Lately I’ve been contemplating my personal philosophy. I am starting to redefine the ideals of the life I want to live; shedding predispositions and regret, accepting myself for who I have been and focusing on who I want to become.
I have had the honor of meeting people in truly unfortunate circumstances who are genuinely the happiest, most grateful and generous souls; where others in privileges of all kind, lead the most tormented lives. It is hard then to argue then that our suffering defines our happiness. Bad situations are only as bad as you let them be, and only your attitude makes it so.
Believe that every thing that happens to you is the best possible thing that could happen to you in this moment, and you will find peace and happiness in life always.
This is the lesson of “Zen and the Art of Happiness” by Chris Prentiss, a book I recently read and highly recommend for a perspective check. A truth that is as obvious as it is elusive; for as simple as it sounds, the practice challenges you set aside worry, anger, entitlement and self-pity, some of the most prevailing emotions we experience.
A few weeks ago I was flying back from Baltimore to Berlin with WOW Air, over Keflavik. There was an initial delay at BWI but we were assured that everyone would make their connections, only to arrive in Keflavik to find all Germany-bound airplanes had departed without us. The airline issued apologies, offered accommodations, and had us rebooked on the next flights out the following morning.
Standing at the service desk I was surrounded by a mob of upset passengers each with their own reasons for why they had to be on that flight, demanding reasons for how this could happen to them, freaking out about an irreversible event.
I too had booked tickets that would get me back Monday morning; I got to the airport early, and I had a plan to take the train straight to class when I landed in Berlin. It wasn’t my fault that, regardless of my efforts, I was now stuck in Iceland.
I realized an opportunity for practice. It’s easy to be miserable when you have a “why me?” attitude. Because no matter how good you have it you will always find something that doesn’t go quite the way you think you deserved to have it happen.
But the thing is, you don’t deserve happiness, it cannot be handed to you. You have to decide on happiness.
So right there I decided on happiness. I convinced myself that the entire situation was an amazing opportunity rather than an inconvenience.
I met Alyssa, another stranded passenger en route to Berlin, and we spend the afternoon walking along the rocky coast in Keflavik and watched the sun set over a cup of hot chocolate in a seaside café. That night, with a group of other passengers, we took advantage of our stay and visited the Bláa Lónið (literally Blue Lagoon- it just sounds so much cooler in Icelandic), a huge geothermal spa in the middle-of-nowhere lava fields. Naturally rich in silica, and sulfur, and steam- and stars at night- you leave feeling like a newborn mermaid.
On the way back to the hotel we recieved a message from the airline informing us that the rebooked flight to Berlin is now also overbooked, and that they are looking for volunteers to get the next, next flight out. At this point, everything fell into place. When a situation is what it is, you either take the advantage or reject it. The flight was overbooked and was going to cut passengers regardless, so Alyssa and I decided to volunteer.
With a perspective change we went from being “stranded” like some of the other passengers in our situation, to being guests in one of the most incredible countries on this planet.
We rented a car and drove around Iceland the following day; strangers in a KIA, sharing music we love, and lessons we’ve learnt, and the simple wonder of this incidental experience.
We found a black sand beach and watched the sun rise over the ocean, stopped in the middle of nowhere to play with a herd of ponies. At Gullfoss people gawked at my ridiculously inappropriate outfit in subzero temperatures, and we got to watch a Geysir erupt twice so it didn’t even matter that I couldn’t feel my toes. I think I saw the Northern Lights driving back through Þingvellir National Park. In Reykjavik we contemplated eating puffin, paid $17 for a holiday beer and ended the day back at the hotel with a hot shower and 4 hours of sleep before heading back to the airport.
In the end, although unplanned, it was an amazing trip. Perhaps even more so for it’s randomness.
You can decide, right now, that everything is as it should be, and the best possible way it can be. For, if you haven’t realized yet, dwelling on the past and worrying about the future doesn’t change a thing about the present. You can’t control everything. To be aware and accepting of the transience of life is to be grateful and happy now. It’s an incredible gift to have this moment just as it is, no matter what the circumstance.
Don’t get me wrong, applying this philosophy to other areas of life isn’t necessarily easy. There’s a reason why people spend lifetimes working on their mind to find unity with the universe, but there is something to be said about actively trying to being positive every day. It turns over so much more goodness than being negative ever can.
Perspective is everything.