Today I'm down in my shack, thinking.
Which was why I built it, so that’s working out well.
It's made of stone and timber, sits below the bank dropping off to our slough, and has a foot of dirt on the roof. That makes it out of reach of the house WiFi and my cellphone only gets about half a bar.
There are many people, decent people, who would see that as a huge downside. I am not one of them.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not a hermit. I look forward to the time when we have more than three days between blizzards and people can stop in for a chat without worrying about being snowed in until spring. But being out of reach of the wonders of the internet is not only good for my peace of mind, it's marvelous for productivity.
What I'm thinking about right now is a section of a book I'm reading about finding happiness, which a lot of people have trouble doing. Shoot, people can't even seem to agree on what happiness is, which is also a topic in the book.
It’s titled, “The Geography of Bliss,” by Eric Weiner. In it, he travels to an assortment of countries seeking the secret of happiness. He spends time in Bhutan, a small, poor country in the mountains that is considered the model for Shangri-La, where people have very little but certainly seem content. Then he heads to Qatar, which floats on an ocean of natural gas and by some standards is the richest country in the world. There he discovers money doesn't necessarily buy happiness. A lot of us knew that already.
From there he goes to Iceland - during the winter. In variety of surveys, Iceland is rated one of the happiest countries in the world. The author lives in Miami, so he figures that if he can find any happy people in Iceland, in the winter, he'll really be onto something.
He loves it there. Loves the people, the terrain, the size of Reykjavik, all of it.
Well, not all of it. He's not a huge fan of the fermented shark meat and icy sidewalks, but the rest is great. He even slowly becomes a fan of the winter darkness. Going out the door into a dark morning makes him feel like a dairy farmer getting an early start on the day, never mind that it's 10:30 and he's headed for brunch.
What he's especially smitten by is the large number of people who try out so many different careers. Fisherman, banker, musician...the average Icelander is willing to take a whack at almost anything. Of course, that leads to a lot of incompetent bankers and marginal musicians, but that seems to be okay. There's no shame in failing.
There's no shame in failing.
The only shame comes from not trying, from not being willing to take a chance. One of the people he interviews feels that happiness comes, in part, from being able to say, “Why not?” when a truly rational person would step back, take a look around, and think of many, many reasons.
It made me think of something I wrote years ago about a trip to western Iowa to pick up a litter of baby pigs to raise into breeding stock. To save on gas money, I was driving an old Chevette we used to run for parts, and I'd made a tiny pen in the back for the pigs. I'd forgotten that while the pigs were little they were, in fact, still pigs, and the smell was soon pervasive. Be that as it may, I'd just finished a long harvest season. For weeks at a time, if I was upright with my eyes open, I was working. But not that day. That day I was on the road free and clear. I found myself singing “Born to be Wild” along with the radio. A truly self-aware person might have seen me as others did – a beat up farmer driving the cheapest car in America through Iowa, with a hatchback full of smelly baby pigs. That thought occurred to me later, but in that moment, I had my head back, bellowing, “...like a true nature's child I was born, born to be wild...” and you know what?
I was happy.
Copyright Brent Olson 2023