Are you happy?
Are you happy?
This is a very confronting question.
it just came up at a workshop we did in Denmark in September. Someone asked this simple question: Are you happy?
To answer it, we need first to question it. The two most important questions are: Is this a relevant question, and: where does the question come from?
Now: Why do we ask each other about happiness?
Being unhappy is painful, but I wonder if we can clearly define the opposite as happiness. Mainly because happiness does not equal the absence of pain, obstacles, or suffering. Happiness in our native language, Danish, is a serious word, clearly distinguishable from merely being in a good mood or a good, comfortable, “happy” state of mind. We have the word “lykke”, and this is what I am reflecting upon more than a more casual interpretation of a relatively good mood.
But ARE we chasing happiness? If we can define it, we define it by other concepts that are much easier to understand and mark and chase, like the state of flow, gratefulness, inner peace, enthusiasm, or even love. All of this can be felt and experienced in the presence of pain, discomfort, or even fear - thereby ruling out happiness as the absence of the above-mentioned.
If we understand happiness in this way, then yes: We are in a happy state most of the time. We are grateful to be successful in living the life we want to live. We feel we are in a sweet spot in life, living the dreams we dreamt five years ago while creating new dreams to aim for in the future.
The work we do (for money) we do with passion and love, enthusiastically and wholehearted because we want to do it, and all the big and little things (like raising our children and doing the laundry) we do, we similarly do with passion and love, based on clear values, knowing the tradeoff and the reasons for all of our decisions.
In this way: YES we are happy. But happiness is not an endstation, happiness is a state of mind, in many ways something we can work for and have to keep mowing in coordination with. Am I making sense? Otherwise, please write a comment and let me know, then I will try again!
The Septré festival
Writing this blog post, we are driving the distance between the Septré Festival outside of Berlin to our next adventure in Paris. The ten hours on the highways of Europe gives us time to have conversations, listen to music, draw, knit, sing and think. Post festival it is nice to sit still and look at a boring view outside the windows.
The festival in Germany used to be called Schulfrei and is attended mainly by people questioning the schooling of children. Hundreds of people meet to talk, dance, listen to music, sit by bonfires, and create together for a long weekend, camping at a huge field.
The whole thing is amazingly well organized and has a beautiful vibe. We speak close to no German, so the language problem was hard felt, especially for our children who already speak several languages other than their native Danish; it was frustrating to feel speechless again, excluded by a language barrier.
But on the other hand. Let's be honest and fair: It was a great festival. 3-4 Scandinavian families to hang with and loads of adults who spoke excellent English gave us a social experience. The rest is the same whether you speak the language or not: The bonfires at night, the full moon, the great live bands, the dancing, the smiles, the workshops with wool and stone and paint and balls, the fire show and the acrobats. It was a wonderful festival experience, and we highly recommend it to other unschooling families.
The normalization of the unschooled teenager is priceless, just being surrounded by loads of other young people who were never in school carries with it treasures for the heart that is hard to put into words.
A detail worth mentioning is that this festival features no alcohol for sale. Even without a strict no-alcohol policy, just the mere absence in the food stands and the bar and maybe just at great german cultural code, we experienced five days of great parties with no one abusing anything. No drunk adults, no drunk teens, hardly any joints, nothing but being high on life, laughter, music, fire, and the moon.
In our home country, this is unseen. For sure, the majority would drink at least moderately and we were just so grateful to be in this context of real life, happy dancing, smiling, partying people with nothing external in the blood to alter their state of mind. Thank you, Septré festival, we will be back next year.
Falling in love with Germany
We have not spent much time in Germany. We always just pass, doing random stops on the way, not engaging. We know of the high culture of Germany, the massive intelligence, the amazing grass root music, and art in general. We know there are loads of amazing germans, landscapes, cities, cathedrals, museums, and rivers.
