Just being silly

A couple of weeks ago I was talking with my best friend and I told her some silly story about another friend of mine. The story itself wasn’t that hilarious but she started to laugh anyway. Let me tell you: laughter is very, very contagious. I started laughing as well and, like a snowball effect, we laughed until it was hard to catch a breath, our cheeks hurt and our abs got a proper workout.

I love moments like this when you experience pure joy. Just being in the moment, having that rush through your head, and being free from all worry.

When was the last time you laughed till your stomach hurt?

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Emotions are always tricky to write about, to define or to communicate. Joy or happiness is no exception. People tend to hide their feelings. Why the good ones as well though? Is it because they don’t want to show off or feel slightly guilty about the good things that happened to them and not to someone else? Of course, when sharing anything with anyone you need to be aware of the circumstances. If your friend just lost a job it might not be the greatest idea to talk about your recent raise. Choosing your audience is a key factor.

I am not discovering the moon here telling you that sharing joy multiplies it. If you won a (BJJ!) competition or finally booked the vacation you have always dreamt about, share your joy, spread it. Your friends or family are an obvious choice as they will be happy for you, be happy with you.

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Another obstacle on the way to live a more joyful life is the fact that our minds tend to put more weight on the bad things that happen to us. Don’t ask me why. I have no clue.

Controlling your own mind takes time and practice. Sometimes, when I’m feeling down for whatever reason, I try to think about at least three good things that happened to me that day. Oh boy, it does not come easy. At the beginning of this exercise, I always feel like I’m cheating myself. The issues that made me feel bad won’t just go away if I don’t think about them. However, if something has been bothering me for a long time, taking a break from thinking about it can be salvation. By making a tiny gratitude list, accompanied by some good music, I get a different perspective on the matter. Shadows that lay upon my mind are a bit brighter and anxiety doesn’t feel as cold.

Your problems will catch up with you sooner or later, and new ones are certainly on their way. Let yourself enjoy the moments without them or at least try to take a break. Be silly, be joyful. Jump, sing, laugh and dance.

 

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What brings you joy? Share it! In the comments below, obviously, as I’m dying of curiosity!

Woop!

 

What everyone wants

Everyone dreams of different things. Love, money, fame, success, peace… it goes on and on and on. We seek all this to get one thing though. Happiness. A constant chase, a constant longing to be happy. And it’s just within a reach of a hand.

Happiness is a skill of focus. It’s a skill of choice. Do you focus on the bad things that happen in your life or on the good ones? It’s not always easy, in fact, it’s usually hard. So many things don’t go our way, so many things can go better. But being happy isn’t all about getting what you want. It’s taking what you have and making the most out of it. It’s appreciating both the big and the little things. Happiness is sitting in a park and watching the dogs run around. It’s a child in a fountain playing with a leaf and having the time of his life. It’s a cold lemonade on a hot day.

I can’t give you the recipe for happiness. I can only share what I do to keep my mind in check, to prevent it from sliding down, to fill it with light.

For me, being happy equals being grateful, satisfied and calm. Let’s break it down a bit.

gratitudeI know, I know. Everyone is talking about it. Not without a reason, though. Gratitude makes you look beyond yourself and appreciate people, events, and circumstances in your life. You don’t have to go great lengths with it and compose a list with thousands of points on it. Being grateful for a sip of cold water on a hot day is as good as being grateful for a raise at work. Also, don’t force yourself into it. Don’t think “I should be grateful for this and that”. It’s ok if you don’t feel it at the moment. Instead, find something that warms your heart.

For me, the easiest way to spark gratitude is to think about my friends and family. I have countless beautiful memories thanks to those amazing people and lifting myself up when thinking about them takes no time at all.

satisfaction3This one is always the hardest for me. I purposely hold myself back from being fully satisfied. It keeps me going, setting goals, learning. But it is important to look at your life as a whole picture of the past, present, and the future. That way I realize that all misfortunes, bad decisions and hurt always lead to something good. Love, laughter, and successes take the bigger share of the pie.

