It has been years since I met him. If you asked me his name, I couldn’t tell; perhaps he never even told me. We barely exchanged enough words to count as a wholesome conversation.
I had fallen in bad company. I had come in with four Englishmen but one by one they disappeared or got themselves kicked out. As the music dragged along towards half past too late, the last one of them standing left to follow his fallen comrades. He nudged his head towards a man standing at the bar.
‘Go talk to him. He’s been eyeing you all night.’
He had a cute smile and a plaid shirt, and i smiled back as I positioned myself next to him. And I proceeded to have the most forced conversation of my life.
I was left helpless as my banter bounced right back at me, as if he was wearing an invisible armour that nothing could seep through. I pried one-word answers from him one by one. It almost became a challenge for me to crack him open, to learn what made him tick. I looked him in the eyes, I smiled, I asked him question after question.
I remember he was a bridge engineer. That is the most I learned about him.
Finally, exasperated, I asked him about his hopes and dreams. And he just… sort of shrugged.
‘I’m all right. I’n not really working towards anything now. I’m happy with my life.’
Even if it has all faded – his face, his name, the way he spoke to me – those are the words that keep coming back to me years after the encounter. Utter, unconditional happiness should be the ultimate goal of one’s life (they even put it in the Declaration of Independence!). Or… should it?
The thing is, I keep seeing the ‘I haven’t been everywhere but it’s on my list’ quote everywhere, and I find myself disagreeing with the sentiment behind it. This is what I wrote about it last year: (Travel quotes you need to stop using)
I have a confession: I sort of like this quote. It has got nerve. It dares you to go further, to explore all you can, to expand the world beyond your litter box. But there is a problem: I don’t think we should go everywhere.
If we ignore the fact that going absolutely everywhere is virtually impossible, chasing that everything can become a dull game of scavenger hunt. Travelling should not be about crossing off specific items on your bucket list. Of course you should have dreams and goals, and you can make plans to visit certain places or do certain things that you have always wanted to, but if you are too fixed on filling up a list or clearing your scratch map, is there even enjoyment in travel anymore? You shouldn’t be going to Somalia just to prove a point, you should be sipping wine on a terrace in Santorini or exploring a mythical jungle in the Amazons. You know, have meaningful adventures. If you reverse this quote, it comes closer to my own travel philosophy: I’m not going to go everywhere, but I will go wherever.
Besides, I don’t think I’d like it if I went everywhere and saw everything. What would be left after that? As much as I love going back to places I’ve loved before, I love the drive of a new adventure and the call of the wild – a place I’ve never been to before. If I managed to visit every place on this earth, there would be nothing left to explore and the world would lose some of it’s mystical gravitas.
(To be honest, that middle part doesn’t have much to do with this post; I just like it so I left it in.)
If we think of happiness as being so completely content with your life that you don’t feel the need to strive for anything new, I never want to be completely happy. That sense that there is still so much to see, to do, to achieve is the driving force that gets me out of the bed in the morning; that motivates me to work out a little more, be a little bit more daring, try a little bit harder; that enables me to dream big, silly, fantastic dreams. If there was nothing left to strive for, what would there be left, in fact?
But by being ‘unhappy’ I don’t mean being ‘miserable’. I like the feeling of happiness (surprise?). I mean the feeling of incompleteness, of restlessness that motivates me to go out and try to be a a better me every day. I kind of like the idea that my life will never be complete because it means that to the day I die I will always be wonderfully curious and adventurous. And with that sense, the actual feelings of unhappiness also become easier to deal with. Sure, at times I will feel incredibly blue, but since I know and acknowledge that the life I’m creating will never be complete, I know the low I’m feeling is not the end of the line but that after a while, I will be happy again.
I am happy to be unhappy. Always searching for something new, always exploring, never losing enthusiasm for this amazing thing we have called life.
Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the read. Do you agree with me or would you rather find your perfect nirvana?