Somehow, we have always been on the way, primarily because of the weather. Overstaying the summertime in Denmark, we have entered Germany so many times with cold feet and the longing for summer, driving as fast as we could, at least until we get south of the Loire valley.
Yet, we had some German experiences, which were all good. Firstly we have some people we love in Germany, close amazing friends with whom we have spent hundreds of precious hours.
On top of that, we visited Hamburg a few times, a great experience, and Butzbach with the fantastic city center of well-preserved houses from the 16th century, like visiting a fairy tale, and Mainz to see the first book press. Köln, where our car stopped one cold winter night, and Landstuhl, where we swam a wonderful lake, and the list goes on. We were just not conscious, constantly feeling we passed by.
With the Septré festival, we met many more germans than we knew before, and we met a vibe of freethinking, tolerance, open-mindedness, and the will to live the best life possible. Now, we see there is yet one more country in Northern Europe to explore in the short summers; for sure, we need to come back, learn, engage and explore.
(One thing we enjoy is driving through Hamburg, passing the containerships. It never ceases to amaze us how huge they are, how wild this logistics is, how amazing this world is)
Do you speak the language?
Coming back to the question of language, we were all hit by the hammer of not understanding the language, feeling like the odd ones out, feeling socially awkward, feeling a good load of FOMO, and not being able to communicate freely with everyone else.
It is not a problem in Germany. When we speak English, many germans speak English very well, even the children. At least at the Septré festival, we did not have many real problems.
Like most problems, this problem was mainly in the mind.
Left in reality is the question of language acquisition. We do not speak German, yet Germany is a neighboring country to our home country, and many words seem understandable. We like languages and have fun trying to understand when in a new linguistic context.
I managed to speak with a few young children about our dogs, and the day after the festival, when we rented an Airbnb to do an online speech and have a much-needed and appreciated shower, I spoke German with the host. Immersion is the most fantastic tool for learning languages, and wanting to communicate is the best motivational motor.
I am sure we will acquire a good portion of German before returning so we can boost the language at the Septré festival next year. And to make more friends. And understand the lyrics of more music. There are many reasons to learn another language, and German is now back on the list.
We have been giving five speeches about our lifestyle for the past three weeks.
That is a lot. Even with the same content, it is a lot of work to do five speeches of 3 hours each, on top of everything we do. It has been a blast to meet so many wonderful people and answer the intelligent and interesting questions they ask.
When we give a speech, we leave out at least ⅔ of the time for questions, as they drive a much more interesting conversation with the audience, so we do not prepare a long thing to share, instead, we share the base of our story, after asking everyone to share their main reason to attend the speech. It is much like a prolonged Q and A, but the people who want to hear our story, in reality, even more, want to ask us questions.
If this holds true for you, my dear reader, please ask your questions in the comments or in an e-mail, as questions drive us to think. And we like to think reflecting on things we thought we already knew makes us realize we could be sharper, more precise, more focused, and better aligned, i.e., it makes us grow. If you ask us a question, you give us the chance to learn. So please do not hold back.
My takeaway from giving speeches is that it is not about us. I felt awkward in the beginning - my life is not that “interesting and different,” and I don't want to stand out as a self-focused wannabe. We believe humility is a healthy mindset.
But looking at it, I see that our 10+ years as an unschooling family and more than four years on the roads of Europe give us a unique perspective that holds value for other people to enter. When we give speeches, we give back to humanity; we share experiences that were sometimes hard to obtain, possibly making the path easier for others to find and walk. This makes it valuable and worth it for us, even though we are entirely wasted in our minds after 3 hours of sharing.
All of our public/online speeches and appearances on Q and A - and the new trend A and A (Ask me Anything) will be announced through the newsletter; you can sign up for it here. We also give speeches in Danish, for those who prefer that. When you sign up for the newsletter, you can tick the box for Danish speakers to be advised of events in Danish.
Bridges - the gratefulness exercise
When planning this blog post, I vowed to share some of the routines we have in our ever-changing nomad life.
