Nomads of Happiness
Wednesday, February 10, 2016
The hieroglyphics of stars and winds and waves seem indecipherable to most of us, but not to sage islanders of centuries ago with their rugged, hand hewn canoes serving as fishing vessels and transportation.
Nomads read the sands and pastures, forage or hunt, find or raise animals, dealing with scarcity by moving around. Although my family drank dark, murky coffee with Bedouins once when we ventured too far into a desert in a vehicle without tires for such a trek, we lived a metaphorically nomadic life.
By the time I went to college we had moved seven times. We were neither pushed by poverty, illegal activity, military service, nor job transfers. Looking back, my parents’ ideas moved us. And after some nomadic circling within a geographic circumference, my parents sold their camels and we leapt across the air, and navigated seas bound for exploration and adventure. Of course, our unfamiliar destinations and future lives unfolded with their share of tragedies as well as inspirations, and from those experiences there is no going back to the earlier, safer life, the smaller circle of a known territory.
Ideas: invisible and dimensionless, yet unshakable as a boulder or shifting like sand, propulsive, convincing, rallying, uplifting or devastating. Ideas have sail power, loft power, engine power. My parents had ideas about a better life and we were borne by those ideas wherever they led.
After college I made seven moves until now in my adult life with the family of my own making; an interesting symmetry in number but clearer as occupational migration than the moves of my childhood. Except this last move; a return to the tribe. The return a happiness idea—proximity to kin a multiple of pluses.
In my early career as a therapist I worked with a Cambodian man who had escaped the Khmer Rouge–having had to witness the slaying of his parents, and conscripted to serve as a child soldier. But he came in to talk about discontents in his present life as opposed to the PTSD symptoms which still plagued him. Naively, I asked him what he wanted to do in his life, what was his dream?
“Put a permanent roof over my family’s head and food on the table,” was basically his answer. As a survivor of war, he had not come from an environment that supported any navel gazing, any exploration of a bliss to follow, any list of signature strengths. Success and even happiness seemed simple to explain—safety, ownership, food—but more than that, the strength and ability to provide for those who counted upon him.
Home is that happy place toward which our wandering gravitates, however far it takes us, however long the journey, however tired the camel.