You don’t need me to tell you that money doesn’t buy happiness. Granted, money can take away the source of some unhappiness, but that doesn’t automatically equal happiness.
Recently I have found the elusive key to the secret door of contentment. OK, so I already knew travelling is one legitimate key to contentment, but it has the unfortunate need for large(ish) stashes of cash to pull it off. But this key is free! (Woop!)
They say comparison is the thief of joy (and if google search results can be trusted, these were the wise words of Theodore Roosevelt). I don’t know about you, but I’m certainly guilty of looking at other people’s lives and wishing it was the life I lived. Or at least, wishing aspects of their lives were part of my own. For me, I have little desire for fame or for untold luxuries, but for the idyllic. I didn’t realise I was such a romantic, but apparently so. I’m especially susceptible to gazing wistfully at snippets of other peoples’ lives when I’m somewhere different, and my thoughts are a world away from reality.
Romantic snippets from other peoples’ lives
I love the island of Cyprus. It has beautiful weather, a slow pace of Mediterranean life, delicious food shared with family. Fruit grows in abundance, children help their parent’s with the animals, grandmothers pick (or supervise picking of) olives from the trees, and houses have beautiful verandas on which their owners can watch the sun rise in the morning and set in the evening. In Cyprus’ capital Nicosia, groups of men, young and old get together to drink frappes and play cards around a rickety old table in the beaming sun.
I struggle to pick a favourite place, from the understated city of Larnaca, with it’s gentle hum of life, incredible food and lively celebrations, to the richly historic capital city of Nicosia, to the verdant towns and villages perched in the Troodos mountains. It is fair to say I am smitten and cannot help but look longingly at the lives of the people who live there and wish that, part at least, were my life.
I, on the other hand, live in England. Where it mostly rains. And slugs eat anything I try to grow.
Mexico is another place and way of life that I fell in love with. We ate in a tiny family run restaurant, situated in a secluded village that sat alongside forest preserved by the Mayan people. By tiny family restaurant, I mean they had 1 table with 4 chairs on their porch. It was a perfect slice of the real Mexico. The food was simple, fresh and bursting with flavour. Nearby a group of kids played football and imagined how blissful it must be to live in this close knit community so close to nature. In a surprise rain shower, a group of children sheltered under a large table cloth as they walked home from school, talking and laughing as they went.
This is what I mean. I see snippets of people’s lives and they seem so perfectly romantic. But just before I lose you to gently sighing and gazing off into the distance, lets look at this another way.
The grass isn’t always greener
Can you imagine living in a city divided by war, where rusty barbed wire tops the dividing line, which is monitored by armed guards? Or feeling stuck in a country where youth unemployment is at nearly 30% (compared to 12 to 13% in the UK) and any job is hard to come by. You can do nothing about the war or the economy. This is the reality of Cyprus. Whilst Nicosia’s history and visible signs of division are interesting for visitors. they are not a source of happiness for the people of Cyprus. This is the reality I don’t consider, when I look through rose tinted glasses at Cypriot life.
Imagine 3 generations living in a two bed house, a kitchen where the cupboards hang of the walls and the shower is little more than a hose with a shower head on it. A place where passing trade is almost non-existent and you depend on the land for your food because the only certainty about how much you’ll earn is that it will be a meagre amount. This is a very real part of the lives of the Mayan families we saw in the village in Mexico. It’s not a part that I would desire for myself.
The key to contentment? Romanticise snippets of your own life
So rather than look wistfully at the lives of others, look instead at your own life and try to see it as someone else might. I have been doing this for the last couple of years and am definitely happier for it. Genuinely, I would say I am content. For example;
Rather than seeing my 20 minute walk to work as a nuisance (too short to drive but too far to feel really convenient) I think about how it must appear to those passing drivers and experience it as others see it. And as a result, I enjoy it so much more. Sometimes I use that time to myself deep in thought. Other times, my only thought is how lucky I am!
Rather than seeing the place I live in as boring, I’m grateful that I have to use a little creativity sometimes to entertain myself. I’m not surrounded by expensive temptations that I feel I need to deprive myself of that would come with city living. Since discovering/ remembering a love of board games, I’m always looking for an excuse to gather friends and family to play as often as possible, and have created a new facet to my life that I love.
Washing up. Now this is a challenging one. Because really, who likes washing up? How to romanticise this? I think I’ve cracked it. Most days! There are two reasons I accept and am content with washing up as part of my daily routine. The first, it keeps me in touch with the childhood memories I have of my gran and grandad who would share daily washing and drying duties. The second, it is a 15 to 20 minute certainty each day, a routine that is part of my life, and an easy item to write on a to do list and quickly cross off.
Take control of improving your life if you can’t find contentment
I’ve changed parts of my life for the better. Rather than buying the cheapest box of cereal I can find for breakfast, I start my day off on a better note with fruit juice, yoghurt, granola and fruit. The thought always seemed so idyllic and so easy to make part of my own life. It costs me more money, but the impact on my health is noticeable. I have much more energy, feel more positive, and my stomach doesn’t start growling an hour after eating!
Over to you
Ultimately, your mind is a powerful tool. You can use it to compare yourself to others constantly, and continue the pursuit of happiness, or you can put on your rose tinted spectacles to look at your own life and find some unnoticed snippet that you love!
Chime in with your thoughts! Are you guilty of comparing your life to others? Or are you already content and if so, what is your secret?