“After weeks on the road listening to a language you don’t understand using a currency whose value you don’t comprehend, walking down streets you have never walked down before, your old ‘I’, your old story, your old habits – along with everything you ever learned is absolutely no use at all in face of these new challenges and you begin to realise that buried deep in your unconscious mind there is someone more interesting and adventurous and more open to the world and new experiences.”

excerpt from Aleph by Paulo Coelho

Do the above words resonate with you?

Have you ever found yourself returning from a holiday or an overseas business trip with a fresh take on life…?

Perhaps also a feeling of being more invigorated, more grateful, pleased that you discovered something new about yourself…?

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discover-something-new-blog2When familiarity is stripped away from us, our habits and routines along with our expectations get shaken up and can deliver fresh insights and new perspectives.

Very often I am in communities where I don’t understand a single word that is being said. And I have grown to love it. All my other senses are given a chance to take over. I observe gestures, listen to voice tone and pace and even seem to have a heightened sense of smell and taste. Try it, notice it and grab any opportunity to be in this space of unfamiliarity and watch what happens.

For many years I have been encouraging people to buy experiences and not things. Instead of saving up to buy multiple presents at Christmas, spend the same amount of money and take a family boat trip, go to a theme park, or go camping.

Make memories that you will still be talking and reminiscing about for years to come.

I was delighted when a friend shared with me that now there is science to back up my passion of experiences over things.

Recent psychological research from Cornell University in New York has confirmed that the key to happiness is through experiences rather than things. The two decade study is led by Dr Thomas Gilovich, who says that one of the key underlying differences between our value of experiences and objects is adaptation. We buy things to make us happy, and we succeed. But only for a while. New things are exciting to us at first, but then we adapt to them.

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Basically, we get used to the things we own, and over time the happiness we derive from items dwindles. On the flip side, happiness that stems from things we’ve done actually goes up as time passes because those experiences become a part of us and shape our identity. It’s why the leather coat you relentlessly requested for your 21st birthday now sits buried and forgotten somewhere beneath your bed, whereas your two-month adventure through South East Asia is still recalled often and fondly, years later. It’s also why I feel exhilarated when I remind myself of this amazing jet boat ride I had in Sydney Harbour last Christmas…see if you can spot me…

Gilovich suggests that instead of saving for the latest home movie theatre, a much sounder path to happiness is through spending your money on experiences like travel, or even outdoor activities, new skills or visiting exhibitions.

“You can really like your material stuff. You can even think that part of your identity is connected to those things, but nonetheless they remain separate from you,” says Gilovich. “In contrast, your experiences really are part of you. We are the sum total of our experiences.”

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I love it! So go on, invest in experiences, a cooking class, dance lessons, surfing lessons, volunteer.

Everyday adventures are so easy to have – eat something on the menu you have never heard of or eaten before, take a different route to work. What new things have you experienced today? This week? Shake it up. Say Yes! when you usually say No. And let the magic unfold.

Thank you so much! Love, Linda x

How can I be happy if my friends are not? Where poverty & paying it forward are synonymous.

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There are two common denominators I have observed in the people I have met and worked with in developing communities that have been traumatized by natural disasters or war.

The first is generosity. During the first few years of my humanitarian career this came as quite a shock.

Just imagine, you have lost everything, your home, your belongings and your means of earning a living. You have no financial security, no food security and no expectation that someone will come and help you. You have four young children to feed, dependent elderly relatives and a spouse.

Would you share your last bowl of rice with a hungry neighbour? Or would you keep some for tomorrow, just in case. Would you divide a meal cooked for four into 8 so that all could eat a little, without any hesitation? Would you open your home to a complete stranger?

happy_blog2Post Nepal earthquake April 2015 I have been working closely with a blind community, one of the more vulnerable segments of society. Unable to even see the new dangers created by the earthquake, moving around has gone from difficult to a nightmare. The earthquake has cut the tourist industry drastically and so their core business of massaging tired hikers and climbers has disappeared. Many of them with dependent families, none have security nets.

But everything they have is shared with joy. If only one hiker is massaged that day the masseur splits the proceeds between them all. Only enough money for two cups of chai, the mugs are passed around accompanied by grateful chatter. Collective happiness is the goal not personal happiness. ‘How can I be happy if my friends are not?, Prakash, the leader of the group explains.

happy_blog3.jpg Kindness is the second common denominator. A warm empathetic smile, a hand outstretched to help a young girl carry a heavy water bucket up the hill. Letting a tired stranger break his long journey through the mountains and shelter for the night in their home. Survival and happiness depends on looking out for each other.

I have been on the receiving end of the kindness of strangers with great regularity whilst on the frontline. Whilst engrossed in my village assessments I will feel a hand on my back, followed by a gentle massage, a cool wet cloth is wiped over my sweaty brow or I am eagerly beckoned to share a communal plate of lentils and rice. The observation of a human followed by direct need is humbling.

Everybody and everything is so deeply interconnected. Kindness glues people together. Kindness breeds more kindness in every way. You can be kind to your body, and your health will improve. You can be kind to your colleagues and your relationships with them will improve. You can be kind to your spouse, and your marriage will grow stronger. You can be kind to a stranger, and your self-esteem will increase.

In Africa there is the concept of Ubuntu – the understanding that no human exists in isolation. Translated as ‘I am only a person through other people’. Ubuntu recognises that everything one does affects others and the welfare of each is dependent on the welfare of all.

As you go about your day observe just how much we are all connected and if you get the chance to make someone’s day just that little bit better

– jump at it.