Don’t Worry… Be Happy

“The Constitution only guarantees the American people the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself.” ~Benjamin Franklin

After last week’s ranting, I figured that it would be appropriate to do an entry on happiness. Yesterday, my co-workers and I attended a social, where we watched an awesome, inspirational documentary, called “The Happy Movie”. It’s one of those topics that everyone searches high and low for, when it’s simply placed right under our noses. Media teaches us that happiness is something that only certain people achieve; the beautiful, the rich, and the famous. However, people of the exact opposite have seemed to have more fulfilling lives. The start of the movie shows a man from India, who wakes early every morning to carry passengers on a rickshaw. He does this physically strenuous job in the beating sun, for hours, while wearing flip-flops .. He comes home to an open-air shack, covered by tarp, with wooden beds and dusty floors (Shadyac, 2002).. While many may not label this as the ideal life, this man was tested to be as happy as the average American. This man had a job, shelter, and a family to come home to. As long as basic needs are met, people are generally happy.

In 2010, studies have shown that the U.S.  was twice as wealthy as we were 50 years ago, but people were still not any happier (Shadyac, 2002). Once basic needs are met, the ranges of happiness between incomes of $5,000 to $50,000 are dramatic. However, happiness from $50,000 to $50 million were not as noticeable. Most of our happiness (50%) is actually genetic. While surprisingly, circumstances like income and social status, ONLY account for 10% of ones happiness. You can control the other 40%. These are done through intentional actions, such as exercise, developing close relationships, and helping others (Shadyac, 2002).  These steps can actually release just as much dopamine (or pleasure sensors) into your brain, as a cocaine high. Don’t use these neurons, and you lose them. This is possibly why you hear of happier people living longer.

In industrial Japan, people are literally working themselves to death.  As families disconnect, and priorities are geared towards money and development, this lethal exhaustion causes “Karoshi” (Shadyac, 2002). However, In Okinawa, Japan, these islanders are said to have the world’s longest living population (Shadyac, 2002). They hold on to traditions and are very connected in their social lives and between generations. This is another factor that promotes long life and happiness.

I personally believe that another intentional action is having a positive attitude, being optimistic, and associating with encouraging crowds. This seems to have a more favorable affect on your future, than money.  This is one area in my life that’s currently being tested. I once watched a movie called “The Secret”, that teaches the Law of Attraction (Byrne, 2006). Its basis was that you achieve what you believe. This movie takes a scientific approach. However, I prefer a more religious view of the theory. Have you ever driven down the rode and passed a police officer, when suddenly you start to get paranoid that you did something wrong? Next thing you know, you’re pulled over for speeding or car tags. While many may label this as a coincidence, “The Secret” would say that basically you gave off the vibe and attracted the following action.

The happiest place in the world is said to be Denmark.  Free education through college, free health care for life, and their co-housing communities allow for families to split all of the daily responsibilities (Shadyac, 2002). Sometimes we undervalue our need for other people.  Especially for the modern American women, we often are taught to be independent.  While there is nothing wrong with learning to do things on your own; none of us came into the world completely alone, as turtles, to raise ourselves. Which is why I believe that, instinctively, no one wants to die alone. Have you ever seen those random people who hold up the “FREE HUGS” signs? As silly as the idea seems, no matter the age, or the grumpiness of the receiver of the hug .. you can’t help but to pull away with a smile. We all need somebody..

In summary, happiness is not all that complicated.

“You were given life; it is your duty (and also your entitlement as a human being) to find something beautiful within life, no matter how slight” (Gilbert, 2006).

 

 

Byrne, R. The Secret. 2006.

Gilbert, E.  Eat, Pray Love. 2006.

