Significant Somethings and the Happy Wanderer
How indulging in brief, soul-affecting moments can help you live a more fulfilled life
Buried deep beneath the minutia of the modern-day conventional life (stiflingly bogged down by pensions, 5-year life plans, and TPS reports); tucked below the growing stack of bills on the kitchen table; hidden behind the onslaught of poised selfies competing for the most likes on your newsfeed, you will find something truly, truly significant, which is begging for attention…a significant something, if you will.
It is brief and infinitesimal…and seemingly inconsequential in the moment. If you’re not paying attention, it will go unnoticed and pass you by as just another blip on the heart rate monitor. But a heartbeat is a breath of life, so each one is pretty fucking important. To skip a few could be life threatening — and so it is to go without these significant somethings.
“Letting go” for something more significant
In 2013 I sold (and by sold, I really mean gave away) nearly everything I owned (including a house, complete with a white picket fence) in search of something more significant than a pile of student debt that even my 60 hour work week couldn’t resolve. I live in the Czech Republic now. I ran away from a mortgage, my 5-year life plan, and a handful of TPS reports, because frankly, they scared the shit out of me. Using my very special talent to communicate in English (a skill I’ve been developing circa 1981), I joined The Language House to gain access into the TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) community.
Initially a tourist in this humble, lil’ city of Prague, the Czechs taught me something valuable very early into my stay. They taught me how to sit the fuck down and appreciate a sunset. Because, you see, nearly 365 days out of the year the sun and the castle consistently make sweet love to each other. And, everyone comes out to see it, because it’s visually stunning and emotionally stirring. I’d say that’s something significant, indeed.
What are these somethings?
Significant somethings are sunbeams bursting through castles. They are hot air balloons floating through a colorless sky on an otherwise dreary day and sticky trails of watermelon juice on your hands in a deep summer heat of seed-spitting fun. These significant somethings are marmalade sunbeams searing through autumn leaves at sunset, sweet scents of honeysuckles blooming in April, summer days saturating the skin in caramel warmth, and hand-stoked skewers of succulent meats at a big-fat Greek barbecue. They are unexpected free samples handed out at colorful food markets, impromptu jam sessions with strangers while camping, and naked dance parties in a low-lit kitchen after midnight. They are afterglow cookie crumbs atop crumpled sheets in the lazy haze of morning “bed peace.” They are the first five chords of your favorite song; they are the last five chords of your favorite song; they are all the middle chords of your favorite song. Hell, a significant something is your favorite song…and the blue 1989 Cutlass Oldsmobile in which you first heard it.
These significant somethings are not to be anticipated. You just happen upon them. They are spontaneous, fleeting treasures; meaningful connections with the world around you. And before you know it, you are transported to a more mindful place…where TPS reports, 5-year life plans, stacks of bills do not reside. It’s my favorite place to go. I am taking up permanent residence there…and you’re invited.
Why are they significant?
You’ve heard of them before. We often refer to them as simple pleasures, but I hardly think they are simple. While soft to the senses, they are distinct and profound to the soul if we allow ourselves to indulge in them fully. Without these little beads of momentary bliss, life truly sucks. It’s hard. It takes motivation. It’s boring and annoying. It involves “adulting” to the nth degree. And for some god-forsaken reason the laundry isn’t going to wash itself…..yet (can someone please get on this?). We need significant somethings, for they are the very essence of life.
Where do you find significant somethings?
Children are masters of seeking out significant somethings (if you don’t believe me, surprise a 4 year-old with a sticker…they love that shit for reasons my adult-amnesia has caused me to forget). They seek out sensory experiences for no other reason than the fact that it makes them smile. But kids are also irritating and gross (if you don’t believe me, watch that same 4 year-old sneeze and then wander off without wiping his nose…it’s really disgusting). So if you don’t have the pleasure (or the patience) to be surrounded by children, the next best way to discover significant somethings is to travel.
Travel & significant somethings
Ever notice a well-traveled friend’s photo album? She doesn’t want to snap pictures of your 5-year life plan (I never want to discuss your 401-k, got it?). She takes pictures of the dirty cobblestones, or her feet in the sand, or yes, even the heart of foam on top of her morning latte in all its basic cuteness. When we travel we are open to discovering these significant somethings and we allow them to make us genuinely happy. I hate to do laundry at home, but when I travel I notice that laundry days are really fucking colorful. And, who would have thought that doing laundry was so beautiful? The tourist thought so, that’s who.
As a tourist, you love everything you see. You marvel at the child in red galoshes happily chasing after pigeons for a solid 20 minutes in Vienna, Austria. Her happiness becomes yours. You pause to take a picture of Greek Mama rolling pastry in her kitchen in Volos (because homemade Greek food is a wonder to be captured!). You appreciate witnessing the neighborly chat on a London street corner, because it feels so casually friendly in an otherwise dauntingly big city. You relish the homemade apple juice being pressed by a local Czech in her countryside cottage, because it mirrors the nectar of the Gods. You yearn for the affection of two lovers talking side by side amidst music festival beats. You are given permission to find joy in sidewalk graffiti and pleasure from a worker fixing his truck. Ruined walls become beautiful disasters. How Amazing!
As a tourist you are inundated with significant somethings, to the extent that your senses are perpetually alight with new colors, sounds, tastes, and smells. You feel inclined to trade sunflowers with a small child in the park. You get excited about a bike ride through the neighborhood. You eagerly accept conversation from anyone, happily chatting with the stranger at the bar. You say “yes” to propositions that you otherwise wouldn’t (and probably still shouldn’t…Fuck it, they make for really incredible stories).
How to live like the happy tourist
Inevitably, you must pause your own travels, because the rent demands attention. And in between your planned holidays, the post-travel blues leave you totally dejected. Life goes on. TPS reports resume. You impatiently push past and eye-roll the cheerful tourist on your way to work.
Tourists get such a bad rap. Their selfie sticks are stupid. Their slow saunter is annoying. They never know how to operate the subway ticket machine. But, I’m always envious of the happy tourist, a bit too overjoyed by the cramped tram ride into the city center (isn’t tram #5 just a vessel for body odor, anyway?)
God bless the tourist and their childlike wonder for the tiny details of your pretty city. I’m quite sure that if you handed a tourist a sticker in this moment, you would witness a 4-year-old-level of joy, because the tourist finds your daily life fascinating (and it is!). And, aren’t we all just waiting for our next paycheck anyway, so that we, too, can indulge in stinky tram rides around foreign cities?
After several years of living in Prague, I’m no longer a tourist, but a resident, with a pile of dirty laundry again.
While it’s true that travel might be the most conducive activity for experiencing significant somethings, you don’t really need to leave your city in order to engage the senses with profound pleasures. But, you do need to possess a travel mindset. You must be open to the possibility of finding adventure in the ordinary.
At this very moment, your seemingly mundane neighborhood is someone else’s significant something.
I don’t own many material possessions anymore. But I have a “mind-full” of significant somethings to reflect on during my most difficult days. Nostalgia personified, these significant somethings bring me as much happiness in recalling them as I received when they were first experienced. Significant somethings never lose value (unlike the collection of overpriced candles and other useless crap I sold for mere quarters on a street corner to a handful of desperate hagglers).
So, go out there. Find your significant something for the day. Because time — the most important, non-renewable resource you possess — is running out! You don’t need a plane ticket to do it. You don’t need an excuse to rent a bike. You just need a few heartbeats. And, in the idle minutes of your day-to-day routine, may you indulge in these soul-affecting significant somethings, no matter where you are around the globe and live a much more fulfilled life.
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