“So my dear, what are you doing about this depression?” My doctor asks me.
I’m laying on my back on a cold table, with only a thin gown covering me, preparing for my annual women’s exam; I feel vulnerable, and a little surprised. Of course, I knew I was sad, and I thought about lying on my pre-appointment form that I filled out on my mental health, but some small part of me told you not to. “Is the weight gain because of your depression?” My doctor continued.
Man, like a 1-2 punch.
“I’m doing yoga, I’m trying to find a nice therapist, I didn’t like my last one,” I mumble, a little embarrassed, “And yea, I’ve gained some weight because of the depression.”
She launches into telling me about a wonderful therapist she knows, gives me a recommendation, and some advice on healthy eating. I look at my stomach rise and fall and will it to lay flat as she talks.
I’m not 100% convinced I have depression. I’ve always “run sad” as I call it throughout my life. A low-grade unhappiness that doesn’t seem bad enough to do anything about. Especially, when you consider my life.
I have a wonderful life, an amazing family, a supportive boyfriend, a beautiful house with two cute dogs, a steady job, an exercise routine that I love, and a passion for traveling that I get to live out. I should be happy.
But it’s been years of my mom telling me that happiness is within, and my amazingly supportive boyfriend sitting me down one night and telling me all he wants is for me to be happy, to maybe admit to myself that I have a problem.
The only real time that I feel true happiness is when I’m traveling. Yes, I feel content when I’m with my family or my boyfriend, but thoughts always creep in when I’m thinking about my job or my body. Something about getting out of my routine and exploring a new city makes me truly happy. But I don’t want to live life in short bursts of happiness every 3 months when I travel.
I want to carry that happiness that happens when I travel in my everyday life.
After that appointment I made another appointment with a therapist, ordered 5 books on happiness, began limiting my time on social media, and tried to go outside more. I also began planning a trip to Colombia. Which is now impossible because of COVID-19.
I’m a problem solver, and this is a problem that I am going to solve.
I began asking myself, what is it about traveling that makes me so happy? Maybe if I could bottle that experience and apply it to my life in Florida, things would be better.
So, why does travel make me happy? After brainstorming, this is what I’ve come up with:
1. Experiencing and exploring somewhere new
Life is filled with routine. The more and more fantastic tv shows I watch about AI, and the more I live life, I realize that life is a series of routines. Get up. Eat. Work. Eat. TV. Bed. Sometimes when I get to the end of the week I can’t even differentiate between my days. Because they are all the same.
Sure, every now and again I may try a new restaurant or go for a bike ride in a new neighborhood, but for the most part, my life seems like an endless loop that I’m stuck in and can’t get out of.
Traveling gets me out of my loop. Because, everything is different when you travel. Your surroundings, your food, your activities, and as a result, your mindset changes. Your brain is on overdrive, and you feel awake. The fog has lifted and you’re in a new world filled with color and sounds and sites.
Maybe it’s just me, but I feel infinite, I feel alive when I travel.
2. Getting out of my own mind
I’m constantly in my mind. When I was single I would go to the beach and have three-hour long conversations with myself. I have a rich inner monologue, and as a result, I never feel lonely.
On the flip side, I am constantly thinking about things like I don’t like my job, I miss my family, I’m too fat, I’m not smart, I’m poor, I’m not doing enough, the list goes on and on.
This negative inner talk is something I’ve read about in some self-help books, and it is destructive. And believe me, I know this. I know that you have to love yourself before you love anyone else, that you have to be kind to yourself, that I would never think or say things that I say to myself to anyone else. Because I care too much about people’s feelings. So, why do I say these things to myself?
But when I travel, the self-talk seems to get more positive. After all, I am doing something. I got on a plane, I went out to eat at a new restaurant, I explored a new city, I did so much! I can navigate a city by myself! I’m good at planning and loving a new place.
My negative talk is not only replaced by thoughts of my success, but also on the wonder of everything that I am seeing. Instead of hearing another story about Trump or everything bad in America, I am hearing and processing beauty and wonder. I am figuring out a new city and gathering as much information about the culture as I can. Everything seems beautiful, even the bad things.
3. Deep gratitude
And this leads me to this feeling of deep gratitude that I have when I travel. I have so many things to be thankful for in my daily life. But, they are always there. And when they are always there, you start to take them for granted, you do, its human nature.
When my grandad passed away, I was struck by how thankful I was to have him in my life, and a terrible sadness that the only time I would hear his voice again was through old voicemails. Did I take his phone calls for granted when he was alive? Maybe a little bit. Yes, I was thankful for him, but maybe not enough.
When I’m in a new place, I don’t take one second for granted. I soak up the world around me like a sponge. Bad food is fine because I’m somewhere new. The wait in this line is great because I have something fun to look at. The bus ride is amazing because of the scenery. I’m so grateful that I am in this place, and everything around me seems better.
So, the question becomes, after this self-examination, how do you experience new things, get out of your own mind, and practice deep gratitude in your daily life? How do you carry your travel-happiness with you in your 9-5 (or in my case my 8-8)?
To be honest, I don’t have the answer yet.
I am working on switching up my routine. I built and painted a pergola for my backyard this week, and spent a lot of time outside. In the afternoons, I started taking my dog for walks around the neighborhood, switching up our route, and appreciating the new houses that I saw.
I’m taking time to think about how to make my daily life more enjoyable and ordered some new YA novels to read, an amazing guilty pleasure. After texting my sister I got my favorite coffee recipe and bought an espresso machine so I have my favorite coffee every day. In other words, I’m trying to do more things that bring me joy, and get me out of my routine. A new TV show, a new blog post, a different yoga class, just something to keep my brain awake.
I also bought a subscription to calm to meditate more, and pinned a bunch of daily affirmations to my Pinterest wall. Every time I pass by a mirror, I tell myself that I am beautiful. When my mind goes crazy, I try to quiet it. I thank myself for little tasks that I can accomplish, and practice kindness with myself.
Lastly, I think about 5 things every day that I am thankful for. Sometimes it’s a good hair day or a good conversation with a friend, others it’s my mom or my boyfriend or the fact that I can walk. Throughout the day I try to be more grateful for what I have. I focus on the positive aspects of my job and myself and let the negative thoughts rest.
I’m practicing these things to save my life. I don’t want to wake up at 70 and wonder where my life went. Yes, maybe I’ll visit 100 countries by the time I’m 70, but if I lived the rest of my life in a fog, in a half-life in between those trips, that is no kind of life.
So I am working, seriously working and sweating and pulling myself up. I can’t just let it go. Because, this is my life.
This is my pursuit of happiness, in travel and in life.