At lunch today, everyone except my nephew's nanny, the houseboy, and myself were attending the festivities at the next town. So as we ran out of household matters to talk about, I asked him about his family. He grew up in La paz, Leyte and had to stop schooling for three years because of hard times. His father died while they were young, and his siblings were separated- two of them in Manila, one stayed with his mother, while he found work in Abuyog for a family as a houseboy. He had no salary but his employers sent him to school. A few months ago, my cousin hired him as household help but in an unfortunate twist of fate my cousin's house was consumed by an electrical fire, and that's how they all came to stay in our home presently.
He's in Grade Six level (at the age of sixteen) at the elementary school two blocks away from our home. His story kind of reminds me of Umbang's, although what's different is that he chose to continue his schooling. He is also a member of the Mormon faith and attends his church regularly. Hearing about these stories gives me perspective and leads me to realize that we are so fortunate in many ways.
Their hardships trivializes my own struggles- wanting to be the best in class, or trying to find the perfect career, or agonizing over fitness regimens. I mean, these people have real problems- hunger, extreme poverty, and at such a young age there is little that they can do about it.
Before I saw myself kind of like a "victim of fate", and here, at the table having lunch with them I realized I've been nothing more than an entitled prima donna. Sure, we have our own family problems, but still fortunate to have parents who were able to give us good education and comfortable lives. Me and my brothers never needed to work when we were eleven years old, in fact we didn't need to lift a finger at home because we always had help.
The most amazing thing is that this boy wasn't bitter at all- in fact he still manages to have a good sense of humor and a positive attitude. Back when I was a neurotic team manager, I defined happiness as a nice apartment, nice clothes, and travel at least every quarter. Unconsciously, when I was back in school in Tacloban I still had the same idea. I fancied that the desire to travel was really something that was innate and something I can't live without, and so I went on these fancy trips. On my twenty seventh birthday, my mom and brother chipped in so I could bring friends to this resort in Samar and celebrate my birthday. In the coming years, I still marked my calendar with how many nice places I've visited.
This year was different. Except for the trip to our classmate's house in Marabut where they had a nice white sand beach (spending only two hundred for both the bus and boat ride round trip), I never got to travel at all. The first few months of the year was really busy because of the last semester of Nursing school and there was no opportunity; then we had a plan to go to Canigao island during the summer, and to Guiuan just this month, but for one reason or another my friends kept cancelling or postponing the trip.
Back then I used to say I needed to travel to unwind and keep sane, but hey it's already the third quarter and I'm still doing ok. I began to think that it was only because I conditioned myself before when I was working, that this was all part of life and that I needed it. I know probably some people might find it pathetic that only when I was older (and supposed to be earning more, therefore having access to more privileges) did I finally appreciate living simply.
Say for example, I used to go to a gym in RCBC plaza which cost like 9 thousand plus to sign up, but now I go to a gym which has a membership fee of 500 bucks and honestly I have a better body. For my cardio, I do not run on a treadmill in front of eight televisions, instead I go jogging at the seaside avenue near our home. I guess that's one of the perks living here in the province.
I never imagined I'd be doing a 180 but a number of recent incidents spurred me on to rethink my views. Several of our Nursing reviewers came strutting in their Louis Vuitton shoes and bags, Hermes accessories, and designer duds but I kind of thought it would have made no difference if they were wearing no-name brands. Its like when I bought a new phone with wifi access, I expected that nice feeling one gets when having a new gadget but instead I felt that it would have made no difference if I bought a basic call-and-text phone. To each his own, I suppose.
I remember this lecture I watched online by Dan Gilbert, a Harvard Psychiatrist, on "synthetic happiness vs. natural happiness". Natural happiness occurs when you get what you want, yet people "synthesize" happiness or should I say accept or settle for what they have and this is what's called "synthetic" happiness. Gilbert insists, the quality is the same.
This actually means that whatever one's socio-economic standing is, it will make little difference in our capacity for happiness. It is true then- the best things in life are free- like air or water or meaningful relationships, and that finding a way to accept what we have leads us to be free of worries and be at peace. Life and happiness is simply a matter of perspective.