Think about all the goals you have achieved so far. I try to look not only for the big moments in my life but also appreciate small victories that add up to a satisfying picture.

How do you feel about your future? Are your decisions leading you in the right direction?

I definitely recommend trying new things in life. Not only in terms of going to a new place or trying a new hobby but also in terms of beliefs or social norms. I do have strong core values that I worked out so far, but I try to keep my mind active and open. Understand first, judge later. Not everything that works for me will work for you and vice versa. And it’s completely alright, at least we tried.

Tune your life to yourself. Satisfaction is not so much about being happy at the moment, but to be happy about your life in general.

calmnessIt’s hard to feel happy when you’re anxious, angry, stressed or tense all the time.

Calming my mind is a constant working process for me. There are two components to it.

First one is exercising. It’s a great way to release some of the tension. The only catch is that you need to enjoy it. I read, watched and listened to plenty of those “lifestyle coaches” that are plaguing the world and every time one of them told me to get up at 5 am and go for a run I was done. Since I was 7 I did, or at least tried, swimming, ballet, horse riding, hip-hop dancing, skiing, windsurfing, Jane Fonda’s style fitness classes and crossfit. Right now I’m settled for Brazilian jiu jitsu and yoga. Find something that is fun and you look forward to.

Second is meditation or rather, compassion towards myself. It is a great tool to find balance and relax. I learned a lot about myself and I became kinder to myself. It helped me to switch from being my worst critic to being my best friend. I definitely sleep better. I often lay awake in a middle of the night and feel anxious about all the things I need to do. There is also the sense of guilt that I didn’t do as much that day as I promised myself. Meditation helped me to forgive myself for that. It made me realize that I am not a machine. I get hungry, I get distracted, I get emotional, I get tired. And I forgive myself for that. Tomorrow is another day.

One last tip: put yourself first. This is your happiness we’re talking about! You can never please everyone around you. Do what feels right for you. Do what, after reading the points above, makes you say “That’s me”.

 

 

Decisions, decisions, decisions…

This life is the only one I have and I’m going to live it as I want it

Sophia on the day of her 25th birthday

 

This sentence is the number 1 point on my list in my 25 thoughts for 25 years series. Although the order of this list is mostly random and does not reflect a hierarchy of my values, number 1 is always quite significant.

Decisions, decisions, decisions. Where to go, what to do, what to say. Some for now, some for the future, some trivial, some significant, some easy and some scary. Thousands of them every day. How do you make your decisions? How long do you think about something before doing it? Do you ask people around for advice? I know I should probably do it more often.

I made plenty of good and bad decisions in my life. One thing I learned, when it comes to the “bigger” steps in life, is to trust my gut. It does require practice, and definitely works better without alcohol’s involvement, but that’s a story for another time.

A little teaser, me with a glass of rosé.

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Listening to your intuition can be a tricky and time-consuming process. I tried meditation for this purpose, but my internal discussions about what to do with my life are too vivid and emotional to just sit in one place and breathe. I usually end up talking to myself. Sometimes aloud, to the horror of others.

My way to go about those millions of things that I want in life is to make a bucket list. On it, I have stuff that varies from owning a dog, through jumping with a parachute, to opening a bakery. It keeps my mind structured at least a bit about the decisions I need to make to make these things happen. 

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As I mentioned before I rarely listen to others. I know myself well enough to do this. However, having and exercising the freedom to make my own choices also means that if something fails I don’t need to perform an excessive investigation about who to blame. 

Long story short, I have a bit of a technology phobia or rather, how heavily we rely on machines. I’m consequently denying their power over me. 

