find any possible breadcrumbs or clues, I found that Nordic countries do have certain cultural similarities that may make a difference in a person’s level of satisfaction in life.

First, they are all, for the most part, Protestant. Although recently there is a rise of atheism and secularism, the Lutheran church is largely represented among inhabitants. Norway, ranked second, is a particularly wealthy nation among those on the list, their wealth stemming from their large oil reserves.

In addition to these reasons, the Nordic nations have relatively high taxes, but are still quite content with their governments, feeling that the people’s opinion matters and their governments represent the people. There is a strong social cohesion, a sense of identity and an idea of sharing among the community that is unique to other cultures around the world.

So, will being religious, wealthy, involved in governmental affairs, or being apart of a social community make you happy, satisfied, and content with your life? Well, there’s really no way to tell.

There’s no formula or pill that really substitutes that satisfaction you feel when you really love your life; when you come home from a long day at work and your dog is waiting at the door to greet you, excited and wagging its tail; when your 4-year old comes home from their first day in “Pre-K” and hands you a drawing they made just for you with a giant smile and a proud look on their face; When you come home for Christmas after a long time away and smell that amazing smell that only comes from Mom’s cooking.

There’s no duplicate. No recipe. No quick fix. 

A happy life comes with patience, with trial and error, with mess-ups and spills, with hiccups and tears. A happy life is knowing that you have something special to give to the world, and you have received something special from it.

A satisfied life isn’t necessarily a good job or a loving marriage or a perfect family, but its being able to say that life could be much worse and you’re thankful it’s not. A small dose of perspective and wallah… a happy life.

What if what is keeping you from a happy life is really just… yourself? 

 

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Une Américaine à Paris: A Lesson in Protests and Passion

I strolled through the cobblestone streets in the afternoon sun without any real purpose. It was exciting just being there, spending a Saturday afternoon in Paris. The marketplace was streaming with people enjoying a café or le goûter, the common name for an afternoon snack. I pass by two older men reclining at the small tables lining the streets, dressed in suits but looking tired and somewhat disheveled. Their ties, loosened, and their blazers thrown messily upon the back of their chairs.

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I walked further along the small alley, filled with Patisseries, Bakeries, and an assortment of small shops. I pass a boutique de fleuriste, with all sorts of bouquets, roses and lilies in pinks, reds, and yellows, adding a pleasant fragrance to the air and mingling with the smell of freshly baked croissants from a nearby bakery.

If you ask anyone who has visited Paris, everyone will agree it is a magical place, all various reasons of their own. Some would say that the skyline at night is magical. Some may recall the delicious cuisine or French wine, which wine enthusiasts especially rave about. Some would also say the French people, the style of living, or the art, collected in grand museums from centuries ago and carefully preserved, make the city magical.

Pour moi, Paris was magical because of the heart of the people, the passion and the pride that they have for their country, for their family, and for their culture. Many tourists don’t get an opportunity to really see this side of the French people because, in most cases, they visit Paris for one week, see le Tour Eiffel, le Notre Dame, le Louvre, le Catacombs, and leave with magical memories of the tourist side of Paris, while never really experiencing the heart of France, which is actually the heart of the French people.

I had the chance to stay for 4 months there, which was still, I found out, not enough to see even a fraction of what France has to offer. Nevertheless, I really did find the heart of France, the true magic that lives within the great nation.

Paris, “the city of love,” as it is sometimes referred to, is not simply a city of romance, but of a different sort of love; a love that doesn’t die out in the next generation and will not in the generations to come. A love for not only a country, a land, but also a culture and a heritage that holds beautiful and inspiring history. To a French person, their heritage is their identity. The love and passion that they have for their homeland and the traditions of their people taught me a well-needed lesson.

Seeing the French people’s passion and learning of their national history, filled with as much corruption, anguish, and political upheaval as it is marked by justice, freedom, and revolution, both filled me with a high level of respect for what they have gone through and who they are today, but also a feeling of guilt. Who am I as an American, and what do I stand for? What do I take pride in?

One week ago, I had a conversation with my grandfather. The discussion revolved around age differences and stereotypes, the millennials versus baby boomers. Unfortunately at the dinner table, I was the youngest and harsh words about my generation being selfish, spoiled, and unpatriotic were directed towards me. Once during the conversation, my grandfather directed his sharp gaze at me. “Julia, answer me this. Would you die for your country?” he asked simply. And I answered honestly, “No.”

I went on to say, “I love my country and I am proud to be an American, but I wouldn’t die for it.” That was the truth, but my words greatly disappointed him and left him speechless.

Who am I as an American? What do I stand for? What do I take pride in?

