Monday, April 16, 2007

Expectations of Happiness

I have been absent for a few days because we finally took a trip to Istanbul. Above is my rendition of the Happy Bear visiting Aya Sofia. I don't actually think there is a cross on top of it but I am trying to distinguish it from the Blue Mosque in my mind. But this is a post not about Istanbul but about the expectations of Istanbul - or anything, really.

Traveling always brings me great happiness but never when I expect it. I always think that seeing something iconic will bring me happiness – and it does in a way, but not in the way I expect. When I was twelve or just turned thirteen, my parents and I did a three-week, whirlwind tour of Europe. I had ideas about the world then but not that many and mostly when I thought of Europe, I pictured the Eiffel tower. How many times had I seen images of the Eiffel tower by the age of thirteen, I wonder? Who knows but I remember that upon seeing it, I was awestruck but that as we climbed up the stairs, I was disappointed that it was painted brown, not black as I had imagined. Go figure. There I was eating Nutella filled crepes in the shadow of the Eiffel tower and I was perseverating on it being painted brown.

I enjoyed Paris on that trip but things that stay in my mind from that trip that are still vivid and magical for me are those moments of discovery whereupon I saw something I knew nothing about and my expectations could not ruin the moment. Experiencing Venice on that trip was full of magic for me. I suppose I had heard about it but at that age and in my particular circumstances, I didn’t have many conceptions of it. Streets that were rivers, beautiful bridges, and houses emerging from the sea. Not to mention my delight at the shiny purple shells my Mom and I collected at the Lido (a Colorado girl like me had no idea those were just ordinary mussel shells). Other magical moments on that first trip included a train ride in Switzerland and emerging from the depths of the underground in Budapest to see a man guarding a McDonald’s with a semiautomatic rifle of some sort.

That trip taught me quite a bit about expectations but still, expectations color so many experiences even though I ought to know better than to let them interfere. I think it is interesting to consider how our expectations influence our perception of happiness. It is easy to paint pictures in our heads of what will make us happy – the color of the light being just so, the scene a memorable one and so on. But in reality, those scenes never come to pass and it is always some other scene, one you could have never imagined where you sit back and say, “This is really nice.”

In Istanbul, it was awe inspiring to see the inside of Aya Sofia, but I was happiest in Istanbul when eating fresh fish from the Kumkapi fish market and watching the fishing boats come and go on the Marmara. But I had never even heard of that fish market – Istanbul is filled with so many wonderful places and yet, the ones that we enjoyed most were those that were unexpected for us.

An important point about happiness, I think, is that if you expect to find it somewhere, it is impossible to find it there because even if it were there to notice, it would be obscured by your expectations. I think noticing happiness requires letting go of expectations in any area or facet of life. Happiness is always there, waiting to be found or discovered but when you come at it with a template or design of your own – you might cover up the best bits!

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