Shadyac, T. The Happy Movie. 2002. <http://www.thehappymovie.com/film/&gt;

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6 Things I Learned from Living Abroad


6) How to distinguish needs from wants

If you’re a fan of the television show “House Hunters”, you will often see potential buyers go through long inventories of things that they need, like a hood over the stove, a jacuzzi to fit 5 people, a shower with a mountain view. I have down-scaled my “must have” list, after some of my travels. The basic American appliances that I have in the U.S. has slowly made it to my list of luxuries. This was realized the moment I arrived in the congested city of Seoul, S. Korea; where there was an odd absence of bathtubs and ovens in apartments. The memories of my spacious country bathroom, was now being compared to the ability to use the bathroom, shower and brush my teeth in the sink.. all at the same time.

Here in Saudi, when someone told me that I’d have to fill my washing machine by pan, pull the machine to a hole in the middle of the floor, drain it, and then hang dry.. I made sure that a conventional washer/dryer unit was added to my list. It’s the simple things that you miss the most, when everything is foreign to you. I no longer will assume that another country’s definition of a “need” and “want” is the equivalent to my own.

5) Your survival instincts come into play

Before leaving the US, I’ve often been asked.. “Do you know anyone out there?” “Can you speak the language?”.. “No?!? Sooo, how are you going to get around??” … You just gotta figure it out! We are all primitively programmed to fight for our survival. I’ve learned this best in Saudi. The 1st three days in the KSA, I lived off of cold pita bread and rice. I saw not one soul who spoke English or could direct me to something familiar. Each day, I inched a little further down my road, counting buildings and turns, so not to get lost. I took down as many taxi numbers as possible, so at least someone could direct me home. I immediately befriended the hotel staff, so that they’d felt comfortable loaning me money if things got tight. Survival! Without a lick of Arabic…. ‘Whatever higher power you believe in’ always seems to work the immediate things out. You can always figure out the details later..

4) At the same time, you’re never truly alone

There’s 100 English teachers on my campus. All of them came with the same expectations (or lack thereof). All with the same frustrations. All having the same questions… Outside of the school, there is the occasional English speaker; the taxi driver from Pakistan who wants to practice through conversation, the Filipina nurse who understands your homesickness, the Saudi woman who wants to soak up all things American. You start to realize that maybe running off to a new country, a new job, and a new culture… is not such a new idea.

3) You Start to Define Yourself

There are so many titles that one can take on these days.. Democrat/Republican, Gay/Straight, Christian/Atheist. However, quite a few people have a hard time defining why they feel so strongly about these titles. When you live in a country that challenges these labels, you start to see where on the spectrum you fall. Plus, you’ll have a firm example to back it up. Being in a conservative, Islamic country makes me realize how much of a liberal Christian I am.

2) Life should not be all that stressful

There’s a time to work, and there’s a time to play. As an ESL teacher abroad, you finally have ample time to pick up a new hobby, start and finish a book, choose whether or not you want to have a social life, or even be random and attend a ‘camel beauty contest’… As an expat, in general, you have a totally different itinerary from the tourists. Somehow, I’ve managed to experience various activities from having a few cookouts in the middle of an Arabian desert, to digging for fossilized seashells and desert diamonds (http://www.ehow.com/info_8127431_desert-diamonds.html). You no longer check out the city on someone else’s schedule and course. You tend to make your own fun, and it ends up being a way more interesting story to tell.

1) See life through someone else’s eyes

Yesterday, I was watching a music video on MTV. The American singer spent the whole video in a swimsuit. There was no pool, ocean, or water of any kind present. This sorta bugs me. It is one of the reasons why my greetings in Korea often came to “So, can you sing or dance like Beyonce?” or “Are you Obama’s sister?” And they are dead serious, in asking! In Saudi, out of the 5-10 English channels, these were also the American examples portrayed to a conservative country. I have seen some coverings to the extreme (women not showing an inch of the body, including eyes). Under these all-black coverings, I’ve always imagined two types of women: one who was very timid, or someone expressionless. Going against the stereotype, my students, the ladies under the veil, are some of the most outspoken, confident and dramatic girls I’ve ever met..

I’ve got a feeling we’re not in the U.S. anymore.

