What Makes You Happy?
I’ve been cycling through Dutch tulip fields. This was something I’ve always wanted to do, but never made the time. After all, Holland is a long, long way from New Zealand. BUT – over the last year I’ve had three friends diagnosed with cancer. All are doing fine, and are in good health, but it was a wake-up call. You know how we always say: ‘one day I’ll do …’. Well, this year I decided to make one day = some day.
The Benefits of Flowers, Travel and Appreciating Small Things
Holland, being flat, is an ideal destination for a cycling holiday. The towns and villages are close together, so refreshment is always close. The coffee is good, and the beer is better. And because everyone cycles, most drivers are well behaved.
Although Holland is a small, densely packed country, it has wild places; strips of water and fields of wildfowl: swans, geese, ducks. We surprised a few herons fishing beside the cycle trails; they flew away with long, graceful wing strokes when we came too close. The sun, though not hot, was warm enough, especially when we biked fast, into the wind.
The tulip fields were amazing, of course. Long strips of bright colour, and so densely planted it was like some heavenly painter had stooped down to paint the land. But what I hadn’t expected was the hyacinths! Spring hyacinths have a gorgeous scent, and so strong that to stand downwind felt like standing beside a perfumery. And a flower festival in a country church was so steeped in spring bulbs that to stay there too long was to invite a headache.
Scent is something that’s difficult to explain in words; it’s one of those things you have to experience to fully understand. Like flowers, and the wild birds flying. But like flowers and travel and wild birds, the smell of flowers makes me happy.
Happiness is ephemeral. The result, textbooks say, of neurotransmitters like serotonin and adrenaline. A byproduct of our environment; a positive stimulus. Marketers exploit our craving for happiness. ‘Buy this,’ they say, ‘and you will get laid/look good/be rich.’ But happiness is rarely found in impressing others. For me, happiness is in appreciating small, wonderful things — the graceful flight of a wild bird, the sight of fields of flowers, the warmth of spring sunshine.
I don’t know why I had to travel to the other side of the world to understand this. Perhaps that’s the point in travel — because everything is new and different, you notice it more.
So the main thing I learned from travel is to stop, and to take notice. To watch, to wonder and inhale.