Although the New Year is already a couple of weeks old, I’m still thinking about how I love the nostalgic last days of the old and first days of the New Year. As someone who over-thinks even the smallest words and gestures for decades, I’m glad it’s justified to cling to memories from the past year on the days before New Year’s Eve — and be hopeful during the first days and weeks of January. I’m usually more the
pessimistic realistic type, but the idea of a fresh start never ceases to motivate me.
In many ways, 2015 was a year about growing up for me. Not only, because I was excited to receive new living room curtains and silverware as Christmas gifts (lame, I know), but because personally, I experienced the most stable year of my twenties yet: Same city, same apartment, same job, same boyfriend, same grocery shopping routine.
But what would have sounded scary to me a few years ago, doesn’t anymore, because I’ve now seen that I can still have adventures and international travel even as my life is becoming more and more fixed: I traveled to seven (!) countries and eight different German states in 2015. I saw three new countries and with my trips to Jordan and Turkey, I got a first intriguing glimpse of the Middle East, a whole new region of the world for me. I drank coffee on the lowest point on earth and on the highest mountain in the German Alps. I returned to my favorite European (coffee) capitals Berlin, London, and Paris, and fell in love with them even more.
I swam in the Dead Sea, the Red Sea, and the Mediterranean. I visited one of my favorite German cities, Hamburg, on three different occasions. I walked across glowing hot sand and on the ice of a glacier. I flew over the Alps, the Greek islands, and the North Sea. I slept in a hostel bunk bed, in a 5 star hotel suite, in friends’ guest rooms, and on overnight buses, trains, and air planes. I read “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed the train to Berlin, I read “The Girl on the Train” by Paula Hawkins on the banks of the Seine in Paris, I read “How to not Travel the World” by Lauren Juliff by the pool in Turkey, I read “Me before You” by Jojo Moyes on a road trip through Bavaria.
I still don’t have a closet or more than five proper shirts to wear, but I don’t care, because I prioritized travel in 2015 and thus got to stroll along the Canal Saint Martin on a hot summer night in Paris. I got to see Botticelli’s Birth of Venus in Florence, I got to drink all of the flat whites in London, and I saw the candle-lit Treasury in Petra under the clearest starry desert spring night. 2015 was downright an amazing year in travel.
Looking back emotionally though, life was a roller coaster ride in 2015. I thought I had overcome the urges to weep in public and all those moments of anxiety that 20-something life comes with. But there were times when I was truly devastated in 2015: Sometimes due to outer circumstances — losing a family member and our family dog, who had been my best furry friend for 17 years — sometimes due to feeling lonely and unaccomplished in a world full of flawless online self-representation. Not matter how many times I reminded myself that comparison is the thief of joy, I often couldn’t help feeling like I don’t belong.
Throughout 2015, I learned that the toughest question to ask yourself (and anyone else) is: “When was the last time you were really utterly happy?”
It’s tough to think about happiness like that, but it’s also so eye-opening, because the weird thing with happiness is that you only recognize it in retrospect: While doing my undergrad for example, I was often stressed about my workload with classes and part-time jobs — but looking back, those were the best years. I don’t even know where all the energy came from to attend way more lectures than I had to, learn extra languages, work two part time jobs, and have a great social life. Why is it so hard to see that all the little daily drama (like a roommate who forgot to soak her cereal bowl before going on vacation) isn’t even worth mentioning later?
I know now that back then I was happy, because I had great friends, because I was challenged at university, because I was busy. It took me until last year to understand that my happiness needed just that. I know it sounds like a cliché, but happiness doesn’t come with money. Or passport stamps. Or likes for the new profile picture.
2015 taught me that the recipe for my personal happiness is spending time with the right people, constant learning, and the feeling that I have things to do — no matter if that means assignments, or a world map with places I still have to see.
So, what were times I was really utterly happy in 2015?
When my mom and I roamed the streets of Florence in the most gorgeous spring sunshine trying to find the best gelato. When Amanda, Ashley, Jessica and I were on the back of a 4×4 in the dunes of Jordan’s Wadi Rum singing songs from Disney’s Aladdin at the top of our lungs, in awe of the beauty we had encountered there together. When I introduced my boyfriend Steffen to London and watched him falling in love with it too. When I sat in a little park in the Marais reading a book in the sun, not for a second stressing myself out about (not) sightseeing in Paris. When I hosted more visitors than ever before and saw them get excited over my breakfast displays or cute little nooks in my little German home town. When Steffen and I went on our first real beach vacation and our days consisted of reading, beaching, and swimming. When I returned to Southern Germany and realized that even though I haven’t lived there in decades, I still feel at home there.
Even though this list of my happiest moments in 2015 might imply that travel is the thing that makes me happy, I’ve understood that it’s actually sharing great experiences with (the right) people that is the most valuable thing for me — and filling my mind with beautiful things like art and words, not TV shows and social media.
It just takes people, challenges, beauty, and sunshine every now and then. It really is that easy.
Unlike what pop culture, social media, and Hollywood tell you: Happiness is not the grand moments with an orchestra composition in the background, or an epic proposal video with a million clicks on YouTube.
Happiness is the little things that just feel right. That’s why I will try to focus more on the things that make me happy in 2016. I want to spend time with the right people, I want to educate myself through reading, through art, through travel — and spend less time watching TV and stalking Instagram feeds.
I want to enjoy even smallest moments: Like having a perfectly ripe fruit for breakfast. Like after-work cocktails at the local beach bar on a summery Thursday night. Extended lunch breaks with hilarious co-workers. The way the November sun shines into my kitchen in exactly the right angle. The first strawberry of the season. A flawless sunset. A perfect coffee. The smell of summer rain on warm pavement. A talented busker.
Here’s to hoping that 2016 will be happier, because I finally learned that I won’t find happiness by longing for another life — but by being present, content, creative, and constantly inspired by people, travel, and beauty.
When was the last time you were truly happy?