Yesterday, I finally got a chance to go window-shopping at a huge mall, here in Saudi. I almost felt at home, seeing all the familiar name brand retailers and restaurants. Notice, that I said “almost”.. The little reminders, that I’m not in the U.S., was constant. Not bad, but just gets you thinking “where in the world, am I?”

      1. So, I step into the first shop. One that I know well; Nike! I was quite surprised to see workout-wear for women, being that this city doesn’t seem to encourage female gyms. They are here, but in much smaller numbers than the males-only gyms, of course. I read that womens gyms were in abundance back in 2009 (Black, 2009). But due to the protest of the conservative crowd, who felt that these facilities take women away from their homes/husbands/children, many were shut down.Although, there were clothes..none of the fitness stores in this mall had equipment geared towards women. Now, this mall is massive! Why did I not find even one Yoga mat, dumbbell, or a real running shoe?
      2. As I go into the next store (“Express”), I’m humming “Con los ojos cerrados”… then I suddenly stop.. look up.. and realize there is no music playing. “Am I going crazy? Music does normally play in American stores, right??” I walk over to the next store, and same thing. No music! I talk to someone the next day about this, and she tells me so matter-of-factly that music is haram (sinful) according to Islamic Shari’ah. I know it shouldn’t be a big deal, but it’s SO odd going into a totally silent store, wanting to say something to your shopping buddy, but feeling that you need to whisper because your English is going to draw attention. My blond friend already stands out enough!
      3. I walk into a store with some really cute going-out wear. Where in the world, are these abaya-clad women going to wear these outfits?? Now, maybe I’m simply naïve to this other life of Arabian women.. but short skirts, tanks, tight and sheer? These are the same women who wear skirts to their ankles and loose shirts to their elbows, to class… and the abaya in public.
      4. ALL of these stores were ran by men, even MAC and Victoria Secrets.. These are the same men who are not to see a woman “uncovered”, except for his wife and family members. I must also say that Victoria Secrets had absolutely no lingerie.. Apparently men are not banned from selling female underwear .. So, where are they getting them from is my next question. The only females that I have seen working so far, in this country, were the foreigners.. and a few Saudis in salons/spas. But according to the Buchanan’s article, women will soon be allowed to work in this industry (Buchanan, 2012).
      5. In these retail stores, I almost never saw a dressing room.. This is a shop-happy culture. With so much money and free time, what else are the women to do? A dressing room would get a lot of use in this country. But, instead there’s a pretty relaxed return policy.

Little differences, but enough of them to make an interesting experience..

Black, I. (2009). Saudi Women Face Gyms Ban. The Gaurdian.Retrieved on March 13th, 2012 from <http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/apr/26/saudi-women-sports-ban>

Buchanan, E. (2012). Women Only to Work in Saudi Arabia Lingerie Shops. BBC News. Retrieved on March 13, 2012 from <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-16412202 >

The Abaya

The first question I’m asked by family and friends after they found out where I was going.. “Do you have to cover up??”… Yes, I do have to, wherever a man is present. In the KSA, women can only be uncovered around other women, her husband, and their family. So basically, all of these clothes I brought for whatever occasion will never be seen accept at work (my all-women’s university) and when I am in foreign-friendly areas (desert hikes and compounds).

The abaya is a long cloak, that is traditionally all-black. But you will often find today’s abayas with different material, designs, colors and sparkles on the sleeves and the base. As a non-muslim foreigner, this robe is the only strict requirement to wear in public. The niqab, is a piece that covers the face, besides the eyes. I am not required to wear this. However, it seems to be quite helpful during this sandstorm season. Covering your hair with a scarf or hijab, is less enforced for non-muslims, but I’m sure you’re more respected if you don’t go against the grain. Everyone carries a scarf just in case they are approached by the muttawa, the religious police.

There’s always going to be a fuss about it. But as extreme and restrictive the abaya may seem to some, it’s quite easy to get used to. Out of all of the factors that contribute to daily stress, this attire is the least of my worries. Yet, is the main thing people want to know about. The language and the segregation, is the big adjustment! My roommate actually remains covered behind the locked doors of our apartment, which probably makes me look like a heathen in my loungewear. I’ve seen some pretty cute abayas.. and I already own 4 (3 I’m in the process of getting altered) and a 5th one being designed. I’m thinking about putting a modern/Latin spin to it 🙂 ..

