Happiness Multiplies

May Canopy In the Park


I just got back from a walk to the park, to drop off a couple more books for the unemployed old guy (the Book Man) at the park entrance steps who sells them for 2 euros a go. This makes me happy for a start – the books get back into the world, my great unstuffing continues, he gets something for redistributing them, plus he gave me hearty thanks as usual.

The park was vibrantly green, the full spring trees shining in the sun – it was impossible not to smile as I walked into all that natural abundance! More happiness!

And the rose garden was so exploding with new roses that I decided to thank the two ladies that work in it all year round, tending the rose beds for this grand moment of blooming glory every May.

They were weeding and chatting, and as usual I changed my mind 3 times about saying anything as I approached them, walked past, then thought, “Hey, go on, don’t be scared!”

So I turned back, politely interrupted them, and said, “I just wanted to say thank you for all your hard work, the rose garden is stunning, it gets better every year!” To which they responded with their own thank you’s and two huge smiles! More happiness for them and me!

On the way back out of the park, the Book Man pointed to his wares laid out on the wall. “Your books – Gone already!” he said, “Sold both for 8 euros!” As they were big coffee table books, he’d sold them for double the price, both books to one man.

More happiness for him, more happiness for me, and more happiness to the guy who got two beautiful photography books for a great deal!

If my morning stroll were mathematics, it might look like this:

Giving something away + beautiful walk in nature + daring to thank strangers = Happiness multiplied!

3 monks on the living room floor

3 Monks from Plum Village, before a Mindfulness Workshop

Recently, 3 monks from Plum Village came to sleep on our living room floor. We were helping them organise mindfulness workshops in Madrid, and they said, ‘don’t worry, we sleep anywhere’. We learned a lot in the week they were here!

On their first day in Madrid, a saturday, with no workshops organised they wanted to check out the city. We left home after a very long, slow breakfast, and started to walk very, very slowly across town. My son said, “this looks like walking meditation”. It felt like it too.

We crossed Madrid’s big Retiro park, stopping on the way through at the citizen vegetable patch, where Brother Patience, an expert gardener, was asked his opinion on whether or not to snap the flower heads off onions, then proceeded very, very slowly towards the Prado museum.

Deciding to return there later when entry was free, we walked very very slowly through the old city centre (stopping to check out a church for a while on the way) towards a favourite vegetarian restaurant where we had a very long, very slow lunch.

Then we went to the big Reina Sofia modern art gallery for a couple of hours, followed by another few hours in the Prado museum, and finally the slow walk home.

That’s three times more than I ever achieve on an average saturday, yet we left home late in the morning and did everything at a snail’s pace!

I usually run round like a crazy person all day, never stopping, and achieve about one thing. So big lesson number one, just what the hare and the tortoise fable tried to show us when we were young: there’s no hurry!

Though it often returns… half way around the Prado Museum part of the day, overdosing on art, I nipped out of the museum for a tea in a nearby cafe. “Quick! I’ve got about 25 minutes,” I thought, and starting rushing down a side street – then suddenly I caught myself… “Hello habit energy!” … and slowed right down to monk-pace again. “There’s no hurry, there’s no hurry,” I whispered to myself, and wandered slowly, smiling, towards the cafe.

Unstuffing: How to avoid getting more stuff in the future?

Seeing as the simplification/un-‘stuffing’ process takes so long, I’m increasingly keen not to have to go through this again and again in the future. “It’s impossible,” says my brother-in-law, “things just keep pouring into the home, you just can’t help it – clothes, gadgets, toys…”

“Yes,” replies my wife, “I went shopping the other day to get one pair of shoes for our son, and came back with 3 bags – the shoes, plus a pair of trousers and 2 shirts – 3 times what I originally went out to get!”

The solution I’ve hit upon, is two-fold:

First of all: One in, One out. If I get a new book, one has to go from the shelves, if I buy a new sketchbook, an old one has to go (“…but you have to keep all your old sketchbooks to see your artistic development” says the voice in my head that really belongs to everyone else on the planet that likes drawing…) I realise this is going to be hard.

Secondly: And More importantly… I’m going to really think carefully about buying, accepting, or in any way acquiring any new stuff! I’m going to ask the question, “do I really need this?” whenever the temptation arises to bring something new into my life – be it a book, a gadget, a hobby, a project, a dream. Will it really make me any happier than enjoying what I’ve already got?

This applies to giving other people things too, like birthday presents. If I give someone a book, I’m putting pressure on them to read and give me feedback on it! If I give them an object, they have to find somewhere to keep it! As I get rid of the overwhelming amount of stuff in my own life, I don’t want to impose stuff on others.

My wife thinks the best present is homemade food, which gives great pleasure, and then is gone – I think she may be right.

What do I actually need to be happy?

As I go through the massive simplification/un-‘stuffing’ process, lots of interesting questions have come up.

For example, what does one actually need in life to be happy?

Certainly not all that stuff. As I reduce and reduce, I’ve been thinking forward to a point where I’m left with the bare essentials. It seems to me that I really only need:

:: Family and good friends

:: Simple food and shelter (including clothing), and work to provide/keep it

:: Nature / Contact with the natural world

:: Something creative (which can be just ‘life as a work of art’)

:: The present moment