In Appreciation of Growing Up

West Vancouver

Do you ever have those days when you are just at loose ends? That was me this morning. I didn’t have a lot of energy, didn’t have anything specific that I had to do and it was a wet drizzly day. I could easily have pulled on my jammies and gone back to bed, but I knew that wouldn’t really help. I didn’t have quite enough energy to muster up a run but knew I needed to get out and get some exercise. Closets are sorted and the yard is ready for the onslaught of November rains. What to do, what to do? And then I knew what I needed to do. I needed to go back to my roots.

Fortunately, my roots, or the area I grew up in, are only a 20 minute drive away. I was headed to Ambleside and a walk on the sea wall. There’s just something about going back to West Vancouver that calms me and in some ways, reconnects me. It’s familiar and holds so many memories and firsts. First school, first best friend, first kiss, first party, first driving lesson in a standard…..you get the picture. For me, going back to West Van and walking the seawall can clear my head and remind me about what is important. Family, friends and belonging.

West Vancouver is not necessarily the same place today that it was when I was growing up. The majority of the ranchers and cute little bungalows are gone. Replaced with huge, gated homes. Not many kids walk or ride their bikes to school anymore. Park Royal Shopping Centre has doubled in size and increased its profile. Bonnie Belle Makeup has been replaced by Sephora and Bootlegger by Banana Republic. Most people I knew have either moved away or, in the case of my parents friends, have passed away. But you know what, it’s okay. Times have changed everywhere and selfishly, West Vancouver gave me what I needed and I’m grateful for that. What did it give me? So many things.

An appreciation of nature. There are so many fabulous outdoor spots in West Vancouver that it’s sometimes hard to know where to go. Not just the sandy, park like beaches of Ambleside and Dundarave but also the rocky, often deserted, beaches between 29th and 31st streets. The trails and rocky bays of Lighthouse Park. For so many years I was convinced that the boogie man lived there. The mountains. A family friend had a cabin up Hollyburn Mt and we would hike up there in the summer and swim in the extraordinarily cold glacial lakes. Access to the island and Whistler were only minutes away. Believe it or not I did my first overnight Girl Guide camp out at the top of the British Properties. Somewhere up there amongst all those new homes is a trail leading up to beautiful wooded spot where we (gasp) lit fires and slept under the trees.

An appreciation of a good school. I still keep in touch with some of the people I went to West Bay Elementary School with (thanks to Facebook) and have such great memories of that school. Sports day three legged races, music class with Mr Rose, the annual track and field day at West Van High track, and of course those after school dances. It was such a simple time in my life but it was also a lot of life lessons. Like the time Katherine Taylor hit me over the head with her metal lunch box. Lesson learned? Don’t be friends with kids with metal lunch boxes. Walking to school, starting in Kindergarten, was not only accepted but pretty much mandatory. Lessons learned? Get over your fear of dogs, loud trucks and the weird kids who lived along the way.

An appreciation of community. May Day Parade 1974. I was one of the flower girls in the parade. Not only did I get to ride on the float but I got to dance around the maypole in my pretty pink dress. My daughter will be very jealous one day. If I ever tell her. West Van in the 70 was really just a small municipality. The ice rink on 22nd street is still there. I wonder if they still have Teen Night every Saturday? The aquatic centre didn’t exist then. If you wanted to take a swimming lessons, the rec centre assigned you an instructor and you went to somebody’s house and learnt to swim in their pool. If you wanted to hang out at a pool you went to the outdoor pool at Ambleside. Kids all took the bus. Everywhere. There were crazy people around then too but we all just accepted them and they lived their lives in their own way.

Really, I could go on forever. So many memories of people and places and events, all just a short drive away yet really so far away. I came home after my walk with a better outlook on my day. For me, The Best Thing in Life today is being able to just go home for a quick visit and a reminder of some of the important things in life.

Happy?

happy face

What makes you happy? It’s different for everyone I suppose. The easy response would be, perhaps, a sunny day, a warm hug, an unexpected windfall, a great glass of wine. It’s a pretty loaded question really. It could be something life encompassing or it could be something tiny and seemingly insignificant. This morning listening to the Eagles Live album really loudly in the car made me happy. Sleep, chocolate, a new pair of shoes.  Those things seem so fleeting though. What sustains happiness, long term?

Over the years I have discovered that my happiness is very closely tied to my physical well being. If I feel good physically I am happy. If I’m tired, have an upset stomach or haven’t worked out in a few days, I can feel myself slipping into an unhappy place. I think this is true for most people and really it’s just simple biology. The act of getting your heart pumping and the endorphins flowing, puts a smile on most people’s faces. So why can’t we just spend our days out running or hiking on the trails? There. Problem solved. Happiness all around.

Then there is the saying money can’t buy you happiness. No, it can’t. But it can alleviate the anxiety and stress that go with a mountain of debt. I’m not ashamed to say that I am happier now than I was a few years ago when we were struggling to make ends meet. We don’t have any more “things” than we did then, but we argue less and worry less and in turn, are, I believe, happier. Do I envy people who have more than I do and think that having all that would make me happy. You bet. I know it’s materialistic and there are many people who have nothing and are extremely happy. I’m just not one of them.

When I reached out to friends to see what makes them happy, without a doubt, the most common answer was friends and family. Kids laughing, connecting with friends, time with spouses are all major happiness factors.  In no particular order here are a few examples of the responses I got.  They really are some of The Best Things in Life.  Sunshine, nature, wine, travel, napping, sex, cold beer on a hot day, love, chocolate, exercise. Of course one of my friends turned if around on me and asked me what made me happy. On that day? Seeing my inbox full of happy emails. Learning more about my friends and their joys in life.

An old friend commented that she was happiest when she knows that her interests and ideas are being supported by those closest to her. But then in the next breath she wonders if it’s right to leave her happiness in the hands of others. “I shouldn’t rely on others to make me happy”. This is something I struggle with as well. I have tried not to be a “gold star junkie” as Gretchen Rubin terms it in The Happiness Project. When you rely on others to pat you on the back or give you a gold star for your achievements you are, in essence, keeping score, and rarely come out on top. Am I successful in this? Let’s just say I’m working on it.

100 Happy Days is an on line project that has been around for a while. I was hiking with a friend a few weeks ago who was on day 56. The premise is that you email an image to their website every day for 100 days that symbolizes happiness to you. I would imagine that by the time you reach 100 days it would have become a habit for you to find something each day, no matter how small or insignificant, that makes you happy. A bit like a gratification post. I think that I’m going to try the 100 Happy Days project. It may be a good reminder to me of how many great things I encounter each day that make me smile. I also find that “having a clear vision and taking steps towards it every day” makes me happy as well.

Can you be happy all the time? I don’t think you can and I think that’s totally okay. Of course it’s not okay to be unhappy all the time either. The key is to find the right balance for you. The right mix or percentage of happiness . Over thinking things makes me happy too. It’s an odd thing, actually, to stop and really think about whether you are happy or not. People have made billions in the self help industry telling us what we need to do to be happy. Why do we need to read a book about it? Shouldn’t we just BE happy? Can it be that simple?

So at the end of the day did I find my answer? No. But I did start thinking more about my happiness and the happiness of others and that in itself is good.   One of the surprising emails I received was from a friend I hope to meet with very soon to talk about her passions. I totally expected her to say decorating cakes and being on my bike with my dog. What did I get instead? A great quote to close my post .

“I am happiest when I am continually striving for my potential in life.”