Sunday, 30 August 2015

How my solo travel to Amsterdam changed me: on happiness and determination (1)

Can a single travel abroad change us? Dora in Amsterdam - my first solo trip abroad entry tells you how wonderfully empowered I felt when I came back safely home and what makes Amsterdam an ideal pick for a female solo traveller. When I completed my first alone trip to Amsterdam I felt a sense of achievement and pride. My confidence has increased. The ability to be unencumbered by others, to see all the new places with my own eyes and at my own pace was so refreshening and liberating. I was not impeded and slowed down. I was perfectly free to do what I wanted.  My first solo trip abroad was one of the most enriching, character-and-confidence-building experiences I have ever had in my life.

When you travel on your own you have much more time to think, explore, make your little discoveries, reflect, contemplate and experience those amazingly illuminating 'aha' moments. Solo travel gives you a great deal of flexibility. You can observe and analyse things more carefully. Solo travel gives you time and mental space for introspection and self-analysis. I had many illuminating 'aha' moments along the way. I experienced them in various places, for example while strolling between plastinated specimens displayed in Gunther von Hagens' Body Worlds Exhibition, while exploring The Van Gogh Museum and Stedelijk Museum,I experienced them in Anne Frank House or even during our relaxed guided walk around the Red Lights District. I learned many lessons during my journey: I discovered a recipe for happiness, I realized the importance of determination and perseverance in achieving one's goals and potential, I redefined my relationship with contemporary art and became familiar with Stendhal syndrome. My trip to Amsterdam taught me how to live a more meaningful, purposeful and happier life. It has also shown the significance of determination in our lives.


What is happiness and how to be happy?


If you want to find the answer to these two big and fundamental questions about the attainment of human happiness and fulfilment, book a trip to Amsterdam and head in the direction of Damrak 66 where BODY WORLDS: The Happiness Project is located. It's just two-minute walk from Amsterdam's Dam Square or a five-minute walk from Amsterdam Central Station, which is accessible by train, tram, metro and bus.

Body Worlds: The Happiness Project marks an entirely new chapter in the already impressive range of Body Worlds exhibitions.

Recipe for happiness

The exhibition tells the amazing story of our bodies and the influence that the emotional phenomenon of 'happiness' has on our health. The Happiness Project is a specially-developed interactive exhibition examining what happiness is, the science behind it, and its effects on both body and mind. 
What did I learn from the project? Well, lots of interesting, eye-opening things! I am going to share my little discoveries with you now. Firstly, the project made me redefine success and the concept of successful living. I think that most of us tend to correlate success with happiness. Many people pursue success as they believe that it will make them happy. But research suggests the opposite: happiness fuels success, not the other way around. When we are positive our brains are more motivated, engaged, creative, energetic, resilient and productive. But how to stay positive? What psychological vitamins should we take in order to be happy? Research shows that thriving and happiness occur when these three needs are met:

1) Autonomy: doing what you choose.
2) Competence: doing it well.
3) Relatedness: connecting with others. 

So to cut the long story short, if you want to be successful in your life you have to learn how to maintain enthusiastic and positive attitude in the first place. When you radiate positive and happy energy you are more likely to attract and achieve success.  You can achieve state of happiness through autonomy, competence and relatedness but also through movement and action. Our body is designed to move. A complex scaffolding of muscles and bones it allows us to achieve remarkable feats of coordination and balance. Movement and excersise prompt the release of endorphins - hormones secreted in the brain that reduce pain and increase happiness. Physically active people have greater feelings of enthusiasm and excitement. Due to its many positive effects, regular exercise is a fountain of youth and tonic for happiness. Tune your body as you would a fine instrument and see how far it takes you.
Happiness like every other emotional experience is the result of electrochemical reactions in the brain brought on by stimuli. Nerve impulses produce feelings and chemical substances (neurotransmitters and hormones) act as transmitters. According to research each person is born with the potential for happiness in their genes. The happiness marker or 'set point', the natural level of happiness to which each person returns even after failures and triumphs - varies from person to person.

50% of Genetics

Our ability to be happy depends at least by half on our established marker or 'set point'. 

40% Activities 

Our ability to change our lives through our actions contributes to happiness also as much as our genes. Amazing, isn't it? We can consciously shape our own state of happiness.
Progress on our goals makes us feel happier and more satisfied with life. Interestingly, positive emotions have the potential to motivate goal-directed behaviours and volitional processes that are necessary for further goal progress or attainment. The research literature also reveals that we experience the strongest positive emotional response when we make progress on our most difficult goals. It is important to have different goals and pursue them! So set a new goal and an action plan  today. Your new goal can be anything from learning a foreign language, starting a travel blog to taking classic ballet dance course or driving lessons. The list of goals to choose from is endless. Working towards achieving our goals is extremely rewarding. But attaining the goal itself fills us with a sense of pride and achievement. That's how our small personal achievements are created - through reaching our goals. Setting goals and achieving them should become a life-long habit. It has become a new habit for me. My new short-term goals are: solo trip to Bruges this autumn and Community Interpreting Course Level 3. I have just had a pre-screen conversation with the English & Community Interpreting Lecturer this morning and I have been offered an interview on Tuesday. Wish me good luck! If things go fine I start my Community Interpreting Course next Thursday. I feel enthusiastic, thrilled and excited. I feel happy!

