Reasons to be happy in Vietnam (or wherever you are)

Don’t pursue happiness, simply be happy
 
How to be happy? It’s perhaps the most important question we all face. Should we actively pursue happiness, seeking the spouse, job, possessions or other life circumstances we believe will make us happy? While this is the conventional approach, a growing body of research and writing suggests that the “pursuit of happiness” actually makes us unhappy.
 
According to this intriguing new perspective, actively seeking happiness actually creates a feeling of dissatisfaction with our lives. Rather than actually being happy in the present with what we have, we focus on the future and what we want. The conditions we believe necessary for happiness may never be achieved. And, even if they are, we often begin to take these new circumstances for granted and yearn for something else. Not long after moving into a beautiful new apartment or home, we long for a bigger and better one. All too often, this cycle of deferred happiness repeats endlessly. As a result, rather than actually being happy, we continue to pursue happiness by seeking the perfect job, home, spouse, etc.
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Perhaps we’ll be happier if we find ways to be happy with our lives as they actually are? Of course, we don’t want to stop setting goals and growing as people, but we shouldn’t make our happiness dependent on an uncertain future. Instead, we can focus on things to be happy about in our lives as they actually are. Right now.
 
With this thought in mind, and as a personal challenge, I went to my favorite neighborhood cafe here in Saigon and over a Vietnamese iced coffee (okay, three of them ;), I made a list of 101 reasons to be happy in Vietnam.

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Just Breathe

By Steve Fisher

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All photos in this post were taken in and around Hoi An during travel in Vietnam, March 2014

“WTF! Is this guy suicidal?” One day last summer, while living in Bangkok, I’m on Sukhumvit Road, a major artery through the city, and a tall, fit foreigner in gym clothes has jumped in front of traffic and is facing down a lane of cars. I think he’s American, based on the accent of his screams. He’s angrily demanding that the drivers respect pedestrians’ rights by stopping whenever someone is standing in or near the crosswalk. Dude, if you’re reading this, in Thailand and elsewhere in Southeast Asia, those large painted white stripes on the street are just decoration and drivers pay them no heed.

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This is probably an odd question but when you left your mother’s womb and entered this world, was there a satisfaction guarantee certificate stating that everything would be to your liking? As if to demonstrate the sincerity of this guarantee, did your kindly, smiling mother ask whether you were happy with your milk as it was or whether you would prefer her chocolate or Nutella flavor? What, on the day of your birth, you didn’t get the “Everything will be perfect” guarantee? Me neither.

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Are you entrepreneurial in your love life?

By Steve Fisher

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All photos in this post are from life and travel on Koh Samui, Thailand, Aug. 2013

“Playboy repent!” 

About three years ago, while living on Koh Samui, Thailand, I was walking the gorgeous, naturally pristine beaches of the island’s west coast. Famished after walking much of the 20 km of coastline, I wandered inland to find something to eat. I came accross a street food stand, really nothing more than a wok and a few tables beside the road. But the food was fabulous…and so was the proprietress. Beautiful beaches, tasty Thai food and a pretty young shop owner (see photos). Who needs heaven when this sort of thing happens in the actual world we live in! After eating, the mood was right so I asked her to give me cooking lessons at her shop. Her only condition was that I come every day. A beautiful young Thai woman demanding that I visit her shop and learn to cook her delicious food every single day for the remainder of my stay on the island. Grave hardship indeed but I was able to endure.

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Life is a journey, don’t we need a map?

By Steve Fisher

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary. Steve Jobs

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All photos in this post are from life and travel in Rio de Janeiro, May 2013

Imagine setting off on a long journey to the place in the world you most want to visit. I have India in mind. Please pick your own dream destination. Imagine the places you’ll visit there and the sites you’ll see. The activities you’d like to enjoy. All the interesting people you’ll meet. Local food you’d like to taste and so on. You would of course want a detailed map and itinerary for your journey right? It’s simply impossible to imagine navigating an unknown continent or country or even one particularly charming neighborhood without one. Without a map and a plan you would be lost constantly. And you wouldn’t get to see the places you want to see or do the things you want to do.