A few weeks ago I blocked my phone by not typing the password correctly a few times in a row. I tried again and again, but the harder I tried to figure it out, write it down or envision it on the keyboard, the more confused I got. “I will not be defeated by a machine!” I told myself and stubbornly kept putting in the wrong password instead of waiting until I get home and find this tiny scrap of paper I wrote it down on. The result was that I blocked my phone forever and had to restore it, which meant losing data from the past five months because who on Earth backs up their phones regularly. Apparently, most of my friends. And I must admit they told me to do it a couple of times. But a decision was made and I regret nothing, as you can see in the picture below. Ok, I regret some of it, but that’s it. 

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Listen to your heart but take your head with you.

– Still hoping it’s not Paulo Cohelo.

a.k.a have a plan A but also B, C and D. Still do everything to achieve plan A.

I first came to London when I was fifteen. It was a 3 day trip with my friend and our dads. Since then, I knew that one day I will live here. I came a year later for a whole week of an English course and I made up my mind. I haven’t been here since, until last year when I moved here. I can’t explain my fascination for this city nor my longing for it. It feels like it’s been rooting within me, out of my control, fed by movies, songs, books and dreams.

I made my first attempt to come here 4 years ago when my university offered an exchange placement at the UCL. I wasn’t accepted. Two years ago, I wanted to do a Master’s programme here. I couldn’t afford it. Finally, last year, I graduated in the Netherlands and was faced with a question:

what now?

Do I go back home? Do I stay in the Netherlands? Do I go to Nepal and rebuild houses destroyed by an earthquake? Or do I put everything on one card and move to the city that has been at the back of my mind for past ten years? It took me three days to make that decision. Then another two weeks to quit my job in Amsterdam, find a temporary room in London, pack my bags and go.

I gave myself two months to find a job because my savings wouldn’t let me stay longer. It took 6 weeks. I don’t have to tell you how stressful it all was. But I did it. I completed my plan A, my bucket list point, my overdue dream. And I’m having the time of my life. 

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Life offers you millions of paths to follow. Some are easier, some are hard. Every once in a while, I try to sit back and have a conversation with myself. I ask:

  • Am I happy?
  • Am I calm?
  • Am I satisfied?

If I answer “No” to any of these questions I ask what do I do to answer “Yes”?

What are your answers? Let me know in the comment section!

 

P.S. Here is a little bonus for you, me at the Platform 9 3/4 ten years ago.

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Sonder

It’s quite early for a Saturday morning and I’m sitting in a café drinking a latte. My brain is not ready to work yet so I’m watching people around me.

To my left sits a couple with their laptops on the table. The woman scribbles, what the man is telling her, in a notebook on her lap. He shows her something on his laptop and then they both lean over hers. They discuss something in low voices, nod to each other, and some more scribbling follows.

And I’m sitting there, 3 meters away, shamelessly staring at them and I’m wondering why they met here today. To take a wild guess, it’s a tutor with his student. She needs some help with meeting a deadline and he’s sacrificing his Saturday to help her out. Suddenly, I’m all involved in their lives. Lives of these background characters in my life story. I see this woman in her bathroom this morning brushing her hair and trying to talk herself into calming down before the meeting and the assignment. Her roommate is calling to her to hurry up. Her phone’s battery is dying so she needs to grab a portable charger before rushing out.

Next, I picture the man. How in the morning he went to the grocery store and bought fresh bread and eggs for breakfast. How there was no hot water in the shower, so he didn’t wash his hair as planned. And how he noticed a hole in his sock, cursed and changed it. But he changed only one and now is wearing two different socks.

Lost in all those thoughts, I notice that the woman is looking at me from time to time with a suspicious look on her face. I smile awkwardly, sip my coffee and start writing.

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I can’t help it. I find it fascinating to imagine the lives of others. How this couple made so many decisions that led them into this café at this time.

I have such moments of wonder a couple of times a day. When I’m riding the tube, when I space out in the office and gaze at my colleagues, or when I’m drinking beer with friends and they talk about their joys and sorrows.