10% Life Conditions

Our circumstances in life - financial, physical, marital, social - have only little impact on our happiness.

Happiness is rather a state of continuous pursuit. 

Our brains are genetically programmed to be sprouting nerve cell branches that create connections with one another. These connections form pathways. If we have the same experience several times our behaviour begins to form permanent patterns while unused pathways are gradually pruned away. Due to its make-up, the brain thrives on learning and loses its agility when performing only habitual and easy tasks. Therefore just as our bodies need regular exercises our brains require challenges. Happiness can be trained too by focusing on the happy side of life. Make focusing on the bright side of life your habit. 

As illustrated in the picture above, happiness follows a U-shaped curve during a person's lifetime. We are happier when young and old and least happy in middle age. 

We tend to blame ourselves if we haven't met our standards and we often feel regret about the roads not taken. Eventually, too many choices may make us unhappy, frustrated and even mentally paralysed. No matter our circumstances, having all areas of our life - family, work, health, friendship, leisure well-balanced, gives us satisfaction. When our life balance is out of kilter we may feel resentful, disappointed or burnt out, and our physical and psychological health may suffer. 




,“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not. Genius will not. Education will not. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”
Calvin Coolidge

I have always known that persistence and determination are the key factors in achieving one's potential and dreams. But my visit to Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam only confirmed and strenghtened my faith in the omnipotence of persistence and determination. Van Gogh has become my new role model and an inspiration. He was an indisputable genius, an extraordinarily gifted painter and an extremely driven and persistent individual. I was surprised to find out that Van Gogh discovered his true calling to paint at the age of 27. He consciously decided to train himself as an artist. He diligently studied instruction manuals and spent much time practicing. He taught himself the rudiments of perspective, anatomy, and colour. However, the lukewarm reactions to Potatoe Eaters made Van Gogh realise that he still had much to learn. Accordingly, he decided to take some lessons. He first studied for a short while at the art academy in Antwerp, and then in the studio of the painter Fernand Cormon in Paris. Van Gogh did nothing other than practice, practice and practice for an entire year. With singular feverishness and dedication, he studied and practised on his own. He read extensively on  theory of colours, their practical use and concepts of how they complement each other. He painted portraits inspired by the work of 17th-century masters. He studied the human body by drawing nudes, and copying classical sculptures. And by concentrating on still lifes he perfected his skills in painting techniques and in combining colours. He was very diligent, self-disciplined and determined. In just over a decade, he produced more than 2100 artworks, including 860 oil paintings and more than 1300 watercolors, drawings, sketches and prints. Producing so many paintings in the space of only ten years is a great testimony to Van Gogh's determination, commmitment and self-discipline. He managed to paint over one and a half painting a day! That's a torrent of creative activity! In addition to being a prolific painter, Van Gogh was also a very prolific epistolarian (a letter writer). He wrote about 820 letters to his brother Theo. Van Gogh was not only a master of painting but also a master of self-motivation. He was a man of immense persistance and determination - he wouldn't let any obstacle, hardship or setback block him from achieving his goals. Next time when I find myself in the grip of procrastination or indolence I will think of Van Gogh!

"If you hear a voice within you say 'you cannot paint,' then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced."
Vincent van Gogh (1853 - 1890)

 Genius redefined
Few words on the importance of being persistent

Van Gogh was an indisputable genius. It came as quite a surprise to me that Van Gogh did not start painting until he was 27! I have always thought that great artists were child prodigies and the moment they jumped out of their cradles they meddled with musical instruments or painting paraphenalia and produced extraordinary pieces of art. To me a genius was a person endowed with an innate and almost supernaturally superior ability, intellect and creativity. I think that many people tend to attribute phenomenal inventions or creations down to genius alone, while being completely unaware of the gut-wrenching effort an artist or inventor puts into developing their project or creating their work of art. I reckon that many of us share common misconceptions that our ability to excel depends on innate qulities. The case of Van Gogh challenged my preconceived notions about genius and showed me that genius takes effort and passion. Above all, it takes perserverance, commitment and hard work. Genius does not tolerate laziness. Thomas Edison is known to have worked up to 112 hours a week (that's 16 hours a day. He was a realist when it came to the process of invention, saying: "Invention is 2% inspiration and 98% perspiration." Great works of art, inventions and ideas are born of vision and relentless commitment to that vision.

"Life leaps like a geyser for those who drill through the rock of inertia." 
~ Alexis Carol, Nobel Prize Winner

 My visit to Van Gogh Museum made me realize one very important thing: talent is great if you have it but no amount of talent will take you to the stars if you don’t have determination and persistence to keep trying. Talent is just a raw material. It will be wasted if it is not explored and cultivated in a continuous and ruthless manner. "Talent without deliberate practice is latent" - that is the response of Geoff Colvin. I am going to buy and read Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World Class Performers From Everybody Else by Colvin (available on Amazon). It is a fascinating study of great achievers from Mozart to Tiger Woods. The author has brilliantly highlighted the fact that great effort equals great success.  

You can be an expert in your chosen field too. You can excel and leave the world in awe. Passion, commitment, hard work and persistence can take you anywhere you want.

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How my solo travel to Amsterdam changed me: on happiness and determination (1)

Can a single travel abroad change us? Dora in Amsterdam - my first solo trip abroad entry tells you how wonderfully empowered I fe...