In the compound, I was actually ordered to remove my abaya.. In public.. It almost felt like they asked me to remove my shirt. Last week, I went out into the desert “uncovered” and even though it felt GREAT for the sun to hit my skin..Strangly, for a second, I felt naked in front of all of the western men. Of course I got over that though, and enjoyed the rare moment. But this lets me know that perhaps the Saudi women, who have been covered all of their lives vs. my two weeks, welcome this conservative attire.. instead of seeing it as a command. Through their perspective, being uncovered in public is kind of like that question, “have you ever dreamed that you were naked on stage?”

Culture Shock

I fell into a little rut today.. And realizing that it’s totally understandable of why the culture shock hits you early here.

Unlike Korea, where you can find multiple Americanized food chains on every corner, natives with a similar sense of style, and same rules/restrictions…Saudi Arabia is the total opposite. Abiding by a strict way of living, being gender segregated, living in a new language, around new people, being away from loved ones, and starting a new job… perhaps, I could have brought a Xanax or two. I was reading the stages of culture shock on Wikipedia, and this “negotiation phase” is supposed to hit you on month 3. I’m on day 5… BUT, instead of looking at this negatively, I have high hopes that the “adjustment phase” will come early as well.  I can see many personal, professional, and financial benefits that will come from this experience, it’s just a lot to take in at once! I also don’t to want to make this KSA blog all nice and frilly. Gotta keep it real. So with all that said, I will definitely have my moments here.. I’ll just have to find ways to keep my life as close to what I’m used to, try to understand their culture, and realize that they will not change for me.. aka: I must Adapt! Here’s the plan:

  1. Figure out what the health-conscious Saudis eat.. It doesn’t seem like turkey is as easily available and can easily go into carb overload.
  2. Drop expectations! Being a control-freak, especially with time/planning, this will be the hardest one.
  3. Get a schedule of their 5 daily prayers, because everything shuts down for 45min prayer. To wisely use of this time, avoid shopping and replace with an indoor activity
  4. Buy a treadmill!!! With the prices of the limited female gyms, and it being near impossible to run outside.. in an abaya and hijab.. w/o someone assuming you stole something, perhaps its beneficial to build an at-home gym. Thank God, I brought my P90X and Insanity!
  5. Do things to make life feel “normal”.. Although this country seems to operate thanks to the abundance of servicemen and women, I found that maybe I prefer to do my own cleaning, taking in of own groceries, picking up my own food orders.
  6. Make connections with expats: Find groups that fit all of my interests, whether its physical activities or social gatherings
  7. Make connections with natives: This could help with language exchange and a better understanding of the culture.

Culture Shock. Wikipedia. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Culture_shock&gt;

Beautiful Contrast

Before landing in Saudi Arabia, I had a pitstop in Qatar.. It was a beautiful descend!! Some of the most popular sunset pictures taken, are over either an ocean or a desert.. I got to see a perfect combination of both 🙂 I now see the necessity of investing in a nice camera, especially if I continue to travel.

Once stepping off the plane in Saudi Arabia, and taking the van to my new living quarters, it was a different kind of beautiful. The grandness of the buildings, makes you feel that you are living among royalty. Especially when passing the compounds of Princess Noura University… and then you come across all of the rubble on the backroads, to remind you that every city holds a lower class.

I’ve never seen a city so ‘brown’ in my life… Sand/dirt/concrete everywhere! But not dirt, as in soil, more like construction site dirt. You could say its a pretty solid city! Imagine, every patch of grass you would normally find in a damp climate, it’s replaced by this stuff… and palm trees. And this combination is what oddly makes it so beautiful. I’ve always related palms with sand, BUT I felt it common sense that an ocean must be nearby. But, a desert??