Finding Happiness in Hanoi
By: Dr. Laura Gallaher
- I believe happiness is an internal choice, not an external gift
- My thoughts drive my feelings, and I control my thoughts (once I know what they are)
- Sometimes it’s really hard for me – I’m still very human
read time: 6 minutes
Sometimes I really piss people off. It isn’t my intention. My intention is to change people’s thinking because my life improved when I changed my own.
How do I piss people off?
Well, I tell them that I believe happiness is a choice. And that it comes from within.
I have heard clichés all my life:
- “Money doesn’t buy happiness”
- “You can’t be happy with somebody else until you’re happy with yourself”
And some clichés are clichés for a reason. Alright, enough with the word cliché.
I spent most of my life thinking that happiness is a result of external things. “I will be happy when…”
I remember even catching myself thinking “My life will start when…” and the ends of those sentences were usually things related to accomplishments, achievements, or results.
Research has shown that when people win the lottery, their happiness spikes only temporarily, and returns to where it was before they won after only a few months.
So, my belief that I would become happy once I hit these external milestones was only true for a short while, and then I was immediately focused on the next “gap” (between where I was and where I wanted to be).
So…I believe that happiness is a choice. It is about what we focus on. And daily or regular rituals.
My Own Happiness
And that brings me to this month. Hanoi, Vietnam. Some of you may already know, I am traveling around the world this year with a program called Remote Year.
As I write this, I sit in the Toong Coworking Space in Hanoi, Vietnam. I have been here about 3 weeks. And I have struggled here.
As somebody who is very introspective, I often look for the “why” – and I have come up with many possibilities.
“Maybe it’s the weather. It’s rainy season, and I miss seeing the sun.”
“There’s so much honking and noise here – I’m not used to that – is that why I have a headache?”
“I’m not sleeping very consistently. Working with the East Coast, I often have meetings until midnight and then more meetings at 7am – I want to get better sleep.”
“People don’t seem to smile at me much here. Is that because I’m not smiling as much as I normally do? Or is that because it’s more of an ‘American’ thing to do, and most people in this culture save smiles for friends and family?”
“I’m launching a new product and spending a lot of time in a new space where I often feel incompetent. Is that wearing me out?”
“Am I missing ‘home’ (wherever that is now) more than I realize? Am I homesick?”
The reality, probably, is that it is all these things.
And I remind myself of my own belief – “I choose my happiness.” Sometimes I put reminders out there in the world, presumably for others’ benefit, and really, I’m the one who wants the reminder.
I am not happy all day every day, but I am happy every day.
And it has been hard here in Hanoi. I have experienced lots of emotions. Happiness and excitement, confusion and fear, anger and frustration. I’ve cried, I’ve laughed. And, honestly, I have said, “This f—king city” on more than one occasion.
I don’t share all of this because I want to be negative about Hanoi. I don’t actually blame Hanoi. I mean, even if I don’t like it, it doesn’t mean it’s not a great city. It’s about preference, season, all kinds of variables. Maybe it isn’t my favorite, at this point in time.
But that’s not even the point.
The point is that I still choose my happiness. Every minute of every day, I can choose my thoughts and how I want to look at the world.
“Maybe it’s the weather. …” – Or I focus on the fact that I have a lovely reprieve from the heat of Thailand.
“I’m not sleeping very consistently. …” Or I focus on how fortunate I am to have flexibility in my schedule, that I can choose to take daytime naps, or even be grateful for the safe, comfortable bed I have to sleep in each night.
“People don’t seem to smile at me much here. …” Or I focus on the people who DO smile at me or take the opportunity to smile even bigger and bring a moment of joy (and possibly confusion) to a stranger.
“I’m launching a new product and spending a lot of time …” Or I focus on how freaking cool our new product is, take credit for the courage it requires to do, and feel excited about how much I will learn in the process.
“Am I missing ‘home’ (wherever that is now)…” Or I focus on how many people from “home” still reach out to me, connect with me, care about me, and how I have pieces of home here with me, and how many new people I have to connect with where I am.
Don’t Judge Your Feelings
The last thing I want you or anybody to do is judge yourself for your feelings, or try to pretend they aren’t there (that’s like trying to hold a big beach ball underwater – it takes a lot of energy, and doesn’t last – the ball (feelings) will pop up, usually when you’re not ready for it and in a way you’re not prepared for).
What I am suggesting is that by acknowledging and welcoming whatever feelings are present, you then create space to shift your focus. Don’t ignore the negative feelings and emotions. Surface the thoughts that are driving the emotions. Acknowledge them. Then give the metaphorical megaphone to the helpful voices of gratitude and appreciation.
Sometimes it’s hard for me. This month has felt hard. I have had a lot of ups and downs. I like to write a lot, and when I was processing this morning, this was part of what I wrote (stream of consciousness, so a lot of “ands” – btw – I almost NEVER share this type of writing with other people):
I choose to be happy. I choose happiness. Happiness chooses me. I have a really good life. I am grateful for all that I have. I love that I get to explore this world and decide that I don’t like this city. That is good for me to see and to know. And I will choose to be happy. I am determined to be happy. I will not let other things or other people take my happiness away. It is mine and I own it. I choose it and it chooses me. Me and happiness will live together forever. My happiness may leave me but I always know that it will come back. Sometimes it takes a vacation; sometimes I reach out and I don’t hear back from it as quickly as I want to. But I always know that it will come back to me. It will reach back. It will return. It always returns. And it is my confidence that the happiness will always come back to me that keeps me in a good place even when it goes away for a moment. The second I remind myself and feel clear that happiness is not far away, I make myself right, and the happiness comes back to me. And then we are together again, and I feel at peace. Me and happiness – we go way back. It is never far. And I love it and I am grateful for it. And I will use it and it will keep me where I want to be. It moves me forward. I love my happiness. I love my joy.
And my day has been better ever since. Man, the brain is a powerful tool. Just gotta keep learning how to use it…. 😀