A question we often get is “How does your everyday routine look?” and my answer is always: We do not have any. All we know for sure is everything changes all the time. I often have trouble sleeping in my bed at night after giving speeches. Too much going on in my brain. Last night I thought about the question of routines because it is not an exact answer when I say we do not have routines. We do. We do have routines and habits. And I decided to share the bits of routine and habits that are usually held in place in our family.
Today it will be the fact we brush our teeth twice a day, morning and evening; we even floss. Not interesting info in and of itself, but just to give perspective to the question of routines. Obviously, we have some, and they begin with bodily needs and maintenance.
On a more interesting note, I want to share our bridge routine. When we cross a bridge, we say something we are grateful for aloud. On long driving days, it is ongoing all day to find new things to say and starts good conversations in the van; on slower days, there might be just no bridges, and we don’t do it at all. If the bridge is taking us over a body of water, the exercise is more important for some strange reason.
Staying sane in an ever-changing life takes courage and inner work. This holds true as well if you lead a totally “normal” life inside the mainstream western lifestyle, yet it seems like most people are not taking this seriously.
When we mentor other families, we always start with values, interviewing everyone about what are the most essential elements in their lives. Most people put health somewhere on the list.
It should be obvious there is no win in just adding the word “health” on a list, just like your life will not improve by saying other obvious truths like “family” or “love.” It is necessary to do the work and find out what this means to you and how you know you have this element in place in your life.
So we know health is essential, and from our perspective, mental health is just as important as physical: We need to tend to the needs of our minds. Many things have proven efficient in maintaining good mental health - and one remembers to be grateful. This little exercise is efficient for us; we just keep remembering to be grateful for the little things and the big graces.
A list from today where we have at this point been driving 650 kilometers:
We are grateful for
- The new design of Duolingo
- Our van
- Each other
- Mashed potatoes
- Money in the bank
- Personal freedom
- The beauty of the Rhine River
- The festival we just attended
- The books we are currently reading (WildWich, The way of Kings, Gluten Freedom and The Web of Meaning)
- Knitting socks
- The shower we had yesterday
The list goes on, and it is just great fun - and at the same time, soothing for the mind to release the grateful emotion dispersed over all the hours of the day.
On the practical side
Another question of general interest seems to be the practical side of van living/nomad life. I get it. When I lived in a house based in one place, I would read every word I could find on the very few blogs from vanlifers, mainly Americans living in buses. So, now I decided to give back and share some of the practical realities of our life on the move.
We have just attended a festival, and one thing we did not do during the five days was the shower. Even with beautifully built showers featuring a lot of clean cold water, we bailed out. It was the temperature of the water. We COULD have done it, but we did not want to. Washing the massive amount of hair in the family in cold water is just not very comfortable.
This is one of the many things that changed after becoming nomads. A hot shower is very nice, but we can keep clean and healthy without it, and if necessary, we do so with no remorse. We wash with good old water and soap, good enough for kings and queens 1000 years ago and good enough for us when this is what we can get.
Usually, we find showers quite often. When we live in the van, twice a week is for, sure enough, once can do. Washing plus nature dips do a great job, and we are not so picky. It is all okay. If we can not seem to get a shower, it is okay. We are okay with that. We can handle it. We feel worthy nonetheless, and we feel this is a price worth paying for the adventures.
In the same way, we can not always access a washing machine. We have very few pieces of clothes, and at times we need to wear the same t-shirt a bit longer than optimal. But we know we do so because we want to. If it were more important for us always to wear sparkling clean clothes, we would just go find a washing machine. On the note of clothes, we all have less than 40 pieces, some of us way less. We do not mind using each others’ when needed, and we are happy with what we have. We do care what it is and how it looks, but not according to fashion rules or anything like that. Just what we like for us. And we are happy with just owning a few items each. S
Practically washing machines are everywhere. We meet people and ask politely to borrow one; we use the ones to be found in washing shops, in some countries, there are washing machines next to gas stations and supermarkets, sometimes we use campsites (this is rare though). We never wash by hand. We did it once, for 17 days in a beautiful apartment in Tenerife, and vowed to never ever do it again. It is not worth it. We just find a washing machine and use it. If we are all running out of clean clothes, we just prioritize finding a machine and some time for drying clothes, or we find a second-hand shop to solve the problem with the cheapest items available.