What about this big journey known as life? Isn’t it even more important than that dream trip to South America? Don’t we need a map for that as well?

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Exercise for your mind

We are what we think. All that we are arises from our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make our world. Buddha

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We all know that regular exercise is good for us. It’s good for our hearts, reduces the risk of cancer and diabetes, improves our daily moods and might even turn us into swimsuit models. Well, probably not in my case. It’s obviously really good for us and many of us already do it regularly. But what about exercise for our minds? As the source of all of our thoughts and feelings our minds are possibly the most important part of who we are. But how many of us exercise our minds? Or even think about the value of doing so? Actually though exercise for the mind is at least as important as physical exercise and is perhaps even easier to do! But what exactly is it?

If running, walking, cycling and so on are exercise for the body, meditation is exercise for the mind. Why do we need it and what can it offer us?

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Love is a bowl of Vietnamese noodles – a case for real affection

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All photos in this post are from travel in Vietnam, March-April 2014

By Steve Fisher  If intelligent beings on other worlds are listening in on our communication here on planet Earth (and I’m not convinced they care), they’ve probably noticed that we like to express our affection in prepackaged form. Emoji and stickers in messaging apps, “Likes” (and now “Loves” etc.) on Facebook, electronic or even old school paper greeting cards with that perfect message, flowers delivered to someone anywhere in the world with a few taps on your phone and fixed expressions like “I love you” or “I miss you” in our verbal communication. Love and affection may be the most important human emotions but we seem to like our options for expression conveniently packed and prepared for us. As a proud citizen of global postmodern society, I love these tools as much as anyone, especially the adorable and highly creative stickers they have in Viber, Line and the other messaging apps popular in Asia, where I’ve spent most of the last two years, first in Hua Hin on the Gulf of Thailand, then in Bangkok and now in Saigon.

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The other day though I had an unexpected and somewhat exotic encounter with real affection that really got me thinking. One of the many joys of life in Vietnam is the fabulous street food they have here. In Saigon, during most hours of the day or night, you would struggle to walk 50 m without encountering something that’s both delicious and cheap. Happily, my crazy love for Vietnamese food is matched by a hyperactive personality and a high metabolism. I struggle to put on weight even though I frequently succumb to the endless temptations.

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Happiness is a Puzzle, but not a Complicated One

By Steve Fisher  People everywhere are obsessed with happiness. How to achieve it, how they lost it, how to get it back etc. There are over 90,000 books on the topic on Amazon in English alone. A search for “blogs on happiness” on Google returns nearly 26 million results. Buddhism, a religion of nearly 500 million people, is essentially devoted to being happy and relieving suffering and helping others do the same. Whatever our culture, we all want it, perhaps more than we want anything else.

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All photos in this post are from my first trip to Vietnam, March and April 2014

Is it possible though that we are overcomplicating it? That excellent results can be achieved by adhering to a few basic principles. Most experts agree that our level of happiness is largely determined by a few basic factors.

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Muddy Cambodian rivers and other unexpected pleasures

By Steve Fisher  Earlier this year while cycling between the breathtaking temples of Angkor I came accross a site that made me forget my next destination. Below the hot, dusty road was a muddy, slow moving river. The water was full of young children playing, many without swimming suits and some completely naked. One young boy floated under the bridge on a piece of styrofoam packing material. Families picnicked beside the river on plastic sheets. The water was quite dirty and the riverbank and surroundings were far from the most beautiful spots in Angkor. Yet the children and families looked so happy and I stopped for more than an hour on the bridge reflecting on the scene below, deeply moved that people could find such joy and happiness from such a simple pleasure.

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Outside the south gate of Angkor Thom at sunset

Again and again, in my travels through the world, I’ve encountered people finding happiness in similar ways. Barefoot young Brazilian boys kicking a cheap ball or even a plastic bottle around a dusty square. A young child joyfully splashing around a tub of water on the dirty floor of a Balinese market. In a Grecian village on the Aegean Sea, teenage boys and girls flirting easily with each other in the town square every night. In a beach town in southern Cambodia, a crowd of villagers watching a local soap opera on a communal television (because they can’t afford their own) in a simple roadside restaurant, a large pig wandering lazily among the plastic chairs.

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