Here is what I learned about happiness from traveling to 110 countries, with my coaching + lifestyle business in tow:
1. Life is not fair
Life was never meant to be fair. As children, we innocently believed that we were created equal, that life was supposed to be fair. It’s not. Accepting this makes us beautifully human, rather than victims of our lives, and this sets us free.
2. Re-inventing oneself is necessary
I’ve had 13 career overhauls from engineering to humanitarian aid, from digital marketing to psychotherapy. People said I was crazy for leaving lucrative jobs, starting my own business, and taking it on the road to 50+ countries. Today I live happy and free, while they still debate how crazy I am. Who’s the crazy one now?
3. Friendship makes the world go round
Family extends far beyond DNA. I met an Indian colleague in California. Little did I know that a year later, I’d visit her in New Dehli, on the way to Nepal to meet up with my South Korean friend whom I met in NYC. On the return flight, I stopped in London for the wedding of an Austrian roommate I had while working in Rwanda. Friends are everywhere, pick and choose them wisely. They can make or break your happiness.
Chitwan National Park, Nepal 2008 © Ellany Lea
4. Shenanigans outweigh accolades
I went on an elephant ride in the Nepalese Chitwan National Park. My best friend had to pee, so she climbed down the elephant and squatted in the jungle. Suddenly a rhinoceros appeared a few meters behind her. Do you have any idea how effin’ rare that is?!? They’re known to charge forcefully. So our guide gestured to her to move ever so slowly. Talk about being caught with your pants down. I laughed so hard I almost fell off the elephant. That’s what I’ll remember most when I die, not all my degrees and accolades.
I laughed so hard I almost fell off the elephant backward.
5. Awe is better than coffee
I don’t drink coffee, nor alcohol. My Marianopolis and Mcgill classmates can attest to that. Instead. Instead, I buy awe. In the Okavango Delta of Botswana, I heard rustling and saw big shadows outside my tent one night. I thought I was hallucinating from the anti-malaria pills. In the morning, when I noticed the heap of elephant dung near the corner of our tent, I realized that an elephant used our tent pole as a scratching post. What if it had sat down?!? Awe. I call that pure awe. Awe feeds happiness.
6. School doesn't teach about life
School set me up for career success, but it never taught me about rising strong after a big failure, self-compassion after a big mistake, or self-care before an irreversible burn out. Those are all things I had to learn in counselling, coaching, psychotherapy, business mentoring and leadership training. School doesn’t teach happiness, nor was it meant to. Happiness is a personal choice. Happiness is a result of practice.
7. Heartbreak AND GRIEF AREs part of growing up
A while back, I set out on a 16-country in 16 weeks freedom tour. By the third country, my dad passed away shockingly suddenly. It cost a fortune to fly home for his funeral and airlines showed less then zero sympathy. Grief annihilated all my business campaigns and upcoming projects. All part of growing up, I guess. The road to happiness is often interwoven with the deepest of sorrows.