Roam & Ramble: Contentment is an Unlimited Treasure

This porter didn’t know what he was getting into!

Happiness is an amorphous and elusive ideal that many of us pursue and it can represent something different to each of us. Some think money or power will help to achieve this or even a new car or piece of jewelry. I was one of these hopeful people, trying to fill an empty space in my heart with material things. Over the years, I have yearned for happiness and some moments have been darker than others.

Besides childhood, my happiest moments have occurred within the last year. My life now is completely opposite of what I strived to build in the past. I literally had every one of my heart’s desires, but I still wasn’t happy. Through this journey I have been on, I have learned one of the secrets of happiness.

A friend recently shared an Arab proverb with me, Alkan’a kanz la yafn, contentment is an unlimited treasure. This perfectly sums up, what I feel, many people are missing. The idea is to be satisfied with what you have. The important piece here is realizing that the things bringing joy into your heart aren’t things at all.

Three times in the last two years I have had to dramatically downsize my possessions. The first, and most tumultuous, was when I vacated my four-bedroom house into a one-bedroom apartment a third of the size. The house was full of stuff that I thought was imperative to my happiness. I left at least three quarters of my belongings behind, but I didn’t feel sad. I felt uplifted because I, albeit unknowingly, was making the first steps towards contentment.

The second shedding happened when I moved to England, almost a year ago, in December of 2017. I had two suitcases and a backpack in which to put all of the necessary items. This was a bit more difficult, to my surprise at the time. When I think of it now, it makes all the sense in the world. When you have less, each item means a little bit more. Everything that I had in my apartment was hand-picked, curated for my use and enjoyment. My partner was a great help in assisting me to pare down what I was bringing, all during Skype calls.

Eventually, I ended up with two suitcases that I had to sit on to close, an overstuffed backpack and carrying two winter coats in my arms. I ended the lease on the apartment and gave my car to my parents to care for. At this point, I really started to learn what it means to be happy with what you have. A sense of freedom was another effect that I was feeling. I wasn’t missing any of the things I left behind, even my beloved car.

More recently, upon the start of our travels, I needed to downsize into 60-liter backpack and a small, school sized backpack. Below are 5 tips about packing that I wish I knew before starting on our journey:

1. Pick a backpack a size smaller than you think you need. Your back will thank you, I wish that I had done this.

2. Create a “capsule wardrobe”. Bring pieces that mix and match and be aware of how heavy each item is.

3. Don’t bring anything that you would be upset about losing, besides your passport, computer, phone and sanity. In India, we had a pair of my partners swimming shorts drying on the balcony and in the morning, they were gone and nowhere to be found! We suspect a cow ate them.

4. Be aware of the local customs where you are visiting. Many of the places we have been so far appreciate men and women covering their shoulders and knees.

5. Let it go! I guarantee that you will not miss that item that you think you must bring. You will be grateful for a lighter backpack or space for something truly useful.

Now, after seven months of traveling, I have a much better understanding of being content with less. However, it hasn’t come from what I have packed in my bag. Especially in India, I have witnessed stunning poverty. Many people only have what is on their back and probably can’t relate to our privileged life of luxury. I feel incredibly grateful to be having this experience. There is no tangible item that could replace the things I have seen and the people I have met. I feel happy to have what I do, and it is still more than I need.

The point here is this, happiness will come from focusing less on the things you have and more on the simple joy of life. If you are reading this, you are likely more fortunate than many people in the world. Be thankful for what you have, donate what you don’t use and give back to people who are in need. Even if you aren’t going to live out of a backpack for an extended period of time, try to lighten your load.