Sonder is the word describing such moments. When you realize that the world doesn’t revolve around you or doesn’t owe you anything, because every single person has problems as big as yours. That everyone is the hero of their own story and most of the time you’re just an extra in the background. You’re that awkward girl with a laptop at the opposite table in a café looking angry and judgemental because, well, she has a resting bitch face.

I love the feeling of it. When you dive so deep into someone else’s life that for a few moments you’re free from your own.

Sonder is the gate to empathy. To be empathetic you need to look beyond yourself and notice that life happens even if you’re not in the picture. Of course, there are two ways to think about this.

The first one is the empathetic and optimistic way, which is the one I try to follow. It is the way to use sonder to empower others and to make as big and positive impact as you can. It is the urge to help others, to make the world better even in the smallest way. Maybe you’ll help a mother with a child carry a buggy down the stairs, maybe it’s riding a bike to work instead of the car and make the air a bit cleaner and not contributing to the pollution today.

sonder1I believe in those small acts of kindness and compassion. They work through the domino effect. If you do it, then maybe you’ll convince three of your friends to do it, they’ll convince their friends etc., and, as a result, a thousand people will do it and maybe even more. That’s the power of the people. That’s the power of sonder and empathy.

The second way is the pessimistic and quite selfish way and I strongly advise against it. It is the way to use sonder as an excuse to be lazy because, in the end, you’re only one person among seven billion. This way makes you give up all the power that you have. It’s like not going to vote, because your vote alone cannot change anything. But as I said before, every single person’s actions count. One thousand people without one person is not a thousand anymore, right?

The decision on which way to choose is yours, as it is with most things in life.

So which way do you choose? Let me know!

Sophia

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25 years of life

It happened. I turned 25.

The last time my age made such an impression on me was when I turned 18 and was finally able to vote. I spent a while contemplating this current threshold. I was left with more questions than answers, but I guess that’s always the case when you try to think about life in a bit deeper manner. Not to bore you too much, I summarised my inner debates in a list. Here we go:

25 thoughts for 25 years of life. My life.

  1. This life is the only one I have and I am going to live it as I want it.
  2. Life is tough, but having the right people around makes it easier and makes it worth it.
  3. Love is everywhere, you just need to open your eyes to it. But most importantly, you need to show it.
  4. Being envious of someone only hurts you.
  5. The older I get the more I appreciate my parents.
  6. If you wanna make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and then make a change (yes, this is a quote from Michael Jackson).
  7. My friends ARE my family and they inspire me to be the best version of myself.
  8. Greed seems to be the source of all evil, but how do we get rid of it?
  9. People need to be kinder to each other.
  10. I am one big ‘sonder’* sometimes and I am completely ok with that. So if you catch me staring at you for an uncomfortable period of time this might just be it (or maybe you have something on your face, who knows).
  11. Happiness is a state of mind and you are the master of it.
  12. The world is full of hypocrisy and I am constantly torn by it.
  13. Music is the closest thing to magic I can experience.
  14. Taking care of your body takes a lot of commitment, but boy, it is worth it.
  15. Being confident is hard and takes practice (my way: fake it till you make it).
  16. I don’t understand religious beliefs and how people can go to the extreme for them and probably never will.
  17. Education is the key to a better society.
  18. Technology made the world smaller for us and that’s why borderless cooperation is essential for the world to be a better place (that’s why EU is awesome).
  19. Social pressure on women is suffocating, but so it is on everyone else.
  20. I like being alone with my own mind and allow it to take me to plenty of surreal places.
  21. I am an independent person, but I know I need to learn how to ask for help.
  22. I laugh a lot, sometimes too much. But I’d rather be silly than bitter.
  23. Past is not coming back, future is unknown. Do things now (even got a tattoo with this one).
  24. I need to put myself more out of my comfort zone.
  25. Life is good.

*Sonder – the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own.

I could write an article about each of these points. Maybe I should? What do you think? Let me know!

Take care!

Sophia

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