The inner and the outer journey
The journey of this life is so complex, and at least to us, traveling in the physical world matches so beautifully the inner journey. It is like a dance. So, when I write about traveling, I somehow need to also write about what is going on on the inside.
Primarily, we are working on the question of speed. We have been road-tripping for a few months and living as a nomad family for over four years. We do speed-travel a lot of the time, move fast, move far, go to new places sometimes every day, for sure moving every week. At the beginning of this year, I counted up to nine different places we lived in only two months, without a van to live in.
It had not changed over the year, except twice when we stayed a good number of weeks in the same place. March in Portugal, April, May and June in Spain.
So now, facing autumn, we also face a deep need to calm down. At least sometimes. At least for a while. We live a crazy life in many ways, so stimulating, so overwhelming, so unique, so full of joy and adventure, and so much going on - we sometimes lack time for simple stuff, like mending our clothes or just contemplating a view. We especially lack time for working and studying (in a broad sense), so we become frustrated with having too little time to do the slow and simple things.
This year is an amazing one. We call it lean, and clean, and it seems like the unnecessary is falling off our journey to leave with us just the core of who we are and where we are going. The direction becomes more clear, and the needs become shiny and precise.
We love the festivals, the adventures, the concerts, the people, the mountaintops, and all of that, and are at the moment learning to acknowledge the value of silence, of study, of discipline.
It is like a puzzle. Or maybe rather like a mosaic, a beautiful complex one. With all the fantastic elements, sparkling decorations, and new beginnings covered with our travels, we want to add just the right amount of slow.
On the spiritual level, I find it interesting how life unfolds in so many different beats at the same time, like pulses in the plural, like complex music, like all of the rhythms of nature - the same way our life unfolds with short moments revealing their beauty and meaningfulness, and also long distances in personal history drawing lines of resonance or connection, that would seem invisible if not tuned into and believed in.
The slow days make room for this tuning. So do slow and beautiful things like knitting, staring into bonfires, stargazing, or cooking. I believe we need to pay attention to all levels of life and acknowledge that there is no “one size fits all,” nor is there an overall strategy that will always work.
Only paying attention, giving space, and staying open-minded to change or adjustment can keep us on track if we walk the narrow personal path because the track can not be foreseen; it is not even a track, it is a path, and we have to find it continuously.
In our life, exploring slow has to do with planning. Without planning, we end up just running around, amazed and grateful; planning gives us commitment and focus and is sometimes very hard to do.
We have focused for a long time on achieving the freedom we currently have, and when we plan something, we leave out all of the alternative options that are closing so many doors. It feels like letting go of freedom, yet it is not. We plan with a pencil, always ready to adjust. But planning will open another level of freedom that derives from knowing what we want and that we will get it.
So, on the practical level, we have resource meetings once a week, planning the coming week in detail and the coming month more loosely, looking at options, money, needs, the weather, and longings to lay down the best mosaic possible. This also makes room for slowness. If anyone gets restless, it is simple to look at the plan to see when the next big bonfire/mountaintop/festival is coming and enjoy the peace of the moment. Just like we can enjoy the overly stimulating, unique, intense days, knowing silence is on the horizon.
Now, does any of this resonate with you? We are real people and love connecting and getting to know our readers. So please let us know what you think; share your thoughts with us in the comment section or by reaching out; our contacts are on the website. We are always interested in your thoughts and happy to receive questions to inspire new blog posts.
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