To be honest, I don’t know. The French are strong people, sure of what they stand for. They know what they want and are ready and willing to fight for it. Constantly, I heard of protests in the streets leading up to the early 2017 election. They are passionate. This passion is the kindling fire of the people of Paris, the men and women of France. This is why so many describe it as a place of magic. In France, you can have what you dream because the power is in the hands of the people. It inspired me, not to join the war or become a President, but to be confident in what I want, be willing to fight for it, and never think that my life is in anyone’s hands other than my own.

I have the power to change my life and the world around me, even though it may take years of hard work and dedication. It is I who must stand up for my country and the people I love and endeavor to protect. If there is injustice, it is my duty to speak against it and fight for vindication. If there is corruption, it is my duty to expose it and demand the truth.

Who am I? I am an American who cares about her country and her people; an individual who stands up for justice, freedom, and the rights of all people, of all religions, all faiths, all ethnicities, and all walks of life. I stand up for the innocent, the weak, and the wanderer. I endeavor to inspire the next generation to do the same.

Why spontaneous people are more happy and content

I’ve always been a planner, the type of person who before I go anywhere I know what I am doing, before a meeting at work I know exactly what we will be talking about, before I start a project I both have planned how and what I need to accomplish. When I go on vacation, this doesn’t change. I am the same plain-Jane, organized person I always am.

But then one day I didn’t.

I didn’t plan, I didn’t organize, and I definitely didn’t know what to expect.

My parents and I planned to meet up in Paris. Since I was already in Europe I said I would join them. I had just finished my last semester of grad school and had just one day to myself before they arrived. “What to do… What to do…” I thought, as I contemplated how I could use this one day to myself in the best way possible.

I didn’t want to have any regrets when I left Europe, and one thing I had wanted to do but never had the time was take a trip by train from Paris somewhere else in Europe – London, Prague, Spain…the possibilities were endless. But I had only one day. The night before, I contemplated if the option to travel and have time to visit somewhere within one day was even feasible.

I took a break from my research and checked Instagram. While scrolling through my story, one picture caught my eye. It was a picture of a small house, covered with purple wisteria flowers, built in the center of a small river. It was so beautiful! Although bordering both France and Germany, it lay within French borders, just 3 hours away from Paris. The city’s name was Strasbourg. It was a quaint, small city with culture and lively people. I knew nothing though of where it was or what the city offered.

When I saw the picture, I decided to go. Why not? I found out train tickets were quite expensive, buying last minute. It didn’t deter me though. I had made up my mind, and it felt good to make a decision that I stuck with. I bought the tickets and there was no going back!

The next day, I woke up at 6 am to get an early start and not miss my 9 am train. I walked to the closest metro station near me and traveled an hour to the train station. While in the train station, I sat next to a piano in a large corridor and waited for the boarding call, sipping an americano and enjoying a pain aux chocolat. An older man came and sat at the piano, rolled up his sleeves, and started playing. As I listened, my excitement for the day grew and grew and I had a lot of hope that everything would work marvelously.

When I got to Strasbourg, I walked out of the station and into the streets. The wind was brisk and the sky was grey. Despite the disappointing weather and my lack of appropriate clothing, I started down the main street to my first destination – the Notre Dame de Strasbourg.

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The day went by smoothly. I grabbed a bite to eat from a food vendor who served traditional german brautwerst with sauerkraut and mustard. In the afternoon, the sun came out and greeted me with a warm glow. The city was beautiful, with both German and French style architecture.

But my favorite part of the day was when I arrived on the other side of the city and saw what I recognized was the house from the photo that had inspired me to come to Strasbourg!

The violet flowers hung down along the house like a canopy. The river was even brighter and clearer than the photo. It was a marvelous scene, indeed.

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Tired from a long days walk, I rested my legs under a weeping willow nearby the north part of the city where it seemed a lot of others flocked to on this sunny day – the riverside. Along the river were beds of soft grass. Some people lounged around with their friends or family, watching the duck and her ducklings swim by or people-watching. Some were jogging along the path, with the river just beside them.

An older woman, looking to be retired and single, was walking along the river, just as I was. She saw me taking a photograph of a flower and commented on the pretty spring weather. She and I walked along the river together a ways and spotted another family of ducklings, cozy and warm in the sun, sleeping in the grass. In my broken French and her broken English we tried to communicate with each other, using gestures and waving our hands about. Despite our lack of linguistic skill in the other’s language, we had a small conversation and enjoyed each other’s company.

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The afternoon passed by quickly. As I ate a scoop of gelato and sat by the river in the sun, I cleared my mind and didn’t think about anything. It was an amazing day. A perfect day. And I didn’t go for anyone else but me. I acted on impulse, on my gut feeling. I wasn’t scared of the possibilities of bad weather, expensive train tickets, or other inconveniences travelers sometimes experience.

