Image showing the office of a digital nomad. It displays Stocked, a cafe in Tarifa, Spain that is nicely decorated.
Experiences,  Places

How to have a happy workday?

Shit, it is Monday.

How many times did I have this thought on a Monday morning while commuting on a workday? Even if when I woke up I felt happy, after moving in the crowd of sad looking people staring at their phones while frenetically walking to work, my mood dropped down a few levels.

This did happen to me many times in the past, but not this morning. After doing my “wake-up rituals” I headed to a café while walking along the beach promenade of Tarifa, a tiny Spanish town. I starred at the clouds and the view of the sea filled with wonder for the beauty of the landscape. I watched the turning windmills on the hill.

After doing some chit-chat with the waitress I ordering a coffee and opened my laptop. I worked for a few hours in a very focused way. First, on some texts I was preparing for Designing for Behaviour Change, a project I started at scaling4good with the aim of supporting change makers to applying behavioral science in their initiatives. Next, I had an exciting skype call to Switzerland, during which I talked about collaboration opportunities to spread the word on the project.

When I took a break I went out and watched the sea. I felt the wind on my cheeks and I saw that the first kite-surfers were already on the water. I smiled while thinking of the kite-session I would have in the afternoon.

Image showing view of the beach from the promenade in Tarifa, Spain. There are kites from kitesurfers flying in the blue sky.

My recipe for a happy workday: work and kite

I had a quick lunch and by 15 O’clock I was back to the beach with some friends. We pumped up our kites while joking. I went out on the water to kitesurf. The conditions were great for me: a steady wind with big waves.

I played in the water while hearing only the sound of the wind. When I kite there is no space for thoughts, they somehow disappear. In these moments I feel like becoming one with the surroundings: only the blue sky, the water, and the wind exist for me. (well, besides a few fellow kiters I wave at when we pass by each other 😉 ).

After this kind of sessions, I come out of the water with a smile that looks stamped on my face. I’m like a happy dog totally happy to run around. I just feel so happy and so alive.

For me, the combination of working on something like the Behaviour Change Project, that makes me feel like I’m doing something useful by sharing the knowledge I gathered in the area with people that can apply it, and kiting, that makes me feel very happy, is a great recipe for an awesome day.

Image of smiling girl after a kitesurf session in Tarifa, Spain. The sun close to the sunset and the beach with kites are in the background.

It’s easy to say “Lucky you!”, but what is the work behind?

When I talk with friends about this kind of days commonly they come out with: “You are so lucky! I would love to feel like that, but I can’t because of… my job, my family, I don’t have the money, etc.”.

I feel a bit puzzled when I hear such answers. Yes, I’m lucky to have been born in Switzerland one of the richest countries in the world. Having access to social security, healthcare, free education, a functioning political system and a thriving economy is something most Swiss people take for granted.

But at the same time, my friends had the same opportunities as I had. It can’t be just luck. What did I do differently, to give this impression to friends?

I think that one of the main reasons I am where I am, and I can be happy of my workday, is that I did not know what a standard life is, maybe as my parents where really not the kind of standard family. Nobody told me, what should I do, what do I have to do.

I had to find out by myself, what do I actually wanted to do with my life. Which is actually not easy to find out.

I just wanted to be happy. What does that mean?

I had to try out many things to find what does that mean for me. Today I know that I don’t need most people look after. I don’t own a car, a large house, have a large income, a “successful career”.

I realized that I value freedom more than owning things or social status. Through freedom comes with responsibility, which means that I need to for instance to deal with the uncertainty of at the moment not having a permanent job or a stable place to live in.

Today I know that what I need is balance between spending time in situations that make my life richer: time with people I love, time to connect with nature and my self, time for resting and regenerating, time for doing something that makes me feel that I contribute to do something good in the world.

Image with the view from the promenade of Tarifa taken in the morning. The clouds, the sea and long beach are displayed.

We need happiness and meaning to be truly happy

I like a lot the Zen saying cited in the beginning of “How to Be Alive, A Guide to the Kind of Happiness that Helps the World“, a book of Colin Beavan that sums it up with a nice image:

Like a bird, that needs two wings to fly, in life we need two things to be truly happy. One wing is about how to get the things I need to feel happy and the other is about how to do something meaningful for the things and people I care about.

If for example, I would only be kitesurfing all the time – which may be similar to you as being on holidays all the time – I would not really end up totally happy with my life. I may enjoy the adrenaline rush happening during a session, but the joy from each time spend on the water would decrease with the time.

At some point, I would feel a sense of emptiness. I would realize that if I’m out on the water, or not, it doesn’t make a difference for anyone. At some point, I may feel disconnected from the people around me, from the place and community I live in.

At that point, I may look for a way to help and get the feeling that someone enjoys the support I provide. Then my life would again feel more complete and rather be close to my “ideal” of a happy life.

Image showing white flying gull with open wings and blue sky in the background

Start finding your happy workday

The process of finding what an awesome “normal day” may be for you starts by finding, which answers truly fit for you to these questions:

  • Which experiences and situations give me joy?
  • Which activities give me the feeling that I do matter to someone or something?

There are as many answers to these two questions as people on the planet. You may enjoy to spend time with your family and to cook, you may like to do gardening or spend time chatting with friends while watching the sunset.

Once I found an answer to these two questions, I already had the feeling that I found a good portion of what my friends called “lucky life”.