Making a decision quickly and not giving myself time to either way out the pros and cons or plan the details was one of the greatest gifts I could have given myself. It was a true vacation – a vacation from worry, from stress, from having everything perfect and in order.

Some people focus on how they can be happier and more content with their lives, and one of the things that really squeezes life out of a person is worry. Worry also is the thing that stops us from doing the things we want to do and stepping out on the edge to look at what’s out there.

My trip to Strasbourg changed me, and made me confident in life – confident that things will fall into place with or without me placing them there. And sometimes, where the pieces lie is exactly where they should be.

Do you think you have missed some amazing opportunities because of worry or of thinking too much? Comment below about a time when you made a spontaneous decision.

Thoughts on Self Pity

First of all, those who know me also know that in no way shape or form am I full of self-pity. It is really unfortunate when a person is so blinded by their personal problems to notice others’ feelings and hurts. But, when I lost my mom I really struggled with self pity – more than that, self loathing.

I hated that I didn’t decide to visit just one week earlier. If  I had, I could have seen her before she slipped into the coma. Just one week earlier.
I hated that I didn’t tell her how much she meant to me every single day.
I hated that I broke up with the boyfriend she liked, studied overseas away from my family, and pushed her away when she wanted to know more about my personal life.

I regret not sharing details of my life with her – especially my love life. I see a lot of mothers and daughters bonding over “boys,” but we never did this because of me. I didn’t tell her who I was seeing or if I was dating at all. Now, I realize this may have been one of her wishes as a mother – to talk about cute boys, first dates, and butterflies with her daughter, just like girls do.

Our relationship was special and close in other ways – I know that. I thank God for all the memories and experiences I had with her through out my childhood and the past year also, but it still doesn’t stop me from feeling regret; turning this way and that, wishing for more time, wanting to change the past, not knowing what it would be like if things had been different, or if I had made different choices…

My belief in God has been a rock in this journey, but it was also the one thing that was really shaken when all this happened four months ago. I questioned if God was good… or if He did this to me on purpose.

If God knows everything, he knew how much I loved her. So, how could he have taken her away?

This kind of thinking is normal for a person who is grieving a recent loss of a loved one, but can really postpone the healing process if it is entertained. I still struggle with this and I probably will for a long time, but I don’t let my mind to dwell on it.

My belief in God and His goodness has not changed, because I know why death happens. I know that it is because of humanity’s sin that death ever became apart of this world, a reality of life. This truth anchors me.

If anything, I don’t know how to grieve well yet but I have learned it takes time. I can’t push myself too much to forget and move on. It isn’t healthy and it isn’t right. What I can do is give myself time and be patient. Whatever happens, happens for a reason… right?

“Pity Party” by Melanie Martinez

It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to
Cry if I want to
I’ll cry until the candles burn down this place
I’ll cry until my pity party’s in flames

On an island called Mourning

I am always very inspired during the summertime. I don’t know if it is the warm breeze that twists your hair and ruffles your dress or the smell of tasty BBQ a few streets down, the sound of the neighborhood children playing or the chirping of a cricket band when the sun begins to fall. It makes me smile when I reminisce of my summer days…

I am 21 now. Some would say still young and full of life. But this past year, I have gone through more traumatic experiences than I thought possible.

At 21, you always think everything will be fine as long as you have your friends. At 21, the things you look forward to the most are weekends, road trips, spring break, and the chance of talking to the cute guy who sits behind you in class. At 21, there is so much to experience and every door is open for you.

You don’t realize that this beautiful life has a very dark edge; that this exotic and awe-some land has a dark country at its border. At 21, you don’t think of death or dying. For you, life has just started, but for other people, life is coming to an end.

On December 24th, 2017, my mother was pronounced dead.

My mother, my flesh and blood, the woman who gave birth to me. The woman who home-schooled me until I was eleven. The woman who taught me what was important in life – how to love, how to be kind, and how to forgive. The ROCK in my life had suddenly and tragically slipped out from right underneath my feet – leaving me falling in what seemed to be a world full of sadness and evil.

At 20, I had hope in my world and in the future I was paving. I was happy and I could laugh without a care for the future. But at 21, I am swimming in a sea of regret, stranded on this inescapable island that some call Mourning.

Will I ever be able to return to my homeland, the place where I grew up, where I was happy, where people took care of me and I was safe?

As I splash through the waves of life, whether cold and raging or calm and peaceful, I invite you to splash with me – and just hope that, together, we don’t sink. Let’s learn how to swim in this crazy, uncertain world we live in; to talk about what we feel, what we see, and what we experience; to enjoy the moment, and to search for that “something,” that something that takes our breath away.

Passengers, “Life’s for the Living”

Don’t you cry for the lost
Smile for the living
Get what you need and give what you’re given
Life’s for the living so live it
Or you’re better of dead